A bully pulpit

I am a Christian and a former member of Southern Baptist Convention churches. When fundamentalists began their takeover of the SBC in the early 1980s – quashing any liberal thinking by filling its seminary faculties and college boards of trustees with right-wing ideologues, I left the “flock.” The SBC has gone so far in recent years as to expunge the writings of its former president Herschel H. Hobbs.

Hobbs’ “Fundamentals of Our Faith” laid forth the very cornerstones of Southern Baptist beliefs for a generation of members and did so with wisdom.

What I learned from childhood – from my parents and my church – stays with me and provides an inner gyroscope which helps me keep my balance in a world where the teachings of Jesus Christ have been skewed to fit an ideological mold.

In light of history, I believe in separation of church and state, but that doesn’t make me a member of some Godless “intellectual elite” or “secular elite.”

Frankly, I resent the negative connotation given to intelligence in the following article.

Here then are the views of a man who is in a position to influence greatly what is being proclaimed from the pulpits of the nation’s largest Protestant organization.

SOURCE: CNN Belief Blog

My Take: Are evangelicals dangerous?

Editor's Note: R. Albert Mohler, Jr., is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

By R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Special to CNN
October 15, 2011

Here we go again.

Every four years, with every new presidential election cycle, public voices sound the alarm that the evangelicals are back. What is so scary about America’s evangelical Christians?

Just a few years ago, author Kevin Phillips told intellectual elites to run for cover, claiming that well-organized evangelicals were attempting to turn America into a theocratic state. In “American Theocracy,” Phillips warned of the growing influence of Bible-believing, born-again, theologically conservative voters who were determined to create a theocracy.

Writer Michelle Goldberg, meanwhile, has warned of a new Christian nationalism, based in “dominion theology.” Chris Hedges topped that by calling conservative Christians “American fascists.”

And so-called New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris claim that conservative Christians are nothing less than a threat to democracy. They prescribe atheism and secularism as the antidotes.

This presidential cycle, the alarms have started earlier than usual. Ryan Lizza, profiling Rep. Michele Bachmann for The New Yorker, informed his readers that “Bachmann belongs to a generation of Christian conservatives whose views have been shaped by institutions, tracts and leaders not commonly known to secular Americans, or even to most Christians.

Change just a few strategic words and the same would be true of Barack Obama or any other presidential candidate. Every candidate is shaped by influences not known to all and by institutions that other Americans might find strange.

What stories like this really show is that the secular elites assume that their own institutions and leaders are normative.

The New Yorker accused Bachmann of being concerned with developing a Christian worldview, ignoring the fact that every thinking person operates out of some kind of worldview. The article treated statements about wifely submission to husbands and Christian influence in art as bizarre and bellicose.

When Rick Perry questioned the theory of evolution, Dawkins launched into full-on apoplexy, wondering aloud how anyone who questions evolution could be considered intelligent, even as polls indicate that a majority of Americans question evolution.

Bill Keller, then executive editor of The New York Times, topped all the rest by seeming to suggest that conservative Christians should be compared to those who believe in space aliens. He complained that “when it comes to the religious beliefs of our would-be presidents, we are a little squeamish about probing too aggressively.

Really? Earlier this month, comedian Penn Jillette - a well–known atheist - wrote a very serious op-ed complaining of the political influence of “bugnut Christians,” in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, no less. Detect a pattern here?

By now, this is probably being read as a complaint against the secular elites and prominent voices in the mainstream media. It’s not.

If evangelicals intend to engage public issues and cultural concerns, we have to be ready for the scrutiny and discomfort that comes with disagreement over matters of importance. We have to risk being misunderstood - and even misrepresented - if we intend to say anything worth hearing.

Are evangelicals dangerous? Well, certainly not in the sense that more secular voices warn. The vast majority of evangelicals are not attempting to create a theocracy, or to oppose democracy.

To the contrary, evangelicals are dangerous to the secularist vision of this nation and its future precisely because we are committed to participatory democracy.

As Christians committed to the Bible, evangelicals have learned to advocate on behalf of the unborn, believing that every single human being, at every stage of development, is made in God’s image.

Evangelicals worry about the fate of marriage and the family, believing that the pattern for human relatedness set out in Scripture will lead to the greatest human flourishing.

We are deeply concerned about a host of moral and cultural issues, from how to address poverty to how to be good stewards of the earth, and on some of these there is a fairly high degree of disagreement even among us.

Above all, evangelicals are those who believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and are most concerned about telling others about Jesus. Most of America’s evangelical Christians are busy raising their children, working to support their families and investing energy in their local churches.

But over recent decades, evangelical Christians have learned that the gospel has implications for every dimension of life, including our political responsibility.

We’re dangerous only to those who want more secular voices to have a virtual monopoly in public life.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of R. Albert Mohler, Jr.


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Lynn said...

Thanks for passing this along, BJ. As another 'reformed' SBC member, I found it interesting. This man's comments are not all that disturbing, but the candidates who campaign under the evangelical banner are really scary. Too bad we can't just use the term Christian without having to put evangelical in front of it. Also too bad anyone's religion is part of the political debate.

B.J. said...

Lynn: We go back a long way in the SBC. Thanks for your insight. Several things disturb me about Mohler’s commentary:

The assumption that evangelicals have the key to Heaven and see it as their mission to convert everyone to their thinking.

The use of the propaganda technique of “name calling” in the phrases “intellectual elite” and “secular elite.” I doubt many who find their way here consider themselves part of the “elite.” Granted, there is plenty of name-calling from every side.

The SBC’s recent adoption of the directive that women must be submissive to their husbands. After seeing that play out in the movie “Not Without My Daughter” with Sally Field (Betty Mahmoody’s escape from Iran) , I would like a full explanation of what that entails.


Leslie Parsley said...

I share your concerns, BJ.

"To the contrary, evangelicals are dangerous to the secularist vision of this nation and its future precisely because we are committed to participatory democracy.

As Christians committed to the Bible, evangelicals have learned to advocate on behalf of the unborn, believing that every single human being, at every stage of development, is made in God’s image."

First, I do not think the fundies are committed one wit to "participatory democracy." The next paragraph is a contradiction of the previous one. You can't be committed to the Bible (as they interpret it), in effect placing it above the Constitution, and believe in "participatory democracy" - which they don't anyway.

Octopus said...

Despite my every attempt to embrace diversity and multiculturalism with some semblance of mutual respect and tolerance for others, in the end, I do not get the same consideration and respect in return.

What makes Buddhism, Mormonism or Catholicism a cult but not the denomination that considers them cults? Why must there always be a "religion test" for presidential candidates? Why can't I walk down a public street without some damn nuisance bearing pamphlets trying to proselytize and convert me? Why must non-fundamentalist women be subject to the same canon as fundamentalist women? What gives fundamentalist men the right to think they should have legal jurisdiction over every woman? If a fetus is considered an unborn child, then why not call every egg an unborn chicken – and every elderly person an undead corpse? Why can’t folks keep their beliefs to themselves and not force them other people? And let me live my own life according to my own conscience?

Are fundamentalists dangerous? Only when they get in my face or try to change laws that might criminalize the women in my family. Yes, I guess this makes me one of those damned elitists.

Tiny said...

If everyone practiced the Golden Rule, there would be no need for religions. It appears the Golden Rule is taught in all of the world's major religions. Probably, in all societies too.

Speaking of elite, isn't it elite to say or imply, "My religion is better than your religion?" Isn't that like saying, "My Dad is bigger than your Dad?"

All of us have heard, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." The reverse side of that is, "Evil is also in the eye of the beholder."

Perhaps the evangelicals are trying to convince themselves to believe what they have been told to believe rather than spending time to seek "truth" for themselves.

Religion and politis don't mix any better than oil and water!

B.J. said...

Leslie: You are right. Democracy is not supported when there is a selective challenge to the rights of ALL Americans. It’s the WASP (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) mentality again: we are the only true Americans.

Octo: I agree with every point you make. Tolerance and respect work both ways, don’t they? And, that ties in with what Tiny says about the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

It really goes without saying that the abortion issue comes to the forefront in every election cycle. No one is pro-abortion, but those of us who support a woman’s right to make that decision in consultation with her doctor get slammed with vicious labels. Poople who label themselves “pro-life” invariably vote for the political party which has openly excluded the rights of children and the elderly to health care. Pro-life? Make that one work in your head.

I don’t want to steer this discussion toward the abortion issue. I think the overriding challenge is separation of church and state As Leslie points out: the law of this land is the Constitution, not the Holy Bible. A person has every right to choose the latter to guide his/her life, but no tight to impose it as law upon others.

Article VI of the Constitution states:

“… no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

When issues such as abortion or gay rights, evolution are imposed upon elections, fundamentalists are making them “religious tests” in direct contradiction to the law of the land.


Ahab said...

It's troubling to see fundamentalists drowning out the voices of progressive Christians, as if the former had a monopoly on the faith.

Katherine said...

Hi BJ,

In my experience, the trouble isn't extremist Evangelicals. It's something more basic to us all. It's human self-righteousness. This is a state of willful ignorance and a pronounced sense of entitlement. And yes, in my view, this arrogance and its egomania are highly destructive. It does threaten or destroy democracy--and lives.

Paradoxically, if one is religious, isn't God (by any name) the 'right' one? To me, it's telling that the entire religious subject of humility has been avoided.

In his "Notes from the Underground" Dostoyevsky brilliantly observed, 'We distort the truth to justify our own logic.'
Thanks for all your work to help keep us on our toes.
Fondly, Katherine

Octopus said...

In reference to what you said about right-wing ideologues taking over the SBC and driving out liberal thinking, perhaps this is relevant to the discussion:

At the nexus of politics and religion, there is a personality type, the authoritarian social controller, which adheres to a rigid natural and social hierarchy: God over man, men over women, adults over children (including the sanctioned use of corporal punishment to “break the will” of children), man over nature, and rich over poor. Hardly a Christian perspective, it seems a throwback to a very primitive pre- Book of Job theology at best. I mention it here, not to open a theological argument, but to explore friction between polar opposites who regard each other with total incomprehension.

During my childhood in the 1950s, there was an ugly conflict in my school. A third grade teacher of the old-fashioned authoritarian-fundamentalist persuasion segregated the children in her class at Christmas time by religion. Those of her faith stayed in the front of room and celebrated the holiday festivities; those not of her faith were removed to the back of the room and given busy-work. When the parents of the minority children learned of this, there was outrage, an official complaint and controversy that swallowed the town. I should mention parenthetically that I was one of the students in the back of the class, and my mother was one of irate parents.

I grew up in a small country village settled originally by Dutch settlers long before the Revolutionary War. My grandparents and parents were among the immigrant generations who moved to the area in the early to mid 1900s. More than merely a clash of cultures, ethnicities, religions and traditions, it was a classic paradigm clash.

Two generations later, one would think the diversity that comprises contemporary Amerika would be Fait Accompli. What drives this regression back to an earlier mindset, to ancient hierarchies and pat answers? Is it fear and rejection of globalization and post-modernism? Thoughts?

B.J. said...

Katherine: Himility. Thanks for reminding us of that trait, certainly one of the tenets of Jesus’ teachings.

Octo: I believe it is fear honestly felt by persons who believe they must save a world gone to hell in a handbasket. To some extent, we all believe that, and that’s why we work so hard to spread truth. Some people, to put things into perspective, believe a person will go to hell for drinking a Margarita. They are actually attempting to take on the mantle of a crucified Christ in their quest to save mankind from sin.

Many years ago I read this quote: “Man fears most that which he does not understand.” Remember “Room 101,” the torture chamber in George Orwell’s “1984”? It is the function of that room to expose a person to that which he fears most. Stephen King did this in his novel, “It!” The monster which appeared to each of the seven children was the monster each most feared.

Let’s face it: there is a great deal of ignorance in this world. People will fear a religion if they have never attempted to understand it. People will fear evolution if they have never bothered to confront the facts. People will fear immigrants if they’ve never studied other cultures. And so on.

Above all, there is the overriding conviction that they are right, and anyone outside their own “narrow, winding path” is wrong and must be converted.

Anyone else care to comment on Octo’s inquiry?

Octopus said...

I forgot to mention in my last comment a footnote to the 3rd grade teacher story. When flustered, the teacher had a nasty habit of grabbing children by their ears and banging their heads against a wall. Later that year, she was dismissed by the school for abusing children. So, in answer to your question: Should authoritarian fundamentalists be perceived as dangerous? Let me count the ways ...

B.J. said...

Octo: I know you are smart enough not to prejudge an entire group by the actions of one. Adults do not forget these moments from their childhood. When I was a kid, I had a new dress, calico print with a black background. Down the skirt of the dress were tiers of red ruffles. I thought it was the most beautiful dress ever and felt like a princess. One of my teachers said to me, in front of the class, “What have you got on? You look like a gypsy!” I have never forgotten that experience. It’s very sad when children are placed in the care of the wrong people. Back to the fundamentalists, as you know there is evidence that many adults who turn to crime were children in very strict religious homes. I am thankful always for my upbringing. And, I’m sure you are, too.