Liberal as Jesus

Local musician’s new book explains how Christianity pushed him to the left

Brent Bourgeois is a worship leader for the 11 a.m. Sunday contemporary service at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, 2391 St. Mark’s Way; <a href="http://www.stmarksumc.com/">www.stmarksumc.com</a>.

Brent Bourgeois is a worship leader for the 11 a.m. Sunday contemporary service at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, 2391 St. Mark’s Way; www.stmarksumc.com.

Photo By larry dalton

Brent Bourgeois is a well-known local musician. But the next thing most Sacramentans know about him—unless it’s his equally famous musician son, Adrian Bourgeois—is the way he’s made his faith a cornerstone of his life. An evangelical Christian, Bourgeois has been involved in both the faith-based and secular music scenes for more than three decades.

With the publication of his first book, Left Behind: Jesus in the Age of the American Empire, Bourgeois attempts to answer a question that’s been on his mind for years: Why do many evangelical Christians tend toward right-wing political beliefs, while his experience of Christianity has made him liberal?

As detailed in his book, the answer may lie in his tendency to look to history as well as scripture to understand what a Christian worldview should be. The rabid nationalism of right-wing conservatism is, for Bourgeois, as far from Jesus’ teaching as it can get.

“I think it’s a human tendency to need to have someone to feel bigger and better than,” Bourgeois told SN&R. “Everybody needs somebody to kick around. It’s a fear thing. As long as people have fear, they can be easily manipulated.” What’s more, Bourgeois claims in his book, conservatives tend to be the ones who manipulate that fear, whether the fear is of communism or Islam. “If you place your trust specifically in someone like Jesus, you’re less inclined to be afraid of whatever the current boogeyman is,” he said. “But conservative pastors are creating new boogeymen at the same time that they’re entreating their congregations to trust Jesus.”

Specifically, he said, evangelical pastors are advocating fear and anger at gay people and Muslims. This has consequences, he said, not the least of which is distracting from the message of Christianity itself.

He’s disturbed by “the almost-idol worship of nationalism as a part of American Christianity.” For example, Bourgeois points to the evangelical Christian attitude toward the American flag. “We put the flag and America up on a pedestal as an untouchable thing that can’t be criticized—that’s so dangerous, because it leads us away from Jesus, who wasn’t about nations and wars.” He suspects we’d have a far more ethical nation “if the evangelicals had risen up and said, ‘No, as a Christian I don’t worship anyone or thing but Jesus.’ Instead, we’ve got pastors rallying people behind the flag and nationalism. That’s not Christianity.”

Liberal evangelicals don’t tend to get much press, usually because their “pro-life” stance doesn’t begin and end with abortion. “Opposing abortion is a good starting place, but being pro-life means many, many other things,” Bourgeois said. A self-described “pro-life person,” he considers himself “more liberal than many pro-choice people because I’m committed to preserving all life, all God’s creation. If you’re pro-life, you should oppose the death penalty, you should oppose bombing and killing civilians instead of calling it ‘collateral damage,’ you should be an environmentalist.”

He thinks the assumption that one cannot be liberal and still oppose abortion is based on a misunderstanding that crosses all political labels. Instead, he chooses candidates based on their stances on all “life” issues: war, poverty, the environment—and, yes, abortion. “Abortion is one of a number of issues that are crucial to life-affirming faith. But if you’re going to go down the pro-life trail, abortion is a very incomplete place to stop.”

But evangelical youth give him hope for the future. “There might have been a better case made, just after 9/11 and for the next five years, that it was very difficult to call yourself ‘a liberal Christian,’” he said. “But the younger evangelicals kind of took a look at the Bush administration—at the torture, the greed, the hubris of this allegedly Christian man—and I think the youth started saying, ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t what we’re supposed to be about.’”