Posts tagged with: evangelicals

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, March 22, 2007

Non-evangelicals and progressive Christians continue to throw their support Rev. Richard Cizik’s way. Now the Institute for Progressive Christianity has released a statement commending “the courage and Christian concern displayed by Rev. Rick Cizik and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) for recommending preventive action on the issue of global warming.”

Given the care that Cizik has ostensibly taken to distance himself from radical environmentalists, both of the secular and religious variety, and the care with which he has attempted to connect creation care with other evangelical political issues like abortion, I wonder just how welcome these expressions of solidarity really are.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine recent events surrounding the conflict amongst evangelicals over global warming political activism. In “Evangelical Environmentalism’s Moral Imperative,” I compare the shape of the argument to the debate over the last decade on the topic of poverty.

In the same way that conservatives were accused of not caring for the poor because they opposed an expansive welfare state, critics of climate change politics are being portrayed as not caring for the environment. To the extent that conservative critiques have not made it a point to sharply distinguish between global warming and the broader moral mandate to steward the earth, they deserve blame for this state of affairs.

This fault is exemplified well in the recent letter from James Dobson and others to the National Association of Evangelicals questioning the activities of Rev. Richard Cizik, who is actively promoting federal policy on climate change. The Dobson letter (PDF) challenges global warming but only notes pro-life issues, marriage, and sexuality as “the great moral issues of our time.” While the letter doesn’t explicitly exclude stewardship of the environment as a “great moral issue,” its omission from this list can easily give the impression that the letter’s signatories don’t find environmental stewardship to be a compelling moral imperative.

But it also falls to the responsibility of evangelicals who favor government action to combat climate change to acknowledge “the commitment of their opponents to ‘care’ of the creation, even amidst the sometimes pointed disagreements over the means and institutions responsible for that care.”

Read the entire commentary here.

I also recommend Andy Crouch’s recent review in Books & Culture of Roger Gottlieb’s A Greener Faith: Religious Environmentalism and Our Planet’s Future, in which Crouch writes that Gottlieb’s book “could not be more calculated to inflame the suspicions of the politically and theologically conservative.” Crouch also outlines some of the recent activities and perspectives of groups like the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

Update: Bob Francis of Sojourners/Call to Renewal, reacting to reader comments, acknowledges that “whether the issue is poverty or the environment, well-meaning Christians differ on solutions.”

Kathryn Joyce at The Revealer writes about “the real point of contention between Dobson, Bauer and Perkins on the one hand, and Cizik, on the other. Not so much that Cizik is drawing energy and outrage to global warming and away from gay marriage and abortion, but that, in the mind of many conservative Christians, choosing between pro-life or environmental activism must be a zero-sum game.”

Speaking of a “red-letter hermeneutic,” for which I criticize Vince Isner of the National Council of Churches, Tony Campolo says that the new group of evangelical activists, who “transcend” partisan politics, has decided to go by the name of “Red-Letter Christians.”

“By calling ourselves Red-Letter Christians, we are alluding to the fact that in several versions of the Bible, the words of Jesus are printed in red. In adopting this name we are saying that we are committed to living out the things that He said,” writes Campolo.

They chose that name because “progressive evangelicals” might be construed in such a way as to be seen as “a value judgment of those who do not join us.” If it’s one thing these “red-letter Christians” don’t want to be seen as, it’s judgmental. After all, “Do not judge” appears in red letters in the Bible.

Of course, this doesn’t really mean that the agenda of the “red-letter Christians” is not progressive. Thus, Campolo speaks of the “progressive social agenda we espouse.”

Who’s the “we”? Just mainstream evangelical types like, “Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine; Richard Rohr, a well-known Catholic writer and speaker; Brian McLaren, a leader of the Emergent Church movement; the Rev. Dr. Cheryl J. Sanders, a prominent African-American pastor; the Rev. Noel Castellanos, a strong voice in the Hispanic community, and several other outstanding Christian communicators.”

I suppose that Vince Isner of the National Council of Church’s FaithfulAmerica.org outreach thinks that expressing his support for embattled Rev. Richard Cizik of the NAE will help show that Cizik is really part of the evangelical mainstream, and not only on issues related to stewardship of the earth.

That said, it might better serve Isner’s purpose if in the course of doing so he didn’t blatantly insult traditional Christian belief. Here’s a key paragraph from Isner’s bit, referring to Jerry Falwell:

So let me get this straight: Satan is real and global warming is the myth. What was I thinking? And Jerry – thanks for straightening me out what mattered most to Jesus – I had no idea it was abortion or gay marriage, I guess because he never mentioned it.

From the first part, I guess we are meant to think that it is self-evident that Satan isn’t real and global warming is.

And on the hot-button political issues of today, Isner takes the typical progressive Christian tack, arguing from the silence of Jesus for the foundation for a basic assumption of permissibility. Jesus didn’t say much about nuclear weapons either, but to point that out would just be anachronistic.

I’ll also refrain from saying more about the problematic elements of a hermeneutic that would extract the explicit (red letter!) words of Jesus as the canon within the canon. But what makes Isner’s use of such interpretation so confusing is that it’s simply inconsistent…after all, Jesus does more than just “mention” Satan, right?

So is Isner’s rhetorical strategy successful? According to Barna (2006), the following is how evangelical Christians self-identify. Decide for yourself whether it, along with what you know about the evangelical view of scripture, fits well with the points Isner makes:

67% of evangelicals describe themselves as “mostly conservative” when it comes to political and social issues (compared to 30% of adults nationwide), 26% describe themselves as somewhere in between (compared to 50% of adults nationwide), and none call themselves liberal (compared to 11% of adults nationwide).

More on the evangelical “civil war” here. If Cizik ever was looking for a new job, I’m sure the NCC would welcome him with open arms. Whether or not Cizik would reciprocate is the real issue.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, December 29, 2006

Our 2006 year in review series concludes with the fourth quarter:

October

“Do You See More than Just a ‘Carbon Footprint’?” Jordan J. Ballor

It’s a fair question to ask, I think, of those who are a part of the radical environmentalist/population control political lobby. It’s also a note of caution to fellow Christians who want to build bridges with those folks…there is a complex of interrelated policies that are logically consistent once you assume the tenets of secular environmentalism….

November

“The Idolatry of Political Christianity,” Jordan J. Ballor

In its activist zeal, political Christianity substitutes the State for Christ, the one who in reality stands between all human relationships. The State’s proper role is therefore lost in the expansion of its purview to all social relations….

December

“The Pornification of Culture,” Jordan J. Ballor

“To pander to this world is to fornicate against you,” confesses Augustine to God. The worldly culture of today seems to be trying its best to actualize Augustine’s observation in literal terms….

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Our series on the year in review continues with the second quarter:

April

“Surprise! Evangelical Politics Isn’t Univocal,” Jordan J. Ballor

So from issues like immigration to global warming, the press is eager to find the fault lines of evangelical politics. And moving beyond the typical Jim Wallis-Jerry Falwell dichotomy, there are real and honest disagreements among evangelicals on any number of political issues….

May

“How Do You Spell Relief?” Jordan J. Ballor

If Congress really wants to address the rising price of oil over the long-term, the only thing it can really do is act on what it directly controls. Congress doesn’t control supply and demand, but it does control how much it adds in taxes to the price per gallon. Why not cut or suspend the federal gas tax indefinitely?…

June

“There are more environmentalist misanthropes than you think,” Jay Richards

But anyone who reads widely in the environmental literature knows that suggestions such as Pianka’s are not uncommon. In fact, the desire for mass human death follows logically from the anti-human beliefs of some radical environmentalists. Some are more consistent in their beliefs than others. But Pianka is by no means the only person to express such opinions….

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, December 19, 2006

In a much discussed op-ed for CNN last week, hipster church leaders Marc Brown and Jay Bakker (the latter’s profile, incidentally, immediately precedes that of yours truly in The Relevant Nation…a serendipitous product of alphabetical order) lodge a complaint against Christianity that doesn’t respect the call “love others just as they are, without an agenda.”

Speaking of Jesus, Brown and Bakker write, “The bulk of his time was spent preaching about helping the poor and those who are unable to help themselves. At the very least, Christians should be counted on to lend a helping hand to the poor and others in need.”

I’m sympathetic with their concerns that Christianity not become “co-opted by a political party” or only about “supporting laws that force others to live by their standards.” I’m less sympathetic with their emphasis on Christianity strictly as social gospel (the only mention of “hell” in the piece is as part of a rhetorical flourish at the piece’s beginning, having nothing to do with the biblical doctrine of everlasting punishment.)

In a piece for the Christian Science Monitor (HT: WorldMagBlog), Mark Totten writes that “a remarkable trend is emerging among Evangelicals today: the embrace of a social agenda that includes not only abortion and marriage, but poverty, AIDS, the environment, and human rights.” On one level, this reflects the positive engagement of evangelicals with the totality of public life, something that is important given the extent of Christ’s lordship.

Totten writes,

The most telling change is perhaps taking place in the pulpit. For most of the past century, Evangelicals have reacted against the Social Gospel movement of the progressive era, which many felt replaced the Gospel message with one of mere worldly social action. Today, however, a new generation of evangelical pastors is weaving an ethic of “neighbor love” into the fabric of sin and salvation.

(Totten cites the work of Rev. Tim Keller, whose work is discussed in more detail here and here, as a case in point.) The key here is that in an overreaction to the social gospel, some Christians eschewed any and all political or social engagement. We need to be careful, however, that in response to what may be too little engagement, we don’t return to the errors of the social gospel and make Christianity all about material or social well-being.

So, instead of the “either/or” dichotomy that Bakker and Brown set up between traditional political issues of the religious right (e.g. gay “marriage,” abortion) and the “new” concerns of political evangelicalism (e.g. the environment, poverty), it’s really a “both/and” equation. And this “both/and” extends beyond the political realm to the theological, so that we have a socially conscious and active Christianity that doesn’t abandon orthodox doctrine and concerns about salvation.

Augustine, in his monumental work De Doctrina Christiana (On Christian Teaching), captures this relationship well (emphasis mine):

Now of all those who are able to enjoy God together with us, some we love as people we can help, some as people we can be helped by, some as ones both whose help we need, and whose needs we help to meet, while there are some on whom we ourselves confer no benefits, and from whom we do not expect any either. Still, we ought to want all of them to love God together with us, and all our helping them or being helped by them is to be referred to that one single end (1.29.30).

As Augustine elsewhere observes, “A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about” (Confessions, 3.2.3).

What does this mean in the context of Christian evangelism? That we not simply seek to bind up physical wounds, but minister to the whole person, body and soul. And real ministry to the soul entails that we relate the true situation of all sinners, for as Augustine also confesses, “my sin was the more incurable for my conviction that I was not a sinner” (5.10.18).

Brown and Bakker write that Christians are to “love others just as they are, without an agenda.” If taken to an extreme, this claim is a radical departure from traditional Christian faith. For not only in the words of Augustine are we to love others as they might become brothers and sisters in Christ (“No sinner, precisely as sinner, is to be loved; and every human being, precisely as human, is to be loved on God’s account”), but also in the words of Jesus we are to show our love to one another by proclaiming the gospel: “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”

In a plenary address a couple weeks back to the Evangelical Theological Society, law professor and journalist Hugh Hewitt spoke about the religious affiliation of political candidates and to what extent this should be considered in the public debate (Melinda at Stand To Reason summarizes and comments here). In advance of his forthcoming book, A Mormon in the White House?: 10 Things Every Conservative Should Know about Mitt Romney, Hewitt used Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as an example as to why evangelical Christians should not withhold their votes for a particular presidential candidate purely based on theological disagreement.

In the intervening time, the so-called “Mormon question” has received a great deal of media attention. (Hewitt says that yesterday was “a day of interviews about and with Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.”) Here’s just one example, Time magazine’s story, “Can a Mormon be President? Why Mitt Romney will have to explain a faith that remains mysterious to many.”

A number of people, including Glenn Reynolds, have wondered about the potential hypocrisy in examining Romney’s Mormonism so closely, while apparently giving a free pass to politicians like Harry Reid. But for Hewitt, the appropriate treatment of a Mormon politician would look more like the reception Reid has gotten than the scrutiny that Romney has gotten.

Hewitt’s argument goes like this: if the long knives are brought out by Christians to attack Romney on the basis of his religious commitments, it won’t be long before secularists attack Christians on similar grounds. This is a sort of “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” argument, and it is one that is shared by “Evangelicals for Mitt,” who note that most of the objections to Romney’s fitness for the presidency are on theological matters that are “absolutely irrelevant to the presidency.”

David French of “Evangelicals for Mitt” does address one of the questions I had coming out of the Hewitt talk, which was whether Hewitt’s claims that the religious and theological commitments of candidates should be off-limits was true for practitioners of all religions (or even strands of individual religions). French writes, “Let me be clear: I am not saying that theology is never relevant. When theology dictates policy, it is fair and proper for a voter to take that theology into account.”

These are not the types of theological issues to which evangelicals are taking offense, however. Says French, “The questions we receive deal with the Mormon view of the Trinity, the Mormon doctrine of salvation, the Mormon view of the afterlife, etc. Not only are these questions not relevant to the presidency (though certainly relevant if the Governor were applying to be your pastor), by even attempting to inject them into the debate evangelicals play a dangerous game. Do we think we can reject a candidate for theological reasons and then cry foul if the media or political opponents attack our own theology?”

This distinction between theological positions that bear directly on matters of public policy and ones that do not may indeed be helpful in distinguishing when it is appropriate to discuss faith commitments ad hominem. It would certainly seem to distinguish Romney’s Mormonism from, say, an Islamo-fascist faith which would attempt to impose and enforce Sharia law with government coercion.

Moreover, disqualification of Romney simply on the basis of his Mormon faith is a mark of a theocratic tendency which holds that only Christians are fit to rule. An apocryphal saying attributed to Martin Luther is his expression that he would “rather be ruled by a wise Turk than by a foolish Christian.” We’ll get to more of what Luther actually did say about Islam in a bit. But for the moment, let’s reflect on how this sentiment bears on the conversation.

The idea is essentially that the office of government can be rightly exercised by those who from the Christan perspective hold heretical theological views. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The state possesses its character as government independently of the Christian character of the persons who govern. There is government also among the heathen.”

Acknowledging this truth does not mean that it is of no consequence whether the politician is or is not a Christian. It may simply be of no political consequence. “Certainly the persons who exercise government ought also to accept belief in Jesus Christ, but the office of government remains independent of the religious decision,” says Bonhoeffer.

Back to Luther. (more…)

As a follow-up to John Armstrong’s post, I point you to this excellent response to Gerson’s article by Joe Knippenberg at No Left Turns (HT: Good Will Hinton).

Knippenberg raises the relevant question whether “the ‘new evangelicals’ he describes will have sound practical judgment to go along with their decency and moral energy.”

I think it’s true that the potential is there for the “new” evangelicals to go the Jim Wallis route, who is proclaiming the election as “a defeat for the Religious Right and the secular Left,” which leaves, you guessed it, the Religious Left.

Pundits and pollsters are sorting out the results of Tuesday’s elections day-by-day now. Most are agreed that these mid-term elections do not signal a huge victory for the political left. But why? The Democrats did win both houses of Congress didn’t they?

  1. Most of the seats lost by Republicans were lost to candidates as a result of the Democrats running men and women who were far less extreme than the voices of the post-60s crowd that has controlled their party for decades. Think of Robert Casey, Jr. and Harold Ford, Jr. as two basic examples.
  2. American is still fundamentally religious, with upwards of 85% expressing allegiance to some organized faith and a third still attending a house of worship weekly. The Democrats took this far more seriously in this most recent election cycle. Time will tell what this means and how it will play out but I expect more pro-life candidates from the Democratic Party in the coming years. One can at least hope and pray for such. In a recent Pew Research study only one in four thought this party was “friendly toward religion.”
  3. The polls say 21% of Americans call themselves liberal, 33% conservative and 46% say they are moderate. While I am not sure what the “moderate” classification means it is obvious liberals are still the minority. (By the way, the designation Independent has more adherents than either Republican or Democrat.)My guess is that if you used my own label of “progressive conservative” you would gain the majority of the middle.
  4. There is every reason to believe that this election was lost by the Republicans, not won by the Democrats. I personally hope that the leaders of the Democratic Party will use their new power appropriately but there are a number of wild cards to be watched very carefully. The greatest immediate loss will likely be in the appointment of more restrained judges given Joe Biden’s new role in the Senate.
  5. The Democratic influence over the African-American vote is still tenuous, even though the numbers do not reveal this strongly yet. Stephen Carter, in his book, The Dissent of the Governed, describes two black women who said that “they preferred a place that honored their faith and disdained their politics over a place that honored their politics and disdained their faith.” Will this thinking grow? The overwhelming majority of older blacks believe, and generally for good reasons, that the Democratic Party is the party that gave them their civil rights. The political impact of this historic fact could be changing, though slowly for sure. Religious Democrats are more likely to change their party affiliation, nearly four times as often as Republicans, according to a National Election Surveys study. This trend also needs to be watched.
  6. The party that can rightly appeal to the newest Hispanic voters will have greater success in the future. The Republicans made large gains in 2004 but went backwards on Tuesday. The debate about “illegal immigrants” is politically loaded. The next Congress will likely take up this issue and the President may get his way after all. This again should be watched. The strong arguments on the left and the right may be moderated in the 110th Congress by a comprehensive agreement the president can and will sign. Personally, I hope so.
  7. And what about young people? The numbers are not clear yet but in 2004 the number of young people moving toward the conservative category increased by 143%. There may have been a slowdown in this trend on Tuesday but I doubt it is a huge shift yet in terms of long-term practice.

In addition to these observations, a number of cultural patterns strengthen the conservative cause. Besides volunteerism being higher on the right, add to these various observations things like fertility patterns (conservatives have far more children than liberals) and the effects of education. All in all, you have some major trends favoring a more conservative direction for the future. (more…)