Divided by the Sermon on the Mount

28 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2019 Last revised: 15 May 2020

See all articles by David A. Skeel

David A. Skeel

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Date Written: 2020


This Essay, written for a festschrift for Bob Cochran, argues that the much-discussed friction between evangelical supporters of President Trump and evangelical critics is a symptom of a much deeper theological divide over the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus told his disciples to turn the other cheek when struck, love their neighbor as themselves, and pray that their debts will be forgiven as they forgive their debtors. Divergent interpretations of these teachings have given rise to competing evangelical visions of justice. One side of today’s divide—the religious right—can be traced directly back to the fundamentalist critics of the early twentieth century movement known as the Social Gospel. The other side does not trace back to the Social Gospel; however, as some have suggested, it has much stronger points of contact with another famous evangelical of the era, William Jennings Bryan. Bryan was not a Social Gospeler—Jesus was a Savior, in his view—but Bryan’s vision of justice was closer to the Social Gospelers than to his fellow traditionalists. Given their affinities with Bryan, the Essay calls Russell Moore, Timothy Keller, and other leaders of the emerging alternative to the religious right “neo-Bryanites.” This Essay concludes by considering the political, demographic, and theological factors that may shape the future of the two perspectives.

Keywords: Evangelical Christianity, Protestant theology, Christianity and law, biblical interpretation, fundamentalism, modernism, Social Gospel, religious right, justice, political activism, conservatism, William Jennings Bryan

Suggested Citation

Skeel, David A., Divided by the Sermon on the Mount (2020). Pepperdine Law Review, Vol. 47, p. 495, 2020, U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 19-09, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3334004

David A. Skeel (Contact Author)

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