Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Hey Evangelicals

One of your own down here in Dallas has words of advice for you in the wake of this election. Here's a couple of tips:
You’ve lost the high moral ground on gay marriage and other issues. Take this opportunity to clean your own house.

Sexual sins other than homosexuality are widely tolerated among evangelicals. Prominent leaders divorce and remarry with no career consequences, and preachers “confess” sexual failings but never show any evidence of true repentance. (Haggard is the remarkable exception. A truly repentant individual desires only to get right with God. He relinquishes all “rights” and claims to position or status. Follow the example of Haggard’s church and demand true repentance.

...Stop persecuting gays outside the church and address the crisis of men and women in your own midst who struggle silently with same-sex attraction.

The vast majority feel like they have no one to turn to. They’ve noticed that you don’t place equal emphasis on other sexual sins that are prevalent in the church, such as adultery and the use of pornography. They’re hoping for someone to stand up who not only holds firmly to the truth of Scripture that homosexual relationships are sinful but understands their brokenness and can address it in its spiritual, physical and psychological dimensions. They’re also looking for a true demonstration of supernatural power–Christians who believe in the power of the Word of God and have the faith to access it. An intellectual approach to the truth of Scripture might persuade someone that he’s sinned, but it won’t free him from the brokenness of sin.

I'm not an evangelical, but I'd say those are words of wisdom right there.

Update I: While we're on the subject, let me mention this editorial in today's Washington Post.

Evangelicals led the grass-roots campaigns for religious liberty, the abolition of slavery and women's suffrage. Even the Moral Majority in its most belligerent form amounted to nothing more terrifying than churchgoers flocking peacefully to the polls on Election Day. The only people who want a biblical theocracy in America are completely outside the evangelical mainstream, their influence negligible.

...Of course it's true that a handful of Christian figures reinforce the worst stereotypes of the movement. Their loopy and triumphalist claims are seized upon by lazy journalists and the direct-mail operatives of political opponents.

Yet it is dishonest to disparage the massive civic and democratic contribution of evangelicals by invoking the excesses of a tiny few. As we recall from the Gospels, even Jesus had a few disciples who, after encountering some critics, wanted to call down fire from heaven to dispose of them. Jesus disabused them of that impulse. The overwhelming majority of evangelicals have dispensed with it as well. Maybe it's time more of their critics did the same.

I truly do appreciate and have great respect for those who are motivated by their religious beliefs to serve their God and other people through their good works. But the authors here are disingenuous. It is correct to say that people who want a theocracy are outside the mainstream; but many conservative evangelicals don't want a theocracy, so much as they want a government dominated by conservative Christians that adheres to many conservative evangelical standards on social policy, economic policy and even foreign policy. It's not really the evangelicals making "loopy and triumphalist claims" that anyone is worried about (though they're out there); it is the people who believe that government should be guided by Christian political thought, that government should be used to encourage conservative Christianity in society, that conservative Christianity should actively seek to promote itself through partisan politics, and that conservative Christianity coincidentally and conveniently coincides with jingoism, nationalism and nativism, that people like myself and many other liberals and moderates worry about. We have good reason to be worried because despite the fact that many, many evangelicals do not believe in these things, the evangelical movement is dominated by people who do, and who have no compunctions about acquiring power through divisive partisan politics. So while I respect the point the authors are trying to make, and I understand why they would be tired of being lumped in with the "loopy" evangelicals, I would argue that until the political elements of Christianity are no longer dominated by the Christians I describe above, it will remain difficult to distinguish between them.


Seamus said...

I'm not quite sure how you define evangelical here, but in my experience with the Baptists this is way off.

In the Baptist church, any person who has experienced divorce (for any reason) can not only not hold any position of church leadership but is usually even denied entrance into seminary.

Promise Keepers, one of the world's largest evangelical men's ministries is intensely focused on sexuality. At the last meeting I attended, most of the time was spent on ministries related to homosexuality, adultery, pornography, and promiscuity.

Nat-Wu said...

I'm not sure what your usage of "Baptist" is, but in Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, the church in which my father is a deacon, the pastor is a divorcee.

Xpatriated Texan has an important point to make as a Christian on the Haggard issue:

"We need to be clear about what “Ted’s failures” are. If we can’t do that; then we will never learn the right lessons of humility and we cannot mete out forgiveness in any meaningful way.

Was Ted’s failure being attracted to other men? What it acting on that impulse and actually having sex with another man? Was it leaning upon a chemical crutch to find his courage or assuage the guilt that came from violating his authoritarian theology?

Or perhaps, it is the authoritarian theology itself from which Ted needs forgiveness.

Make no mistake - Ted Haggard was not removed from his office for cheating on his wife or for using illicit drugs, he lost his position because he had sex with another man. "

Seamus said...

There really isn't much point in me arguing about this on your blog space, especially given that we are at odds.

I'm honestly surprised that a divorcee could be a Baptist pastor. At SWBTS, where I have been a graduate student, being divorced is essentially equal to goodbye. I'm sure there are exceptions but I haven't heard of them there.

Maybe we're talking about the difference between conservative and liberal Baptists, but I'm still surprised.

It's just my word against your info, but I can say with absolute confidence that whether the issue is illicit drugs, infidelity, or homosexuality, an evangelical pastor would be immediately removed.

I don't support everything the Baptists do but I have to give them credit for their consistent treatment of issues like this, especially in regard to sexual issues. Would Haggard have been fired for being gay? Of course. That is unquestionably a hot-button issue. He would certainly have been fired for anything else as well, though.

Nat-Wu said...

The church of which I am speaking is in no way "liberal" on the political spectrum as you seem to be saying. They take no less a firm stance on gay marriage or abortion than any other church I've ever been to. I do know that at various churches the issue of divorce is treated with different degrees of acceptance. Quite a number of Baptists, probably a majority, are absolutely against divorce. Others are more forgiving. As for whether they allow a divorced person to be a pastor, I have never heard that there is some universal standard. Divorce is treated differently at different churches.

As for the Haggard issue specifically, that quote came from another blog. The purpose was not to use it as a statement of my beliefs, because if I wanted to tell you those I'd just write them. The point was to show that there is a variety of Christian views on the Haggard scandal as well as homosexuality. Often, conservative Christians talk as if they speak for all Christians, or at least should speak for all. This guy is speaking for himself, and what he says differs from what many evangelicals say about both those issues. You might dispute his Christian "credentials", but you can take that up with him. He at least calls himself a Christian.

Seamus said...

I know the quote came from another blog, I didn't take so much issue with the quote as I did with the title of the post "Hey Evangelicals" which, when paired with the quote, seems to state that evangelicals as a whole are inconsistent in their treatment of various sexual issues.

As I said in my previous comments, my own experiences are mostly with the Baptists. Baptists are only one portion of the evangelical spectrum, however, and I don't have much experience with the rest.

I don't have any doubts as to this person's "christian credentials". All I said was that within the various baptist and other evangelical churches and organizations of which I have been a part, the accusation being made in the article is off base. So while this person may be accurately talking about one portion of evangelicals, his statements are inaccurate in regard to at least one other portion.

Nat-Wu said...

Well, given that it was explicitly offered as an alternative to what we acknowledge as the mainstream evangelical beliefs, that's necessarily the case. They might have intended it the way you interpreted it, in which case please write them and correct them. I know full well that there are a range of evangelical views.

I think it's a little disengenous to state that all evangelicals treat all sexual morality issues equally. As you said, your experience is in Baptist churches that do. I have been in Baptist churches that don't, as well as churches of other denominations.

Also, the Episcopalians who decided to support gay marriage are not by default less evangelical than those who oppose it. So obviously, there is quite a wide range of evangelical opinions on all these matters.

That being said, I think it's important to note that the Episcopal church basically split over the issue of gay marriage, not over divorce or abortion. Also, and this is not speaking specifically of pastors but rather congregants, you typically won't find them protesting divorce or partaking in "divorcee-bashing", whereas I have witnessed evangelicals, Baptist or otherwise, actively gay-bashing. That strongly suggests that they do not regard the two issues equally, even if their actual doctrine treats them equally. And we well know that doctrine is applied according to the interpretation of the particular congregation.