I am an evangelical Christian. So are David Barton, Tim LaHaye, Al Mohler and C. Peter Wagner.
Apart from our shared faith, there are very few opinions I share with those four men. Nearly all of what they have to say about church and state, pluralism, science, economics and social justice gives me the howling fantods. And yet it remains the case that all five of us are evangelical Christians.
I suppose I could just pretend that David Barton, Tim LaHaye, Al Mohler and C. Peter Wagner do not exist. That way whenever someone says, “You’re an evangelical? You mean like David Barton?” I could just tell them that no such person exists and therefore I would not have to be embarrassed by our kinship.
But, alas, that won’t work because it is not true. David Barton, sadly, does exist.
So maybe I could allow for their existence but pretend it doesn’t matter. I could just pretend that David Barton, Tim LaHaye, Al Mohler and C. Peter Wagner are insignificant fringe figures who exercise no influence among American evangelicals. That way whenever someone asks me about their views I could reassure them that such people are of no consequence, that their influence is just being exaggerated as a scary story told by a conspiracy of liberal bloggers out to make the rest of us evangelicals look silly.
That seems to be what Jim Wallis is doing here, and what Mark Pinsky is doing here. And it’s sort of what Jim Ball is doing here, although the deliberate obtuseness of that piece seems like an even effort at some even more cynical kind of “triangulation.”
But this doesn’t work either because this also is not true. David Barton, Bryan Fischer, Al Mohler and C. Peter Wagner are influential leaders, each with a large following. None of them represents all or even most of American evangelicalism, but each one is part of it — a significant part of it. This is undeniably true, so I just don’t understand what anyone thinks might be gained from trying to deny it.
Pinsky refers to Barton as a “splinter, marginal figure.” That is simply not accurate. Barton has become a staple of conservative cable news, talk radio, Christian radio and Republican campaigns. I wish it were the other way around, but David Barton has become more influential in American evangelicalism and in American politics than Jim Wallis has ever been.
That this fact is unpleasant does not make it untrue.
Rob Boston of Americans United posted a pretty sharp rebuke to Wallis, Pinsky, Ball and anyone else playing this weird game of trying to pretend away the existence, influence and agenda of the religious right.
There are people in this country who belong to fundamentalist Christian religious groups and who believe that they have the right (and perhaps the duty) to run your life.
That is a fact. These people exist. I’ll be spending some time with them this weekend at the Family Research Council’s “Values Voter Summit.”
It’s also a fact that some folks would like to pretend that these people don’t exist, or that they are a fringe group that can be easily dismissed. Some evangelicals are embarrassed by the antics of politically active, extreme fundamentalists, but instead of standing up to them, they’ve decided instead to criticize those of us who write about the Religious Right. …
Those of us who write about the Religious Right are not overreacting. Nor do we, as Wallis and Pinsky seem to think, believe that all evangelicals are theocrats. Indeed, we know that the theocratic wing is a minority – but we also know that a minority can have influence far beyond its numbers.
Christian Reconstructionists like the late Rousas John Rushdoony laid the intellectual groundwork for today’s Religious Right. Did everyone who read Rushdoony believe, as he did, that the U.S. government must operate under the Old Testament’s legal code? No. But I’ve attended enough Religious Right meetings and have heard enough demands for “biblical law” in America to know that these people are not fans of our secular government.
A fringe movement did not bring tens of thousands of people to a football stadium for Gov. Rick Perry’s prayer rally in August. A fringe movement did not remove three justices from the Iowa Supreme Court in 2010 because they voted for marriage equality. A fringe movement did not mobilize and pass anti-gay amendments in more than half of the states. A fringe movement did not mobilize fundamentalist churches and their congregants to push the Republican Party far to the right on social issues. A fringe movement did not pass anti-abortion laws across the nation, intimidate public school science teachers into watering down the teaching of evolution and derail the Equal Rights Amendment.
The Religious Right did these things. It is a nationwide movement consisting of several large organizations backed by powerful television and radio ministries. It collects more than $1 billion annually in tax-free donations. Not all of its supporters are theocrats who burn to base American law on a narrow understanding of the Bible. But some certainly are. …
None of us believes that the United States is on the verge of becoming a Christian fundamentalist theocracy out of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but we realize that what could happen (and indeed is happening) is bad enough: Your gay neighbors lose their rights. A girl who has been raped finds it difficult to get a legal abortion. Your tax money is plowed into religious schools that teach things you find offensive. A giant cross is erected in a public park. Your kid gets a lousy science education in public school.