Dobson, Huckabee get a bit of push-back from mainstream evangelicals

Here are a few posts that give me a bit of Christmas cheer.

Last week, I repeated my longstanding complaint that “mainstream” evangelicals aren’t doing enough to distance themselves from the hateful voices of the religious right. See: “Why James Dobson is unable to speak of the actual murder of actual children;” “The Sting: ‘Mainstream’ evangelicals and the religious right” and “If the evangelical mainstream wants me to view the religious right as marginal, then they should do more to marginalize the religious right.”

Well, following some particularly egregious comments on the Sandy Hook massacre by prominent religious-right evangelicals like Mike Huckabee and James Dobson, there’s been a bit of push-back. A few folks from the evangelical mainstream are speaking out and condemning those comments.

Here’s Michael Cheshire writing at Out of Ur:

When high profile leaders do things like this, I feel like I’m with a crazy uncle who makes ignorant comments while you’re helping him shop. You have to stand behind him and mouth, “I’m so sorry. He’s old and bit crazy. He means well.” So to my gay friends, scientists, iPhone users, and others he blamed for the horrendous killing spree by that mentally ill young man, I stand here mouthing a few words of apology to you. And while I’m at it, maybe I could talk to my own fellow Christ followers as well.

While some Christians say that the reason we have school shootings is because we have taken God out of schools, I wonder why we have shootings in our churches as well? … Maybe the fall in church attendance has less to do with the gay agenda, the lack of prayer, or abortion issues, and more to do with the fact that we are all too often seen as a hate group. …

Cheshire isn’t exactly a house-hold name — he’s the pastor of an evangelical church in Colorado and author of a book on ministry. But this post is noteworthy for appearing on Out of Ur — the blog of Leadership Journal, and thus part of the Christianity Today publishing world.  CT and Leadership Journal have provided plenty of column space over the years to the crazy uncles Cheshire describes, so it’s good to see them allowing space for such criticism on their blog.

Cheshire’s entire piece is quite good. It’s forceful enough, and follows the line of his argument far enough, that I fear it might get him banished into the limbo of “controversial” evangelical voices — Cizik-ed away to a seat beside folks like Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis, whose continued membership in the tribe is permitted mainly as a way of marking its boundary.

Internet Monk isn’t part of the mainstream evangelical establishment — particularly since its late founder, Michael Spencer, famously predicted a “Coming Evangelical Collapse,” and argued that it was well-earned.

But Internet Monk is widely read among mainstream evangelicals, and hasn’t yet been relegated to the limbo of “controversial.” It’s more a voice to the mainstream evangelical establishment than a voice of that establishment, but it was still encouraging to read this Internet Monk post from Jeff Dunn:

Stephen Prothero tells us six things he doesn’t want to hear after the school shootings in Connecticut. I have five people I don’t want to hear talk about it — or really, anything — ever again. Start with James Dobson. Then Mike Huckabee. David Barton. Bryan Fischer. And this yahoo from Tennessee.

Memo to these five: Do not ever bring up your culture war agenda when the hearts of parents, spouses, brothers, sisters and friends have been ripped out by a senseless, horrible act. I wanted to call these five “idiots,” but I thought it might be offensive to those who are merely clueless about life. These five go beyond that. God did not cause 20 innocent children to die because prayer was taken out of public school or because some states now allow same-sex marriages. Get that through your mushy skulls once and for all. And mix in a large glass of shut the hell up.

Peter Wehner is probably better known as a political figure than a religious leader, but he’s a prominent evangelical whose conservative credentials are unquestioned. His initial response to Mike Huckabee was posted at Commentary — a journal not widely read in evangelical church circles — but his sharp remarks still got some attention in mainstream evangelical circles.

Governor Huckabee is using a heartbreaking and inexplicable mass killing to push his conservative social agenda. Now as it happens, I’m somewhat (though not entirely) sympathetic to the conservative social agenda. But to use this incident, even before the bodies were removed from the school, to argue that if only we had let God in “on the front end” we wouldn’t now need him “on the back end” borders on being grotesque. And it’s not the first time Huckabee has done this. He made similar comments in the aftermath of the mass killing in Aurora, Colo. The psychologist Abraham Maslow once said that if you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. For Mike Huckabee, his hammer is removing God from school – and he tends to see every massacre as a nail. …

Wehner followed that up with a similar response to James Dobson, which I was pleased to see posted at Timothy Dalrymple’s blog in Patheos’ evangelical channel.

Parts of Wehner’s commentary on Dobson read like they could have been written by Tony Campolo:

Surely Dobson knows that Jesus mentions divorce more often than he mentions homosexuality (which Paul addresses but Jesus does not). So why is same-sex marriage on Dobson’s list but divorce is left off? And what about the other things that concern God – like indifference to the poor, not caring for the stranger and alien in our midst, a haughty spirit, and riches? When I listen to James Dobson and I read the gospel accounts, two jarringly different portraits emerge.

Wehner then cuts to the heart of why it is important for conservative, “mainstream” evangelicals to make themselves heard when people like Huckabee and Dobson seize the microphone and presume to speak for all American evangelicals:

Assume you were a parent of one of the children who was gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School and you heard a well-known Christian figure like Dobson declare that the worst thing you could possibly conceive of – the murder of your first-grade daughter — was a result of the wrath of God. If you believed this, it would only add to your grief. And if you didn’t believe it, it would only add to your anger. And what would Dobson say to the father of the boy who had just dedicated his young life to the Lord? Why was he the target of God’s judgment? Because Washington State passed a same-sex marriage initiative?

(Image snitched from Laryn Kragt Bakker.)

Why is it that tragedies often bring out such callous statements – including from the very people you would hope would show some measure of grace, discernment, and perspective? And why are some of the most offensive statements made by some of the nation’s most visible (conservative) Christians? I am at something of a loss to explain it.

Since in the past I’ve criticized other Christian leaders for making similar statements, I wanted to explain why I, an evangelical Christian and social conservative, find them to be disquieting. It’s because they discredit a faith I cherish – and what these people say is not the expression of the faith I hold. For them politics, not faith, is their interpretive lens. Christianity becomes a blunt instrument in an ideological struggle. The result is that people of faith explain a brutal massacre by connecting imaginary dots. And the fact that doing so damages the Christian faith seems to bother them not at all.

I don’t share Wehner’s politics, but I do share his evangelical Christian faith. And I’m very pleased to see him and these others — including Christianity Today’s blog and my friends here at Patheos — resisting the efforts of Huckabee, Dobson, et. al. to redefine that faith as “a blunt instrument in an ideological struggle.”

Of course, shortly after Wehner posted his response to Huckabee and shortly before his response to Dobson, Franklin Graham — a crown prince of mainstream evangelical royalty — sat down with Buster Wilson of American Family Radio and repeated what Huckabee and Dobson said earlier.

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  • Speaking of pushback, on the secular front I’ve been hearing the NRA is getting side-eyed by their Congressional fellow travellers now that they’ve been doubling down hard on the pro-gun agenda amidst high profile shootings in the last two years.

  • AnonymousSam

    They should. Someone ought to remind them that it was less than a decade ago that the same man who blamed pornography, Mortal Kombat and obscure and unpopular flash games for America’s violence was accusing the government of sending Nazi stormtroopers to murder American citizens and take their guns.

  • AnonymousSam

    Stupid disqus. Don’t ask me what happened there. I tried to edit my post and it stripped the identification.

    They should. Someone ought to remind them that a little over a decade ago, the same man who blamed pornography, Mortal Kombat and obscure and unpopular flash games for America’s violence was accusing the government of sending Nazi stormtroopers to murder American citizens and take their guns. I’d say the NRA is making their position clear: “Take our money and shut up, but don’t expect us to do the same. The more people who buy into our paranoia and delusions of empowerment and persecution, the more money we can make, the more money we can give you, and we’ll just see how long until the rubber band snaps and it all comes crashing down.”

  • P J Evans

    The claim that taking prayer out of schools is the cause is, to me, clearly full of it. The public schools I went to didn’t have prayers, didn’t have any kind of religion, and we had no violence or shootings. So the problem is something else. (NRA, I’m pointing at YOU.)

  • If school shootings are God’s vengeance for kicking Him out of schools, I wonder why the bible belt is so much more violent than the rest of the country

  • That so-called “uncle” in this case does not mean well.

    we are all too often a hate group


    Right-wing religionists in this country run on hate and nothing more. And they claim they have supernatural orders to do so. That is a hate group, distilled to its essence.

  • I would like to see a breakdown of actual assaults vs. death from assaults. One big reason black people and Southerners are more likely to die from assault is that black people and Southerners are more likely to live somewhere with shitty medical care and/or not be able to afford medical care. Thanks to people like Dobson and Wehner.

  • Gee, if only there were one or two other countries with Christian minorities and less gun violence (or violence in general) than the US that we could point out as counterexamples.  But where, oh where could we ever find such a land?

  • Baby_Raptor

    In contrast, the public school I went to had a very loud group of Christians, a Christian club and a sizable group of teens (me included for awhile, so I can say all this as fact) who met in the front office every morning to pray. We also had a huge See You At The Pole event every year. 

    In the 4 years I went there, 2 different kids snuck guns in and my senior year we had to evacuate the school because someone found a bomb in the shop room. 

  • Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh

    Way out in frozen central Canada, many Winnipeg musicians have been mourning the death of one particular little girl, Ana Marquez-Greene, in the Connecticut shooting.  Her dad taught jazz saxophone at a local university for 3 years, before moving back home to Connecticut.  The whole family were devoted churchgoers, and there’s been a heartbreaking video going around on Facebook with Ana singing “Come Thou Almighty King” while her 7-year old brother accompanies on piano.

    All that to say, Dobson and Huckabee and all need to shut their damn mouths.  If they really believe that this little girl is getting punished by God for America’s sin, they can go join the inbred cult in Kansas and picket with them.

  • Tricksterson

    Other countries with Christian minorities?  That would imply that the US has a Christian minority when it is indeed and overwhelming majority.

  • stardreamer42

    Fabulous quote down in the comments on the Internet Monk article:

    I was under the impression that God responded to sin by sending His Son
    to die, and not sending gunmen after ours. Dead children to sate the
    wrath of an angry god–do we worship Jesus or some bloodthirsty pagan god
    like Quetzalcoatl?

    (Someone else does note that he should have used a different Aztec god, such as Xipe-Totec in this instance, whose sacrifices were specifically children. Quetzalcoatl was  not particularly bloodthirsty, and later came to be identified with Jesus by the missionaries.)

  • Me, I would have gone with Moloch, a reference that evangelical Christian audiences might find less esoteric.

  • MikeJ

    I still find it funny(but not amusing) that people who voted against marriage equality here in Washington are so pissed off about Westboro showing up in CT. They all believe the same thing, except WBC has the balls to say it out loud. 

  • MaryKaye

    I recommend against reading most of the comments to the postings that Fred calls out here.  They have blighted a hunk of my Christmas Eve.

    I think the worst one was a comment that said, in essence, how come you keep saying crime rates are at a multi-decade low?  We are LIVING IN FEAR every day!  Things are terribly dangerous!  It must be a lie!  Violence is a constant epidemic, and this is a new thing in America!

    This is, I suspect, someone who has bought into the fear-mongers hook, line and sinker, and is in great distress as a result.   And that’s very sad.

  • Yeah, I always wondered about that. The only difference between them and the WBC are that the WBC actually attends funerals while making those comments, whereas Huckabee, Dobson, et al just say it on TV (which the victims’ families might still see, of course, but whatever.)

  • Larry Linn

     We could start with Japan.

  • Lliira

    Not to mention that “some bloodthirsty pagan god” implies that pagan gods are bloodthirsty and worshiping them is a horrible thing. The Aztec priests and rulers in ascendancy at the time of the conquistadors were hugely unusual, and that’s the main reason they were conquered so easily. All their neighbors hated them.

  • PatBannon

    Eh…maybe I’m being overly charitable, but I read “some bloodthirsty pagan god” not to imply that all pagan gods are bloodthirsty, but that a proper subset* of pagan gods are bloodthirsty and that a selection from among that subset would be more, I don’t know, appropriate for the “god kills children to demonstrate his anger” position than a god not chosen from that subset.

    * Loved that discussion on the theology of set theory that was here a little while ago. Or maybe it was a long while ago, I have a habit of reading comment threads months or years out of date.

  • Lliira

    You are being overly charitable. That phrasing implies pagan gods are bloodthirsty, and the writer proves it was not merely an extremely poorly chosen phrase with the example they chose. Using Quetzalcoatl as an example shows they’re utterly ignorant and perfectly willing to spread that nastiness around.

    And by the way, considering the history of Christians killing people in the name of their own God, any of them calling any other god “bloodthirsty” is rather rich.

  • I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a religion whose god or gods haven’t committed any murders or even mass-murders or aren’t at least threatening to if defied. 

    There are probably some out there who aren’t, but I wouldn’t let any of them watch my kids, just to be safe. 

  • Carstonio

     LaPierre’s blaming of culture sounded like a clumsy attempt at translating the fallen-world mythology into secular terms. While I couldn’t find accurate information on his religious beliefs, I’m reminded of how fundametalists spin their backlash against civil rights and women’s rights using that mythology.

  • Tricksterson

    Most religions begin in blood but then grow out of at least human sacrifice.  That’s probably what the Abraham and Isaac story was a metaphor for as an example.

  • PatBannon

    I see. So you see it as “one of those pagan gods, bloodthirsty lot that they are” as opposed to “one of the bloodthirstier pagan gods, not one of those flowers-and-sunshine types”. Guess I don’t know enough about the author (or about pagan gods, really) to determine.

  • Sure, and a lot of people who are convicted of premeditated murder once never end up doing it again even after being released. They may well be completely reformed, there would always be that low-level of discomfort for me. 

    I think for deities though life seems cheap because, from their perspective, a human dying is just moving from one side of the veil to the other. While to us death is serious because you know you’re not going to see that person in the flesh again for quite some time (if ever), to them it’s no discontinuity. At least, if their religion has an afterlife or reincarnation tradition. 

  • Carstonio

     While I would dread being forced to choose between the life of my child and the wrath of a powerful being, I can understand the Isaac story being intended to show that the god in the story didn’t want human sacrifices like in neighboring religions. Some of the Greek myths have older gods being dethroned by newer ones, and scholars suggest these stories grew out of newer cultures displacing older ones.

  •  My problem with the “crazy uncle” analogy is that one’s “crazy uncle” is actually family and ultimately just makes for some uncomfortable situations at family gatherings.  Leaders like Dobson and Huckabee are not family and their impact is far more severe and damaging than awkward moments at next year’s reunion.

  • Carstonio

     A better analogy might be an uncle who gets angry when he’s drunk, and either rants at people about how they pissed him off or else starts fistfights.

  • PatBannon

    “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.” – Psalm 116:15, NIVFair point.

  • PatBannon

    Formatting. Aaaaaargh.

    “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.” – Psalm 116:15, NIV

  • Sounds like Rayford and Buck missed that memo.

  • You know what fundamentalist stands for don’t you?  No fun, too much damn, and not enough mental.

  • TDalrymple

    Thanks for the link, Fred!