Acton Institute Powerblog

Ideological Tribalism: How Evangelicals Go About Social Ethics

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MyWayYourWayI recently had an exchange with a Duke Divinity School student regarding many of things I’ve written at the Acton Institute over the past 12 years. The student said this about me:

When it comes to speaking comfort to power and castigating the most vulnerable in our society, there is perhaps no public theological voice more eager than that of Anthony Bradley’s. His body of work is a textbook in blaming the victim and reducing problems to pathology.

Not only had the student actually not read most of the things that I have written but the comment exposes something that Jonathan Haidt explains well that I’ve talked about before: ideological “tribalism.”

Evangelicals generally develop perspectives on justice down tribal ideological and political lines because they normatively do not source the Christian social thought tradition when constructing perspectives on justice. It turns out, that I was simply being critiqued by a card-carrying, bona fide political progressive who is be also Christian. In this light, I was not surprised by the content of the critique. I do not hold the same presuppositions about creation, the implications of the fall, natural law, human dignity, the role of the state, the authority of Scripture and so on, as progressives do so naturally progressives are going to see calls to personal moral virtue and challenges to the patriarchy, soft bigotry, and historic tendency for coercive government to make things worse off for those on margins through the welfare state as “speaking comfort to power and castigating the most vulnerable.”

The exchange provides a clear example of how evangelicals, ignorant of the Christian social thought tradition, go about the business of addressing social issues. It goes something like this:

Step 1: For a variety of well-intentioned reasons, choose a preferred political ideology you believe is the right one and will adequately to address the differentiated problems in society. As David Koyzis, explains it could be libertarianism, socialism, nationalism, conservatism, progressivism, or democracy.

Step 2: Read your preferred political ideology into Bible in a such way that it becomes a tool for interpreting and applying the Bible to social issues. That is, your political ideology becomes your hermeneutic for “Biblical” views on justice.

Step 3: Cherry-pick Bible verses (often taken out of context) and repackage them to make the case that your preferred, tribal, political ideology is indeed “Biblical,” “follows the teaching of Jesus,” is “Christian,” and so on. Here the goal is to prove that God must obviously be on your tribe’s side.

Step 4: Now that you have baptized your political ideology by pouring on a random assortment of Bible verses, you are ready to declare your ideological tribe and those who agree with you, “right.” As a result, any other tribe that does not read the Bible through your ideological lens is not only wrong, they are the enemy and a threat to the church and the world.

Step 5: Issue a call for all other Christians to embrace your tribal ideology. Now that your tribe is “right” you are free in the blogosphere, for example, to declare all of those who are not-like-us — that is, not in our tribe — to be “wrong.” Those in the other tribe (i.e., the enemy tribe) need to change their views so that they can more closely adhere to what your tribe believes the Bible teaches and, therefore, advance to the right side of Truth. Your tribe’s truth.

Those are the basic steps in evangelical tribalism when applying theology to social issues and this approach has been adopted carte blanche by many millennials in recent years. One of the best examples of a polarizing tribal progressive millennial is Rachel Held Evans. Anytime she writes anything critiquing “conservative” evangelicals is it because people like Owen Stratchan do not embrace the presuppositions and methods of progressive Christianity and poorly represent Christianity. For reasons that are puzzling to many, Evans wants men like John Piper and Al Molhler, to join her tribe’s ideological progressivism. Progressive leaders like Jim Wallis want the same.

Again, conservative and progressive evangelicals can both live tribally. For example, from the conservative world, someone like Gary North will proof-text free-market economics as the Bible’s economic system and progressives like Jim Wallis will proof-text the Bible to support the democratic party’s ideological platform invoking his concern for “the least of these.”

In the Protestant ideological tennis match, progressive evangelical Christians and liberal, mainline Protestant liberals, however, have this in common: they both believe that Christians who embrace the inerrancy, infallibility, and final authority of the Bible are the wrong kinds of Christians. There is a key difference between them, however. Protestant liberals are open and honest about their theological and methodological presuppositions. Mainline Protestants, for example, will tell you that they are liberals and do not believe the Bible to be the final authority, reject atonement theology, and so on. Progressive evangelicals, however, tend to not be so forthright it seems. Progressives present themselves as being objective representatives of the teachings of Jesus as historic, yet advanced evangelicals. Progressive evangelicals, like their liberal, mainline cousins, have simply traded-off, in many cases, the tools in the Christian social thought tradition for the analytical tools of the social sciences and the humanities (critical race theory, feminist theory, etc.). For progressive evangelicals, the social sciences are authoritative and are often above critique.

For most evangelicals, principles in the Christian social thought tradition like natural law, solidarity, subsidiarity, sphere sovereignty, personalism, and so on, do not provide the raw material for helpful discourse because the only thing that matters is whether or one’s tribal understanding is supported, defended, and promoted. Evangelicals are left with an ethical framework derived from individualist biblicism. Most do not even use a confession of faith as a starting point. This is classic Christian post-modern tribalism because the goal is to prove that God is on your tribe’s side and not theirs.

In recent years it’s become apparent that conservative evangelicalism has raised a generation of millennials who have left their orthodox and traditional evangelical circles and fully embraced ideological progressivism. They have no tradition and no tested, authoritative texts. The conservative versus progressive tribal discourse, while it may get students graduate degrees and professors tenure, is doing nothing to advance the Christian social thought tradition, nor is it providing Protestants a credible voice in the public square.

In conclusion, the Acton Institute makes its case from within the Christian Social Thought tradition and these are the principles worth debating. Instead of tribalism perhaps we should be asking, “Are we being consistent and rightly apply the tools of the Christian tradition?” Are we rightly applying subsidiarity and sphere sovereignty? A lively discourse about the right application of Christian principles within the Christian tradition is far more fruitful and interesting to me than engaging in a tribal war trying to prove whose tribe best represents Jesus. Mainline Protestant liberals and conservatives evangelicals understand this and no longer really engage one another. Progressive evangelicals, on the other hand, believe they are above the fray but seem to be lost in their own self-deception. Progressive Christians, one might argue, are simply mainline Protestant liberals attempting to wear “evangelical” tribal clothing. It does not seem to be working and secularists seem to enjoy declaring Christianity irrelevant by pitting conservative and progressive Christians against one another. Can we not do better than this?

Anthony Bradley Anthony Bradley, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics in the Public Service Program at The King's College in New York City and serves as a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Dr. Bradley lectures at colleges, universities, business organizations, conferences, and churches throughout the U.S. and abroad. His books include: Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (2010),  Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development (2011),  The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone of the Black Experience (2012), Keep Your Head Up: America's New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (2012), Aliens in the Promised Land:  Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (forthcoming, 2013). Dr. Bradley's writings on religious and cultural issues have been published in a variety of journals, including: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Detroit News, and World Magazine. Dr. Bradley is called upon by members of the broadcast media for comment on current issues and has appeared C-SPAN, NPR, CNN/Headline News, and Fox News, among others. He studies and writes on issues of race in America, hip hop, youth culture, issues among African Americans, the American family, welfare, education, and modern slavery. From 2005-2009, Dr. Bradley was Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO where he also directed the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute.   Dr. Bradley holds Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from Clemson University, a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Westminster Theological Seminary.  Dr. Bradley also holds an M.A. in Ethics and Society at Fordham University.


  • Dylan Pahman

    “Those are the basic steps in evangelical tribalism when addressing social issues and this approach has been adopted carte blanche by millennials.”

    Either this is an unfair sweeping generalization, or the meaning here is “some millennials,” which makes it a statement that could just as easily be said about any other generation … which raises the question why this generation in particular is being singled out.

    • brianleport


    • Anthony Bradley

      Dylan, great question. I actually did mean “some.” But I also mentioned Jim Wallace as well. There are many boomers that have adopted this approach as well and I could have mentioned those Ron Sider’s world as well. I use millennials as an example because my social media conversations have primarily been with millennials and I teach at a college, I’m more engaged with an young adults emerging from evangelical churches. I’m happy to engage boomers or GenXers who are engaging me directly as well but I don’t know who they. Do you have any links?

      • I think young evangelical adults are pretty ignorant of a lot of things and have merely acquiesced to the brain washing they got in school. I saw something similar with my children after they graduated from college. It doesn’t take much effort to change their minds, but they will be far more interested in what God has said in the Bible than what tradition says. They tend to be suspicious of tradition.

        Also, if the guy was going to Duke Divinity School I can guarantee you he is not evangelical.

      • Dylan Pahman

        Thanks. A “for example” reading helps the statement sit better. I don’t have any links off-hand, but you already have mentioned a few examples of Boomers et al.

        Another concern I had reading this post, however, is that this five step process can be (and often is) applied to the various principles and traditions of Christian social thought as well. To take just one example, for some subsidiarity means American style limited government, for others localism. Cases can be made for both, but the conclusions may precede and be read into the tradition as well.

        • Anthony Bradley

          Dylan, the right application of “subsidiarity” is a discussion worth having. I’m fine with that. At least there is a principle there to discuss. What’s the equivalent Protestant principle on social ethics are Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterian, Methodists, etc. are trying to figure out the right application of? That’s my point. . . . .

        • For Anthony as well as you, Dylan: (I don’t believe I’ve read anything on this blog or by Anthony before, so I comment with caution that I may not be fully grasping the discussion, though I have much relevant background)… As to links to bloggers, I won’t bother to determine which among many I THINK may fit these criteria may be the most pertinent examples of Boomers. I don’t always know the age of the blogger, for one thing.

          But I would be one, perhaps. I am not a “scholar” in the professional sense, and didn’t get to finish my PhD (interdisciplinary in theology, psychology, education) after completing the 48 course units, building on an M.Div. and M.A. (counseling).
          Of several other bloggers I’m thinking of, some are definitely younger than boomers, and maybe a couple older (born prior to 1946). Personally the best “location” (perhaps “tribe” as it’s being used here) for me would be Process theology, as a sub-set within Progressive/Mainline Protestantism (and Integral theorist), and a former Evangelical (until about age 45, now almost 65).

  • Canderson

    I wish “evangelical” were defined. I don’t think of people like the antagonist in the first paragraph as evangelical, and I would be surprised if he did either.

    • Yeah, he was probably part of Protestant liberalism that denies the deity of Christ, etc. I don’t see why we should consider mainline Protestants who deny the deity of Christ, his virgin birth and resurrection while making all miracles myths as Christians. They’re not. A Christian is defined by what he believes about Jesus.

      I attended a religious class at a Presbyterian University taught by three profs at the same time, one from Princeton and two from Harvard. The best I could some up their beliefs is some kind of Westernized Hinduism. Of course, they claimed to be Christian, but they didn’t belief anything in the Bible.

      Socialist evangelicals are pretty rare. The only one I know of is Tony Campolo. The vast majority of evangelicals lean towards capitalism.

      • I’m honestly curious, does Campolo self-describe as a socialist? Or is this your conclusion based on his statements/positions? He may… I haven’t heard him or read him for many years. And if it is more your label than his own, wouldn’t you want to include others like Wallis or McLaren and others lesser known? (I happen to find McLaren very refreshing and helpful, for what it’s worth, but I don’t think he considers himself a socialist… and, BTW, I’m not any “stripe” of Evangelical any longer… rather, Process).

        • I don’t know anyone in the US who self-describes as socialist. It has become an unwelcome word. They’re all “liberal” or “progressive” or “pragmatist” or something else. I go by what people advocate. If they advocate socialism then they’re socialist regardless of what they call themselves.

          Socialists are always trying to deceive others by calling themselves something, anything, other than socialist. Funny thing is that socialists gave capitalism its name as a term of derision, but we capitalists have stuck with it. Socialists on the other hand are always looking for a new name to avoid the name the original socialists chose and give their worn out ideology a new spin.

          Yeah, Wallis is pure socialist, but I’m not familiar with McLaren.

          • Thanks. Well, I just checked the Webster New World Dict. (1986 ed., so not new but probably still accurate on this): Socialism, in it, only involves community/society ownership of means of production & distr. by society “rather than [ownership] by private individuals”. Thus, I don’t know of ANY prominent socialists, by that def., in the US, though there probably are some. But I seriously doubt Campolo or Wallis advocate for such a system (def. by Webster for a socialist). They may be “socialist leaning” or advocate for more regulated capitalism, but making all means of production collective? I can’t see that or imagine they’d hold that view!

            So unless definitions have loosened more than I’ve kept up with, I think it’s quite understandable if people like Campolo or non-Christian “liberals”, etc., want to avoid the label “socialist”… I just isn’t accurate and causes misconceptions. And personally, I’m progressive on some elements of politics and economic policy and I know I’ve never had any illusions about the massive problems of pure socialism… never entered my mind that some people might consider me a socialist, except in a very loose, undefinable sense and contrary to the historical meaning (thus not a proper or useful label for me).

          • I replied here yesterday but don’t see it appearing now, so I’ll summarize the same basic point: I checked the Webster def. of socialism/ist. Only mentions the community or societal control of means of production, distribution and those (as “socialists”) who advocate or support this. I realize the term is used more broadly and loosely, but unless one specifies otherwise, seems to me this traditional definition is the default and should be respected as such. Under this def., I find it highly unlikely that either Campolo or Wallis is a socialist.

            And, accordingly, their and many others’ avoidance of the label for themselves is quite proper and more clear than the charge by others that they ARE “socialists” or believe in socialism. Over my life, in total time and intensity of involvement, I’ve been more in Evangelical circles than non-evangelical. I never found anyone there to be a true socialist. Now, in recent years as definitely a Christian “progressive” (not “liberal” in the rationalist sense in which it is usually meant), I still know of no socialists around me or as religious or Christian writers, who I read a lot of.

            Now, IF you mean support for things like “socialized medicine”… which the Affordable Care Act goes part way toward, and Medicare represents more fully, then it is clearer and more fair to specify that, rather than say someone is a “socialist”… Or specify other exact ways you think they support some aspect of greater collective organization and action. And although it is common in the US for us to say Europe has socialist countries, actually none there (that I’m aware of) are actually fully socialist either. (And I can’t see any hidden agendas toward turning America fully socialist… very few people… even “educated” ones… are that naive or have such sentiments.)

            Some here may not like their forms of economics and governance, but for the most part, their citizens seem at least as pleased with their systems as Americans are with ours… often more so, along with HIGHER general happiness in some of the central to northern ones, particularly.

  • Trent Heille

    “Progressive evangelicals, like their liberal, mainline cousins, have simply traded-off the tools in the Christian social thought tradition for the analytical tools of the social sciences and the humanities (critical race theory, feminist theory, etc.). For progressive evangelicals, the social sciences are authoritative and are often above critique.

    For most evangelicals, principles in the Christian social thought tradition like natural law, solidarity,subsidiarity, sphere sovereignty, personalism, and so on, do not provide the raw material for helpful discourse because the only thing that matters is whether or one’s tribal understanding is supported, defended, and promoted. Evangelicals are left with an ethics derived from individualist biblicism. Most do not even use a confession of faith as a starting point. This is classic Christian post-modern tribalism because the goal is to prove that God is on your tribe’s side and not theirs.”

    How does your critique of this “Duke Divinity School student” amount to anything more than a “tribal” response to his alleged “tribalism?” You claim that “Progressive evangelicals” have traded tools from “the Christian social tradition” (as if there was one tradition we could speak of) for the tools of the social sciences and humanities, but unless you appealed to some reason why the tools of the “the Christian social tradition” should be preferred to those of the social sciences and humanities your critique reduces to a description of the difference between you and this student, or, to borrow your own language, a description of the difference between your “tribe” and his.

    While you might claim that your solidarity with “the Christian social tradition” supports your “tribal”—or perhaps to be more accurate to the dichotomy you’ve set up between your understanding as “traditional” and the student’s as “tribal”—your “traditional” understanding, the tradition you cite doesn’t exist. Is there a Christian social tradition? Does it include Aquinas’ ethics as detailed in the “Summa Theologica” as well as Kierkegaard’s exhortations in “Works of Love?” Can it encompass Roman Catholic social teaching with respect to economics and the early founders of the United States of Americas’ insistence that men and women could be bought and sold as commodities? Does it include the asceticism of the Desert Fathers and Mothers and Martin Luther’s insistence that salvation depends upon faith rather than works? Will it somehow marry the ancient virtue theory shared (to varying extents) among the Church Fathers with the Kantian deontology that undergirds much of contemporary Western society? Can it somehow find a compromise between Southern slave owners who quoted scripture to justify their slaveholding and the Northern Abolitionists who quoted scripture to decry it?

    “The Christian social tradition” should always be pluralized as “traditions.” Perhaps that’s too “post-modern” of me as a “millennial,” but to ignore the diversity that characterizes the history of Christian people and their beliefs and behaviors only weakens your claim to stand in solidarity with it; you’re always already “tribal” in your understanding, as we all are.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Thank you. That the author doesn’t realize his condescending screed isn’t itself a tribalistic response is bewildering.

    • I seriously doubt any student at Duke Divinity School is evangelical. I don’t know of any evangelical profs at Ivy league schools.

      Liberals, like Jim Wallis, who deny the fundamental truths of Christianity, aren’t going to be the least bit interested in Church tradition, since they couldn’t care less about the truths in the Bible.

      And these liberal “Christians” like Wallis have not adopted the analytical tools of the social sciences and the humanities. Economics is the queen of the social sciences and liberals have rejected it completely. They have adopted the Marxist tools of some social sciences because it allows them to assuage their envy.

  • Anthony is trying to explain the failure to persuade socialists they’re wrong by the method of debate. If we adopt the Catholic social teaching method then we might succeed. I think it’s much simpler than that. To quote a proof verse, “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Or “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” Or “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”

    In sum, people reject the truth because they don’t want to know the truth. The truth threatens their desire for evil. The strength of socialism is envy, a great evil. No change in method will make a difference.

    That socialists are dishonest about their concern for the poor is easy to demonstrate. The evidence is overwhelming that freer markets help the poor vastly more than charity or failed government redistribution. Yet socialists would rather be crucified upside down than embrace what actually helps the poor.

    “Evangelicals are left with an ethical framework derived from individualist biblicism.”

    For the uneducated, maybe, but not for the rest of us. Aristotle codified the principles of hermeneutics and Church scholars refined them. Evangelical intellectuals follow those principles as guides to interpreting the Bible and that becomes the source of authority. Almost all disagreements over interpretation could be settled by appealing to those principles.

    It’s pretty simple really. The Bible sanctifies private property, but private property cannot exist without free markets because property requires control of that property by the owner. Without free markets, private property is a farce. It doesn’t exist. As the Catholic scholars of Salamanca discovered, even the state has no right to violate property except to tax people enough to allow it to do its job. Any taxation above that is theft. The state’s role is limited to protecting the life, liberty and property of the people, or the night watchman role.

  • Daniel Camacho

    Dr. Bradley,

    I’m disappointed that this article contains so many unfounded assumptions about me and ignores the substantial issues raised in my original piece. Does the burden of proof lie with black liberation theology? Should black looters be publicly shamed and should fast-food workers fighting for fairer wages protest themselves? I quote you, present your claims, and draw my own conclusions (which the reader can determine for herself if they are right or wrong).

    I don’t think reading/summarizing someone’s entire corpus exhaustively is a prerequisite for any sort of analysis or critique. Even though I cited 2 of your books and multiple articles, you seem to be upset that I didn’t read everything you’ve ever written. Like I said before in our exchange, I don’t think the other things you’ve said elsewhere *contradict* what I quote you saying in my original piece.

    Everyone thinks/writes from an interested and not purely objective perspective. In my piece I try to call it like I see it and readers can determine how close to the truth I get. Instead of focusing on the substantial issues I raise, you want to make things about me being a “tribalist” and not telegraphing all methodological assumptions and commitments. Some informal posts don’t necessarily need to be weighed down by telegraphing methodology, just as you don’t explain in detail, within many of your articles, Haidt’s moral foundations which inform your claims.

    If you clicked on the “About” section at the top of the blog, you would see that I name Post-Colonialism, Latino/a theology, and the Reformed tradition among my interests. That should give at least a hint about where I’m coming from and what my commitments are, besides the fact that I defend black theology in my piece as having the benefit of the doubt. I’m not trying to deceive folks or hide behind some “evangelical tribal clothing.”

    The fact that a Fellow writing for think-tank is calling the writer of an independent blog post an “Ideological Tribalist” is quite interesting. Moreover, the fact that you comment here, “aren’t we all tribal,” seems to undercut your own article and its accusation.

    • Anthony Bradley

      Sorry Daniel, that’s not going to work. You can’t make statements like “His body of work is a textbook in blaming the victim and reducing problems to pathology” and you haven’t actually read my “body of work.” Perhaps you should have said something like, “in the body of work I’ve chosen to review.” That would be a lot more accurate. Before I made claims about Cone’s work at least gave him the courtesy of reading everything he wrote. Don’t make claims you can’t support because you cherry-picked the fit the conclusion you decided at the outset of your “research.” Also, this post, is beyond you.

      Listing those issues as “interests” says nothing about your ideological commitments. I list a lot things as “interests.” I have liberation theology as in research interest in my CV. That gives a “hint” about nothing. You don’t seem willing to admit that you have a tribal agenda. Again, I believe it is massively self-deceptive not to be willing to admit that you’re speaking from a tribal perspective. The most disappointing part of the direction you’re headed is that you seem unwilling to be honest about your biases, presuppositions, and agendas. You aren’t even willing to say that you’re writing from the perspective political and theological progressivism.

      Why can’t you just admit it? Also you seemed to have missed my comments about tribalism I posted for Trent so I’ll repeat them here. Here’s the difference, in Acton’s about section and in my own work at as an economic personalist in the Westminster Confession of Faith tradition, my tribal commitments have always been on the table, again what I replied to Trent:

      “I’ve never denied being in the stream of economic personalism bound theologically by the Westminster Confession of Faith. That’s why I’ve been at Acton for 12 years.

      Again, we are all tribal so the question is this are we willing to understand the other tribe’s presuppositions or simply posture in attack mode because defending our own tribe is all that matters. What Haidt helps us understand is progressives and conservatives want the same thing in the end by they are more interested in talk at each other than to each other.

      It seems like Jonathan Haidt’s work in tribalism would be well worth the read.”

      Daniel, if you look at Acton’s “About” section, those are not merely “interests” those are commitments, i.e., what we’re for. As I said, before you posted as if you writing without presuppositions and biases as if you have an objective “theological anthropology.” Again, it would have been more accurately to talk about your understanding from “theological anthropology” from a “progressivist perspective.” Mainline Protestant theologians are more forthright and honest because they will often begin sentences with something like this, “From a feminist perspective,” “From a womanist perspective,” etc. These are not interests, these are ideological commitments.

      The truth is that you’re theological methodology is no different than the “conservative evangelicals” you believe get it so wrong. Same method, different ideology.

      Again, you all are missing the major point. My saying “we are all tribal” is to make that point that you progressives are not willing to lay out what your ideological, theological, and methodological commitments of your tribe are. No of those are listed in your About section. There has never been any mystery that I am writing from a particular perspective. Evangelicals have no means by which to referee their discussions about social issues and default to political ideologies (as we see in this entire discourse. That is, as a progressive there is no way are ever going to interpret anything I write in any other way than you did. First and foremost you are committed to a set of assumptions and presuppositions that represent a particular tribal point of view. I don’t fit that tribal perspective, ergo. Your theological/ethical methods are not different than a conservative’s. Again, you can’t even admit to being tribal. Why not? As I said earlier, mainline Protestants are really good at this.

      Read Haidt. Read Haidt. Read Haidt.

  • Trent Heille

    Thanks for the response; I’ll try to respond by answering your last question and then letting the rest stand for others to read and comment on. I do see a difference between “sourcing the Christian tradition” and “sourcing the social sciences,” and I agree with you that Evangelicals have “no means by which they can determine which of the ‘traditions’ is most helpful and consistent with the priorities of the Kingdom.” In fact, I would say that I was trying to argue exactly that while then asking why we would denounce the “tribalism” of another if, like them, we too struggle to articulate why certain ways of understanding scripture and practicing Kingdom living take priority over others for me, my church, or my corner of the Evangelical world (conservative, liberal, etc.).

    • Anthony Bradley

      Thanks Trent, but this is real simple. Progressives, at least many of the ones commenting here are not willing to confess that they are no less “tribal” and ideologically driven than the “conservatives” they critique. That’s one of the reasons I singled them out in the post–given the fact, also, the original link is from a progressive. Progressive evangelicals are methodologically no different than conservatives, as I highlighted in the example of Gary North and Jim Wallace. A critique from a progressive evangelical is not about any, clearly articulated consensus principles on social ethics in the Protestant and evangelical space. Therefore, they rely on baptized political ideologies normally, sourced largely from the social sciences, to construct their views on “kingdom ethics.” If there are consensus principles, I would love to know what those are.

      Are you even willing to claim your orientation within a particular ideological tribe or do you believe you are approaching this discussion objectively without interpretative pre-commitments and biases?

      • Trent Heille

        Is your closing question rhetorical or curious about me personally? I’m willing to claim an orientation within a particular ideological “tribe,” but that might be better addressed in a different format. I’m writing a response to the question and to your recent entry on World.

  • I’m still getting acquainted with Haidt (and am a little doubtful about him, though he’s interesting), but it strikes me that he and Bradley have pretty different things in view in their uses of this word ‘tribal.’ They’re both talking about dialogue across political divides, of course, but Haidt doesn’t treat ‘tribalism’ as blinders to be removed, prerequisite to any equitable exchange in the attempt to work through differences. He’s talking about the psychology of individual orientation to the group, group cohesion, its loyalty and identity concerns. Philosophical or political presuppositions don’t come into the ‘tribal’ for Haidt, as far as I can tell. He praises political actors who get constituents’ tribal nature and appeal to it. He doesn’t have anything in support of Bradley’s admonishment to others to take off their blinders, to be more transparent, to announce themselves ideologically, to put cards on the table. Transparency is something he says we can’t expect from ourselves; we’re wired evolutionarily to suppress our own transparency, wired to justify our own hypocrisies and inequitable dealings with others, wired not to see our own minds & behavior clearly. What he calls for, as I understand him, isn’t individual openness, it’s societal adaptation to invincible individual opacity.

    Maybe Bradley is right to dismiss Camacho’s criticism as overburdened by ideological pre-commitments, and maybe he isn’t. But I’m doubtful that Haidt is the authority to be appealing to to argue it.

    • Anthony Bradley

      Quif, you have very much completely not understood Haidt’s aims and goals. He most certainly wants people to listen well and work through differences. Watch his interview on Bill Moyer, for example.

      • I have watched it. I don’t think you’ve understood me. You & I agree that Haidt wants parties with contradictory assumptions to work together in spite of and ‘through’ differences. What we don’t agree about is how this term ‘tribal’ serves his understanding of that mutual enterprise. I’m saying that I don’t think the idea behind Haidt’s use of it supports self-clarification as pre-requisite to dialogue, as you’ve called for it — as you’ve called on Camacho to pre-explain himself, at least. I think Haidt says the opposite, that parties with contradictory assumptions have to work together knowing that ‘putting all cards on the table’ isn’t possible for either of them. ‘Tribalism’ is just one of the ways he accounts for this impossibility. (For what it’s worth, I think a Christian has reason to be skeptical of Haidt here.)

  • RobD

    I would agree with the author’s criticism of Evans’ approach to these issues. Nevertheless, I don’t see her as employing any techniques that aren’t routinely employed by Strachan and others of the Culture Warrior bent. So, if we’re going to castigate the style of Evans and evangelical progressives, I think we have to apply the same criticism to evangelical conservatives. After all, Strachan’s views are no more clearly required by Scripture than Evans’s. Strachan (and social conservatives, in general) has simply taken the conservative stream of Freudian social thought (e.g., familialism) and dressed it up in biblical garb. Evens strength lies in her ability to unmask Strachan and Piper as the hucksters that they are. She’s at her weakest when she attempt to proffer an alternative, and feels compelled to resort to the same kind of hucksterism that she so readily diagnoses in others.

    In my view, the problem lies in evangelicalism’s tendency to reject epistemic realism in favor of epistemic idealism, and its tendency to focus on individual action to the exclusion of institutional forces. Viewed from that lens, Evans and Strachan suffer from the same disability.