First Things editor Joseph Bottum has an editorial in the new issue of the magazine that repeats the consensus of a lot of conservatives who can’t quite cave to the worst impulses of the right’s burgeoning anti-Muslim fervor, but also can’t pass up the chance to use the “Ground Zero mosque” as an opportunity to score against their ideological opponents. It’s too beautiful a chance to portray Obama as out of touch with the majority of Americans and, worse, on the side of Islam. Bottum calls the proposed construction of the Islamic community center “wildly offensive” but “wildly constitutional.” Later on, he throws in a couple of barbs about unborn babies and the Greek Orthodox church at Ground Zero that is mired in a bureaucratic struggle with the Port Authority—basically, irrelevant grievances presented as vague justifications conservative excess.
The only reason I mention this piece at all is because of how well it demonstrates the faux-reasonableness of the “constitutional but offensive” position, which is fully betrayed by the end of Bottum’s piece. It wants to be a middle-of-the-road compromise betwen elite multiculturalists and passionate Americans, an admittance of constitutional reality without the cultural snobbery of the Islamic center’s champions. But as Bottum complains about the way Obama and Bloomberg assume “there is nothing left to discuss,” his true feelings are clear: He is deeply suspicious of and hostile to Islam, and resents liberal American leaders for failing to empathize with the anti-Muslim sentiment sweeping the electorate and, apparently, his own person. So he takes comfort in the fact that the messy nature of democracy will probably halt construction of the Islamic center—a project “so offensive, so bizarre, and so deliberate that it should be stopped.”
At Evangel, Sarah J. Flashing urges conservative Christians to reject the compromise of the “public language” they have resorted to in their defense of traditional morality. Basically, these Christians have assumed their “worldview” could compete in the marketplace of ideas, and have dressed it up in pragmatic reasoning in order to make it more competitive. This, Flashing summarizes, has weakend the theoconservative position even more, since divorced from their the exclusive Christian truth claims that underpin them, arguments for traditional Christian morality just seem ridiculous. She concludes that theoconservatives should examine the failure of their approach and realize that “moral revival begins with spiritual revival.”
No one will be surprised that I agree with Flashing that the theocon approach to conserving—the culture wars—has been a dismal failure on every objective measure. I’m glad someone—anyone—is talking about re-evaluating an approach I believe has rightfully resulted in deep, lasting cultural animosity to the Christian faith. I disagree fundamentally with most of the objectives of the culture wars, not just the tactics of the soldiers (though those deserve their own focus from Christians concerned about other Christians behaving Christianly in the public square.) But that aside, I want to look at one specific error Flashing reiterates, which I think is the fundamental one at the heart of everything that has gone wrong for the Christian right the past two or three decades.
We didn’t have to wait long for the reactions from conservative Christians to yesterday’s decision in the Prop 8. They’re predictably hyperbolic:
Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America:
“Judge Walker’s decision goes far beyond homosexual ‘marriage’ to strike at the heart of our representative democracy. Judge Walker has declared, in effect, that his opinion is supreme and ‘We the People’ are no longer free to govern ourselves. The ruling should be appealed and overturned immediately.”
Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:
“In one brazen act of judicial energy, California’s voters were told that they had no right to define marriage, and thousands of years of human wisdom were discarded as irrational. … The central institution of human civilization suffered a direct hit, and its future hangs in the balance.”
Daniel Blomerg of the Alliance Defense Fund:
“What’s really chilling about this decision is the way the plaintiffs and the judge directly attacked the faith of millions of Americans. They presented doctrinal beliefs about marriage as evidence of bigotry, as unreasonableness.”
Let me first comment on the hilarity of Ms. Wright saying that overturning a ballot intiative is a challenge to “representative democracy.” Ballot initiatives are themselves challenges to representative democracy, as they seek to bypass legislators and allow voters to essentially write law from the voting booth. California is a mess on their account. Prop 8 was the real challenge to representative democracy, and it should have been overturned on that fact alone.
I missed this appearance by evangelical titans Tim and Beverly LaHaye on Mike Huckabee’s Fox News show, but thanks to Andrew for flagging it. It’s a dismaying reminder that the religious right has not gone anywhere; in fact, its mixture of theological gibberish and hysterical politics get substantial airtime on the most watched cable news network in the country.
One couldn’t find a more succinct encapsulation of the politics I grew up immersed in — not so much by my parents as by the Christian media we consumed — than this five-minute chit-chat. The impending apocalypse was reinforced everywhere, from hosts on Christian talk radio programs to entire sections of books in Family Christian stores. The United Nations would grow to become a one-world government, which would lead to the rise of the Beast (probably somewhere like Iraq) who would impose worldwide totalitarianism and brutally persecute Christians. This was why, they said, we have to stand against liberalism: because it was inside job by militant secularists who wanted America to hand over its sovereignty when their moment of atheistic utopia arrived. Entire organizations were devoted to monitoring this process by connecting world events with biblical prophecy and, usually, articulating a Zionism-inflected conservative politics. These delusions reached their zenith in Tim LaHaye’s bestselling Left Behind series, which fictionalized a global future many evangelicals actually believe to be in progress as you read this.
From Slate‘s Explainer today:
Pope Benedict XVI announced Sunday that he would pray for the 19 revelers trampled to death at a techno musical festival in Duisburg, Germany. Do Christians think praying can help a dead person get into heaven?
Not exactly. All Christians believe that only God can determine whether a person belongs in heaven or in hell.
If only all Christians believed that!
In a Memorial Day special on WORLD‘s web site, Lee Wishing jumps off Russell Kirk’s The American Cause to do some typical musing that results in a typical insinuation: the American cause and the Christian cause are all but the same thing.
Kirk cautions that we not make an idol of the USA, and become jingoistic and the self-appointed “keepers of the world’s conscience.” But it’s clear he thought we should work to preserve, protect, and promote the Christian ideals that make American society thrive, such as belief in an unchanging God who made people in His image and entitled to life, liberty, and the protection of their property; punishing actions that violate these inalienable rights; an understanding that mankind and societies are not perfectible through government tinkering and revolution; recognizing that leaders who think otherwise are dangerous ideologues; tolerating other religious faiths and valuing liberty of conscience; and cultivating free and orderly markets to improve the human condition.
Defending America begins with understanding her Christian foundation and that America, its faults notwithstanding, is the greatest society the world has known for upholding human dignity. As America battles foreign enemies and domestic ideologues this Memorial Day, understand, Christian, that you and I bear a great responsibility for defending this nation and we owe a great debt of gratitude to those whose graves are decorated today.
First, I’ve no objection to recognizing the ways that Christian ideas, even though they were filtered through a kind of theistic rationalism, shaped America’s political and legal infrastructure. But that admitting that fact is different than the embracing the kind of seamless blend of 20th-century evangelical Christianity, conservative economics, and national ideology on display in Mr. Wishing’s post. I feel obligated to call attention to that particular intellectual cocktail wherever I see it because it does neither Christians nor Americans any good. If anything, it prevents some evangelicals from letting their faith critique their national ideology by helping them make-believe that God and Country are one and the same.
Ugh. I never know how to feel when I read an article that feels, to me as an “insider,” so behind the curve. Like the subject of my last blog, a review in the New York Times Book Review of The Case for God, an article in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times takes a subject we’ve all discussed ad nauseum and makes it a feature story.
For many readers, simply knowing the subject means you could probably go ahead and, without reading it, write the same article Duke Helfand just wrote for the LA Times. Rock music in church. Suburbs. Upbeat Biblical message. Saddleback. Non-denominational.
Yah, we got it
Admittedly, this is a rant, though it’s not against mega-churches (plenty of that going on, no need for me to add to it here), nor is it against the media reporting on issues of interest to Evangelicals (more, please), if anything this is a lament that the same story keeps being told over and over.
If it’s not a mega-church story, it’s a rebel church story or a Driscoll/Bell/Baker, Jr. story. Though, I guess it must be said, I’ll take this reporting about “new” trends in evangelicalism over the latest headline-attracting and painfully embarrassing statement by our old friends from the old school hard right.
There has to be a point here, and there is. You, Patrol reader, know better. You know what is really going on. You know what mega-churches mean and how they mean. You know we’ve moved on, we’re moving on. You know what story to tell. You know it can’t ever be just one story (borrowing here from the TED talk by the always amazing Chimamanda Adichie).
Tell our story. Join us. Make the media know who we really are by being the media. And, if that’s not your gift, not where you’re at, then please, at the very least, don’t embarrass us.
Here's an annoying post from Brett McCracken, defining the term "Christian hipster." Annoying because I read it and realized I fit the definition — right up to my discomfort with labels like "Christian hipster."
Christian hipsters like music, movies, and books that are well-respected by their respective artistic communities—Christian or not. They love books like Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider, God’s Politics by Jim Wallis, and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. They tend to be fans of any number of the following authors: Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, John Howard Yoder, Walter Brueggemann, N.T. Wright, Brennan Manning, Eugene Peterson, Anne Lamott, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Henri Nouwen, Soren Kierkegaard, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Annie Dillard, Marilynne Robison, Chuck Klosterman, David Sedaris, or anything ancient and/or philosophically important.
Christian hipsters love thinking and acting Catholic, even if they are thoroughly Protestant. They love the Pope, liturgy, incense, lectio divina, Lent, and timeless phrases like “Thanks be to God” or “Peace of Christ be with you.” They enjoy Eastern Orthodox churches and mysterious iconography, and they love the elaborate cathedrals of Europe (even if they are too museum-like for hipster tastes). Christian hipsters also love taking communion with real Port, and they don’t mind common cups. They love poetry readings, worshipping with candles, and smoking pipes while talking about God. Some of them like smoking a lot of different things.
I love the part about "thinking and acting Catholic" and "taking communion with real Port."
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