David Barton is more influential than Jim Wallis

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.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    (If you think about it, why should being a religious fundamentalist automatically mean that you’re against welfare programs? Why should someone who is anti-gay marriage also have to be against inheritance taxes? What does being pro-life have to do with global warming skepticism? Those things all shouldn’t be as inextricably linked as they are in our political system.)

    They shouldn’t. And in many places and for many people, they aren’t.

    America is unusual among developed countries for the degree to which libertarian economic views are held among the public, and also to the degree to which religion is invoked in the political sphere. Those two things seemed to have become intertwined at some point.

    They certainly weren’t always. I heard a story about one of the early American travelling evangelists (Charles Finney, maybe?) who pretty much invented the altar call. When you went up the front to say you were giving your life to Jesus you were taken aside and shown two lists. One was people signed up to provide material support to the anti-slavey movement; the other was people signed up to provide material support to the women’s suffrage movement. If you said you didn’t want to join either the guy suggested that you weren’t really prepared to give your life to Jesus just yet.

  • Anonymous

    You went on this rant before, and a bunch of people shot every point you attempted to make down. 

    So you add more bullshit to it. Good game!

  • Anonymous

    You went on this rant before, and a bunch of people shot every point you attempted to make down. 

    So you add more bullshit to it. Good game!

  • Apocalypse Review

    By the way, I came across this as the perfect rejoinder for anyone who motors on with that “JUST GET A JOB” thing.

    http://i.imgur.com/MeYQl.jpg

  • Apocalypse Review

    By the way, I came across this as the perfect rejoinder for anyone who motors on with that “JUST GET A JOB” thing.

    http://i.imgur.com/MeYQl.jpg

  • Anonymous

    Hey Fred when I meet an evangelical American I will say this:

    Hey are you an evangelical like slacktivist?

  • Anonymous

    Hey Fred when I meet an evangelical American I will say:

    Hey are you an evangelical like slacktivist?

  • Anonymous

     

    But I think the natural response wouldn’t be that Democrats were
    suddenly pro-life; it would be that those people weren’t really
    Democrats.

    I think this is the wrong way to approach it.  If a bunch of conservatives called themselves Democrats (and this is already happening since nobody wants the taint of GWB), it changes the definition of what Democrat means.  When a group gets big enough and diverse enough, then you end up with sub-groups with new labels.  If there is too much disagreement, then they will split into distinct groups with different names, and a new group with a new name may end up having the same positions as an older version of the group they split off from.  This happens with religion all the time, which is why we have so many denominations in almost every religion that is more than a few decades old.  It can be a little confusing, but it would be even more confusing for outsiders to use one term while the group members call themselves something different.

    Nobody really has a specific claim to any of these terms.  You can’t say that the version that exist in 2011 or the version that existed in 1960 is the One True Version and any deviation from that doesn’t get to use the label.  Every group and label changes with time.  It’s better to view the group as changing than to view it as someone stealing a label from someone else.

  • Anonymous

     

    But I think the natural response wouldn’t be that Democrats were
    suddenly pro-life; it would be that those people weren’t really
    Democrats.

    I think this is the wrong way to approach it.  If a bunch of conservatives called themselves Democrats (and this is already happening since nobody wants the taint of GWB), it changes the definition of what Democrat means.  When a group gets big enough and diverse enough, then you end up with sub-groups with new labels.  If there is too much disagreement, then they will split into distinct groups with different names, and a new group with a new name may end up having the same positions as an older version of the group they split off from.  This happens with religion all the time, which is why we have so many denominations in almost every religion that is more than a few decades old.  It can be a little confusing, but it would be even more confusing for outsiders to use one term while the group members call themselves something different.

    Nobody really has a specific claim to any of these terms.  You can’t say that the version that exist in 2011 or the version that existed in 1960 is the One True Version and any deviation from that doesn’t get to use the label.  Every group and label changes with time.  It’s better to view the group as changing than to view it as someone stealing a label from someone else.

  • Anonymous

    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,

    Wait until we elect President Brother Rick.  Then it’s on.

  • Anonymous

    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,

    Wait until we elect President Brother Rick.  Then it’s on.

  • Anonymous

    “America is unusual among developed countries for the degree to which
    libertarian economic views are held among the public, and also to the
    degree to which religion is invoked in the political sphere. Those two
    things seemed to have become intertwined at some point.”

    True, but nonetheless I think that intertwinings can cast light on what people think is actually important. 

    For example, we would expect that someone who believes that life begins at conception and therefore that abortion is murder to be enthusiastically supportive of contraception.  After all, the surest way to prevent an abortion is to prevent an unwanted pregnancy in the first place.  Yet we typically (albeit not inevitably) see just the opposite:  those who are most loudly proclaiming themselves “pro-life” are also working hardest to restrict contraception.  What do abortions and contraception have in common? Sex.  So I infer that the “pro-life” crowd by and large is far more concerned about sex than life.

    The previous poster asked “why should being a religious fundamentalist automatically mean that you’re against welfare programs?”  Biblical Christianity pounds incessantly on the topic of economic justice and concern for the poor.  Yet self-described “Biblical Christians” tend to be indifferent, or even actively hostile, to such concerns.  From this I infer that these “Biblical Christians” are not particularly interested in, or are even actively hostile to, Biblical Christianity.

  • Anonymous

    “America is unusual among developed countries for the degree to which
    libertarian economic views are held among the public, and also to the
    degree to which religion is invoked in the political sphere. Those two
    things seemed to have become intertwined at some point.”

    True, but nonetheless I think that intertwinings can cast light on what people think is actually important. 

    For example, we would expect that someone who believes that life begins at conception and therefore that abortion is murder to be enthusiastically supportive of contraception.  After all, the surest way to prevent an abortion is to prevent an unwanted pregnancy in the first place.  Yet we typically (albeit not inevitably) see just the opposite:  those who are most loudly proclaiming themselves “pro-life” are also working hardest to restrict contraception.  What do abortions and contraception have in common? Sex.  So I infer that the “pro-life” crowd by and large is far more concerned about sex than life.

    The previous poster asked “why should being a religious fundamentalist automatically mean that you’re against welfare programs?”  Biblical Christianity pounds incessantly on the topic of economic justice and concern for the poor.  Yet self-described “Biblical Christians” tend to be indifferent, or even actively hostile, to such concerns.  From this I infer that these “Biblical Christians” are not particularly interested in, or are even actively hostile to, Biblical Christianity.

  • Daughter

    I would also add that in the U.S., it tends to be white evangelicals who are the most vocally opposed to economic justice (on average).  There are many, many evangelicals of color in the U.S. who have are both socially conservative and economically liberal.

  • Daughter

    I would also add that in the U.S., it tends to be white evangelicals who are the most vocally opposed to economic justice (on average).  There are many, many evangelicals of color in the U.S. who have are both socially conservative and economically liberal.

  • Mark Z.

    FWIW, growing up I knew lots of evangelicals who were anti-abortion and pro-contraception. 

    What they were against, and this might be what you’re getting at with “working to restrict contraception”, was providing contraception (or information on it) through public schools. But this was more a feature of being against public schools in general. Public schools tell our children lies about evolution, they no longer lead them in mandatory prayers*, they don’t spank them, they expose them to all kinds of dangerous other children who are all in gangs and on drugs, and now they want to give out condoms, and really it would be best if we all pulled our kids out of school and homeschooled them (and then complained that we’re not getting our money’s worth from the government). The general complaint was that the school system interferes with the supposed right of parents to instill all of their own values in their children.

    Yet these people are quite capable of looking at, say, the Phelps family or the FLDS guys and seeing that sometimes parents have incredibly shitty values and need to be interfered with. They just have trouble with the more typical case of “your values are okay but not perfect, and we’d like your children to at least be aware of some other options”. It reads to them as “your values suck, and we are going to take your children and teach them not to be like you.”

    * not that this ever worked very well for anyone but a narrow band of mildly religious Protestants

  • Mark Z.

    FWIW, growing up I knew lots of evangelicals who were anti-abortion and pro-contraception. 

    What they were against, and this might be what you’re getting at with “working to restrict contraception”, was providing contraception (or information on it) through public schools. But this was more a feature of being against public schools in general. Public schools tell our children lies about evolution, they no longer lead them in mandatory prayers*, they don’t spank them, they expose them to all kinds of dangerous other children who are all in gangs and on drugs, and now they want to give out condoms, and really it would be best if we all pulled our kids out of school and homeschooled them (and then complained that we’re not getting our money’s worth from the government). The general complaint was that the school system interferes with the supposed right of parents to instill all of their own values in their children.

    Yet these people are quite capable of looking at, say, the Phelps family or the FLDS guys and seeing that sometimes parents have incredibly shitty values and need to be interfered with. They just have trouble with the more typical case of “your values are okay but not perfect, and we’d like your children to at least be aware of some other options”. It reads to them as “your values suck, and we are going to take your children and teach them not to be like you.”

    * not that this ever worked very well for anyone but a narrow band of mildly religious Protestants

  • seniorMom

    Fred Clark, WHY are you an Evangelical?

    I dropped the label in my mid-50s when I read myself out of a fundamentalist Baptist church.  Now that I’m an official senior citizen I’m encouraged as I read websites blogged by young “Evangelicals” and note the questioning and changing attitudes among the younger generations.  It gives me hope that these people are debating issues such as the value of science, new ways of approaching the Bible, the place of women in the church, the relationship of politics and Christianity and so on.

    I think it was CS Lewis who said he could not say he WAS a Christian, only that he was BECOMING one.

  • seniorMom

    Fred Clark, WHY are you an Evangelical?

    I dropped the label in my mid-50s when I read myself out of a fundamentalist Baptist church.  Now that I’m an official senior citizen I’m encouraged as I read websites blogged by young “Evangelicals” and note the questioning and changing attitudes among the younger generations.  It gives me hope that these people are debating issues such as the value of science, new ways of approaching the Bible, the place of women in the church, the relationship of politics and Christianity and so on.

    I think it was CS Lewis who said he could not say he WAS a Christian, only that he was BECOMING one.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani Sharmin

    Thank you very much for writing this.  (I got here via a link in a comment thread on Daylight Atheism.)

    From Rob Boston:

    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.

    I think this is an important point.  Reading what Jim Wallis wrote and then thinking of the large effects of the supposed fringe movement makes me think that Jim Wallis is ignoring the issues.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Ani Sharmin

    Thank you very much for writing this.  (I got here via a link in a comment thread on Daylight Atheism.)

    From Rob Boston:

    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.

    I think this is an important point.  Reading what Jim Wallis wrote and then thinking of the large effects of the supposed fringe movement makes me think that Jim Wallis is ignoring the issues.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Pelikan/100000903137143 Jonathan Pelikan

    Hey, dipshit, allow me to re-translate part of your post from teabagger to human: “Those damn libruls want to make sure I can’t get sold spoiled meat, a number of those damn libruls have a philosophical opposition to fur clothing, and a lot of those fuckers even want to wean us off our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels.” Thing is, I could go on, but I know it wouldn’t matter one single bit. You’re talking shit, and you know it, just like other Conservatives.

    I can prove that the Tea Party is wrong about, oh, everything, and I can prove that Randite economic policy is a disaster for this country. I can prove that George W Bush lied to get us into Iraq. I can prove Rush Limbaugh is a racist gasbag. You, on the other hand, can’t prove any of what you’re spewing, so I won’t bother demanding you try. You’re such a coward that you didn’t even bother putting what you’re for, because you know that on this blog, you and it would get taken apart in fine detail by better people than you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Pelikan/100000903137143 Jonathan Pelikan

    Hey, dipshit, allow me to re-translate part of your post from teabagger to human: “Those damn libruls want to make sure I can’t get sold spoiled meat, a number of those damn libruls have a philosophical opposition to fur clothing, and a lot of those fuckers even want to wean us off our dangerous addiction to fossil fuels.” Thing is, I could go on, but I know it wouldn’t matter one single bit. You’re talking shit, and you know it, just like other Conservatives.

    I can prove that the Tea Party is wrong about, oh, everything, and I can prove that Randite economic policy is a disaster for this country. I can prove that George W Bush lied to get us into Iraq. I can prove Rush Limbaugh is a racist gasbag. You, on the other hand, can’t prove any of what you’re spewing, so I won’t bother demanding you try. You’re such a coward that you didn’t even bother putting what you’re for, because you know that on this blog, you and it would get taken apart in fine detail by better people than you.

  • http://magichelmet.typepad.com/surplus jhe

    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.

    In all seriousness, can you describe the “shared” parts of your faiths?  I’ve always struggled to see how the public (or maybe I should say “well-publicized”) face of Evangelical Christianity has anything remotely to do with Jesus of Nazareth. 

  • http://magichelmet.typepad.com/surplus jhe

    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.

    In all seriousness, can you describe the “shared” parts of your faiths?  I’ve always struggled to see how the public (or maybe I should say “well-publicized”) face of Evangelical Christianity has anything remotely to do with Jesus of Nazareth. 

  • P J Evans

    determine what food my daughter may eat

    As I recall, the objection wasn’t to food safety, but to people wanting restrictions on fast-food aimed at children. Which is more or less reasonable, but (as I also recall) no one said that parents wouldn’t be able to buy those if they wanted.

  • P J Evans

    determine what food my daughter may eat

    As I recall, the objection wasn’t to food safety, but to people wanting restrictions on fast-food aimed at children. Which is more or less reasonable, but (as I also recall) no one said that parents wouldn’t be able to buy those if they wanted.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    That makes more sense; I actually tilted my head sideways and went “bzuh?” at the original statement and the only thing I couild come up with off the top of my head was the same kind of overblown crap Freedom Fighter used to proffer as ‘proof’ that milk pasteurization regulations were resulting in jackbooted thugs beating down the doors of the Amish, or somesuch.

    My suspicion is that laws regarding fast food marketing to children will probably take the form of blocking advertising in schools for such, as well as perhaps an extra tax on the sale of such foods*.

    * I’m not really keen on that idea TBH because of the way relative food prices have gone so wonky in the USA it’s actually cheaper to eat pure ground beef than it is to eat fruits and vegetables. A tax on fast food should go hand in hand with easing of subsidies on meat and increasing them on domestically produced fruits and vegetables.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    That makes more sense; I actually tilted my head sideways and went “bzuh?” at the original statement and the only thing I couild come up with off the top of my head was the same kind of overblown crap Freedom Fighter used to proffer as ‘proof’ that milk pasteurization regulations were resulting in jackbooted thugs beating down the doors of the Amish, or somesuch.

    My suspicion is that laws regarding fast food marketing to children will probably take the form of blocking advertising in schools for such, as well as perhaps an extra tax on the sale of such foods*.

    * I’m not really keen on that idea TBH because of the way relative food prices have gone so wonky in the USA it’s actually cheaper to eat pure ground beef than it is to eat fruits and vegetables. A tax on fast food should go hand in hand with easing of subsidies on meat and increasing them on domestically produced fruits and vegetables.

  • Anonymous

    I’d like to compare the number and strength of laws prohibiting the sale of fast food to children to the number and strength of laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. Do any states have Constitutional amendments outlawing the sale or marketing to fast food to children? Has anyone been deported for selling fast food to children? Do people who give fast food to children have to seriously worry that their children might be removed from their home by the government? Are there federal laws on the books essentially giving states license to disregard the “full faith and credit clause” of the Constitution when it comes to the civil liberties of either parents or corporations who give/sell fast food to children?

    It’s not a reasonable comparison. The former is, at worst, a wrongheaded and overly-paternalistic response to a real problem (childhood obesity). The latter is, at best, a manifestation of paranoia and bigotry enshrined into law and at worst an attempt to systematically violate the liberties of hundreds of thousands of people in the name of religion.

  • Anonymous

    I’d like to compare the number and strength of laws prohibiting the sale of fast food to children to the number and strength of laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. Do any states have Constitutional amendments outlawing the sale or marketing to fast food to children? Has anyone been deported for selling fast food to children? Do people who give fast food to children have to seriously worry that their children might be removed from their home by the government? Are there federal laws on the books essentially giving states license to disregard the “full faith and credit clause” of the Constitution when it comes to the civil liberties of either parents or corporations who give/sell fast food to children?

    It’s not a reasonable comparison. The former is, at worst, a wrongheaded and overly-paternalistic response to a real problem (childhood obesity). The latter is, at best, a manifestation of paranoia and bigotry enshrined into law and at worst an attempt to systematically violate the liberties of hundreds of thousands of people in the name of religion.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    But at least they’re willing to stay out of my bedroom — for now.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodomy_laws_in_the_United_States

    Note which states had to have the Supreme Court order them out of the bedroom.  Not a lot of DFH-led states on that list…

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    But at least they’re willing to stay out of my bedroom — for now.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodomy_laws_in_the_United_States

    Note which states had to have the Supreme Court order them out of the bedroom.  Not a lot of DFH-led states on that list…

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Oh, for the record, here’s aunursa’s first go-round with strawmanning, immortalized in a screenshot.

    http://www3.picturepush.com/photo/a/6769606/img/6769606.jpg

    Future readers reading these archives take note.


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