Bumper to Bumper

Perhaps you’ve seen this bumper sticker before, or a variant thereof. I saw one in Lexington recently that said ‘Born Once: Doing O.K.’ What we are talking about here is just another manifestation of the rising tide of ire, frustration with, and outright rejection of Evangelical Christianity in America. And while a rising tide may not float all boats, it is certainly true that you have a variety of people riding the wave of growing opposition to Evangelicalism in our increasingly post-Christian culture, and making good money doing it. What is especially interesting is that it is a variety of people taking their rejection of Evangelicalism to the bank through publishing and/or TV including: 1) former Evangelicals like Bart Ehrman and Jennifer Knust, 2) atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens, 3) TV pundits like John Stewart, 4) shock jocks like Howard Stern and many others.

It’s now open season on Evangelicals at least in some quarters, and they are being accused of: 1) racism, 2) sexism, 3) bigotry, 4) homophobia, 5) general intolerance of other religions and ethnicities, 6) being somewhere right of Attila the Hun politically, 7) being too good to be true, 8) being hypocrites (n.b. it can’t be both 7 and 8), 9) having an overly literal way of reading the Bible, and 10) being xenophobic whilst amalgamating Americanism with Evangelicalism.

It must be admitted that some of this criticism has a basis in reality. For example, the majority of Evangelicals do tend to be politically conservative (i.e. Republicans or Libertarians), though by no means all of them. Or again, many American Evangelicals have a hard time distinguishing between, or indeed enjoy amalgamating their patriotic fervor for America with their Christian values. Or again many Evangelicals don’t see the inherent contradiction between proclaiming oneself ‘pro life’ but then being in favor of capital punishment and war in various forms.

Of course the stereotype or critique of such Evangelicals is that they are pro-birth, rather than being truly pro-life. Or again many Evangelicals are accused of being escapist and blindly Zionistic– being pro rapture and pro Israel, regardless of the policies of the Israeli government when it comes to Christians, especially Palestinian Christians in Israel/Palestine.

In this election season of course, all these religious and political juices get flowing again, and as one African American Christian friend of mine said— ‘It looks like white Evangelicals will have to choose between their latent racism and their dislike of Christological heresies like Mormonism.’ Sadly, there is some truth in this analysis. Interestingly, we seem to have less problems with the heresy.

Make no mistake, we may have thought it was a new day four years ago when a bi-racial man (with a white mother, and a non-white father) was elected President, but it will be a truly new day if we elect a man who is a product of a uniquely American offshoot religion from Christianity, namely Mormonism. Up to now, we have had only Protestant or Catholic Presidents (or in the case of a couple of the Founding Fathers, probably Deists).

Anyone who has actually taken time to read the Book of Mormon side by side with the Bible knows that the Mormons, in terms of their official credo, are certainly not Evangelical Christians, however they may present themselves. Indeed, there are sadly many things in the Book of Mormon simply incompatible with Christianity of whatever flavor (Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox), but that is a post for another day.

Americans may wear their credo on their bumper stickers, but right now, we appear to be unsure what our American credo is or should be vis a vis any sort of orthodox Christianity, including Evangelicalism. And truth be told— we are deeply religiously confused. It is a bad day when we can more clearly see and say what we oppose, what we stand against, than being able to articulate in what and in whom we truly place our faith. Looks like we do need to be born twice…. or at least reborn once.

  • Chris

    Racism vs Mormonism? Well, that’s cute – and false. There’s plenty other differences between Obama & Romney. Plus, this might be as close as we come to choosing between two non-Christian candidates (and no I don’t believe Obama’s a Muslim, nor do I believe he was born outside the US).

    How about a post examining Romney’s Mormonism and Obama’s Christianity?

    For the record, neither candidate makes me want to run to the ballot box but saying that I might vote against Obama due to his race is preposterous. Did you ask your African American friend why over 90% of African-Americans will vote for Obama? It’s sad that these sort of ideas continue to go unchecked and only apply to those backwoods, white Evangilicals when the actual percentages aren’t even close.

  • Chris

    So white Evangelicals can only vote against Obama based on his race while favoring thei white guy who belongs to a cult? I believe that’s called a false choice. There’s plenty of other differences between Obama & Romney. Plus, this might be as close as we come to choosing between two non-Christian candidates (and no I don’t believe Obama’s a Muslim, nor do I believe he was born outside the US).

    How about a post examining Romney’s Mormonism and Obama’s Christianity?

    For the record, neither candidate makes me want to run to the ballot box but saying that I might vote against Obama due to his race is preposterous. Did you ask your African American friend why over 90% of African-Americans will vote for Obama? It’s sad that these sort of ideas continue to go unchecked and only apply to those backwoods, white Evangilicals when the actual percentages aren’t even close.

    But I do agree with your main point which is that allegiance to the true King isn’t best exemplified by one set of political values.

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben Witherington

    Chris I wish you were right that its not many white folks who vote against Obama on the basis of race, but frankly, you are wrong. I’ve lived in the South my whole life, and I hear it all the time. I hear fit rom articulate college graduates, I hear it from grandmothers, I hear it from grocery store workers, I hear it from lawyers, and I could go on. Do you really think it was uneducated backwoods folks who started and fueled the birther controversy? Nope. Sorry. It wasn’t. Racism unfortunately is not chiefly produced by ignorance. It’s produced by sin and prejudice. I agree that it would be a good post to compare Romney and Obama on other grounds, but that’s a story for another day. BW3

  • Chris

    Sorry for posting twice. It told me I didn’t use enough words on my first post…anyway, I enjoy the blog so thanks.

  • Chris

    Ben, there’s much to compare the two on and not much they agree upon so while i believe racism still exists, claiming it as the overriding factor in this campaign is like falling asleep 10 years ago and waking up today assuming nothing’s changed. The fact that Obama was even elected should temper your comments a bit. If it was all based on race how do you explain Herman Cain’s appeal among white evangelicals and the Republican party in general? Why is it always white Republicans who are defending and lauding Clarence Thomas? Since we’re comparing your anecdotal evidence (I’ve lived in the south my whole life too!) I thought I’d throw these two examples out there.

    Why do the birthers have to be racists in order to so vehemently agree with a president’s ideology to try to drum up a crazy accusation? Was it racism that caused CBS to rely on an easily debunked forged document regard GW Bush’s draft status? Was it Clinton’s race that drove the Republicans to seek Clinton’s impeachment?

    Ugly politics didn’t start in the ’90s and doesn’t have to be based on race. It’s about power, it’s about taking groups of people, crafting a message and winning, and I agree it’s mostly driven by sin.

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben Witherington

    Chris you misunderstand me. I don’t say it is THE over-riding factor but it’s certainly one of the major factors. There can be no doubt about that. I think we have to realize that racial prejudice is interwoven with other sinful things in such matters. What my African American friends would tell you about Cain and Thomas is that they have been totally co-opted by white culture, white values etc. That is, there is nothing very African American about either one them— they have simply assimilated to the dominate cultures outlooks and values in order to get ahead in life. While I would say that’s a bit of a caricature, there is some truth in it. BW3

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben Witherington

    P.S. Further to my last comment, one of the reasons some Republicans are so keen to support Cain or Thomas is because it gets them off the hook as racists. They can trot out someone like that and say — see ‘we are not guilty of racism’.

  • Stephen

    I’m a 30 year old man born and raised in North Carolina and while I do hear a lot of people express their dislike for President Obama, I’ve never heard any of them say it’s because he’s black. Now you may say that their underlying motives are racially based, but how can we truly know another man’s heart? I think Chris had a good point about President Obama’s black voter support. Is their decision not based upon race as well. They are repelled by the idea of another rich white man becoming the President. I agree it’s not going to be an easy decision for Christians to make. Sadly, I may not be voting at all.

  • Chris

    So do your African-American friends believe Clarence Thomas and Herman Cain have been taken advantage of by white people or that they have taken advantage of white people’s “values” in order to advance? Either way it doesn’t sound like they believe Cain and Thomas came about their ways of life honestly, and that’s sad. I don’t know their motives either but the fact that you’re saying there are certain litmus tests that Thomas/Cain have failed in the eyes of their race should cause many questions.

  • Stephen

    I agree with Chris. That whole idea that being born white or black means you must have a certain subset of values and morals and if you don’t adhere to these you are not a “real white man” or a “real black white” is completely ludicrous.

  • Stephen

    Correction: Obviously “real black white” should read “real black man”.

  • Chris

    I have to laugh at your post-script, Ben. If it’s race based there’s no room for Cain and Thomas. If it’s ideology based then Cain & Thomas are welcomed. That’s my point. It’s a battle of ideas.

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben Witherington

    Yes, to their being taken advantage of and yes that they have been opportunists as well. And as for the character of these two men….. wow, there are a lot of black women ready to line up and tell horrible stories about them. I do not believe that a person like Anita Hill put herself out there so bravely decades ago when in fact nothing untoward had happened. And I doubt all the women prepared to testify against Cain were just fortune seekers. The black community by and large think neither of these persons represent them or their values, and this is ESPECIALLY true of the black Christian community. I do agree that the situation has changed some in our country in general. The fact that Obama could even get elected does suggest that hopefully the younger voter generation is less prejudiced. BW3

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben Witherington

    Chris you miss the point entirely. As far as most African-Americans are concerned, neither Thomas nor Cain are really black at all. They converted to win their place in a white person’s world. BW3

  • Stephen

    Ahhh! What does not being “really black at all” mean. My wife has a young black man who works with her. He is intelligent, well spoken, and doesn’t dress like a thug (i.e. looking like fool with your pants on the ground). So everybody says he “acts white”. Insanity!

  • Oscar

    I’m sick and tired of being caricatured as a white, middle class racist! Racism cuts BOTH ways: when a person makes a judgment based primarily on race, then THAT is racism. How is the fact that African Americans support the president even when he does not support African American values? Could it be that they support him because he is “one of us”? Now THAT is racism just as much as those whites who vote for the other guy because he is NOT black.

    Additionally, it is curious how vehement Romney’s critics have been in their statements that this is all about race. We have heard no word from non supporters of the president on the race issue but yet THERE it is, shoved front and center by those who would stand to lose the most from an Obama loss.

    Chris, the previous poster, was correct…this is all about power, NOT race, even though race is a subtext to the whole affair. As Christians we are NOT voting for a pastor, we are not voting to prove our non-racist or racist views but we ARE asked to make a reasoned judgment on who would best lead our non-religious government.

    And isn’t it sin to accuse someone of a matter that cannot be proved otherwise? Isn’t that character assassination and tantamount to murder? The charge of “racism” is dragged out when all other arguments have failed. It is the last resort of the desperate.

  • Chris

    Ben, you’re changing the height of the rim so often I feel like I’m playing at Rupp Arena. Regardless of Cain’s and Thomas’s alleged sexual sins, they can’t change their race which is my point. You cited a friend who set up a false choice, and then you editorialized that we evangelicals are more likely to choose heresy as opposed to voting for a black man. I’ve shown in numerous ways why that is a poorly constructed idea while you point out things within men’s character having nothing to do with their race.

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben Witherington

    Alrighty then, thanks to you Chris, Oscar and Stephen, you are making some valid points, Here’s the problem gentleman. Ethnicity is only part of any human identity, but it is an important part especially in a culture that has had a long history of racism. Furthermore, ethnicity doesn’t just come with skin color, it comes with a culture. Yes it does. Consider for example our friends the Japanese. What makes them Japanese? It’s not just how they look, its the cultural milieu and values they affirm, the food they eat, etc. that are also part of the package. The idea that skin color or ethnicity has nothing to do with your values is largely false. Of course it does in a country like America. Go to any major city— there is a China town, there is an Italian neighborhood, there is a largely African American part of town. They have different tastes in food, they have different appearances, they often have different apparel. Ethnicity cannot be divorced from larger cultural preferences and tendencies. They have to be analyzed together, and taken as a whole. BW3

  • RickC

    Doc Ben this is definitely not directed toward you. Apathy/Mediocrity behind the pulpit is as much to blame as is the culture we live in. As you made quite clear in another post our culture is so bible illiterate it is as if there is no bible, and for many, that is the case. The pulpit needs some shaking as well. In some circles around the country preaching is so mediocre and lifeless you’d almost want to snuggle up to a pagan for the lord’s day service. THAT is NOT good!! We are set apart and as is evidenced by your own practice should be passionate about it as if there actually IS life in Christ our great redeemer! Just happened to read a small devotional this morning by C.H. Spurgeon, here it is:

    Continental tour H2

    Suggested Reading: Philippians 2:12-16

    At Zurich I saw in the great fair what I also saw at Baden-Baden, a sight which gave me pleasure, namely, the little star of truth shining amid the darkness. Opposite the house at Baden, where Satan was winning souls at the gaming table, there was a little stall at which an agent of the Bible Society was selling Bibles and Testaments. I went up and bought a Testament from him, and felt quite cheered to see the little battery erected right before the fortifications of Satan, for I felt in my soul it was mighty through God to the pulling down of the stronghold. There in the midst of the fair at Zurich where they were selling all manner of things, like John Bunyan’s Vanity Fair, there stood a humble looking man with his stall, upon which there were Bibles, Testaments, and Mr Ryle’s Tracts. It is always a great comfort to me to see my sermons in French and other languages sold at the same shops as those of that excellent man of God. There is the simple gospel in his tracts, and they are to my knowledge singularly owned of God. How sweet it is to see these dear brethren in other churches, loving our Lord, and honoured by him. At Lucerne we stopped and spent our third Sabbath day and of all days in the year, Sabbath days on the Continent are most wretched, so far as the means of grace are concerned. This, however, was spent in quiet worship in our own chamber. Our first Sabbath was a dead waste, for the service at church was lifeless, spiritless, graceless, powerless. Even the grand old prayers were so badly read, that it was impossible to be devout while hearing them, and the sermon upon “The justice of God in destroying the Canaanites,” was as much adapted to convert a sinner, or to edify a saint, as Burke’s Peerage, or Walker’s dictionary.

    For meditation: In what ways do you think Spurgeon would have applied the title of the sermon which so disappointed him, so that it could be beneficial to saint and sinner alike?

    Part of nos. 331-332
    21 July

  • RickC

    It’s NOT enough to exist as a christian. WE are called to the great warfare of LOVE. And in that Jesus has said I WILL be with you always. People will die because of our inactions. So, what’s it to be? Mediocrity and death or passion and life!

  • RickC

    In all things Christ!

  • Drane

    Good post, BW. What particularly disturbs me about evangelicalism today is that these folks are doing great harm to the gospel. The 10 items you mentioned are manifestly evident to any outside observer, and should be also to anyone open to self-examination. It is why I no longer self-identify as an “evangelical”. It is a negative witness.

    Many years ago (ca. 1967-68), I was returning from a retreat with a group of Campus Crusade students in the south (hardly a “liberal” group). We laughed while listening to Jerry Falwell rant his brand of theology on the radio. Back then, we would have called him a “fundamentalist”, or “fighting fundie”. Today, such fundamentalists have colonized the term “evangelical”. And this is how most people interpret the term today: Evangelicalism = Fundamentalism. The Falwell type has become, at least in the popular perception, the mainstream of American Christianity. A huge step backward.

  • http://www.brianroden.com Brian Roden

    Sounds like there are some parallels between the African-Americans who don’t consider Cain, Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams to be “true blacks” and the Jews in Palestine who thought less of their Hellenized brethren who had adapted in some aspects to the surrounding culture.

  • Stephen

    Unfortunately, it seems a favorite pastime of self-important media types to pigeonhole all Christians into radical fundamentalism. It makes us easier targets.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Why are evangelicals judged by the relatively few racists among them? That’s essentially what many of the secular liberals are up to. The truth is that these secular liberal anti-Christians are among the most intolerant characters on the planet.

  • Don

    So with all the racism Ben and others find it seems We are not Born OK the first time

  • http://gospelthemes.blogspot.com/ Tom Schuessler

    Ben, it’s even worse for Catholics. Catholic bashing in the U.S. going back to the anti-Catholic Know Nothing Party nativists has always been an acceptable bastion of prejudice, and in recent years with the sex abuse stuff … now from the media it’s much worse. See this: http://apriestdownunder.com/2012/05/16/catholic-bashing-the-last-acceptable-bastion-of-prejudice/

  • Danny Dawson

    “He is intelligent, well spoken, and doesn’t dress like a thug (i.e. looking like fool with your pants on the ground). So everybody says he “acts white”.”

    Saying he ‘acts white’ is more a testiment to the racism of the people who say that! You can retain the uniqueness of African American cultural and still remain articulate and well dressed. It is racist charactures that lead people to believe civility and African American culture are inherently incompatible.

    As for the blacks voting for Obama thing, at most there was an increased turnout for the occasion, but the extremely high numbers are not attributable to him being black – compare the % that voted for Obama against the % that voted for other democratic candidates, especially Clinton and they are not much different. You did not hear ‘let’s take our country back’ until Obama, you did not hear this level of militancy and rhetoric either. The ‘blacks voted for Obama b/c he’s black’ thing is easily debunked – if anything, it increased turnout which would be common among other groups, such as higher numbers of Catholics voting for Kennedy.