Noted evangelical scholar Randall Balmer castigates the religious right in a recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The critique, in my view, amounts to little more than a slightly more sophisticated version of Jim Wallis. The criticisms leveled by Balmer and Wallis are the same ones made by leftist enemies of the religious right for decades; the difference is that Balmer and Wallis are evangelicals themselves and, therefore, their critiques are “internal” and, for some, more compelling.
I happen to agree with some of these criticisms of the religious right, and especially with Balmer’s general warning against linking religion too closely to a particular political agenda. What bothers me about the article is that it goes flagrantly beyond its ostensible aims and descends into polemics. It’s hard to believe that Balmer is blind to the irony. He rips the religious right for too easily moving between religion and politics, for claiming that the Bible compels support of Republican policies. But he invokes scripture simplistically to imply support for a whole raft of Democratic positions.
There is nothing wrong with Balmer arguing for Democratic policy, nor with his making such arguments on the basis of religious conviction (though abortion policy may be an exception to this rule, I’ll leave it aside for now). It is wrong, however, for him simultaneously to act as though he’s doing something different from what the religious right does. Balmer’s article is not a defense of evangelical theology against its abuses in the political realm. It is a political counterpunch aimed at evangelical Republicans, from an evangelical Democrat.