E .J. Dionne writes well, and his latest effort, Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith & Politics After the Religious Right (Princeton University Press, 2008), is no exception.
Souled Out offers a critical and at times discomforting account of the rise and role of the Christian right in politics. A liberal Catholic (who supports same-sex marriage), Dionne also gives an insider's account of the battles going on within Catholicism. But Dionne's larger goal is to argue that Christian involvement in politics should go beyond the "social issues" and that Christians should support a liberal economic agenda.
He's persuasive on the first count: It's hard not to grit one's teeth along with him when he writes, "We have defined economic and foreign policy issues as involving something other than 'moral' concerns." But he runs into trouble on the second count.
His core belief that social justice demands bigger government is undermined by studies showing that many poor Americans have higher living standards than the poor (and by some measures even the middle class) in social democratic Europe. Dionne also ignores the huge swaths of the federal budget that go to the non-poor. Could not a Christian, in the name of social justice, favor the means-testing of, say, Medicare or farm subsidies? He doesn't say.
An even larger omission is Souled Out's relative lack of Scripture references. To be fair, this may be because the Bible is not about politics, but some parts of God's Word raise challenges to economic liberalism.
It would be interesting to know Dionne's take on Paul's statement that a man who refuses to work has no moral right to eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10); or on how the Decalogue's protection of property rights and warnings against covetousness should translate into today's political arena; or on the fact that when the New Testament actually describes government's calling, it does so in limited terms (1 Peter 2:14, Romans 13).
Dionne is absolutely right that Christians in the civic arena should address a broad range of issues. But he's not nearly as compelling in suggesting that this should equal an embrace of liberalism.