Posts tagged with: evangelicals

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is expected to address the topic of his Mormon faith in a speech at the George Bush Library in College Station, Texas, tomorrow. The obvious comparisons are being made to President John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, who gave a speech in 1960 to assuage the concerns of American protestants over papal influence in the White House.

Kennedy’s speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association can be found here. In addition, there is also a link for the question and answer portion of his speech found here.

How much does Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith play into his recent slip in Republican primary polls? Some polls have pointed to the fact that one in five of all voters would not support a Mormon candidate for president. But Romney has picked up the support of many evangelical leaders, including the very conservative Bob Jones III, president of Bob Jones University. For the record, Jones believes, like many conservative evangelicals, that Mormonism is a cult. While the cult language may be too strong, Mormonism certainly falls outside of Christian orthodoxy.

Theological differences aside, many evangelicals support Romney for his new found conservatism, and as the best conservative alternative to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Romney previously supported abortion as Governor of Massachusetts, and was once seen as a strong defender of gay rights. He has since altered his stances on those issues to better attract more conservative Republican primary voters.

In his speech Romney will probably avoid any serious theological discussion of the Mormon faith, while stressing the shared sense of moral and political values he shares with conservative Christians. It is obviously wise for voters to support the candidate who best fits their world view.

Understandably, conservative Methodists would not vote for Hillary Clinton just because she is a United Methodist. The same thing could be said about left of center United Methodists and their unlikelihood to vote for another fellow Methodist, President Bush.

It’s a process that has continually played itself at the ballot box before. In 1980, evangelicals overwhelmingly supported President Reagan over confessed born again Christian, Jimmy Carter. Reagan’s brand of conservatism resonated powerfully with evangelical voters. While Reagan was also a Christian, he was not as outspoken in his Christianity as Carter. In addition, Reagan was also the first divorced man to be elected president.

Romney should be supported or opposed on the issues, and not for the simple fact that he is a Mormon. Romney can use the speech to highlight similarities with all traditional faith communities in America, and the shared American heritage of religious freedom.

For further information on this issue listen to the radio interview titled Romney, Giuliani, Faith & Politics . The interview is with Acton’s Education Director Michael Miller, who appeared on Mitch Henck’s radio show, Outside the Box. Miller also appeared on John Watson’s radio program to discuss “Romney’s Faith and the Presidency.”

Update: A link to the text of the speech can now be found on Mitt Romney’s campaign website. In addition, there is also a link to the video of the speech found here.

Quote from Romney’s speech today:

“Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, November 28, 2007

When I first heard that the epic tale of Beowulf was being made into a feature-length film, I was excited. Ever since I had first seen the live-action version of The Fellowship of the Ring from Peter Jackson, I had thought that a similar project could do a wonderful job with the Beowulf epic.

And then when I learned that the Beowulf film was going to be done entirely with computer-generated images (CGI), I was disappointed. Frankly I lost interest in seeing the movie entirely. But as time wore on, enthusiasm for the film from some of my friends, as well as some of the trailers, reinvigorated my hopes for the film version of the Beowulf epic.

And now that I’ve seen the film, I’m crestfallen. To be sure, the movie delivers in the special effects department. I saw the IMAX 3D version, which is projected in 3D throughout the entirety of the film. One of the advantages of using CGI which I had not considered at first, was the quality of the 3D images. In contrast to the climactic scene in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, for instance, the 3D effects were crisp, clean, and stunning.

That’s where the strengths of the film end, however. Far too often the plot deviates from the storyline that made the Beowulf epic a classic for the last millennium. Set in the fifth and sixth centuries of the common era, the Beowulf story includes all the great elements of heroic mythical narrative. The modern retelling departs from the tale’s classic history in at least two major ways, and these departures are most decidedly not improvements.


The first has to do with the treatment of religion, specifically Christianity, in the modern version. While the poem was first composed in the high Middle Ages, it was set in a pagan culture prior to the Christianization of Scandinavia. There is a great deal of scholarly debate on whether the tale is solely about pagan virtues or whether Beowulf is “a Christian Ur-hero, symbolically refulgent with Christian virtues.”

In the new film version, Beowulf is neither simply a pre-Christian pagan nor a proto-Christian eminent pagan. Christianity plays an explicit and confused role in the film, seemingly brought in to act as a counter-point to Beowulf’s embodiment of the pagan heroic virtues. At one point, Beowulf seems to be reading directly from a text like Nietzche’s The Anti-Christ. In contrast to Beowulf’s heroic humanism, the hero would agree with Nietzsche, “Under Christianity the instincts of the subjugated and the oppressed come to the fore: it is only those who are at the bottom who seek their salvation in it.”

If the attempt to bring Christianity explicitly into the Beowulf tale was an attempt by Hollywood to cater to the newly invigorated evangelical demographic, it fails at the same level of ineptitude as Howard Dean’s attempt to woo Christian voters in his 2004 election run (when asked what his favorite New Testament book was, Dean responded, “Job”).

Besides injecting this curiously modern anti-Christian element into the story, the people responsible for translating the epic poem into a screenplay modify the plot of the story greatly. Without giving away any spoilers to those who insist on seeing the film in spite of my warnings, I’ll only say that the Beowulf epic is conflated with a dynamic from another great hero saga, that of King Arthur and his demise at the hands of his bastard son Mordred.

If you are looking for a modern work recasting the Beowulf epic in a new way that is actually interesting and compelling, check out John Gardner’s novel Grendel, which tells the tale from the monster’s perspective in a quirky twist of existentialist angst. Unless you go to the film solely for the special effects or have absolutely no appreciation for the narrative legacy of the epic, avoid this Beowulf film.

Oh, and there are no fire snakes. Boo!

See also: “Never Mind Grendel. Can Beowulf Conquer the 21st-Century Guilt Trip?”

And: “Anti-Christian Crusade: Beowulf is the latest installment in Hollywood’s attempt to reconfigure history.”

Cross-posted at Blogcritics.org

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, November 16, 2007

After the jump is the (hyperlinked) text of a column I filed last week from GodblogCon. Here are some related items worth exploring:

I’ll also add that I discussed this topic with Hunter Baker, a columnist for ChristianityToday.com and contributor to Redstate and the AmSpec blog. Here’s what he said,

My own feeling is that Mayor Giuliani is probably the most thoroughly tested and proven politician in the United States today and that he is well-equipped for the job. However, I do not support his bid, despite his clear competency. I feel a Giuliani nomination would be a major setback for pro-lifers in the sense that neither of the major parties would have a pro-life candidate at the top of the ticket, something that hasn’t happened for over a quarter of a century. In a time when we are considering something that seems to me to be a unique form of cannibalism (embryonic stem-cell research), I don’t want to see the Republican party back off on the life issue. Rather, I’m looking forward to a time when pro-life is a given stance among candidates just as racial equality is today.

(more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, September 21, 2007

The PowerBlog’s own Don Bosch is attending the Let’s Tend the Garden evangelical environmental conference this week. He’s liveblogging at his own habitat, and will cross-post and update us here as opportunity permits.

He writes to me briefly that there are “lots of Christian environmental leaders (Rich Cizik is here, along with Rusty Pritchard, Floresta, A Rocha, etc) and also secular groups (Sierra Club).”

Hunter Baker has a new column at ChristianityToday.com named “Evangelical Minds,” and in it he examines issues of evangelical interest in academics and higher education. Today’s piece quotes me at some length on the question of evangelicals and economics, related to the firing of a professor at Colorado Christian University (scroll down to the final section titled, “Christian Economics?”).

This piece is the third installment of the feature, and you can check out the first two here and here.

A number of comments have been floating around the blogosphere related to the news coming out of Colorado last week that a professor at Colorado Christian University was terminated because “his lessons were too radical and undermined the school’s commitment to the free enterprise system.”

Andrew Paquin, who taught global studies, reportedly assigned texts by Jim Wallis and Peter Singer. That in itself shouldn’t be enough to get someone fired. The context within which such authors were assigned and how the professor led the discussion could potentially be enough, however. If Wallis’ politics were presented as Gospel truth, by the professor, that would be problematic.

Ted Olson at the CT Liveblog takes this occasion to ask whether there is an “evangelical view of economics.” In a post titled, “A Capitalist Creed?” Michael Simpson similarly says the CCU story is “quite bothersome.” I’ll note in passing that Christians with an explicitly conservative view of economics and political matters would have difficulty getting into the place of even being hired, much less fired, from teaching positions at any number of secular, mainline, and liberal institutions.

But aside from the particulars of the CCU case, of which there are precious few pertinent details available, I’ll attempt to answer the question that both Olson and Simpson seem to be getting at: is there a uniquely evangelical Christian view of economics? Yes and no.

The answer is no if what you mean is there a single, coherent, overarching and exhaustively detailed economic system that is unequivocally endorsed by the evangelical tradition’s view of Scripture.

From the fact that there is no single evangelical economic worldview, it does not follow that every economic option is equally valid. There are economic systems or worldviews that are unequivocally excluded by evangelical views on these matters.

One such set of excluded views would be economic materialism, exemplified for instance in Marxism. And as I’ve said before another economic worldview incompatible with biblical Christianity is anarcho-capitalism.

So, is there (or ought there be) an (unofficial, unstated) evangelical creed on economics? Again, it depends on how you view creeds.

If you see them as doctrinal statements that define the parameters of orthodoxy, setting up the boundaries beyond which is heterodoxy, but within which there is freedom for diverse expression and thought, then sure, there is and should be an evangelical economic creed. It should exclude economic positions that are incompatible with the basic tenets of Christian faith and practice.

But if you think that a creed is a statement of “rigid” orthodoxy that only validates a single, univocal position, then no, there is no single “evangelical economics.” But I happen to think that view of creeds and confessions is itself defective.

Update: Mark Tooley from IRD weighs in here, and a piece by Andy Guess at Inside Higher Ed is here.

There’s been a spate of stories lately in various media about the difficulty that evangelical denominations are having keeping young adults interested in the life of the institutional church. Here’s one from USA Today, “Young adults aren’t sticking with church” (HT: Kruse Kronicle; Out of Ur). And here’s another from a recent issue of my own denomination’s magazine, The Banner, “Where Did Our Young Adults Go?”

I wonder if the push to be “relevant,” initiated largely by the baby boomer generation’s rise to power in institutional structures, hasn’t hastened rather than chastened the loss of interest on the part of young adults. If all churches offer is culture-lite, why even bother?

No doubt the reaction by some will to go to even greater lengths to make church “cool,” because using pizza and pop for the Eucharist hasn’t been enough so far. But, contrary to what might be the natural reaction to some, the way to keep people invested and coming to church isn’t in the continuous lowering of barriers and expectations, but rather the call to a committed and disciplined life of discipleship.

There’s a reason why well-to-do, educated Muslims are attracted by Islamist rhetoric: it gives them something to believe in, something ostensibly worth fighting and dying for. The fact that Westerners don’t get that is all the more illustrative of how far gone the culture really is.

For a small but illuminating example of the current zeitgeist, check out the questionable reaction of this pastor and teacher, when a teenage student falls asleep during Friday prayers: “If God knows they need sleep, who am I to wake them up?” The question, no doubt arising out of admirable intentions, leaves me agog and aghast.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Osama Bin Laden is bidding his followers to come and die for him, and we can’t even ask our kids to stay awake during prayers?

It’s been shown in numerous studies, reports, and anecdotal tellings that religion that is high-maintenance, expecting more of its members than perfunctory attendance, tends to do better in attracting new members and keeping old ones. People are looking for meaning and truth. That’s just a basic fact of human nature. If people aren’t getting the truth at church, they’ll look for it somewhere else, even if, as in the case of Islamism, it’s a futile search.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Do not try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic…. Do not defend God’s Word, but testify to it…. Trust to the Word. It is a ship loaded to the very limits of its capacity!”

There’s lots to digest and consider in a new Barna report on poverty:

A new national survey by The Barna Group regarding people’s perspectives on poverty shows that Americans are quite concerned about what they perceive to be a significant and growing challenge facing the nation. The survey also showed that most people are actively involved in trying to alleviate poverty, although they typically believe it is primarily the government’s job to do so. The religious faith of adults appears to have a limited influence on how people perceive and respond to poverty.

One of the sentences in that introductory paragraph that jumps out at me, of course, is the sense that most people “typically believe it is primarily the government’s job” to combat poverty.

But then I ran across this paragraph, which is rather more inspiring:

Worthy of note is the divergent perspective of evangelicals. They were among the groups least likely to see poverty as a job for the government (55%) and were the group most likely to see it as a matter for churches to address (14%). The only other group that was similar was Christian Revolutionaries – the people who indicate that their highest priority in life is living for God and who possess a worldview that is based on biblical principles. Barely half of the Revolutionaries (52%) assigned poverty primarily to government agencies, while 11% said it was predominantly a church responsibility.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say when I’ve given this report a closer read. Feel free to weigh in as well.

A new initiative pioneered by Sojourners/Call to Renewal is called “Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” Included in the platform are “calls for bills that would push for border enforcement while improving guest worker programs and offering chances for illegal immigrants to obtain legal status,” according to the NYT.

The NYT piece points out the potential for this to be a unifying issue for evangelicals, even though few if any prominent politically conservative evangelicals are overtly associated with Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. “The concerns of the coalition mirror those of many evangelical leaders who have often staked out conservative positions on other social issues or who have avoided politics entirely,” writes Neela Banerjee as she points to the cases of Dr. Richard Land of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Rev. Joel Osteen.

The signatories to the group’s open letter include the executive director of my denomination, Rev. Jerry Dykstra of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Some of the language in the letter is a bit mealy-mouthed, as might be expected, but I think the statement does capture the spirit of some of the most relevant scriptural principles.

Perhaps the section that some conservatives will find most problematic is the fourth principle: “We believe in the rule of law, but we also believe that we are to oppose unjust laws and systems that harm and oppress people made in God’s image, especially the vulnerable (Isaiah 10:1-4, Jeremiah 7:1-7, Acts 5:29, Romans 13:1-7).”

Many argue that the rule of law regarding illegal immigration needs to be reinforced and respected first, before any of the proposed guest worker or amnesty programs can be effective, no ifs, ands, or buts. And it might also be debatable precisely how a shared “set of common moral and theological principles” ought to be translated into public policy. This raises the question of what is the intent or purpose of law.

The letter says that immigration reform must be “fair and compassionate.” Is the end of the law justice? Love? Mercy? Peace? All of the above? I’ve been trained to understand the normative principle for social ethics, and the behavior of supra-personal entities or institutions, to be justice, as distinguished from (although not opposed to) love. It seems to me that Christians working out of a shared and common sense of obligation to love our neighbors can have legitimate and valid disagreements over precisely these sorts of questions.

With all that said, I think the letter gets it mostly right, at least on this point:

“The current U.S. immigration system is broken and now is the time for a fair and compassionate solution. We think it is entirely possible to protect our borders while establishing a viable, humane, and realistic immigration system, one that is consistent with our American values and increases national security while protecting the livelihood of Americans.”

Every single day courageous and faithful Christians in Zimbabwe are suffering and dying through their resistance of the brutal reign of president Robert Mugabe. You would never know this is true from the lack of interest or response of conservative Christians in America. Of all the causes that are taken up by the Christian Right I have not heard a single voice lifted on behalf of the church in Zimbabwe and their struggle to resist the reign of terror led by President Mugabe.

In January, eight high-profile Christian leaders were arrested by security forces as they, and hundreds of supporters, opened a new office of the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance, an international agency that promotes non-violent resistance to Mugabe’s rule. But Mugabe’s government continues to crack down on this resistance as the nation faces total economic and social collapse. Zimbabweans struggle to survive with an inflationary rate of 1,700% as well as widespread unemployment and profound poverty. More than 3/4ths of the people live in poverty, unemployment is at 80%, and hordes of people are escaping to South Africa as refugees. Mugabe has led the nation since 1980 and every call for political and social reform has been met with more force and resistance. Other African leaders are complicit in allowing this to happen, including the president of neighboring South Africa.

Thankfully, the Lutheran World Federation has called on the international community to respond. And the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, with 75 million members in 216 countries, has also urged action by a pan-African Union to act to end this oppression. I support the actions of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches as a Reformed Christian.

While the Christian Right struggles to "rescue" America it almost universally ignores the plight of the poor and oppressed around the world, as well as in our own country. Evangelicals are rarely heard from when issues like Mugabe and Zimbabwe rise to international attention. Why? Could it be that what I have called our "America-centric" mindset is in fact a form of worldliness? Could it be that we simply don’t care about profoundly Christian concerns beyond our own land unless they represent efforts to win individual souls to Christ through our flawed approaches to mission?

Look, I believe the free-market is needed to help Africa lift itself up economically and to experience and practice real freedom. But the free-market will not work when the leadership is corrupt and the economy is a disaster because of oppressive governments. The problem is simple–most of the world doesn’t care enough to do anything about Zimbabwe. While we fight a war in Iraq, ostensibly to build freedom and to protect our own national interests and what we believe to be peace in the Middle East, we treat places like Zimbabwe as unimportant at the very best. To my mind, something is very wrong with this picture. Evangelicals need to join their Catholic and mainline Lutheran and Reformed brothers and sisters in resisting Mugabe and fighting for true reform in Zimbabwe. If we will not defend the helpless and the weakest then our witness will be blunted and our prophetic edge, if we still have one left, will be lost entirely.

Pray for Zimbabwean Christians. Better yet, do something about Zimbabwe if you have an opportunity. Your brothers and sisters need you to truly love them. Talking about politics is easy, doing something that saves lives and cultures is what really matters. Consider James 2:12-26. I don’t hear much serious preaching on James in our conservative churches. I fear that I know why. We are American Christians first, and kingdom Christians second, if at all. We love the message of faith, but we shun works of mercy and compassion when it costs us something. Something is very wrong with this picture.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."