Al Mohler has not come to praise Ron Sider but to bury him — with posthumous damnation, no less.
Sider, an early leader of the modern progressive left within Christianity, died July 27. His most influential book was Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, in which he argued that authentic Christian faith called for a sense of community that sets aside selfishness to care for the common good.
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and a leading apologist for the alliance between modern-day evangelicalism and conservative Republican politics, used his platform as editor of the World Opinions website to unleash a harsh rebuke of Sider nine days after Sider’s death.
The World Opinions critique is so harsh that progressives, moderates and even some on Mohler’s own side of theology and politics called him out on social media for an insensitive “hit piece.”
One of the strongest responses to Mohler came from John Fea, distinguished professor and chair of the history department at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Fea is the author of six books and is a frequent commentator on national media about matters of religion, culture and politics.
Writing on his Current website, Fea said: “Sider died last week and Mohler wasted little time stomping on his grave — from a ‘Christian world view,’ of course.”
While Mohler stops just short of calling Sider a communist, Fea says Mohler lays bare the political underpinnings of his so-called “biblical worldview.” The term “biblical worldview” is commonly used among conservative evangelicals to refer to their particular theological interpretations that they believe are the only acceptable interpretations.
“Sider died last week and Mohler wasted little time stomping on his grave — from a ‘Christian world view,’ of course.”
Mohler identifies Sider as the product of “a sinful world” in which “moral qualities are fractured and maldistributed, allowing the creation of liberals “with bad ideas who are kind, gracious and principled even as we meet people with good ideas who are rude, unprincipled and ungracious.
Fea declares that Mohler hit “a daily double here. In other words, in this piece Mohler appears to be both the person with the ‘bad ideas’ and the one who is ‘rude, unprincipled and ungracious.’”
Sider, who came from a Mennonite background, sought to use “liberal politics” to address “what he saw as injustice” and “rally evangelical Christianity into a movement for liberation against poverty and oppression.
Fea counters that Mohler has demonstrated his own tell in his choice of words: “Mohler says Sider was ‘deeply troubled by what he saw as injustice.’ Mohler could have said Sider was troubled by injustice. But instead he went with the phrase ‘what he saw as injustice.”’
Clearly, Mohler does not see injustice the same way Sider did. Which is no great revelation, since Mohler’s theology has placed him in the service of the Donald Trump wing of the Republican Party and Sider’s theology placed him in support of the liberal side of the Democratic Party.
Sider’s advocates — even among those who might not have shared all his political views — often said his theology was a closer reflection of the teachings of the Hebrew prophets and of Jesus himself. Both the prophets and Jesus called for redistribution of wealth, care for the poor, welcoming the stranger, and placing the common good above one’s own desires.
Yet Mohler asserted that Sider’s solutions were “based in a mix of liberalism, liberationism, and easily falsified economic errors” and “would only add to the problems.”
In a certain red-flag alarm to political conservatives, Mohler accused Sider of calling Christians to “abandon capitalism and its excesses and embrace a new economic approach” that Mohler described as “a mash of collectivism, state control, income redistribution and predictably leftist (if oddly arranged and inconclusive) economic arguments. His arguments sounded to some like liberation theology and to others like third-world propaganda.”
Fea said Mohler misrepresented Sider in this description, using “buzzwords that are bound to fire-up his Christian Right band of followers.
Fea said Mohler misrepresented Sider in this description, using “buzzwords that are bound to fire-up his Christian Right band of followers. For example, I don’t think Sider ever called himself a Marxist. At a May 2004 conference Sider said, ‘I don’t think God is a Marxist, but frequently the Bible suggests that people get rich by oppression or are rich and don’t share what they have — and in both cases, God is furious.’ Sounds pretty biblical to me.”
Nor did Sider argue for “state control,” Fea responded. “But he did believe that government has a moral responsibility to promote the common good.”
Mohler quotes a passage Sider wrote in Rich Christians: “All income should be given to the poor after one satisfies bare necessities.” Then Mohler responds in horror to the thought: “Imagine just for argument, that this principle is correct — how would you define ‘bare necessities?’ That was one of the insurmountable problems with Sider’s approach. He did lean into guilt as a moral principle that he tried to translate into economic life.”
Sider, as Fea explained, lived his life in an inner-city neighborhood of Philadelphia, cooked out of the More-With-Less-Cookbook, and wore used clothing bought at local thrift shops.
Mohler, in contrast, lives in a mansion provided by the seminary he leads and wears top-of-the line suits. He also created a “men’s emporium” on campus that sells “suits and blazers, silk ties, dress shirts, and Fossil bags and watches, fine writing instruments, and other accessories.”
Mohler criticized Sider for backing Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in 1972, yet Mohler himself publicly endorsed Donald Trump in his 2020 presidential re-election campaign.
Again, from Mohler’s worldview, Sider’s advocacy for a religious left was doomed because it was not biblical.
“The liberal momentum Sider wanted to build among evangelicals fell apart for two main reasons,” Mohler wrote. “First, the left soon devolved into identity politics, first over race and feminism. The LGBTQ revolution was also on the horizon. Second, evangelicals did mobilize …, but the energy was on the right, not on the left.”
The moral hypocrisy of Albert Mohler (and evangelicals of his ilk) | Opinion by Marv Knox