Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cleanliness is not akin to Godliness: why evangelicals ought to muddy up the waters

I spent too long trying to think of a clever title. Success? I doubt it. But, regardless of my failure on that account, I hope to succeed on another account, on dispelling an annoying (yet common) conception of Christianity. Yet again I've run across a ridiculous rant against progressive Christians, and this time I took it to heart. As you may remember, this whole Evangelical Manifesto is causing quite the stir. So even though I already gave my thoughts on the manifesto in an earlier post, I thought I'd take the time to respond to an interesting response I found on townhall dot com. Now I've never been to that site, nor have I ever heard of Dr. Crouse, but google has a way of introducing you to strange new worlds. Dr. Crouse wrote a post called "Muddying the Evangelical Waters," a passionate response to the manifest, and I found it both both extremely disheartening and utterly ridiculous. I'm sorry, but it really was just silly. Here's a summary of what she had to say: the manifesto is secretly trying to turn Christians into liberals, and that's bad because liberals are going straight to hell. Okay, that's quite uncharitable, but that's what the article screamed out at me from my computer screen. Actually, what she did say was based on some truth (more at the end); however, the whole post was overstated and narrow-sighted. Here's what I found, line by line: (mainly sarcastic here, and remember this is all in response to the manifesto)

1. ...the closed group of people working on the content apparently excludes traditional conservative and pro-family evangelical voices.

Okay, so I don't recognize enough of the names to know which of the charter signatories is an actual conservative, but I will bet my life that they are all pro-family. And I am certain that some are conservative, if not at least moderate. The great part here is the reference to pro-family as though it is mutually exclusive with leftist policies. Wait... don't some lefties want to promote family policies like better leave for parents (including fathers!), better daycare options, etc?? I know that I, at least, am very very pro-family. I think families rock, and I think the government should help families out more (though I admit, I'm not sure how). I also, admittedly, lean to the left these days (though not always, depends on the wind), and I haven't come across a liberal who was anti-family (but I'm sure they're there, just not that I've encountered). Of course if your definition of family means one wife, one husband, and 2.5 biologically related offspring, where traditional gender roles are upheld...well perhaps I'm not pro-family after all. I'm pro whatever family you've got where you receive love and support. Not everyone has the luxury of a Beaver-style nuclear setup.

2. “Progressives” criticize traditional evangelicals because they are overwhelmingly Republican, without acknowledging that the Republican platform, which has been consistently pro-life, is congruent with the moral values of evangelicals whereas the Democratic platform is not.

Whoa there... The Democratic platform is not congruent with moral values? Says who? Oh that's right, I've forgotten, the only moral issues are abortion and gay marriage. The environment, poverty, war, access to healthcare... none of that has any moral dimension. We have no duty to protect our planet (command from God in the garden of Eden...), protect our neighbors (call to love them?), or live in peace (other cheek?). How silly of me.

3. “Progressives” criticize traditional evangelicals because they focus on individual sins and the two major moral issues of abortion and homosexual marriage, instead of focusing on what they call “structural sins” like poverty, war, oppression and destruction of the environment. Typically, when “progressives” talk about “broadening the evangelical agenda,” they mean making their so-called “structural sins” the priority instead of emphasizing the “personal sins” that concern traditional evangelicals.

Now this is a distinction that I find quite interesting. It's one I've discussed numerous times with friends. The question is how to deal with sins on a personal level, committed by a person in such a way that may only affect that person (and perhaps other consenting persons), versus sins that affect non-consenting persons and/or evils that arise from the structure of society. This is an important distinction, as Dr. Crouse notes, only I prioritize it a bit differently. We can expect fellow believers to live lives accountable to the commands in the Bible, but not non-believers. Example, Christians are called to moderation when it comes to substances like alcohol. Abuse is a sin (get drunk on the Spirit not on wine!). Can we expect non-believers to drink in moderation because the Bible says so? No. Now if they are drinking and driving and putting other people in harms way, then we have a case for complaint, but it's not exclusively a Biblical complaint. This logic can take you down several paths, one path will sort of leave you between party lines. Example, if you take a fetus to be a person (or a being worthy of protection from interference/harm), then you have cause for complaint --at least a starting point, because there is a non-consenting third party involved. In the case of gay marriage, however, you don't have any harmed third party (except the bogus claim that it degenerates the family as a structure or something). In the one case, the sin interferes with an innocent party, or at least could be claimed as such. In the latter, the sin affects none but the person choosing that lifestyle. As Christians, we are called to hold fellow Christians to the commands of God in Scripture. Heck, even Jesus said it would be a waste of time to try and convince a non-believer to live by Scripture (pearls and pigs). So why make Scripture a part of national law?? Unless a third party is harmed, God will deal with personal sinners, not us. Remember the tax collectors and prostitutes (committing personal sins)? Jesus ate dinner with them. The pharisees wanted to stone them. Christians today fall into which camp?

4. The “progressives” package their thinking in traditional Biblical rhetoric fusing traditional values with populist ideals and themes of the liberal left (like a Marxist-flavored version of social justice and racial reconciliation) and latching onto trendy secular causes like climate change, poverty, globalism, immigration and political correctness.

Now this one is fun. I didn't realize that climate change, racial reconciliation, etc were merely secular causes. Apparently the earth is not worth the effort for Christians, nor are immigrants. We take care of our neighbors, but only if they have a valid social security number, and if they're white.

5. Further, a significant number of evangelicals (according to George Barna’s polling) live no differently than their so-called “progressive” counterparts. These lukewarm believers (who critics say are less concerned about their salvation than their status and more concerned about money than morals) are easy prey for feel-good faith that puts few limitations on the believer — making no demands and establishing no boundaries. They are theological sponges — absorbing anything that “sounds” traditional and/or religious.

Pulling out the big guns now. Apparently, if you are a progressive, then you MUST be a wishy-washy Christian. I'm glad she let me know, because I was beginning to worry that I actually believed in something, like God or a personal savior. Glad to know I was mistaken, as it couldn't possibly fit with my heretical social agenda. Also note, apparently it is only liberals who are concerned more about money than morals. I suppose that's fair, after all, I've never met an affluent conservative Christian who has gripped about high taxes and undeserving welfare leeches. Never. Damn liberals.

6. As Christ warned the Disciples, standing for truth is not the route to public acclaim. The term “evangelical” means a Biblical worldview and this dictates a philosophical/theological perspective on the timeless moral issues of Scripture. Those positions ought to be clear and unequivocal, rather than muddied by sophisticated rhetoric and clever obfuscation. The subtle danger is, as the old axiom states: “Those who stand for nothing will fall for anything.”

I completely agree. However, it's better to be unsure yet continually thinking about what you stand for than to blindly stand for the WRONG thing. Be careful. Very careful. We will be held accountable for what we stand for, and stand we must, but woe unto those who stand for the wrong thing.

Okay, I'm done. Really, I do realize that there are tons of wishy washy Christian liberals out there. But what Dr. Crouse doesn't seem to acknowledge is that there is a multitude of conservative Christians out there who are theologically unsound (at best) and often morally questionable. The liberal platform has many virtues, and they are not inherently secular. The conservative platform has some virtues too, but it has it's vices. Branding a whole movement of Christians as theologically unsound and immoral is not only wrong and unjust, it's just silly. I sympathize with liberal causes. I sympathize with conservative causes. I have friends in both camps, and I see virtues in both. I also have friends with whom I disagree, but that's okay. If they disagree with me, that doesn't automatically mean they are theologically unsound or worse. Maybe sometimes they are, maybe sometimes I am, but you can not assume to categorize an entire movement (esp without a critical look at your own side). Sometimes things aren't neat and clean cut. I'm sorry Dr. Crouse, but cleanliness is overrated. Sometimes you just have to get a little muddy. (yes, cheese-tastic end here, don't judge)

Disclaimer: I am not a fan of the Democrats. I may lean to the left, but I lean way past them when I do. This is not an endorsement for that party, nor necessarily an anti-endorsement of the GOP. Just thought I'd make that clear. Also, I encourage you to read the comments on Dr. Crouse's post. They are priceless. I'm pretty sure some of the people leaving comments would stone me if they had the chance.


Wilson said...

Okay, so I don't recognize enough of the names to know which of the charter signatories is an actual conservative,

All the names (personal or institutional) that I recognize, except one, I vaguely associate with some brand of conservatism.  At any rate, I would never have pegged them as liberals of any kind.  The sole exception, Jim Wallis, is still theologically conservative as far as I know. A lot of these names are familiar to anyone who listens to a lot of Christian radio (or did in the 90s).

In the list of newer signatories, that includes a friend of mine who teaches philosophy. He's a Reformed Presbyterian, New-York-Post-reading Fred Thompson supporter who wouldn't dream of voting pro-choice.

Anonymous said...

Evangelicals begin stoning affected fetuses.

Lindsey said...