There’s something that’s bothered me for a while now about the way the lingo of nonpartisanship has taken over the evangelical discourse, which I for some reason am unable to stop being interested in. No matter where this lingo comes from, I think it’s a response to the same reality: partisanship is really, really uncool in Christian circles right now. So there’s a rush to not appear partisan even if you are—think, the way Jim Wallis pretends his ideas are “not about left and right,” or the way you’ll hear Relevant, a theoconservative magazine if there ever was one, warn darkly of Christians being “wedded to one political party.” For the most part, I don’t believe anyone is really advocating actual nonpartisanship; it’s more a rush to adopt the new language of cool. There probably is a serious segment of young evangelicals who know little about politics and fancy themselves swing voters, who tend to think that virtue is the mean between the two extremes. But for the most part I think it’s a kind of hypocrisy that infects both conservative and liberal evangelicals.

Before I dig into this, let me say that there’s one sense in which I’m okay with it. If even one young Christian internalizes the idea that Republican politics shouldn’t be next to godliness, the nonpartisanship fad will have done its good deed. Also, a few clarifications: There is a more serious strain of thought arguing that evangelical Christians have made political activism the primary expression of their “witness,” which I don’t dispute. I’m not saying that all Christians should have to broadcast their political views, that faith should be partisan, or that the spiritual as something outside politics is mistaken. I’m mostly talking about the way that evangelical writers with public platforms refer to themselves and the way that they address politics (if they do).

There are basically two reasons why I think this proliferation of nonpartisan lingo in evangelical circles is pernicious. First, it allows conservatives to pretend their ideas are not as extreme as they are. Relevant can put “progressive culture” in its slogan, and “hipster Christians” can blather about art and consumerism. This makes them look very cool and culturally synced, but it obscures the fact that most of them have beliefs that are deeply offensive in post-Christian America, like that the right to marry should only be granted to certain kinds of adults. They really, really don’t want to talk about what they actually believe, because doing so would force them to actually suffer the cultural consequences of holding those beliefs. So I think if you’re a conservative evangelical, or even a sort-of-conservative post-evangelical, you can take up the nonpartisan mantra as a way of writing yourself into mainstream inoffensiveness, a way of deflecting some of the stigma of being what you are. And I think people who have extreme views should have to admit to their own extremism. This is why I respect the unequivocal theocons I debate, who are worthy opponents precisely because they don’t apologize for what they believe.

Second, if the nonpartisan dogma is starting to spread among the conservatives, then it is pervasive among the left-of-center. The evangelical “left,” to the extent there is such a thing, is terribly insecure, and as such clings to nonpartisan lingo with a special kind of desperation and dishonesty. The many evangelical writers and bloggers who have thrown off the religious right’s politics are perhaps understandably terrified of swinging the opposite direction. So they tend to write about their generally mainstream-Democratic political views in universalist tones, as if they are just the logical consensus view, so thoroughly nonpartisan that no one who defends them should have to take the tainted label of liberal. I also suspect there is a financial motivation behind their diffidence, since many of these people depend on evangelical audiences for their livelihood, and can’t really afford to say anything too openly liberal. So a lot of things they believe remain unsaid, unaddressed, undefended, and if they get political at all, they hedge with nonpartisan language.

The reason I address this at all is because when the pretense of nonpartisanship collapses, we can really see the available options for what they are. “Bipartisan” is Washington D.C. word that means giving up part of what you believe to get the business done. But ideas aren’t business, and holding up consensus-mongering as the ideal form of discourse is actually an invitation to shut down debate. When everyone is careful to utter their nonpartisan pieties, nothing is ever worked out—it’s much harder for good ideas to gain attention and bad ones to earn the ridicule they deserve. The talk in hip evangelical circles is about “separating faith from politics,” but anyone who takes either very seriously should see that’s impossible. Whether you are a biblical literalist who believes America is a Christian nation or you’re a left-wing Christian who heeds Jesus’ words about the weak makes a massive difference in your politics, one that cannot be papered over with nonpartisan platitudes. Hiding the differences doesn’t really make for greater unity, it makes for greater conformity.

What we’ve had in recent years is a Christian right that has proudly trumpeted its connection with conservative politics, and unabashedly wedded Scripture to its ideas about “big government,” gay marriage, etc, while the timid Christian left speaks in vague nonpartisan slogans. In the sense that liberalism is inherently about defending a mentality of self-questioning, that’s fine; I don’t necessarily prefer a religious left that imitates the right’s bellicosity. But chasing consensus and nonpartisanship is a direct concession to the status quo, which currently defines “centrist” as a slightly nicer right-winger. Until people of the left are willing to suffer for their beliefs, then the havoc the religious right has wreaked on Christianity will not be repaired.

Note: Because of their ad hominem nature, some of the original comments have been removed from this post.

Tagged with:
 
About The Author

David Sessions

David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol, and is currently a doctoral student in modern European history at Boston College. His writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Jacobin, Slate and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.

  • http://firstthings.com Joe Carter

    At first I was thinking, “Good grief. How far left has David moved that he know thinks Relevant magazine is a ‘theoconservative publication.'” But then he answers my question for us:

    “This makes them look very cool and culturally synced, but it obscures the fact that most of them have beliefs that are deeply offensive to mainstream culture, like that gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry. . . . And I think people who have extreme views should have to admit to their own extremism.”

    So opposing same-sex marriage—a view that has been shared not only by almost all Christians but all people throughout history—is now an example of “extremism.”

    What is most disturbing is that I suspect David actually believes this. Apparently, he is so immersed in a politically liberal bubble that he really thinks those of us who are not ready to redefine a 5,000 year old institution in order to normalize behavior that God considers a sin are “extremists.” He, of course, is in the “mainstream” and on the side of both history and the angels.

    • Timothy Zila

      Opposing same-sex marriage is “extreme.” Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, opposing same-sex marriage is an abhorrent view to practically anyone in America who isn’t a Christian.

      And saying it is “a view that has been shared not only by almost all Christians but all people throughout history” is simply not true. While many cultures have opposed homosexuality (the Egyptians, for examples) there are many more where it has been accepted (Ancient Greece for example).

      • http://firstthings.com Joe Carter

        Same-sex marriage might be accepted by liberal secularists, but there are few other groups in society that embrace it—and for good reason.

        Also, while there have been some cultures that accept homosexuality, there have been none that accepted same-sex marriage. And their views on homosexuality where rarely anything like it is in modern times. For example, in Ancient Greece homosexual relationships were acceptable only if of the men involved was in a subordinate role (like a man to a boy). The idea that two men of equal rank and stature would be involved sexually was foreign to them.

      • Scott

        It’s interesting to me that a view held by 48% of Americans is considered to be “extreme.” Why? Well, because David Sessions and Timothy Zila disagree with it, obviously. I’m all for homosexuals being able to get married (not in the Church, however, but that’s completely different), but I don’t have the gall to suggest that those who have a different opinion are “extreme,” especially when there are MORE people in the U.S. opposed to same-sex marriage than for it.

        The word “extreme” has a meaning. David and Timothy are misusing it. If anything, we (David, Timothy, and I) hold the view that is out of the mainstream of opinion here.

        Also, Timothy, no fair moving the goalposts. Accepting homosexuality is not the same thing as accepting same-sex marriage. Ancient Greece did not sanction same-sex marriages.

        • Scott

          Oh, and here’s a link on popular opinion of same-sex marriages – http://people-press.org/2010/10/06/support-for-same-sex-marriage-edges-upward/

          • http://www.davidsessions.net/ David Sessions

            Now I regret throwing that out, because it’s not the subject of this post, and the last thing we need to have here is another wearying gay marriage debate.

            But I will explain my use of the word “extreme.” I reworded that sentence to hopefully make clearer that I’m not talking about public opinion. Ideas held by only a few are not necessarily extreme, and ideas held be a majority can very extreme.

            I mean “extreme” with respect to liberal democracy. A majority of people may in fact believe these things, but believing that a particular religion should be sanctioned in public schools, or that immigrants should be deported, or that gay men and women shouldn’t have rights identical to other men and women—these are extreme in the sense that they are antithetical to the project of liberal democracy. They are attempts to restrict rights to certain privileged groups. The number or percentage of people who support these ideas is irrelevant to how compatible or incompatible they are with democracy.

            As far as the “goalposts,” you’re right, Scott. The number of cultures who have recognized same-sex marriage is small and recent, though homosexuality has existed and been tolerated in various ways since the beginning of time. But Joe’s claims about marriage are still indefensible: the idea that the marriage as a civil institution hasn’t changed, through evolution and intentional restructuring, in “5000 years,” is absurd.

          • Scott

            It’s fair enough, David, but if your illustrations continually break down, how far behind is your main point? Even in your explanation, you overreach to the point of silliness. Who believes that “immigrants should be deported?” Surely nobody with any seriousness to them at all. Some may believe that people in the country illegally should be forced to leave. That’s a discussion to have, not a straw man.

            I suppose I should also mention ungenerous way you classify the two groups in the above discussion:
            1. Biblical literalist who believes America is a Christian nation
            2. Left-wing Christian who heeds Jesus’ words about the weak

            I mean, really? Biblical literalists don’t heed Jesus’ words about the weak? Or, do you really mean that they don’t heed Jesus’ words about the weak that fits into your political viewpoint? That is, it’s all well and good to give of your own money and time and energy to help the poor, but you don’t take Jesus’ words about the weak seriously unless you favor particular left-wing political “solutions” to the problem of the poor and weak. (Is it taking Jesus’ words seriously if I ask about how efficacious left-wing programs are at helping the weak?)

            Of course, we could also get into the idea that government definitions of marriage discriminate against the unmarried much more then they discriminate against homosexuals (who can get civil unions or cohabitation rights in the vast majority of cases), but that might be wearying, too.

  • http://williamwrites.blogspot.com/ William Brafford

    David, you’re conflating the evangelical left with the broader Christian left. From the 1950s through the 1970s, there was a massively influential religious left — clergy who marched in the civil rights movement and, later, helped lead the antiwar movement.

    The evangelical resurgence of the 60’s and 70’s defined itself against the mainline left both theologically and politically. Simultaneously, the old mainline entered a nosedive in membership and cultural influence. You can’t explain the evangelical left’s timidity without reference to this history. See Jody Bottum’s old First Things article “The Death of Protestant America” for an unsympathetic account.

    OK, back to blathering about art and consumerism for me.

    • http://www.davidsessions.net/ David Sessions

      Point taken. That the Christian left lost massively to the right in the past 50 years or so does indeed play a role in its insecurity.

      I ended up cutting a bit I originally had written about the different ways the sides found/are finding this nonpartisan lingo, but I did say that the evangelical left came to it as a coping mechanism for its massive loss to the evangelical resurgence. It’s a far newer thing for the religious right to be aping this language, but the end result is we now have both sides deploying it.

      • http://williamwrites.blogspot.com/ William Brafford

        I don’t think the story’s so simple in terms of “who lost.” The Bottum article is critical of the mainline, but one interesting point he made (if I’m remembering correctly after all these years) is that the mainline left succeeded in nearly all its major initiatives before the real decline hit. It’s possible to argue that the success of the mainline eventually involved a kind of self-sacrifice: the sort of civil-rights, pluralist, and feminist initiatives that the mainline threw its weight behind led to a diminishing of the mainline’s cultural authority.

        • http://www.davidsessions.net/ David Sessions

          This is fascinating. You could also say the mainstream progressive movement “won” its victories and had nowhere else to go after welfare programs, Social Security, etc, were considered cornerstones of American society. But the rise of the right (roughly contemporaneous with the evangelical resurgence) is now trying to undo those successes—we are really facing the possibility of the clock being turned back. That’s why I think the left will have to wake up and defend things it once thought were safe.

      • http://williamwrites.blogspot.com/ William Brafford

        In other words: the religious left definitely won on civil rights in the 1950s, and that no credible evangelicals are trying to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a sign of the moral power of the old mainline.

        (It’s a bad sign that I am afraid you are going to be able to hit me with the name of a major evangelical leader who wants to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964.)

        • Barry

          “(It’s a bad sign that I am afraid you are going to be able to hit me with the name of a major evangelical leader who wants to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964.)”

          Anybody who uses code words, for a start.

    • http://firstthings.com Joe Carter

      It’s also worth noting that few people on the evangelical left would agree with David on issues of homosexuality. People like Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne, Ron Sider, etc., still hold to traditional Christian ethics. It’s rather odd for David to expect them to “suffer for their beliefs” when they don’t agree with him on such issues.

  • Marie

    Thanks for writing this. This sums up my feelings as an liberal evangelical (I won’t call myself a member of the “Christian left” because that implies identification with mainline Christianity, and avoiding the word “liberal” implies that there’s something shameful about it.)

    I haven’t witnessed the kind of nonpartisan approach you speak of except in our youth and our pastor, although I’ve always assumed it was just that our new pastor is less candid about his politics than our previous pastor was.

    But I have grown tired of having to keep a low profile in when politics arise. For me the Wisconsin union protests snapped me out of my safety zone. It wasn’t the worst or even the most blatant example of the Christian right’s handiwork. But it was the event that made me realize just how much my brothers and sisters in Christ are making this world a worse place to live in, and a little “suffering” on my part is a small price to pay for standing up to it.

    • Scott

      Hi Marie –

      I’d be interested in how you come to the conclusion that the issues in Wisconsin are an example of how the Christian Right is making the world a worse place to live in. I think that, as Christians on the Right or Left, we have to be careful not to equate disagreements on tactics with “good vs evil” or “right vs wrong.”

      The issues regarding public-sector unions are complex, especially when considered in light of our responsibilities as Christians not to unjustly burden future generations with avoidable debt. There are trade-offs that can be disputed and argued, but throwing out Wisconsin as an example of how Christians are making the world a worse place to live in is a bit glib without any backup.

      • Barry

        “The issues regarding public-sector unions are complex, especially when considered in light of our responsibilities as Christians not to unjustly burden future generations with avoidable debt. There are trade-offs that can be disputed and argued, but throwing out Wisconsin as an example of how Christians are making the world a worse place to live in is a bit glib without any backup.”

        On which side of this issue do right-wing evangelicals stand?

        As for ‘of our responsibilities as Christians not to unjustly burden future generations with avoidable debt.”, this is something that right-wing evangelicals started worrying about *after* Bush left office. You spent 8 years spending trillions on war and crony capitalism. You lost the moral right to complain for quite some time.

  • Rob

    Scott: That, and the discussions regarding public-sector unions in Wisconsin are decidedly devoid of religious discourse, and, to my knowledge, have nothing to do with any evangelical or otherwise “Christian” agenda. The only connection I see is that Scott Walker happens to be a Christian, possibly of the evangelical sort. But he certainly hasn’t claimed that this is a religious imperative for him. It’s a question of power, money, and politics.

    In fact, the only “Christian” language I’ve heard surrounding the issue are “mainline” liberals protesting that Christ would want us to take care of public workers, etc.

  • Rob

    David,

    Scott and Joe have effectively articulated critiques to your original editorial similar to ones I would post, but I will add this: arguing that a refusal to broach something like gay marriage militates against the values of liberal democracy presupposes an entire corpus of rights that have not traditionally been considered rights. Your version of liberal democracy isn’t the “only” one.

  • http://NA Jay Urban

    Great thoughts David, this really hits at the heart of existing demographics. I really see your point – there is a large group that might feel really comfortable talking about their anti-gay/abortion views with their parents and youth group friends from high school, but immediately hold back some of those views when around their fellow Wheaton/Liberty alums. To extend this even further, when these same people get around secular friends, they seem to run to positions that are even further toward “mainstream media culture” whatever that is. In public discourse they apologize for and explain the disparity between these political views and their conservative faith with the same dichotomy you describe.

  • Tim Clark

    What if I am a Christian who both “heeds Jesus’ words about the weak,” and believes that the left is more interested in using this platform to assemble moral and financial power? To me it is a false choice that if I take Jesus seriously then I must be a Democrat. It’s is just as false that if I take any single moral issue then I must be a Republican. May be I am missing the point of your post, but it is this kind of partisanship that I am dead tired of.

    I have my political beliefs and vote that way regardless of the zeitgeist. However, no, I repeat no, political system will represent Jesus in this world. We as Christians need to live this way. And it will cost us commitment beyond our government. Politics under any stripe is merely politics.

    Sorry for the strong thoughts but this is how I feel.

    • http://www.davidsessions.net/ David Sessions

      Tim, I never said you have to be a Democrat to take Jesus seriously about the poor. If you’re a red-blooded conservative who gives of your personal wealth to feed and clothe people, I salute you, and do not doubt your sincerity. Now if you believe that is enough–that it’s the best we can do for the least of these, then I think you are naive. And if you don’t realize that the right is the side that is most determined to consolidate wealth and power in the hands of a few, then you are also naive. But again, I never said you have to be a Democrat, or that your respect for Jesus’ words must be demonstrated by support for liberal public policy.

      • Tim Clark

        David, thanks for the clarification. I see that we are in agreement more than I thought.

        I think you said in your post something to the effect that politics is messy business. It’s an important and useful function in this world, even if we don’t desire some or many of it’s outcomes.

        However, I’ve just come to realize that if as a Christian if I am relying only on those outcomes to do God’s will then I am, as you say above, naive.

        To me, this should unite all people desiring to live as God intended…realizing that politics is not the end-all be-all. If anything this realization would allow us more grace to disagree with each other politically and yet have unity in purpose, especially towards the marginalized.

        Make sense?

    • Barry

      “What if I am a Christian who both “heeds Jesus’ words about the weak,” and believes that the left is more interested in using this platform to assemble moral and financial power? ”

      Then you’re a person who lives in a land with an increasing share of the wealth and power going to the top 1% of the people, who fears the wealth and power of the 99%.

  • Corey Meyer

    As is to be expected, a perfectly stimulating and engaging article followed by a series of ramblings on the merit, or lack thereof, of gay marriage, affirming, depressingly enough, the inability of most to extend the theopolitical discourse any further than gay-marriage or, on extra special occasion, abortion. How long must we suffer such monotony? Will gay-marriage and abortion forever be a litmus test for one’s Christian authenticity and sincerity? Oh, how I thirst for the day when the collective body of believers is able to venture into deeper waters. Unfortunately, it apparently isn’t today.

    • Scott

      Hi Corey –

      I’d find it fascinating if you actually commented on the article rather than kvetched about the comments to the article. You probably have a lot of interesting things to say about the subject at hand. Light a candle, my friend, instead of cursing this (admittedly blasted) darkness! We’re all doing the best we can to discuss issues. If you’re able to do better, I for one would be delighted to read it.

  • Steve

    Great piece, David. The whole “too cool to be partisan” thing drives me nuts, especially when done with a condescending tone. There’s also hypocrisy it’s lack of “authenticity,” supposedly a core value for hipsters. Most of these folks have strong beliefs but they just don’t want to seem too impassioned or be exposed as partisans with little wool hats.

    Also, the whole “I’m starting to worry about your faith” response drives me bonkers. It’s so condescending, implying that you’ve got truth on your side and the person who disagrees with you is in spiritual jeopardy. This is one of the biggest thing that prevents genuine theological dialogue.

  • David Sessions

    So here we are, everyone, 38 comments and at least 30 of them are not related to the post! If anyone still wants to talk about it, I’ll stick around for a bit.

  • Rob

    David: Challenge accepted. Let’s start with a question: Why is being a “right-winger”–a term you leave somewhat undefined–“extreme”?

    • http://www.davidsessions.net/ David Sessions

      I was speaking relative to myself there; because I believe quite passionately in ideals that are generally considered left-wing, naturally, right-wing efforts to undermine those ideals are to me dangerous and extreme. There I am, admitting my partisanship.

      Now, I don’t think this means all conservative beliefs are objectively extreme; in fact, I find that the further I move to the left, the more I begin to have things in common with the Tea Party (surprise, surprise). But there are certainly conservative beliefs that are relatively centrist in this country and that I don’t consider extreme, for example, the conviction that the national debt is a problem that should be taken seriously sooner rather than later. On the other hand, much of what the current conservative movement stands for, and much of what it has always stood for, is on the fringe of political thought in American history. William F. Buckley polished up a lot of quite radical notions and his movement brought them into the mainstream. Just pick up his first book, God and Man at Yale, and you might be shocked at how strident, over-the-top and paranoid the Godfather of Sensible Conservatism sounded from the get-go. But I digress.

      What passes for conservatism in the U.S. at the moment, though, is even more radical than Buckleyism. A significant percentage of the people the nation elected to Congress last year are not just ignorant of history and politics but shockingly so. They didn’t just run against the state, they intend to govern against the state by prohibiting it from functioning wherever possible. The GOP House has already attempted to strip the most important provider of women’s health services of its funding, defund NPR, castrate the EPA to prevent utterly basic environmental protections, repeal baseline regulation of the financial industry that destroyed the U.S. economy two years go, and solve the budget deficit by slashing tax rates on an upper class that already enjoys some of the lowest rates in the developed world. This is after this group ran on a platform of openly questioning the president’s citizenship, shamelessly baiting anti-Islamic prejudices, and articulating a borderline-xenophobic hysteria on immigration. A sensible conservative may reject these efforts as the radicalism they are, and I would applaud him for doing so, but he can’t deny that this is your modern conservative movement.

      I’ll break it off here and give you a chance to respond. The common thread in all that is an violent stance toward government the way it has been for roughly the past 80 years, a state that virtually everyone agrees is better than things were before we had basic labor and environmental protections and a marginal social safety net. How is this not extreme?

      • Scott

        I was speaking relative to myself there; because I believe quite passionately in ideals that are generally considered left-wing, naturally, right-wing efforts to undermine those ideals are to me dangerous and extreme. There I am, admitting my partisanship.

        I would posit that you aren’t admitting your partisanship as much as you are admitting your immaturity. Ideals that are different from yours are neither dangerous nor extreme simply by virtue of that fact, and it would behoove you and your writing to use such words correctly rather than as simple tools of propaganda. It’s highly offensive and inflammatory to toss words like “dangerous” and “extreme” around carelessly, and in fact serves no purpose BUT to be offensive an inflammatory.

        You obviously have some talent for the written word and want to be taken seriously as a writer, but until you can control your rhetoric and emotions (and grow a thicker skin, frankly, this is the internet, after all), people will pick holes in your logic until there is very little left but holes.

        You might also want to gather some facts about subjects before you use talking points about them. For example, the GOP cannot strip funding from Planned Parenthood, they can only strip FEDERAL funding. Planned Parenthood has a significant endowment and sources of funding outside the federal government. Federal funding amounts to 1/3 of PP’s budget. I realize that saying “the GOP could strip 1/3 of PP’s funding” isn’t as scary as what you wrote, but aren’t we interested in some truth along with our partisanship?

  • Rob

    Your stance makes much more sense after that response, David. But it might be fruitful here merely to turn the question on its head: how is it extreme to oppose certain programs and policies–like Planned Parenthood, like NPR, like certain elements of the EPA–that only 40 years ago, even, would have seemed terribly extreme to a great number of ordinary Americans? Social Security and Medicare were considered “extreme” and deeply controversial at the time of the contentious passage and implementation. How is it suddenly extreme to seek their reform? It wouldn’t even be extreme to dismantle them, in my book, though I’ll withhold my own opinion on such tactics. 40 years ago, it wasn’t extreme to support abortion; it would have been extreme, however, to imagine the federal government literally inventing via the judicial branch a God-given right to abortion. Homosexual marriage would have been and still is considered “extreme” by a significant proportion of American voters (it wouldn’t even have been dreamed of in popular discourse by my grandparents’ generation, for worse, but probably for better). In any case, your ultimate thesis above seems to be that “sensible conservatives” should seek to conserve what we now have–i.e., the New Deal and Great Society infrastructure that has now planted itself upon and indeed devoured much of our modern governmental apparatus. Perhaps so, but not if you bloody well see this infrastructure as a tremendous diversion from what is best about the American project in the first place. Liberal democracy, after all, used to imply a very, very limited government concerned almost solely with defended a host of individual rights. Now, apparently, it means something very different, to you and to many others. Which is extreme? The old way or your way?

    My answer isn’t terribly articulate or thorough to be sure, but I will say one last thing: your comment presumes a certain “American narrative” that obviously involves progressivism (American society is plunging forward into the future, toward greater and greater modernization and, thus, of course, greater and greater perfection), the extension of a certain particularly defined form of equality (especially material equality and procedural political equalities), and the consummation of a governmental apparatus that ensures these things. It’s classic progressivism. Two responses: First, don’t assume there is anything particularly intellectual or unique about this narrative. It’s been around since very nearly the beginning. Second, don’t forget that this is not the only American narrative, nor the only valid conception of what constitutes the American “project” as it were. There is a conservative tradition, and it is, in fact, not entirely true that Buckley represents a kind of extreme or fringe discourse. At the time he was writing, this was true to the extent that the 1950’s represented the pinnacle of the American left’s ascendancy in the academy and other intellectual realms (literary, scientific, elsewhere). His voice at the time did seem quite “radical”–but it wasn’t really. Heck, read the anti-federalists sometime. They almost sunk the entire “American project”–and God bless’em for it. I’d hardly call them fringe, however.

    Anyway, every age needs its reactionaries.

  • Rob

    Oh, by the way. It’s when you say things like this–“And if you don’t realize that the right is the side that is most determined to consolidate wealth and power in the hands of a few, then you are also naive”–that those who could possibly be convinced by your bloviations are immediately turned off. Who gave you this definition of “the right”? The New Yorker? MSNBC? A Michael Moore film? It’s a complete straw man, and it’s utterly uncharitable. As you know, I am familiar with many right wingers, including several who long for the aristocratic social structure of yore, but not a single one of them actively advocates the “consolidation of wealth and power in the hands of a few.” Assuming such a thing is even undesirable (it’s a tiring fault of Americans that they can’t even consider something that would violate the dogma of equality), it’s just wrong. Name one “conservative”/Republican/right-winger who believes this, who supports lower taxes or opposes gay marriage or desires a strong national defense, for the purpose of concentrating wealth in the hands of a few. Seriously, David. Not even Reagan’s voodoo economics (which wasn’t that voodoo, really) made such a claim (they only wanted the wealthy–and the middle class and poor, for that matter–to keep more of what they already had). I may as well just assert that you are naive for thinking that “those on the left” are the ones who are determined to kill babies and old people while letting murderers out of prison.

  • Rob

    …that “those on the left” are NOT* the ones who are determined…*

  • http://jmjacob.blogspot.com JMJ

    Is it just me, or does it seem that both “sides” are guilty of considering the other side to be extreme. And both “sides” are equally guilty of proclaiming their rightness by the mainstream-ness of their viewpoint.

    And not to beat a dead horse about gay marriage, it seems by your colleague’s views on sex and marriage (see my comment on the justin bieber & sex post from February) that he’s “extreme”.

  • http://porterperkins.blogspot.com Mark Perkins

    As soon as I read the marriage comment, I knew this would get derailed. I’ll not bite, nor will I bite on Joe Carter embarrassing himself and disappointing his fans.

    What I will comment on is the unfair dichotomy between biblical-literalist-Christian-nation-Republicans and the, you know, social-justice-Democrats. In this scheme, nonpartisans pretend to be some mushy-middle-grounders to hide their true identity as one or the other. Why the need to forcefully segregate a complexity of positions into two camps? I know it’s convenient for polling and punditry, but it’s ridiculous.

    There are (and always have been) many, many ways to think and believe that defy partisanship. Think Wendell Berry who is canonized at Hillsdale and also pops up in the far left (the environmental historian William Cronon, whose email Wisconsin Republicans targeted with FOIA requests, cites Berry as the environmentalist who has most seriously thought about work). Or his disciples at Front Porch Republic (where commenters alternately accuse the site of becoming pinko-commie or neocon, depending on the day.). Or John Lukacs, who calls himself a reactionary but who saves his most virulent scorn for American Republicans and conservatives. Or, for that matter, that anachronism Christopher Hitchens.

    These are not people lacking conviction, and they are certainly anything but eager for mainstream acceptance (minus Hitchens, who at least aims for a mainstream audience). But I invite you to try to cast them in partisan, dichotomous terms.

    I’ve written before that I think your political focus skews your perspective in regrettable ways. I think that’s the case here. Some of us genuinely do not think about things with immediate reference to legislation and elections.

    As somewhat of an aside, I find your assigning of motives to self-proclaimed nonpartisans a touch uncharitable in a manner oddly similar to Mr. Carter’s astonishing lack of charity above. It’s uncharitable because it presumes opportunism or duplicity where it needn’t. In other words, like Mr. Carter, you’re choosing to credit a more damning reading over a more generous, hence charitable, one.

    Though yours is milder and less specific than Mr. Carter’s…. perhaps Mr. Carter’s comments are brilliant satire! Perhaps he is Nathan the Prophet confronting David (natch) with his own sin! One can hope.

    • David Sessions

      What I will comment on is the unfair dichotomy between biblical-literalist-Christian-nation-Republicans and the, you know, social-justice-Democrats. In this scheme, nonpartisans pretend to be some mushy-middle-grounders to hide their true identity as one or the other. Why the need to forcefully segregate a complexity of positions into two camps? I know it’s convenient for polling and punditry, but it’s ridiculous.

      This was obviously not intended as a dichotomy, and I’m annoyed that several of you are acting like I meant it that way. I made up two silly examples of the possible configurations of political Christians that are sort of opposite. But there are many more configurations possible! The point was that differences matter.

      • Scott

        This was obviously not intended as a dichotomy, and I’m annoyed that several of you are acting like I meant it that way. I made up two silly examples of the possible configurations of political Christians that are sort of opposite.

        Perhaps instead of being annoyed at your readers “acting” like they don’t understand your meaning, perhaps you should think about taking the more likely (not to mention humbler) stance that your writing was unclear. That way, you don’t insult your readers, and you might have an opportunity to improve.

      • http://porterperkins.blogspot.com Mark Perkins

        Fair enough, I suppose. I see your point about white-washing certain things to be less controversial… but the piece sure seems to suggest that more assertive partisanship (by liberal Christians, I suppose) would be helpful. And partisanship is dichotomous. Though, to be fair, it’s true that I latched onto a particular example as *the* example.

        I guess I object to the idea that since I hold more views that American pundits would call liberal than I once did, any reluctance on my part to get political is a bad thing.

        PS: I was joking about Mr. Carter engaging in satire. He was clearly just being a presumptive turd.

  • Rob

    David, you are often “annoyed” by your readers. Maybe the problem is your unclear and/or inflammatory style? I think the foregoing comments are evidence that you often obfuscate more than you clarify when attempting to make political arguments. Particularly when it’s obvious that when you use the word “extreme” to describe a political persuasion, you mean the term only with reference to your own ideological preferences, not those of a sensus communis of the American electorate.

    • http://joshuakeel.com Joshua Keel

      David, I agree with Rob, here. I’m very interested in hearing and evaluating your arguments, but am often frustrated by the somewhat inflammatory tone you often adopt. You say above that you assume to some extent that your readers agree with you. Well, I often don’t. But I don’t dismiss you out of hand. On the contrary, I am eager to hear you out! But I sometimes find that hard because of your tone. I have to overlook much. Many times I agree with positions that you find either abhorrent or absurd. When you criticize those positions, however, I rarely find a rationale for the criticism. It is simply assumed that I agree, recognizing the obvious absurdity of such beliefs. This is frustrating as someone who wants to understand your side. I rarely see you present your side in a manner that I can understand and evaluate on its own merits. Instead, I am expected simply to agree with your interpretations. I realize that much of the problem here is simply a great divide of thought. We are separated by the books we have read, the people we know and the experiences we’ve had. But somehow I’d like to cross that divide. I want understanding, and I’m asking you to be more understanding towards those of us who agree with you half the time but the other half are left scratching our heads.

  • Pingback: Is non-partisanship real piety? | Cardus Blog

  • Kevin

    I know that your article was mostly dealing with the evangelical right and left, but I just wanted to throw this out there:

    http://www.ncccusa.org/NCCnews/

    …as a reminder that press releases from mainline denominations come out all the time that are “lefty” in nature and tone, even while the denominations themselves are theologically divided. In general, they are not timid nor nonpartisan when stating their beliefs about issues.

    Of course, they certainly are timid in their presentation, but can you blame them? The Pope gets press coverage anytime he wants, but who’s going to listen to a random Presbyterian Grand Poobah, or any Lutheran other than Garrison Keillor? Should a representative from the United Methodist Council of Bishops really go on the offensive on Dateline or something?

    I know that you stated that you don’t necessarily want a Christian left that’s as bellicose as the right, but how do you envision an alternative except one that firmly state beliefs and follows it up with a “We agree to disagree.”?

  • http://duckpunching.wordpress.com Jason

    This whole discussion reminds me why I’m an Episcopalian now.

  • Peter

    Well, it’s too bad. I guess there’s no space to really publish a comment on Patrol in general, but I’ll say my piece here and I’m guessing it will be deleted at some point.

    I used to read Patrol back when it had soaring aspirations in terms of being a balance to conservative Christian media, especially when it came to reviewing music and popular culture. At first I thought it was a smart take on conservative Christianity, and then I got a little annoyed by the incessant arrogance and superiority all the freaking time. So every now and then I’d read Patrol, but I never found it essential enough to make the jump into an RSS reader, mostly because I couldn’t take the intellectual posturing. Heck, I usually agreed with what was being said, but I felt awful about it, like the articles insulted me the entire time even as I was nodding in agreement. It was never the kind of stuff I wanted to read on a daily basis, but it was the kind of stuff I hoped would evolve into something more subtle and even-handed as Patrol settled into its niche. Turns out the voice never settled into careful intellectual discourse – it was more like whether you agreed with David Sessions’s type of Christian liberal careful intellectual discourse.

    Maybe that’s okay with y’all, who knows. But I think that’s why Patrol has faded to where it is now, from CCM Patrol to Patrol Magazine aka some kind of review of New York City because that’s where all the cool stuff is going down (aka lol wut), to essentially a haven for a few guys and a small group of people who believe the same thing. Maybe it was never more than a blog with some fancy graphics and CSS. Or maybe it’s just a place for you to dump your thoughts and it was never really intended to have a large reach outside of liberal Christian circles.

    But your audience is bigger than you think. It’s more than just people who agree with you. (You could shut this down by turning off comments, you know.) If you really want this thing to be around for the future, as a loud and reputable voice, either find a way to stop obfuscating your beliefs with writing that sterically hinders understanding, or open up your minds to something bigger than yourselves. Or maybe you have. But honestly, I’m in agreement with Rob and Joshua Keel here – you’re confusing the crap out of me.

    • Kevin

      I’ve been reading Patrol for a while too, and I can’t agree more. You’ve given voice to a lot what I’ve been feeling for a long time.

  • Pingback: slacktivist » Smart people saying smart things

  • Pingback: The Illusory Promise of Apolitical Theology | Patrol - A review of religion and the modern world

  • Pingback: You’ve Got To Be Kidding, Gabe Lyons | Patrol - A review of religion and the modern world

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.