Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman


In Defense of “Fundagelicals”

posted by swaldman

At the end of my post yesterday about the National Day of Prayer, I included a clip from the festivities last year (?) in Tacoma, Washington (see above). I said it was,”lovely, warm and very evangelical.”Rob the Rev commented:

“Steve, you’re kidding right, about that video clip?! What a bunch of nationalistic, fundagelical pietistic, self-rightious crap!”

With respect to loyal/articulate reader “Rob the Rev,” I’d like to unpack my feelings about this video. The video was very Christian-centric and evangelical in style. To me, that’s absolutely great as long as it’s not an official city event. (I couldn’t quite tell whether this was an official event or something that some Christian groups pulled together.)I know some of my readers feel disgusted by evangelicals like this. It’s a culture war, after all, and evangelicals are on the side of jingoism, bigotry, homophobia and nationalism. Right?I can’t agree with that. First of all, non-evangelicals should not do to evangelicals what evangelicals sometimes to do others — stereotype and caricature. Most evangelicals I know are not bigots or hypocrites, or at least no more hypocritical than I am. They volunteer, treat people well, and, though I disagree with them on some issues, they come to their views with as much open-mindedness as most of those with whom I agree (which is to say a mix of genuine intellectual honesty and unconscious, opinions-handed-down-from-dad bias). There certainly are many who don’t fit that description but can we look at that video and be confident that the women with their hands in the air, praying joyfully to the sky, are all self-righteous bigots?Though I’m uncomfortable with the strong connection of religion and nationalism, most of the images in that video were of people praying for the safety of soldiers or firemen or the nation. Those seem like excellent things to pray for. I look at a video like this and feel conflicting emotions: mistrust about the public, exclusivist and semi-official nature of it — and excitement about the love of God they seem to have and the joy they seem to get from prayer. I’m both uncomfortable and envious.Is it my style? No, but those of us who argue for religious pluralism cannot habitually do it with a sneer. That doesn’t mean you stop fighting for what you believe in. That doesn’t mean you stop calling out other faiths for sanctioning immorality. But it does mean that you go into each experience with an attitude that is, well, Christ-ian — assuming the best of people until they prove you wrong. And then do it again. And again.I’m uncomfortable with interfaith dialogue advocates who say we should get along because at the end of the day the faiths have so much in common. They do, but what separates the faiths is profound — so what we really have to do here in America is much harder. We have to come to respect or at least tolerate people with whom we profoundly disagree. That’s real pluralism. It’s very difficult and very American.There’s a reason I always describe Beliefnet as a “multi-faith” rather than “interfaith.” Though I’m thrilled when people of different faiths converse and better understand each other, I don’t believe that people need to abandon their sense that their faith — and their’s alone — is the true path. Pluralism does not mean conflict avoidance. John Adams wrote that “men ought (after they have examined with unbiased judgments every system of religion, and chosen one system, on their own authority, for themselves), to avow their opinions and defend them with boldness.” I’ve often chided conservative Christians who can’t accept the basic tenets of religious pluralism — including the notion that this is not in any official sense, or even in any unofficial sense worth making a big deal about, a “Christian nation.” I wrote a whole book illustrating how the Founders advocated a very different approach.But those who support religious pluralism do their cause harm when they assume the worst in their “opponents.”Well, this certainly was a preachy, self-righteous post! Sorry about that. I’ll get off my soap box now



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Panthera

posted May 8, 2009 at 1:41 pm


Steven,
It was certainly one worth making.
I wonder. Do the evangelical Christians who equate my marriage to incest, pedophilia and bestiality as well as stating here that they want to tear my husband and me apart (for our own good, of course), while denying my Christianity and saying I am vile and a God-hating-anti-American also feel the same way you do?
I have seen none of it, but would be overjoyed to hear it.
Until then, I think I’ll reserve judgment on laying down my shield. They’re still treating me like a sub-human.



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Steven Waldman

posted May 8, 2009 at 2:36 pm


Panthera,
i think the ones who say that probably do not feel the same way as I do. But a) we can’t know whether the people in that video believed that and b) I do believe that the best way of changing hearts is usually to be more gracious and big-hearted than your opponent.
An imperfect analogy but…Gandhi never viewed non-violence as passive; he viewed it as effective and courageous.
but easy for me to say — I’m not the one being classed as sub-human, so I definitely hear what you’re saying.



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New Age Cowboy

posted May 8, 2009 at 2:39 pm


I grew up “Fundagelical”. By my community name, “New Age Cowboy”, one could guess where my sympathies lie now.
There’s several ways and planes to look at the “Fundagelical” phenomenon. I can start at the level of individuals taking my family and friends into account. My father and two older siblings are the remaining Fundagelicals in my immediate family. My father still gets mailings from folks like Dobson; my older sister attends a conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran Church; and my brother got caught up with fringe Fundagelical racists in Missouri.
My mother became skeptical of Evangelical interpretations when she became a psychiatric registered nurse; I gave up the Fundagelical program my second year of University, as I couldn’t take a literal Biblical interpretation; and my youngest sister is a lesbian. My mother and I are the only ones who get along with most of the family.
My brother refuses to accept me, because of my marriage to a black woman; and he refuses to accept our younger lesbian sister.
Luckily, my father accepts my little sister and I.
My older sister is a bit awkward with my little sister; but she tries.
As far as friends go, a Young Life Bible study leader I had in high school doesn’t really talk to me any longer. Before he stopped everything was a lecture. A Campus Crusade director and I still hang out, when he’s in town… we just don’t talk religion. (Young Life & Campus Crusade are both Evangelical organizations)
I guess the best way to put it on my micro-level is mixed. The more impressionable friends and family are – the worse the turns they take with Fundagelicalism.
In fact, in Bible study and singles groups that I’ve attended, it seems like their were a lot of folks who could have used psychiatric help… and I’m not trying to be sarcastic.
On the macro level, collective Fundagelical phenomena have consequences (as evidenced in the lovely blog “Mainline Protestants: America’s Moral Conscience” By: Diana Butler Bass above in Progressive revival) It’s safe to say that Fundagelicals helped put Bush in the White House. It’s pretty obvious that folks like Dobson or Puritanical and not too charitable when it comes to the poor.
On the macro level Fundagelicals are making Christianity look horrible. I don’t know how they went from having a loving icon like Billy Graham to becoming so mean-spirited. It’s turning potential Christian converts off. As far as I can tell Fundagelical philosophy is akin to what Rush Limbaugh spouts or what’s on Fox News.
I guess we can love the sinners, but the Fundagelical philosophy is destructive.



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Panthera

posted May 8, 2009 at 4:08 pm


Steven,
I get you. I really do. Clearly, if those of us Christians to the left of Genghis Kahn don’t attempt an outreach, nothing will happen.
At the same time, yes, there is a tremendous anger among gay Christians over the way we have been treated by our fellow Christians. Some deal with it by withdrawing from the Christian body completely. Others seek out the safety of churches where everyone is welcome.
Others leave the US and establish lives in countries where being gay and Christian is normal and welcomed.
Since I grew up between Europe and the US, it was no big problem for me to chose Europe. My husband is Irish, he certainly has had a far tougher time of it getting used to life in Dixie than I had – I know how the game is played.
But when you literally get on the plane in the morning as a married couple and get off in the evening as two people who are explicitly refused any recognition of their marriage or love, it does tend to drive home just how much power and influence these hateful people have and how far they are willing to go to hurt us.
Keep talking to them? Sure. But not as people coming to beg for a breadcrumb. Rather, as fellow Christians who are entitled to full human status.
This, I think, is what drives many of them absolutely crazy. They have this carefully preserved illusion that because we are gay we are, perforce, immoral in all aspects of our lives. We are children, not overly-bright, not capable of loving relationships, living sexually corrupt lives…
And when they encounter healthy, intelligent Christians who have been in partnerships and marriages for decades, happy and accepted in their communities, they don’t have a clue how to react.
So they just keep playing their same old tired record again and again and each time we counter their nonsense, they get nastier and nastier.
At this point, I truly think America is going to have to decide – are we a folk capable of tolerating difference, or must we become a religious state like Iran? For the fundevagelicals, the answer is clear – they want a version of Iran.



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ASido

posted May 8, 2009 at 5:17 pm


Steven,
“But it does mean that you go into each experience with an attitude that is, well, Christ-ian — assuming the best of people until they prove you wrong. And then do it again. And again.”
I think you have it backwards. The Christian attitude is to assume the worst of people quite frankly, recognizing that we all are sinners. The Christian attitude is not to assume that people are good and occasional slip up. The Gospel is not making good people better, it is hopelessly lost sinner being saved in spite of ourselves, not because of our inherent goodness.



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Steven Waldman

posted May 8, 2009 at 5:31 pm


Asido,
Great point. What would be a better analogy?



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Panthera

posted May 8, 2009 at 7:08 pm


Asido,
I think you have captured the essence of salvation through grace – being saved despite oneself.
I’ll remember that, thank you.
One of the few aspects of my job which I really, really hate is that I have to make judgment calls rather frequently. Did this student knowingly plagiarize – he’s two words over the maximum for non-cited text passages. Or this one, who is clearly keeping to our guidelines…but playing so fast and loose with them that he obviously is gaming us…
I feel inadequate to the task and pray that my decisions reflect justice tempered with mercy.
These conservative Christians know no mercy.
This is where righteousness and self-righteousness come into conflict and here, I think, is where the fundevagelicals go a completely different direction than those of us Christians who really do think we are all equal (equally undeserving and equally loved) of and by God.
How often do we read here: The righteous may judge (or, worse: are called to judge).
Or the complete rejection of modern science and medicine when they get in the way of being hateful?
I don’t know whether the literalistic mindset (absurd, given the stretches in interpretation and logic this requires) results from an inability to live with faith or whether it is truly a profoundly twisted, perverted sense that God calls upon us to abuse, torture, beat, rape and murder those who are gay and transgender.
Either way, when you’ve had your teeth kicked in and seen your husband beaten before your eyes for defending you against such Christians, you become a great deal more pragmatic and rather a bit less philosophical in dealing with these hateful people.
The goal of any dialogue with them must be to bring them to stop attacking us, to restore to us our natural rights as human beings and to leave us in peace.
Surely, they can be content keeping their hatred for their own churches and out of the public square?



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Husband

posted May 9, 2009 at 1:41 pm


So much to say, Steve …
” It’s a culture war, after all, and evangelicals are on the side of jingoism, bigotry, homophobia and nationalism. Right?”
If it is a culture war, it is not one that was started by the left. And yes, people can be left and still be Christian, though the ‘right’ would never deign to grant that.
And speaking of jingoism, bigotry and homophobia etc., when I hear these words from the video, “We pray that as the enemy comes in like a floodgate that the standard of God will be raised up against them.”, I know in my heart that those words are about me. Since I am an openly gay man, I am seen by fundagelicals as “the enemy”. (Gays have repeatedly been called “Satan’s minions” and “Sons of Molech” here on Beliefnet, so please don’t try to convince me I am wrong on this.) They refuse to see my Christan beliefs (loving justice, doing mercy and walking humbly with my God, and doing to others as they would be done unto – the “sum of the laws and the prophets” we’re told) as being any part of “God’s standards”.
When I hear these words from the video,“We pray for marriages all across this land.” I know that they do not mean all, only the ones that look like theirs. They most assuredly (and demonstrably) do NOT mean MY marriage to be included, despite its legality.
This is why we maintain they are the ones who are hypocritical. They do not mean what they say.
When you laud the people in the video “praying for the safety of this nation” gay citizens cannot help but be reminded that they are not permitted to serve in the military to help keep the nation safe. Instead, they are fired from their jobs or denied them in the first place. We are seen as part of the threat to the nation Non-gays often simply do not understand what that feels like.
“you go into each experience with an attitude that is, well, Christ-ian — assuming the best of people until they prove you wrong”
But the fundagelicals have proven themselves wrong on this topic so often, frankly most of us have given up being polite and ‘thinking the best’ of them. They have failed repeatedly to do exactly what you (and Christ) prescribe. Perhaps it is simply their turn to do so. We’ll gladly anticipate such a turnaround.
“what we really have to do here in America is much harder. We have to come to respect or at least tolerate people with whom we profoundly disagree. That’s real pluralism. It’s very difficult and very American.”
Agreed. I am reminded of John F. Kennedy’s famous words: “If we cannot now overcome our differences, let us work to make the world safe for diversity.”
But honestly, Steve, that is anathema to the fundagelicals. They want the opposite of that. We do not exist in their world. They do not want us to exist. Certainly, they do not want us to be treated equally under the law. They do not want ‘our’ world to be safe. We’re still “the queers”, to quote Joe the Plumber. They believe in their hearts, for example, that Matthew Shepard’s murder was “a hoax” (Congresswoman Foxx). They believe in their hearts that we’re “worse than terrorists” (Oklahoma’s governor). They believe our relationships are the equivalent of “marrying an animal or a child” (would-be president Mike Huckabee) or “marryin’ a plant” (Erin Manning of the Crunchy Con blog). The examples are endless, unfortunately. We are seen as “The Enemy” and we must be stopped ‘cuz we’re destroying the world.
“men ought (after they have examined with unbiased judgments every system of religion …)”
I agree, but most fundagelicals wouldn’t. Examine another religion? You’ve got to be kidding. They take offence at the very thought. (In the movie ‘Religulous’, a “Christian” man walked out of a discussion – and it was of is own faith – because it would force him to question his faith.) Look at another system of belief? Heresy – to the fundagelicals.
“But those who support religious pluralism do their cause harm when they assume the worst in their “opponents.”
Sorry, Steve, but I have to disagree. It’s more like those who do not support religious pluralism do their cause harm because they assume the worst in their “opponents.”
Sorry if I sound bitter, but I have for way too long been on the receiving end of the “love” of fundagelicals for me to accept your arguments. (Or theirs.) It’s time for their side to make accommodations for actual religious pluralism. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.



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Panthera

posted May 10, 2009 at 9:00 am


I think perhaps the most telling proof of the hatred the conservative Christians harbor in their hearts is the fact that they overwhelmingly embrace torture.
Of course, the fact that crunchycon welcomes racists with open arms doesn’t exactly lend credence to the oft repeated fundagelical chant: Love the sinner, hate the sin.
It’s more like: “We are still working on the Endlösung. Until then, we’ll content ourselves with promoting racism and hatred, bashing gays and raping transgendered.”
There is no way those of us who are persecuted by these people should permit ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security. These last months showed us their true nature.



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Your Name

posted May 11, 2009 at 8:34 pm


I would like to thank you for bringing our humble little video we made as a promo to other churches in our area into the vast world of the internet. Yes, I am a Fundagelical – more specifically one from this National Day of Prayer video. I understand what lies behind the somewhat hurtful things that are being said about us in others’ comments here. There have been many who come in the name of Jesus and under the guise of religion only to hurt, torture, and judge others. I will clear up some misconceptions about us and our little celebration:
-This is not a city sponsored event. Our church has gathered other churches in our area for the last 3 years to pray for our city – each year the number attending has grown.
-We do pray for the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden. Our heart hurts for those who have lost jobs, lost family members, lost hope.
-We are not political. Our desire is to cry out to God on behalf of our city. We ask Him to bring blessing and safety and peace to Tacoma. We believe He hears us and He answers. We have the American flag because we are proud to be Americans and we are Christians who desire America to be all that God intends us to be.
-It is not our goal to pray for the sole purpose of bringing attention to ourselves or our causes. We pray because Jesus instructed us to pray. Believe me, we pray plenty in our closets (just as Jesus did) and we also pray openly (just as Jesus did).
-We believe Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We believe the Bible is the Inspired Word of God by which we can govern our lives. It is a wonderful thing to live in a nation where we have a right to believe just as we please.
Many of the comments left here have done exactly what we are being accused of doing. I feel I have been judged, mocked, criticized and falsely blamed for things I have not said or done.
I would encourage you to really get to know one of us – after all – we put the “fun” in “Fundagelical”.



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Panthera

posted May 12, 2009 at 8:13 am


Hmm,
I don’t recall Jesus saying anything about mixing one’s nationality and prayer to God.
Rather the opposite, actually.
Of course, he was only a long-haired Jewish Rabi, not a real American patriot.
Sigh.
Take the nationalism out of my Christianity, your hatred out of my Constitution and then I will believe you were just celebrating our Savior. Until then, sorry, no – you’re trying to impose your hateful views upon all of us.
Not all Christians are Americans supremists.
Many Christians are gay and/or transgendered.
Tell me you also pray for us, as gay and transgendered Christians, just as we are, then I’ll believe it wasn’t a hate-rally.
I’d love to hear the words.
Otherwise, nope – I see no difference to the gatherings here outside my door back in the 1930′s



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Rob the Rev

posted May 12, 2009 at 12:26 pm


Since it was my comments that prompted Steve to write this blog entry it is about time for me to respond. I would have done so before this except I have been busy this past weekend officiating at a Holy Union service and a worship service at the Metropolitan Community Church congregation I pastor in Midland, MI.
I concur with the comments of Panthera, New Age Cowboy, and Husband.
My response to the video came from both my present situation and past history. In my dark, ecclesiastical closet past I was a fundagelical “Misery” Synod Lutheran since 1971. After my separation from active duty in the U.S. Army in 1971 where I had a “foxhole” conversion I became a card-carrying member. I believe that I affiliated as a way to stay in the closet and out of a self-loathing of my homosexual orientation that I was denial about along with the stupid idea that God would “heal me” if I dedicated myself to serving as a pastor. During my thirty or so years pasturing three fundagelical Lutheran congregations I came to understand what they are all about regarding their hypocritical nationalism, jingoism, self-righteousness, and pietism and functioned as one of them as part of my ecclesiastical cover. They are trying to “save themselves” by believing “pure” dogma and doctrine and saying it in the “orthodox” way. I see no sincerity in it at all! And if they are sincere in their beliefs, they are sincerely WRONG! After coming to terms with my sexual orientation and accepting myself for who I am I rejected it all and want to expose it for what it is.
If you want to know my spiritual journey out of fundagelicalism you can read it at my profile: http://community.beliefnet.com/rob_the_rev?pref_tab=my_site



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Husband

posted May 13, 2009 at 4:55 pm


Steve,
Perhaps you’d like to say a few words in defense of one of the chief fundagelicals and his latest message of God’s love for all of humakand …
“Pat Robertson: Gay marriage first step on path to child molestation”
From this past week’s news – I’m sure you don’t need me to provide a link for you, but can and will if asked.)
What causes a ‘fundie’ to utter such wicked and ignorant and hateful and demonstrably false slurs about God’s gay and lesbian children? What on earth does he hope to gain from bearing such false witness?
Can anyone give me a cogent anwer?



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Husband

posted May 13, 2009 at 5:00 pm


Oh, and while you’re at it, could you please comment on the fact that today, Uruguay (yes, Uruguay!) lifted its ban on gays in the military.
Oh, and the New Assembly voted 89 – 52 in favor of same-sex marriage (the 2nd time it has done so, only this time with an even greater majority).
Heck, this should even make Rod Dreher happy – it was settled in the Legislature (twice), exactly as happened in California (again, twice).
You need more ‘reporters’. Your ‘news’ section is abysmally slow to report actual news that your readers here seem to avidly follow (if Dreher’s combox count is any indication).



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Your Name

posted May 13, 2009 at 5:01 pm


Should read “New York State Assembly” – crappy keyboard.



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Steven Waldman

posted May 14, 2009 at 11:54 pm


Thank you Rob the Rev, New Age Cowboy, Panthera, Husband and the rest for your comments. And thank you person from the Tacoma Christian group for discussing your “prayer day” event.
I hope that conservative evangelicals can read some of this and understand that the approach taken by some of them has caused incalculable pain, a deep sense of injustice, and driven people away from Christianity.
And I hope that some of the regulars can read the post from the Tacoma Christians and understand my main point: you can’t know what’s the hearst of the people in that video. Perhaps some of them were hateful bigots. But you can’t know that, and, imho, you shouldn’t assume that. Our Tacoma visitor acknowledged some of the pain felt by others on the site, saying, “There have been many who come in the name of Jesus and under the guise of religion only to hurt, torture, and judge others.” Perhaps that was a sign that at least some of the folks in that video are, indeed, focused on Christ’s loving message, willing to be introspective, and open to constructive dialogue.



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Panthera

posted May 15, 2009 at 10:04 am


Stipulated, Steven.
Not all conservative Christians are torturers, rapists and murderers.
A valid point.



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