The New Christians

The New Christians


Maybe Phyllis Tickle’s Next Book Should Be about Politics

posted by Tony Jones

phyllis tickle.jpg
In Phyllis Tickle’s latest book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why, she writes of the “centering” of Christianity. In her famous quadrilateral diagram, she demonstrates how liturgicals, social justicers, pente-charistmatics, and doctrinal evangelicals are all swirling toward the center. Many of us find it a compelling argument, and the latest data seems to reinforce her thesis.

Well, this morning, I was watching Morning Joe, as I often do with my, er, morning joe. (I actually like Joe Scarborough, although his recent defense of the torturers has left me cold.)

Of late, Joe has been hammering on the fact that only 21% of Americans identify themselves as Republicans. It’s a bad story for the GOP, especially as blue encroaches from the coasts into the Heartland — Joe said this morning that it will soon be the Dixie Party, meaning that the southeastern U.S (a.k.a., the “Deep South”) will be all that’s left in the Republican base.

Of course, the switch of Arlen Specter really brings this home. And it was in talking about Specter that Joe said something thing reminded me of Phyllis:


“There will always be ideological lefties and righties,” Joe said, “But they will be increasingly small and increasingly hardened.” And, I’d add, increasingly irrelevant. (BTW, this is not an exact quote from Joe, but as closely as I can remember it.

In fact, that’s exactly what Phyllis says about the four corners of her quadrilateral. And it seems to be fairly accurate.

So, what say you? Are our politics and our religion reflective of one another? Or reflective of some larger shift toward the pragmatic center?

the great emergence.jpg
Photos from The Great Emergence National Gathering, courtesy of Jonathan Brink



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Tim McGeary

posted April 29, 2009 at 1:26 pm


I don’t know about pragmatic center, but over the past 3-4 years, I have jumped into the center with both feet in politics and faith. I became unaffiliated to a political party, and while I go to a church in a major denomination, I don’t affiliate solely with all of its tenets and beliefs.
In the chart above, I don’t know if I could lean in any of the quadrant’s any longer. At various stages in my faith, I could say I was solidly in 3 of the 4 without being in the others. But now the lines are blurred. Sometimes I doubt that is as valuable as I would have thought because no I wonder if I’ve become more a jack-of-all worldviews and master of none. But mostly I see that as being fluid and receptive to God.
Looking forward to reading the book…



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Larry

posted April 29, 2009 at 1:47 pm


I’ve only thought that maybe “The Great Convergence” might be a better name for Phyllis’ book, and more representative of what’s going on, at least within Christianity. As far as politics goes, I think that more and more people are abandoning the old right/left distinction and wanting something different, and so they appear to be moving toward the center, but in reality this is just a holding pattern until something truly different appears.



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Larry

posted April 29, 2009 at 1:48 pm


“Only” in the first line above should be “often”. How is that you always see these thing after hitting “post”?



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Dan Hauge

posted April 29, 2009 at 2:31 pm


I do think there is an overall shift toward a ‘pragmatic center’–that how cultural assimilation works. As technology and increased communication nudges us toward a more national and global culture, this kind of ‘merging’ is inevitable, and happening. The question is, is the pragmatic center of our particular day and age the place where God’s passion is most to be found? This goes back to the older question, of where do we find the Spirit’s voice: Is it necessarily through the main-stream of contemporary culture? Can we be confident that where the pragmatic center of our day and age shakes out, there goes the Spirit of God? Or is the Spirit of God sometimes (or even often) speaking through one or more of the radical fringes?



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jhimm

posted April 29, 2009 at 3:42 pm


i would say that a growing desire by a growing demographic for genuine diversity and respectful plurality will, by definition, will cause true-believer ideologues to become increasingly the minority fringe.
the problem, of course, is ensuring we get genuine diversity and respectful plurality and not some kind of luke-warm, mediocre form of ubiquitous nonidentity and tolerance as thought policing.



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Dan Hauge

posted April 29, 2009 at 4:20 pm


yeah, what jhimm said.



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Kevin s.

posted April 29, 2009 at 4:23 pm


The Arlen Specter shift is indicative of the opposite trend, I think. In order to survive, he had to switch to a party that will welcome him. He was governing as a moderate, but will now govern from the left, should he win re-election.
For the most part, what we are seeing is a pendulum swing to the left. Barack Obama is arguably the furthest left president we’ve ever had (at least since Woodrow Wilson). Liberal policies are the shiny new toy, and they haven’t been tested by the fire of public opinion.
Most Christians are theologically illiterate, so a trend toward the mushy middle is unsurprising. You cannot stand for ideas you do not understand. I think the church will respond by re-establishing what it means to be a Christian.



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Kenton

posted April 29, 2009 at 4:58 pm


I don’t know where to start. For starters, I find it interesting how my left-leaning (please don’t tell me you’re centrist) Christian friends are spinning the Specter move to make it sound as if “moving toward the center” means “becoming Democrat.” (Are you now suggesting that soon the only ones who will vote for a Republican are dumb-ass redneck Southerners, Tony?)
But to the question of the US somehow becoming “post-partisan”: No way. Now we may become partisan in different ways, and over different issues, but politics is a competitive business and there will always be ways to divide. People naturally will want to grab power and as long as two people want to hold an office, there will be partisan fights over who will hold it. It ain’t rocket science. Hell, even us dumb-ass redneck Southerners can figure that one out.
Luckily, following the way of Jesus is (or at least should be) just the opposite. There is no “power grab.” The model Jesus left us is one of a servant. It’s sacrifice instead of competition. The more we come to know that (and thanks to Phyllis and others – yourself included – for are reminding us of this) the more we will gravitate toward a center. But politics by its very nature will never have that servant mindset and so will never have that centripetal pull.



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Blake Huggins

posted April 29, 2009 at 11:07 pm


Left. Right. Center. I’m beginning to wonder if these categories are becoming increasingly outmoded and unrepresentative of most people.
I don’t really have much to say about the Specter switch. Just another career politician doing what he can to ensure that he stays in office methinks.



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Brian

posted April 30, 2009 at 9:55 am


The left, right, and center can all be ideological. They all have their foundations. They all have their biases. They all have their reasons to be self-righteous. And, yes, they all have their fundies who are too rigid to be able to engage in dialogue with other perspectives.
Centrism is not the magical panacea for the future. In fact, when someone thinks they’ve found a new panacea, it often simply means they’ve slipped into a new ideology. It’s wrong to imply that centrism is any more objective, moral, or ethical than any other position. It’s imperial to imply that centrism is the best position of everyone. It’s unreasoned to imply that centrism is the wave of the post-partisan future. It’s untrue to imply that centrists are any more able to engage in dialogue than any other perspective. The list goes on and on.
Our goal should not be for everyone to meet in the mushy middle. That is a modernist assumption that suggests there is one right way to do things. It’s the old, imperial “melting pot” ideology. There is a better, more pluriform, and more postmodern way to do things.
Our goal should be to authentically represent our positions – left, right, and/or center – with an openness to dialogue with people who hold different positions. Barack Obama is a good example of this. Obama is a clear liberal, yet he legitimately wants to hear a diversity of perspectives on issues. He’s not trying to be a centrist, but instead, he’s trying to be an open minded liberal. This is a beautiful way to embrace diversity. Instead of a “melting pot” of centrism, this image is a “tossed salad” of leftism, rightism, and centrism. Everyone gets a place and a voice. Sometimes the liberals will have a good idea. Sometimes the conservatives will have a good idea. Sometimes the centrists will have a good idea. Therefore, it’s the dialogue across the different perspectives that is important and generative to uphold.
Maybe Barack Obama’s next book should be about theology.



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undefined

posted April 30, 2009 at 10:48 am


I agree with Brians statement.We all gain if we remain opened minded
to all groups and listen to what they are saying.I find that there is
a common theme or thread that shows the need of all.Pray,watch,listen to The Trinity,and your neighbors needs and do whatever he tells you.
Peace



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Ryan S

posted April 30, 2009 at 11:07 am


Kenton I don’t think Tony meant that the Spector move was indicative of being centrist. I think he was referring to the fact that the Republican base is getting more right wing. Spector switched parties because he felt that he could not win the Republican primary (at least that’s what is suspected). Tony believes this is evidence of the Republicans becoming more right wing, and becoming a regional party (like the Dixie party).



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Sara

posted April 30, 2009 at 11:38 am


Ryan S, people have been saying that the GOP is becoming a more ideological and regional party for years. In fact, NPR just did another story about it yesterday:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103586895



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Kenton

posted April 30, 2009 at 2:36 pm


Ryan & Sara-
Why is the rhetoric so one-sided? Yes, the GOP base has always been as right-wing as it is today, but the same can be said of the Dems being left-wing. You don’t think Reid, Pelosi, Soros, and Carville are ideologues???
If you look at the history of the referenced Washington Post/ABC News poll, THE NUMBERS DON’T CHANGE MUCH. HELLO! The GOP is always around 23% – the Dems around 35%. Both have to reach toward the middle for votes. Yes, the Dems were better able to do that this last cycle, but it’s premature to say the GOP is dead. They weren’t dead in the mid 70’s nor were they dead in early 80s when the numbers were similarly down.



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Sara

posted April 30, 2009 at 3:13 pm


Kenton,
I understand your challenge to fairly represent both political parties. So here goes. According to current research, the Democratic party is getting more diverse while the Republican party is getting more conservative. Perhaps the Democrats will soon represent centrists and leftists!
This whole two party system plays into the dualistic thinking that many have shown to be problematic. I wish we had eight viable parties representing eight distrinct perspectives. It would help break down some of the simplistic, ideological banter. Now, that would be a yummy “tossed salad” of perspectives!



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Kenton

posted April 30, 2009 at 4:54 pm


Sara-
Did you get your understanding of “fairness” from FOX news? Hey, they’re both fair AND balanced! :)
I like your idealism when it comes to dualistic thinking. There are times, though, that it’s better to think binary. Breaker boxes. Locks. The World Series. And since passage of the 12th Amendment, American politics.
So, there will always be two parties. They may evolve over time (indeed they already have), but there will never be eight viable parties. HOWEVER, as there are a multitude of perspectives, the two parties – in an effort to elect candidates – often form coalitions adopting these various perspectives. The environmental perspective is adopted by a party. The fiscally responsible perspective is adopted by a party. The anti-gun perspectives and the pro-gun perspectives are adopted by parties. When your coalition gets too small you adopt a perspective that’s been taken advantage of or neglected by the other party. Likewise when your perspective gets neglected or taken advantage of, you tell the party to stick it.
So in THAT sense we HAVE your “tossed salad.”



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Ted Seeber

posted April 30, 2009 at 5:00 pm


The problem is twofold:
1. Even the political left in the United States is very conservative, right-wing, and totalitarian from the point of view of the rest of the world.
2. When you are extreme, the middle looks to be the opposite side (which is something I’ve run into when trying to talk politics from a Catholic perspective- Republicans hate helping the poor, Democrats hate the traditional family).



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Kevin s.

posted April 30, 2009 at 7:14 pm


“Tony believes this is evidence of the Republicans becoming more right wing, and becoming a regional party (like the Dixie party).”
Statistically speaking, it has more to do with centrists in Pennsylvania shifting to the Democratic party. By definition, this leaves the Republican party more conservative.
The same thing happened (albeit to a lesser extent) with Joe Lieberman in Connecticut. Centrists moved into the Republican column, and Democratic primary voters were, on average, further left.



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Kevin s.

posted April 30, 2009 at 7:23 pm


Actually, an eight party system would lead to the election of more ideological extremists. Parties coalesce around issues about which people care deeply. You will never see a “status quo” party, or a “tweak this and that” party.
The two party system, combined with a system of check and balances, slows the trajectory of political change, which mitigates against extremism. That other nations regard our political left as “ultra right-wing” reflects mere ignorance, and should not have any bearing on our own ideology in America.



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Sara

posted May 1, 2009 at 4:55 pm


Sorry. I got a little off topic above.
Phyllis Tickle is right about needing to represent the best of our traditions. The Church needs a sense of radical inclusivity of various theologies, polities, and perspectives. But I don’t think meeting in the middle and loosing our distinctions is the best way to go about doing that. I think we should be a “tossed salad” (with distinct diversity) instead of a “melting pot” (forced uniformity).
The United Church of Christ is one example of a Church group, like many others, who includes great diversity. The UCC is a “tossed salad,” “big tent” denomination that welcomes liberals, moderates, and conservatives. And comes from a variety of contexts: Evangelical, Reformed, Congregational, Frontier Christian, Black Church, Rural America, Feminist, Queer, etc. The UCC seeks unity in diversity (tossed salad), not some kind of forced conformity (melting pot). So, for example, Trinity UCC in Chigago is a distinctly black church and Cathedral of Hope in Dallas is a distinctly LGBT church. Neither of them is forced to be like the other – or to meet in the middle. Instead of forcing everyone to be the same, the UCC encourages everyone to be authentically who they are, but do so in a way that is respectful of and open to other perspectives.
Barack Obama describes the “tossed salad” inclusivity of the UCC: “UCC churches across the country open their doors to millions of Americans each Sunday, and they accept, love and counsel all who enter. This spirit of inclusiveness has served as a model for me in my time in the Senate, and the love for one’s fellow man that the UCC stands for is the foundation of my work.”
This isn’t meant to be an advertisement for the UCC or Obama. Neither of them are perfect. We all know that. But they do point to a better, more pluriform, and more postmodern way to practice being the Church. It’s all about the “tossed salad.”



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Dorine Seide

posted July 14, 2014 at 4:21 pm


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