Who Owns “Evangelicalism” in America?

A little while ago, I had written two pieces (here and here) making the case for defining evangelicalism according to its theological distinctives and not its (pervasively but not exhaustively) shared convictions on social issues.  Evangelical positions on abortion and gay marriage, I said, are positions that most evangelicals deduce from our core principles.  But they are not the core principles themselves, and some evangelicals (who are genuinely evangelical theologically) do not arrive by deduction at the same positions.  That is, and I say this as a social conservative: you can be evangelical theologically and not conservative on social issues.

All well and good, says Fred Clark, proprietor of the popular “slacktivist” blog.  “I agree with Tim” that evangelical should be defined theologically, he wrote, “although I’m afraid that — in practice — most Americans evangelicals do not.”  Indeed, “culture-war definitions of ‘evangelical’ seem to be ascendant.”

For the general public, as well as for “media and academia,” evangelicalism is no longer primarily identified with people like Billy Graham, J.I. Packer, John Stott or N.T. Wright or with institutions like Christianity Today and the National Association of Evangelicals. Those people and institutions were long ago eclipsed by people like Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Tony Perkins, David Barton, Tim & Beverly LaHaye, Bryan Fischer and Cindy Jacobs.

Are those folks really “evangelicals”? Some would not be if we were to appeal to a primarily theological definition, but they all claim affinity with the term and because their culture-warrior bona fides are unquestionable, no one ever challenges their claim to it the way that such challenges are routinely directed toward people like Jay Bakker or Brian McLaren.

When people like Robertson, Perkins, Barton, Fischer, LaHaye and Jacobs become the most prominent standard-bearers of evangelicalism then we can’t complain that anyone is “exaggerating its vices.”

There’s one point here I want to affirm strongly.  Fred notes that American evangelicals tend to patrol their borders with liberalism much more fiercely than we patrol our borders with fundamentalism or hyper-conservatism.  We spend a lot more time criticizing a Brian McLaren on the Left, and charting the boundary markers there, than we do differentiating ourselves from a Bryan Fischer on the right.

On the one hand, there are reasons for this.  First, our progressive brethren do a fine job all by themselves criticizing those on the extreme right of evangelicalism.  But more seriously, I think if we’re honest with ourselves we evangelicals can confess that we believe moving Leftward is more dangerous (theologically and soteriologically) than moving Rightward.  Leftward leads to the abandonment of biblical authority and of the resurrection and divinity of Christ (which we regard as critical for salvation), while Rightward leads to a hardening anti-intellectualism, hyper-legalism and an increasingly militant opposition to all things human.  Move too far to the Left and you’re no longer really a Christian.  Move too far to the Right and you’re just a nut-job, but a saved nut-job.  That seems to be the assumption.

While there may be some truth to the assumption, criticizing those on our Left but not on our Right is a practice we should reject.  There are just as many theological problems on the extreme right as there are on the extreme left, and conservative evangelical extremists do damage to our cause just as much as Muslim extremists do damage to the cause of Islam.  It’s harder for us to see it from within our communities, but it’s true.  We hate to criticize the Bryan Fischers because it will call down the wrath of many who are “on our side” of the dividing line on social issues, but the importance of maintaining friendly relations amongst co-belligerents on the social issues cannot outweigh the importance of speaking the truth about theological error and social sin.

HOWEVER — and this is a big however — there are several things that need to be corrected, or at least said in rejoinder, to Fred’s post.

First of all, when he calls “Robertson, Perkins, Barton, Fischer, LaHaye and Jacobs become the most prominent standard-bearers of evangelicalism,” most evangelicals will find themselves scratching their heads.  For the purposes of this post, let’s not defend any of these individuals, and assume that they’re nefarious folks.  Still, evangelicals will ask: Who’s Tony Perkins?  Barton who?  Who’s Bryan Fischer?  Is Cindy Jacobs on Desperate Housewives?  They’ll know that LaHaye wrote those Left Behind novels but they won’t consider him an evangelical leader.  They may vaguely remember that their grandparents watched Pat Robertson sometimes, but mostly they’ll think of him as that guy on television who blames natural disasters on gay people.  I don’t mean this as a slam on those individuals.  More people know who Barton is than Dalrymple.  But my point is that you have to be in pretty small sub-niches of evangelicalism to even know those names.  And you *still* probably wouldn’t consider them standard-bearers of evangelicalism.

The only people who seem to consider them standard-bearers of evangelicalism are, well, people like Fred Clark.  Progressives talk about Bryan Fischer a lot more than mainstream evangelicals do, because they find that Fischer fits the caricature they want to believe in.  Jane Mayer writes a piece on Fischer for The New Yorker that vastly overstates his influence — and since Fischer is very useful for Fred, he accepts Mayer’s argument without question.  Just like he accepts obvious hoaxes if they make evangelicals look stupid.

But Fred’s not saying that evangelicals consider these people standard-bearers.  He’s saying “the general public,” as well as “media and academia,” see these people as the standard-bearers.  He seems to believe this is the fault of (1) the Bartons and the Fischers, who thrust themselves into the limelight, and (2) moderate evangelicals who do not properly criticize them.  I can agree, to an extent.  But Fred Clark leaves out a very important group of people — (3) people like Fred Clark.  I think Fred dramatically underestimates the extent to which he and his ilk shape the public and media perception of evangelicals when they shine a relentless light on every ridiculous and offensive thing an evangelical pastor or radio host does, and completely ignore the good and important work that the vast majority of evangelicals do on a regular basis.

In other words, the people who read Fred Clark associate “evangelical” with Fischer and Barton and Robertson because Fred Clark — and other writers like him, and the opportunists on MSNBC and etc — have told them to do so.  His blog is an almost constant barrage of criticism of conservative evangelicalism; it always focuses on the negatives and the extremes.  For his audience, it reinforces their scorn for evangelicals, it hardens their ignorance of the other side of the story, and frankly tickles their tendency to hatred of those knuckle-dragging evangelical Neanderthals who apparently hate gays and hate women and hate science.  To take one typical recent example: after a student associated with the International House of Prayer in Tulsa led a group of bizarre cultists to rape and murder a woman, Fred rather slanderously suggested that the leaders of IHOP would probably blame the rape/murder on the student’s homosexual desires (the student had apparently sought Christian therapy for homosexual inclinations), and then declares instead that it was probably evangelical teachings on sexuality that drove the student to rape and murder his own wife.

If people like Bryan Fischer represent evangelicalism in the popular imagination, it is due, at least in part, to people like Fred, who spend far more time thinking about Fischer than mainstream evangelicals do.  He may be right that people like myself will need to reclaim the “evangelical” title from these folks — but if we do, it’s partly Fred’s fault.

Allow me to finish by pointing to a fantastic piece at National Review Online from Lee Habeeb:

“What brought you to Christ?” my friends asked.

“Christians,” I replied.

“What took you so long?” was the usual follow-up.

“Christians,” I replied. The kind more focused on other people’s sins than their own.

I didn’t meet many of the latter. Much of what I thought I knew about Christians before I became one came through the lens of the media, which tend to ignore the contributions Christians make to American life. That is, when they aren’t actively denigrating Christians as mindless simpletons, or fundamentalists hell-bent on turning our country into a theocracy.

The only time I heard from Christians themselves was in the political realm. Two issues defined them — abortion and gay marriage — leading secular folks like me to believe that Christians wake up thinking only about babies in the womb and gay people at the altar.

That perception changed when I moved to a place filled with Christians — Oxford, Miss. Eventually I became one myself.

I joined a great church, one where the focus is on living good lives. We rarely talk politics, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve talked with anyone there about gay marriage or abortion.

I know that Fred is a good guy.  I think we can have a fruitful conversation.  I don’t want to view evangelicalism with rosy glasses.  But I fear that his glasses are so tinted by dark experiences that he cannot see the bright spots.  The bright spots are many.  And if he does see them, I wish he would share them with his audience a bit more often.

About Timothy Dalrymple

Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife.
 
In all his work he seeks a better understanding of why people do, and do not, come to faith, and researches and teaches in religion and science, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, the origins of atheism, Christology, and the religious transformations of suffering

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com Derek Rishmawy

    Seriously, thank you. I have this problem all the time. It’s fine to critique within the fold, it’s necessary, but there is a segment of the church that thinks merciless public attack and scorn on the rest of it somehow going to gain them a hearing with the world. Really, it just reinforces blind prejudice and self-righteousness, of both the unbelieving and the liberal religious kind.

  • http://geezeronthequad.com Dave Swartz

    One of the fastest ways to earn a lasting disrespect of any group is to misrepresent them out of ignorance as to who they really are. This can be true of any group, religious or not. Aside from misrepresentation through misinformation, which can be prejudicially driven, younger Christians lose track of their birthright and spiritual DNA. Evangelicals were born in the fires of the Great Awakenings, served as the spearhead to eliminate slavery on both sides of the Atlantic, served at the grassroots of every venture of social reform in America throughout the nineteenth century, restored intellectual vibrancy to large swaths of Christianity in the twentieth, etc. While we have admittedly provided many bad examples as ammunition for our detractors (including the detractors who may not attack, but misrepresent us), one does not define a group by pointing to its weakest links but by engaging its strongest ones. Mr. Clark has miles to go on this before he sleeps.

    • Loki

      Are you seriously claiming Fred Clark, a life-long evangelical Christian, graduate of Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, who has worked for multiple evangelical organizations, is “misrepresenting” evangelicals out of “ignorance?” Seriously?

  • http://byzantium.wordpress.com Kullervo

    Extremely well-said, Tim.

  • John Haas

    “More people know who Barton is than Dalrymple.” True dat. But it’s not because of Fred Clark, whom I’d never heard of before this post (see how that works?). Barton and his ilk are well known because they relentlessly self-promote. Barton is a majopr player in the Texas Repubican Party, on Glenn Beck’s show, in a thousand other venues, and among the homew schoolers. I’ve had the parents of prospective students e-mail me and ask, “Do you use Barton’s materials?” and when I say, “Of course not,” they’re gone. More power to Clark (whoever he may be), Throckmorton, Fea and all the rest who are fighting the good fight. It needs to be fought.

    I think Mr. Clark would be thrilled to have the influence your credit him with here, but I suspect he knows he doesn’t and never will. To credit him with Barton’s reputation–let alone LaHaye’s–borders on unhinged. The fact is we live in a very Ballkanized culture–I was among them who’d never heard of Jenni Rivera, an American artist who’d sold 15 million records. I had an adult, mature, competent secretary who spent her working life on computers who in 2010 had never heard of “Google.”

    If Americans have any sense of who evangelicals are in 2012–and I’m not at all sure they do–it’s not because of Clark or MSNBC or NPR. It’s because of their neighbors who happen to be evangelicals.

    So, be a good neighbor, folks. It will matter more than Nick Kristoff’s glowing appraisals of evangelicals in the New York Times, believe me.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I can certainly agree with your “be a good neighbor,” but the rest of this comment is asinine, John. Perhaps you missed the part where I agreed that Barton and his ilk are partly responsible through their own self-promotion. Or perhaps you missed the frequent references to others such as Fred. It’s all a part of a tapestry, and Fred regularly reaches 700k-1m pageviews per month, which is quite a lot. Just because you haven’t heard of him doesn’t mean that he’s not one of the contributors to this caricature of evangelicals.

      We’ve published quite a bit critical of Barton. But there’s a difference between responsible critical scholarship and the kind of rampant slander that’s all too common in the evangelical scorn industry.

      • John Haas

        “In other words, the people who read Fred Clark associate “evangelical” with Fischer and Barton and Robertson because Fred Clark — and other writers like him, and the opportunists on MSNBC and etc — have told them to do so. ”

        Indeed, I did miss “the part where I agreed that Barton and his ilk are partly responsible through their own self-promotion.”

        My bad.

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          If you have to read it again, John, read it again. I note three causes: self-promotion of the Bartons, evangelical failure to criticize its right, and the opportunistic caricaturing of evangelicals through figures like Fischer and Barton et al.

          • John Haas

            I did, and I meant I did miss it! Sorry. I also missed that you’re talking about “the people who read Fred Clark,” and not the entire universe of the Barton-cognoscenti.

          • Timothy Dalrymple

            Ah, sorry I misunderstood your comment. Thanks John.

  • Joe Canner

    Regardless of how the misinformation and distortions get out there, the fact remains that they are there. The question is what, if anything, should mainstream/moderate evangelicals do to correct the situation?

    I had this discussion with some friends recently regarding homophobia. While it is true that Westboro Baptist and its ilk are on the fringes of Christian society, that they do not represent Christians as a whole, and that their voice is magnified in the press out of proportion to their numbers; the fact is that mainstream Christians do not stand up strongly in public against them. Why? According to Barna (see UnChristian, by Kinnamen and Lyons), many Christians have homophobic attitudes; and although they may not make them public as Westboro Baptist does, perhaps they also cannot see their way to stand up against them.

    You allude to this problem and the potential solution (“…(2) moderate evangelicals who do not properly criticize them…”) but then skip over it to criticize Fred Clark. I don’t follow Clark enough to know whether he deserves this, but perhaps we shouldn’t so readily skip over the part about calling out the right-wing wackos. We seem to fear friendly-fire much more than we fear tarnishing the Christian witness.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I agree that we don’t skip over the part about criticizing right wing wackos. Which is why I said we should do it — and why I do it. See my criticisms of Ken Hamm, or things I’ve written in this space critical of people like Fischer, or see the pieces we’ve published critical of Barton. Etc. I’d like to do more in future, but I’m not skipping over anything.

      Any while I agree that “what should we do” is a critical question, it’s too simple to say it’s “the question.” It’s important to understand a problem before you rush into what may or may not be the solution.

  • Scot Miller

    Tim– If Fred (or the media, etc.) is wrong about who are the “standard-bearers for evangelicalism,” then, speaking as a self-identified evangelical, who do you say they are?

    • John Haas

      I don’t think we have them anymore. Like everything else, evangelicalism has been Balkanized. Evangelical people choose their own leaders–who are often secularists, such as Limbaugh, or Mormons, such as Beck–and follow them more than they do Christianity Today, much less Books & Culture . . .

  • Bobby

    I don’t generally comment here. But this post leaves me scratching my head a bit.

    I grew up as an “evangelical” in the days when that term referred to the theology of Packer, Stott, etc. In those days, “evangelicals” were generally committed to theological orthodoxy and allowed folks a fair bit of latitude on how that orthodoxy was applied in a social context. For example, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s report on abortion recognizes that orthodox Christians can in good faith arrive at certain positions on abortion that could be characterized as mildly pro-choice. The paper was drafted in the early 1970s, well before the battle lines in the culture war had been drawn. After all, in those days, many evangelicals were more concerned with theological precision, even if such precision created imprecision on what orthodox Christians believe in terms of social practices.

    My theological beliefs today are barely different from what they were 25-30 years ago. But I no longer find myself worshiping in a church that anyone would call “evangelical.” I haven’t changed; the meaning of “evangelical” has. You suggest that David Barton is not well known within today’s evangelical circles. I beg to differ. But even if you’re right, there can be no question that Barton’s notion of a “Christian America” is an essential tenet of what has come to be known as evangelicalism.

    Moreover, consider the nature of “evangelical” discourse on homosexuality. Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, evangelicals still overwhelmingly believe that people can choose their sexual orientation. Last year, Megan Dunham, a writer for World Magazine, suggested that evangelicals may need to reconsider this position. Within a day, World Magazine retracted the article, and Dunham’s contributions have all but disappeared from the publication. What was Dunham’s sin? She refused to provide theological cover for one of the culture war’s sacred cows. For that sin, she was effectively excommunicated from the fold. (I’d suggest that World Magazine is for “evangelicals” in the 2010s to what Christianity Today was to “evangelicals” in the 1960s.)

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Of the people cited, Barton would be the best known in some areas of the country, Robertson in other areas among certain age groups, etc. Even in those areas where he’s known, however, he wouldn’t be considered a standard-bearer for evangelicalism.

      Al Mohler has not lost his position for saying that homosexuality is not simply a “choice.” But I do think most evangelicals believe — and I think this is correct — that it’s a combination of factors including the inheritance of certain proclivities, environmental and family factors, and the accumulation of multiple decisions over the course of time.

      World is influential amongst the Reformed, especially in the South and Midwest. And speaking of world, it seems to run contrary to your thesis that World launched a major series of broadsides against Barton.

      • Bobby

        I don’t see where I suggested that Barton is a standard-bearer for evangelicalism. On the other hand, his works and his views are widely embraced by evangelicals. Without question, his popularity far exceeds that of George Marsden and Mark Noll. Moreover, World’s criticisms of Barton were rather tepid, and came only after his book was pulled from print by its publisher. Also, World’s advertising suggests that its subscriber base is not limited to Reformed folk.

        Further, I did not say that evangelicals universally believe that sexual orientation is a choice. There are exceptions, including Al Mohler. But Mohler stands out because he’s one of the few evangelical leaders who’s had the courage to speak honestly about this issue. Also, I find it interesting that you cite Mohler favorably on this issue. After all, if, as you allege, evangelicals generally reject that notion that sexual orientation is a matter of choice, then Mohler’s statements would have no proper context. His statements make sense only when you accept, as Mohler does, that evangelicals have been too willing to perpetuate lies concerning the nature of sexual orientation.

  • http://www.fidesquaerens.org/ Marta L.

    I can’t speak for Fred, but I know on my own blog (which is much smaller than his or yours) I feel a lot of pressure to respond to comments that may seem fringe, but that is amplified either by internet social media or the mainstream media’s need for extremes to give stories more drama. I don’t think you should underestimate the force of that pressure. For a liberal Christian, it can quite often feel like if you say nothing that’s a sin of omission. I’m not blind to the danger of giving the fringe more credit than it deserves, but it can be a very hard balance to strike sometimes.

    I also think you’re underestimating the influence of people like those Fred mentioned. Evangelicals may not know who Barton is, but they probably are convinced America was founded by Christians to be a Christian nation. They may not know Jim Dobson’s name but they almost certainly have heard Focus on the Family broadcasts. I could go down the list. And I think we do evangelicalism a disservice when we act like lack of name recognition means lack of influence.

    I’d be interested to know your thoughts on a recent way I saw the influence of figures like this play out. Over at FB, I had perhaps ten friends in the course of a single day share a picture blaming the Connecticut shooting on us kicking God out of the schools. (The picture, along with my reaction, is here.) Personally, I found the image disrespectful and bad theology. I suppose in a certain sense it was low profile because the clearest high-profile statement it got was in a brief video from Rvd. Huckabee. But it was pervasive in social media, and many of my atheist friends were (rightly IMO) upset that religion could be used in such a way in the wake of a tragedy. How do you think we Christians – moderate/progressive folks like me and mainstream evangelicals like you – should react to stories like this? How would you strike the balance between letting people think this was the Christian response to tragedy, versus elevating this meme more than it should? I’d really be interested in your thoughts on the right reaction here, if you’d like to blog about it.

    • Bobby

      Marta,

      You make a good point. I left evangelicalism for one main reason: Its leaders largely refused to defend Christian orthodoxy against efforts to commingle it with the political programs of right-wing social populists. In my experience, evangelicals are ruthless about policing boundaries between themselves and anything perceived to be “liberal.” On the other hand, their right-facing border is barely policed at all. In many instances, potential threats from the right are deemed to be harmless, while threats perceived to be from the left, regardless of how small their size, are deemed to be worthy of an all-out assault.

      For 50 years, evangelicals have fought to make sure that political progressives didn’t cause the downfall of the movement. But by focusing so many resources on that singular goal, they left themselves open to right-wing social populists who were looking for a ready-made institutional apparatus through which they could disseminate their ideas and exert influence over the culture.

  • Barry

    Timothy, over at The Slacktivist (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2012/12/17/the-sting-mainstream-evangelicals-and-the-religious-right/) Fred Clark points something out:

    The relationship between “mainstream” evangelicals and the religious right was also the subject of a recent post by Tim Dalyrmple.

    Here is Dalrymple, writing on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012:

    Who’s Tony Perkins? … Who’s Bryan Fischer? … You have to be in pretty small sub-niches of evangelicalism to even know those names. And you *still* probably wouldn’t consider them standard-bearers of evangelicalism.

    And here is Dalrymple, writing on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2012:

    I asked Rob Schwarzwalder to lay out the argument on why so many evangelicals view some “emergency contraceptives” as abortifacient and why so many feel that the Affordable Care Act infringes upon their freedom of conscience.

    That would be Rob Scharzwalder, “senior vice president,” of the Family Research Council.

    So on one Thursday, Dalrymple defers to a vice president of the Family Research Council as an influential and authoritative spokesman for evangelicals.

    And on the following Thursday, Dalrymple mocks the idea that the president of the Family Research Council is an influential or authoritative spokesman for evangelicals.

    • matt

      You’re making one of the two classic errors. The first, of course, is don’t get involved in a land-war in Asia. The second is assuming that Mr. Dalrymple is arguing in good faith. He isn’t.

      • Timothy Dalrymple

        I haven’t actually rolled my eyes in a long time. Thanks for that.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      That’s a fair question, Barry.

      I attended an event not too long ago in DC called the Great Objects Gathering, and it brought together evangelicals from the Left and the Right in an effort to better understand one another and build the kinds of relationships that make caricaturing one another difficult. It was a great event.

      One of the people there, who explained his point of view on abortion, was Rob. I find Rob to be an earnest and thoughtful articulator of the Family Research Council point of view. I don’t know if I would say that I “defer” to him, since we differ on some points, and I don’t put him forward as “influential and authoritative.” I do think he’s worth listening to, but influence is earned, and I think Rob would agree that he’s not a “standard-bearer” of evangelicals. Tony Perkins — whom I’ve never met in person — gets a lot more ink from people on the Left who like to rage about the latest thing he said (or, more often, their spin on what he said) than he does from mainstream conservatives. He’s a leader in the sense that he’s the head of a lobbying organization and has some influence within the beltway. But there’s no way that he would be considered a standard-bearer for evangelicalism.

      If evangelicals were permitted to choose their own standard-bearers — let’s say their top 10 — I don’t think any of these folks we’ve discussed so far would make it. That’s not a knock on them; I’m not trying to be offensive here. This is just my honest sense of who evangelicals look to as their leaders. You’d be much more likely to see pastors like Warren, Keller, Hybels, Piper, et al.

      • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

        So your determination of the difference between who speaks for evangelicals and who doesn’t is who you happen to like listening to? Are you as familiar with the No True Scotsman fallacy in theory as you are in practice?

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          Kaoru, I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I have neither the time nor the inclination to ponder the level of bias and irrationality that would be required for a person to read what I’ve written in this post and in this thread and come to that conclusion.

  • Barry

    I realized later that Timothy basically confessed to the charges with this statement: ” We spend a lot more time criticizing a Brian McLaren on the Left, and charting the boundary markers there, than we do differentiating ourselves from a Bryan Fischer on the right.

    On the one hand, there are reasons for this. First, our progressive brethren do a fine job all by themselves criticizing those on the extreme right of evangelicalism. But more seriously, I think if we’re honest with ourselves we evangelicals can confess that we believe moving Leftward is more dangerous (theologically and soteriologically) than moving Rightward. Leftward leads to the abandonment of biblical authority and of the resurrection and divinity of Christ (which we regard as critical for salvation), while Rightward leads to a hardening anti-intellectualism, hyper-legalism and an increasingly militant opposition to all things human. Move too far to the Left and you’re no longer really a Christian. Move too far to the Right and you’re just a nut-job, but a saved nut-job. That seems to be the assumption.”

  • http://Www.theunitive.com Bryan Halferty

    Tim,

    I wish I had time to read all the comments and more fully engage in the existing conversation, but I don’t. Just wanted to say thanks. I lead a site for young adults which is seeking to revive a Stott, Graham, N.T. Wright evangelical culture. I feel like this piece resonates with that heart… Again, thanks.

  • TruthTiger

    Tim, Thank you for this trenchant analysis. Superbly done.

    Here’s an additional detail worthy of note, I think: In what you quote from Clark, James Dobson is listed among the culprits to be flogged; however, when it comes to specifics, neither he nor you offered any specific reasons to be embarrassed about him. There is a reason for this. He is not embarrassing, in the way the others are. Sure he’s made his missteps, but unlike almost all other well-known Evangelical leaders, he actually earned a Ph.D. (yes, earned). If you listen carefully, you find that his folksy radio manner never eclipses his precision, even in his use of grammar. In all his years on the radio, he spent at most 10% of his air time on civic issues. (Of course, most news coverage of him focused 100% on that 10%, thus giving the impression that the 10% was 100%, if you see my point.)

    In other words, James Dobson is in a different class from all the others who are in the crosshairs here and who deserve to be. It’s only fair to say so.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      As a general rule, I agree. Although I am dismayed by Dobson’s recent comments on the Sandy Hook shootings, as Peter Wehner explained in his guest post here.

  • Jon H

    Fred Clark must have remarkable powers of time travel, to be able to go back to 1988 and gin up Pat Robertson’s presidential campaign, including a speech at the Republican National Convention.

    You need to get out of academia and deal with actual regular-folks evangelicals, I think. That’s the most charitable explanation for how you could actually believe what you’ve written here.


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