I’m glad to have Hannah’s unvarnished account of the Value Voters Summit; though I think she’s being unfair to the Politburo, an institution that was at least mercifully corrupt: Everyone had to toe the line publicly, but privately nearly everyone knew better.
I didn’t make it to the Value Voters Summit. Instead I went back to my hometown in upstate New York to speak at a Methodist church. A splendid group of people, drawn from other churches in the area as well, smart, informed, critical thinkers. Not all of them liberal, either; but all of them engaged with their faith as more than a done deal. Here’s the sad part: a young man in the front row taking notes on a laptop set off alarms with the pastor. What’s wrong with notes? Well, this church has been targeted by the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), which is bent on conforming mainline denominations to the political program of conservative evangelicals — or else. IRD has sent monitors to this church before. Fortunately, this guy turned out to be a reporter. But even having to worry about it was an ugly experience.
So here we are talking about how political evangelicals can stop freaking out secular folks, when there’s a bunch of Christian conservative activists busy harassing and intimidating other Christians.
We’re a long way from the peace Kuo would like to see.
That’s where Hanna and I disagree, though — she welcomes Land and Wallis building up common ground. She fears a return to the culture war. I’m not thrilled about it, but I think we need to be realistic:
It’s here, it’s not going away any time soon, and so long as liberals, leftists, and other non-conservatives play the common ground win, those who seek to “manipulate” and “dominate” the culture, in David Kuo’s terms, will have the upper hand.
So let’s fight. That’s what democracy is really good for, actually. That’s what tolerance is good for. Not the wishy-washy, let’s all get along tolerance — the original concept, which is about admitting that we have real differences, we’re going to contest them, and we’re going to use democratic means rather than violence. I’d like Land to put his rhetorical boxing gloves back on. Then I’m ready to listen to him, because I know he’s being honest about where he’s coming from.
A few other last points:
David: My problem with evangelicals who oppose basic rights for people I love — and thus, I’d argue, the very concept of humanity — has nothing to do with whether they’ve lost confidence in Jesus. Anyone who says there’s only one way to understand Jesus –conservative or liberal or liberationists– is practicing a form of fundamentalism.
There are anti-gay people who are sincere in their faith. That’s fine–but, as I write above, that means we’re going to have an argument.
Speaking of assertions about Jesus: I’m not sure if Jesus does say that change happens on the micro level, not the macro. That’s pretty debatable, and Christians have been debating it for 2000 years. But regardless of what Jesus says, it’s time to face up to the fact that American evangelicals have either used, or misunderstood, the concept of micro. Micro-change does not mean you must oppose macro change.
Micro change does not mean that we don’t face macro problems. And that some of the nastiest, greediest elements of society prosper in the gap between the evangelical embrace of micro and the reality of macro.
Party politics: Enough with the whole Republican thing. Anyone who looks seriously at evangelical politics in America knows that they haven’t always been Republican, and they won’t always be. The question is, When they become Democratic, or something else, will the vision expand? Or will it just be the same old story with a new label?
Michael writes: “While populists make the most noise, cosmopolitans have the most impact.” I couldn’t agree more. That’s the subject of my forthcoming book, too. But is Michael suggesting that this is a good thing? Cosmopolitans — I think Michael would agree could also be called elites –they tend to be more centrist on some issues and more anti-democratic on others. Populist leaders aside, populist evangelicals and fundamentalists often hold surprisingly progressive economic views. Republican? Most of the fundamentalist churches I’ve visited function as if they’re socialists. So why doesn’t that populism rise up into national politics? The cosmopolitans, the elite evangelicals who for 50 years have conflated the economic interests of big business with those of their faith.
Michael offers an excellent example: “One thing I can point to is a number of corporate executives who are choosing to forgo the kind of opulent lifestyle we’re used to seeing and are instead using their money to do good works, making a difference in people’s lives. It’s not a revolution, but it’s not nothing.”
So, they’re forgoing opulent lifestyles in favor of merely excellent ones? Mazal Tov. But instead of doling out their spare change to us little folks, why don’t they acknowledge their power and use it to challenge the system that offers them such great rewards while others suffer? They won’t do that. In fact, many of the evangelical businessmen who’re absolutely admirable on a personal level, dedicating money and time to helping the poor, are also the most steadfast in opposing efforts of the poor to help themselves — evangelical business in America has always been at odds with organized labor.
This isn’t simply a personal failing on the part of these elite evangelicals. In fact, they’re taking their faith seriously. But they are just “taking it”–sticking with received wisdom. And there’s no push for them to think more deeply. So long as there are goons like Bauer and Perkins out there, these guys look good, pat themselves on the back for not being haters — and let their faith and their tradition stagnate. Given their status, that’s dangerous. What “cosmopolitans” do affects the rest of us. For those whose decisions affect masses of people, individual morality is not enough — indeed, it can be worse than nothing, blinding the powerful to the world around them.