Newsweek has spoken; the case is closed

WallisPortrait.jpgIt is no surprise that Newsweek has joined the chorus declaring evangelicals as big losers in this year’s election. What surprises me more is the exaggerated tone of both the headline on Newsweek‘s Web Exclusive by Lisa Miller — “Post-Evangelical America” — and of her first three sentences:

Just as “race” has a whole new meaning in America this week, so, too, does “faith.” For at least four decades, white evangelicals have been the religion-and-politics story in this country. Their power, their rhetoric, their numbers, their theology — all have been so dominant that many of us in the media had forgotten that religious faith could be expressed any other way.

The language is enough to make Ned Flanders hyperventilate and faint.

Miller cites no landmark event that established evangelicals’ power, rhetoric, numbers or theology as being “so dominant that many of us in the media had forgotten that religious faith could be expressed any other way.” This sounds more like a complaint that the mass media of the past four decades have not joined in Newsweek‘s drum beat that religious faith is a good thing, so long as it insists on no universal, absolute truths.

Miller picks up the now-familiar statistic of increased support for Obama compared to John Kerry, and then she serves the pièce de résistance: Jim Wallis (pictured), a white pastor who never fails to flash his evangelical I.D. card, trash talking on white evangelicals:

In 2008, 44 percent of Americans who go to religious services more than once a week voted for Obama; in 2004, just 35 percent of those people voted for Kerry — a nine-point increase and the most surprising number in all the religious polling. “It’s very cool,” says Jim Wallis, founder of the left-leaning evangelical group Sojourners, “that the story is not white evangelicals again.”

Midway through the story, as she discusses numbers in greater detail, Miller is acknowledges that “the exit polls provided few surprises.”

But before long the thesis of an epochal election returns. Hail Obama, slayer of the scandal of insisting on a saving relationship with Jesus!

The pro-Obama faithful represent a wild diversity of the American religious experience, including mainline Protestants, church-shoppers, the curious, the spiritual but not religious, the heterodox (those who subscribe to several traditions), [sic] the intermarried, the community-minded, the intellectually provoked but skeptical, and the traditionalists. Indeed, it includes almost every committed person of faith except those whose church culture insists on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

. . . George Bush came to power telling an evangelical story that appealed to his base, a story of sin and redemption, of simple faith, of good and evil. This familiar story — and stories like it — has overshadowed every other religious theme in America for 40 years. Obama — his deep religious faith and his peripatetic spiritual biography — shines a light on all other religious paths in America, various as they are, and infinite.

Those are some awfully large cultural shoes to fill. Something tells me the president-elect will have more pressing and secular matters to attend to for, oh, at least the first two years of his administration.

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  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    “…. AND THE TRADITIONALISTS.” What in the world are those words doing on the opposite side of the believers who insist on the ancient, traditional belief that salvation is found through Christ alone?

    Is Newsweek now getting to rewrite Christian history?

  • Jerry

    The Newsweek article is quite get to that depth, but it did remind me of the pornography test from my youth: utterly without redeeming social value. Sigh.

  • Martha

    “Indeed, it includes almost every committed person of faith except those whose church culture insists on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

    Um – that would be every single Christian denomination you’re talking about there, Lisa.

    Yes, even we “We get our salvation the old-fashioned way; we earn it!” Roman Catholics think that too.

    Then again, this *is* Lisa Miller and “Newsweek” we’re talking about :-)

  • Dave G.

    It’s nice to know that mainline Protestants don’t insist on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. My conservative Lutheran friends will find that quite surprising.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Dave G.

    No, only smart, nuanced mainline Protestants have turned to Universalism. There are dumb, traditionalists still out there in some Mainline pews.

  • Linda

    tmatt says:

    No, only smart, nuanced mainline Protestants have turned to Universalism. There are dumb, traditionalists still out there in some Mainline pews.

    Wow, the above statement is unbelievable. Every time I read one of the evangelicals are the only “real” Christian statements, the more I am glad to not be an evangelical.

    “As United Methodists, we have an obligation to bear a faithful Christian witness to Jesus Christ, the living reality at the center of the Church’s life and witness. To fulfill this obligation, we reflect critically on our biblical and theological inheritance, striving to express faithfully the witness we make in our own time.”

    http://tinyurl.com/6n8s8q

    If McCain had been elected, what would the evangelicals have won? McCain is not an evangelical. He is still listed on Congressional records as an Episcopalian. McCain never claimed to be a Baptist until September 2007.

  • str1977

    “For at least four decades, white evangelicals have been the religion-and-politics story in this country.”

    There needn’t be any substance behind this story – it is enough that journalists talk about it.

    But given that the press doesn’t actually get religion, at least not very quickly, the “four decades” is of course nonsensical. My estimation is that the first time evangelicals were a political topic at all was in the Carter election (which makes it three, not four decades). And these were only very small beginnings.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    Linda says:

    Wow, the above statement is unbelievable. Every time I read one of the evangelicals are the only “real” Christian statements, the more I am glad to not be an evangelical.

    Please note that Terry is not an evangelical either, but a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy.

  • Dale

    Linda:

    I don’t think Terry meant his comment to slam anyone in the mainline denominations. His sarcasm was aimed at Miller’s presumption that some central teachings of Christianity in general are unique to evangelicalism, and that her own polymorphous spirituality is (of course) preferred by the “enlightened.”

    Every time I read one of the evangelicals are the only “real” Christian statements, the more I am glad to not be an evangelical.

    I hope you can see the irony in that comment.

  • Bern

    As quoted, LM does seem to have a limited perspective on the meaning and nuances of religious commitment and how it played out in this election. I too find the 40 years business unsupported and unsupportable. Contrast with this analysis/story http://religion.lohudblogs.com/

  • http://www.samueljhoward.us Samuel J. Howard

    “Jim Wallis (pictured), a white pastor”

    “says Jim Wallis, founder of the left-leaning evangelical group Sojourners”

    From his official biography, it seems that Wallis is neither a pastor in the usual sense (one in charge of a church or having the care of souls, nor is he “founder” of Sojourners, but among the founders or “a founder”.

  • http://blidiot.blogspot.com/ Raider51

    Terry writes,

    “. . .. AND THE TRADITIONALISTS.” What in the world are those words doing on the opposite side of the believers who insist on the ancient, traditional belief that salvation is found through Christ alone?

    Perhaps editing done by Jack Chick?

    Haw haw haw!

  • http://www.post-gazette.com Ann Rodgers

    I stand astounded that such blatant ignorance could have made it into print in Newsweek. If a high school student submitted this as an essay, I’d flunk the student.
    The most inane line is the one about Obama’s supporters including everyone except those who insist on “a personal relationship with Jesus.”
    I have never run across a black church that did not insist on a personal relationship with Jesus. Whatever you think of the rest of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s theology, he did altar calls. Does she actually believe that Obama lost the black Christian vote?????????

  • Chris Bolinger

    I stand astounded that such blatant ignorance could have made it into print in Newsweek.

    You obviously are not a regular Newsweek reader.

  • http://suburbanbanshee.wordpress.com Maureen

    Apparently, Newsweek only feels accepting of those denominations whose members occasionally exchange letters with Jesus Christ, or nod distantly at Him should they run into Him on the street. :)

    Christianity:
    Where All Men Are Second Cousins, Once Removed.

  • Molly

    Ned Flanders is a compassionate and thoughtful guy. He wouldn’t hyperventility-ate nor faint diddely – doo.

    He would just gasp and then add a new nugget of information to his treasure chest of life. Hidily-ho!

  • Dave2

    I would have thought that Christian exclusivism about salvation is quite different from what we could call ‘personal relationship’-ism. After all, the notion that salvation comes only though Christ seems perfectly compatible with the notion that Almighty God is not the sort of being humans can expect to have a close relationship with.

    Of course, I’m not evaluating the Christian credentials of ‘personal relationship’-ism: perhaps it’s central to Christianity, in which case Miller screwed up pretty bad. But whatever its credentials, it sure looks distinct from exclusivism.

  • Dave

    Dave2 spoke of:

    the notion that Almighty God is not the sort of being humans can expect to have a close relationship with.

    We are told that Adam and David did, among others.

  • Brian

    I do not think it is presumptuous to say that Miller is not a woman of biblical faith, but I reserve the right to be wrong. Surmising that she is not, it is extremely interesting to see her strike such a sensitive chord in and among the community of professing believers. I stress professing.

    Relationship is a word that is tossed around very freely and without much thought to it’s implications. A relationship with Christ to folks today means several different things and is hard to nail down. I go to church, I own a bible, I made a confession when I was young, I was confirmed, or even I prayed the sinner’s prayer. The biblical definition, unfortunately, goes much deeper.

    It really doesn’t matter if you claim to be UMC or COC, traditionalist or fundamentalist, Lutheran or Episcopalian. Being a card carrying member of any of the groups she mentioned does not mean that you don’t have a relationship with Christ, but then again, neither does it mean that you do.

    Modern Churchianity (not a typo) as a whole displays very little evidence (fruit, if you will) that would lead one to believe they adhere to let alone understand the claims and commands of Christ. The recent voting statistics simply bear witness. Jesus wasn’t lying to us when He said there are tares among the wheat. The question is which bundle will you be in?

    For example, just passingly mention the law of God in a conversation with any religious ‘card carrier’ and you’re more likely to get a one liner extracted from the Shack instead of a biblically based reply. But you will be rebuked either way. Men of old who did have a close relationship with God were renowned for their love of God and his law, but not so with the modern believer. Paul, on behalf of the Holy Spirit, penned the phrase that many of you reading this comment right now are likely repeating loudly in your mind “you are not under law, but under grace.” It was this same Paul who said that he was not free from God’s law, but under Christ’s. He wasn’t saying they were different. Christ himself said that it is love “to obey My commands.”

    It is this law that “believers” who voted for Obama disregarded and trumped with their own wants and needs. Every issue under the sun is worthy of consideration, but some bear more weight than others and carry heavy consequences if ignored. You would think if it made God’s top 10 list that this would carry serious emphasis with one who claims to have a relationship with Him. You shall not murder. Now granted, both candidates will end up murdering people either directly or indirectly through their policy choices and decisions, but find me a president who has not. Every man or woman who claimed to have a relationship with God had the ability to choose a person who would seek to limit such killing through legislation and court appointments but instead many of them chose an individual who seeks to increase the killing and simultaneously calls this murderous increase ‘freedom of choice.’ Obama is the most extreme pro-abortion legislator ever to serve in Congress. He believes the choice to murder is a freedom and a right, and he has stated he will defend and even expand this right.

    One who calls this evil good, my friend, is not in relationship with the God who created these children. If one uses their vote to give such a man the power to increase this evil, their relationship with the God who created these children may be seriously suspect as well.

    Every professing man and woman I know who voted for Obama has had to find some way to shrug off or pontificate their way out of the abortion issue. They do not refer to it as murder, they do not acknowledge the fact that it occurs nearly every 30 seconds in this nation, they do not attempt to defend Obama’s intent to immediately remove all current restrictions on abortion via the FOCA, nor will they even acknowledge the sadness of this ideological aspect of their candidate as they rejoice in his presidential victory.

    Oh yeah, well what about the soldiers in Iraq? Yes, let’s stop that killing as well, but should we ignore a death toll that exceeds the total toll in Iraq many times over every single month? Don’t talk to me about ethnicity either, because waiting four more years for a candidate of your ethnicity who shares the biblical values you claim to espouse would not kill you, but it will effectively end the lives of multiple millions of children who will die because Roe v Wade will likely not be overturned in our lifetime once Obama’s SC appointments settle in for their life terms. And let’s face the facts, if it’s ethnicity that guides our vote, we’re racist, no matter who we voted for. And the economy will recover, aborted children will not. If your personal preference and desires overrides the biblical foundations on which you claim to have a relationship, you really should examine that relationship.

    The desire to do what we want, how we want, and when we want free from an all knowing Authority governing our actions and thoughts is at the core of why most folks refuse to accept the biblical gospel. This same sentiment is glaringly present in the lives of many who name the name of Christ but refuse to depart from wickedness. The lifestyle and actions of an individual that visibly deny Christ cannot be overwhelmed by a verbal profession of a relationship. Even Miller knows that…

    Think this is over the top? Ask the individual sitting next to you at church this Sunday what repentance means. Ask them what their answer would be to God should they die today and stand before Him as He asked them “why should I let you into my Kingdom?” You may be surprised at their answers, assuming you know the answers yourself. The answers can often reveal what you’re trusting in, regardless of any relationship you claim to have.

    Jesus declared in no uncertain terms that many who stand before Him anticipating their reward will be sorely disappointed as He casts them out of His presence and declares that He never knew them. Don’t let this be you simply because you ‘think’ you have a relationship. Do as Paul suggested (to a group of professing believers, I might add) and examine yourself to see if you are in the faith. Don’t examine yourself based on Osteen’s latest motivational speech or the latest miracle you saw on TV or in a “christian” movie. Use the bible and allow the Spirit of God to transform and renew your mind.

    Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and any real relationship with Christ will have it in abundance. If you can vote for a man who does not recognize a child’s right to life and wishes to degrade it even further, I dare say that you fear of God is in need of a refresher. There will likely be blood on the hands of many.

  • Dave2

    Dave,

    As I said, “I’m not evaluating the Christian credentials of ‘personal relationship’-ism”. I just don’t get the jump from it to exclusivism, when the two look like such different issues.

  • Dave

    Dave2, no argument there.

  • Jake

    If one were to graph the influence of conservative evangelicals in politics over the past forty years, with the x axis showing the year, and the y axis showing influence, the trend-line would be linear. In other words, despite ups and downs, their power has grown on average. 2004 would mark the upper limit of the y axis (influence.) Because of the 2008 election, we know that the graph is showing a downward trend.
    Elections tend to be given pithy explanations in hindsight. These myths, which are partially based in truth, tend to crystallize through the passage of time. For example, there is the widely circulated idea that conservative evangelicals won Bush the 2004 election, a claim that can be supported with empirical polling data. I submit that the 2008 myth will be that Obama built a broad coalition gain victory. Lack of Evangelical electoral power is certainly a legitimate way to explain the Obama victory.