Evangelicals Should Think More Deeply (Jeff Sharlet)

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.

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posted October 31, 2007 at 12:12 am

If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, and eats and you-know-whats like a duck, it is a non or anti-Christian trying to manipulate and trick Christians into supporting godless secular humanism.
I clicked on the Institute for Religion and Democracy website as soon as you denigrated it (them) and their tact is no different than Jesus or the Apostles.
This is a fight. You got that part right.
It is a fight between malevolent and dark forces of secular humanist hedonism cruising Churches for fresh meat. Wolves in sheep’s clothing do not growl at their victims. The make promises that bring them near and to their destruction.
There is no where in the New Testament witness that supports Progressive ideology. And no where that presents Progressive theology.
Poor Jude had to deal with sneaky and cunning Liberals and Progressives in the Churches back in his day:
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.
Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lorddelivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.
In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them.
Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.
These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead.
Poor Jude, we Evangelicals know exactly how he felt.

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Jeff Sharlet

posted November 4, 2007 at 7:24 pm

Donny says I walk like a duck and quack like a duck, so therefore I must be representative of “malevolent and dark forces of secular humanist hedonism.” Leaving aside the problem of what “secular humanist hedonism” would like — atheists gone wild? how dull. –there’s a shorthand for what Donny calls “malevolent and dark forces:: I’m a “Jew,” Donny. There. I said it for you.

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F. Taylor

posted December 13, 2007 at 6:12 am

Interesting piece. As to poor Donnie, while he may well be anti-Semitic, he is also obviously “away with the fairies” as the old Gaels used to say. (He also could use a strong course in basic written communications) No use trying to discuss anything with people like this. As Sam Clemens wrote; “Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.”
As to” secular humanist hedonists” – I submit that what Donnie and a lot like him need is a good dose of secular humanism to clear their brains – and maybe some hedonism as well, as, like many of his ilk, he seems obsessed with human sexuality. (Which was, if one believes in the Judaeo-Christian version of deity and creation, supplied to them by their creator – in which case, how can it be evil?
Passing on from such sad creatures, let me say that I must disagree with one or two points – a fight of any kind (violent or “democratic”) over belief in whatever spiritual faith one chooses to follow and practice is the LAST thing we need, and “wishy-washy, let’s all get along tolerance” is EXACTLY what is needed everywhere. Whether one has real differences or not, one should be free to practice one’s beliefs as long as they do not conflict with (just) laws – for example, human sacrifice must remain a thing of the dark past.
The Framers wisely simultaneously protected the free exercise of religion, and excluded it from political rule by ensuring in the First Amendment that there would be not be a state-sponsored religion (which has historically been the bane of the world in all times and places), and at the same time, no interference with the free practice of any religion.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;… ”
Unfortunately, there are groups now around the world, ranging from nominally “Christian” far-right extremists of all stripes (such as the Dominionist thugs and other members of the American Taliban) to the Wahabist and related sects of radical Islam – who, oddly, have far more in common with one another than they do with those of us who are not religious fanatics – but who, fortunately, have not realized that.
However, given the prevalent tendency in most humans to desire to control their world and other humans, it is unlikely that the saner or more moderate elements will prevail.
We could well see a theocracy established in the US – and let none doubt that given the power, people like Donnie would cheerfully do so. The late, unlamented (by me at least) Rushdoonie remarked that his aim was to “Bring the world to the feet of Christ – in chains, if necessary.” Any questions on that agenda?

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posted April 3, 2008 at 1:04 pm

F Taylor, thanks for great comments and good reading.
Jeff, I “suffer” your fate to burn in Hell forever, malevolent non-beleiver in Christ (Jew) that I am.
And people wonder why I find it cheesy when Miley Cyrus thanks “her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” on the Nick awards, or when linebackers kneel down and cross themselves after tacking their opponents on the football field. I guess Jesus is cheering on the sidelines.
Quack, quack.

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