The push-back against the push-back begins: ‘Mainstream’ evangelicals criticize critics of the religious right

Well, I told you this was coming.

Last month I wrote about a modest bit of push-back from “mainstream” evangelicals against the appalling things said by several religious right leaders following the massacre in Newtown, Conn.

Mike Huckabee, James Dobson, Bryan Fischer and Franklin Graham disgraced themselves by blaming the shootings on the separation of church and state, same-sex marriage and legal abortion, prompting widespread criticism from a wide variety of Christian leaders and just about anyone else who heard what they said.

But, as usual, mainstream evangelical leaders, magazines, bloggers and spokespeople were hesitant to condemn those remarks. Their constituency, after all, is the same white evangelical populace that watches Huckabee on Fox News, listens to Dobson and Fischer on the radio (on 7,000 and 200 stations, respectively), and that inexplicably regards Franklin Graham as the legitimate heir to his father’s legacy. They are thus, understandably, rather timid about criticizing those folks.

Yet a handful of “mainstream” evangelical types did clear their throats and respond to Huckabee and Dobson, including Out of Ur, which is the blog of Leadership Journal, the magazine for pastors put out by the folks at Christianity Today.

Out of Ur published a guest post by Michael Cheshire, an evangelical pastor from Colorado, who wrote, “They Think We’re a Hate Group, and They Might Be Right.” Cheshire compared the vocal and visible leaders of the evangelical religious right with a “crazy uncle”:

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.

The rest of Cheshire’s piece was pretty forceful, so much so that I worried “… 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.”

And that didn’t take long. Less than two weeks later, Skye Jethani posted Out of Ur’s backpedaling semi-retraction of Cheshire’s comments: “No, We’re Not a Hate Group.”

Jethani explains that the religious right is not representative of the silent majority of American evangelicals. That’s a false impression, he says, created by sensationalistic journalists and, Jethani says — citing Timothy Dalrymple — created by wily progressive Christians. He links to Dalrymple’s unique explanation for the rise of the religious right. It’s due, he says, to:

… 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.

Bryan Fischer speaks at the 2012 Values Voter summit in Washington. Organizers apparently asked Mitt Romney whom he would like to have speak just prior to his speech. Gov. Romney quickly consulted my blog, saw that I had written nearly a dozen posts criticizing Fischer, and requested Fischer precede him because, Romney said, “Fred and his ilk shape the public and media perception.”

Yes, it’s all true. I started this blog in 2002. At the time, James Dobson was an inconsequential figure broadcasting his radio message daily on a mere 7,000 stations (mostly AM). He’d only written a couple dozen books at that point, and only half of those had become national best-sellers. And only 500 or so of the thousands of newspapers and evangelical publications in America bothered to carry his weekly column.

But once I started shining my “relentless light on every ridiculous and offensive thing an evangelical pastor or radio host does,” that criticism — cleverly disguised as posts about the Iraq War, eschatology, Buffy, Niebuhr, subsidiarity and manufactured housing — catapulted James Dobson to national fame, leading Time magazine to dub him “the nation’s most influential evangelical leader.”

I’ve done the same thing for countless others — Franklin Graham, Rick Warren, Bryan Fischer, Tony Perkins and dozens of other such figures who I’ve managed to elevate without ever even mentioning them here.

My very first substantial post, on my original blogspot site, criticized Pat Robertson for selling “sentergistic” anti-aging milkshakes. The effect of that post was so powerful that it lifted Robertson to a second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses 14 years earlier.

My influence is vast, unstoppable and retroactive. Or, alternatively, Dalrymple and Jethani might be talking out of their backsides. It’s one of those.

In any case, Jethani’s endorsement of Dalrymple’s weirdly anachronistic history of the religious right is not the biggest problem with his attempted rebuttal of Cheshire’s piece. The biggest problem with Jethani’s post is that it’s pastoral malpractice. We’ll get to that in part 2.


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  • reynard61

    “Oh, to have an ilk. One can only dream.”

    Careful, they get kinda rowdy come mating season…

  • Nice to know they know your name, eh?  Must be doing something right.

  • Jim Roberts

    My first exposure to online atheists was Pharyngula. I kind of created my own bias.

  • Sarah Vanacore

     Maybe in the south, but I grew up in evangelical culture in the northeast, and Fred’s blog was the first I’d ever heard of Barton. Maybe I’m an anomaly?

  • Yikes. Didn’t want my  full name there, but I don’t know how to fix that.

  • But once I started shining my “relentless light on every ridiculous and offensive thing an evangelical pastor or radio host does,” that criticism — cleverly disguised as posts about the Iraq War, eschatology, Buffy, Niebuhr, subsidiarity and manufactured housing — catapulted James Dobson to national fame, leading Time magazine to dub him “the nation’s most influential evangelical leader.”

    *Mechanical breath*

    The Sarcasm is strong in this one…

  • Even in the absence of a centralized structure to discipline the hatemongers that say that kind of shit, there is always the libertarian “vote with your feet!” approach. If you really think someone is being monstrous, you won’t give money to their organization, you won’t invite them to speak at your conference, you won’t go to see their talks, you’ll complain to conference organizers that they’re there.

    Which is why you have young people in droves leaving the religious right stance of their families, and why the religious right is no longer as big a voting block as it used to be.  

    And it is not because “going heathen” is the hip thing to do for youthful rebellion these days.  

  • I’m sure bisexual witches count, though I’m also pretty sure Pat Robertson would call you a lesbian. If he ever were forced to confront the actuality of a bisexual woman who was happily married to a man and who was a witch who had nothing to do with the Satan of his puny imaginings, I think his head would spin all the way ’round.

    Which makes me wonder: what do these people do with The Wizard of Oz? Glinda is a good witch.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Somewhere on Seanan McGuire’s Livejournal is a post with a bunch of extra verses to her song “Wicked Girls”. (Awesome song.) One of those is about Glinda and Elphaba. I can’t remember all of the verse but it definitely has a couple lines something like “They labeled one ‘wicked’ and they labeled one ‘good’ / which made both lonely and misunderstood”.

  • As with everything else, the squeaky wheel gets the attention. Squeaky atheists don’t get any grease from the larger culture, though, and squeaky Christians do. That’s privilege.

    Also, I’ve never heard of an atheist preacher on a streetcorner who yelled at people. However, I’ve been personally insulted, in person (which is scary in a way that online is not, especially when the words they use are rape culture dogwhistles) by, ooooh, about a couple dozen different Christian street preachers on my college campuses. Every. Single. Weekday. For. Years. I had to walk past them in order to get to my classes. Being yelled at for being a slut and whore and bitch and babykiller and on and on every. Single. Day. I do not know why they singled me out, except that I am not blonde and I do not wear makeup, I’m on the tall side for a woman down here where there aren’t so many people of Viking ancestry, and the size of part of my body is something our culture associates with being both stupid and having an active sex life. 

    Every woman I talked to about it went through the same thing with these assholes — sexually harassed and belittled and berated for the high crime of being female on a college campus — but the only other one who got it as unrelentingly as I did was also a tall, light-skinned brunette with a similar body shape to mine.

    So, white Christian man who’s loud about your Christianity? I’m not going to apologize for being extremely wary of you until you show me I don’t need to be. It doesn’t take much to do so. But I have to think of myself first. 

  • Tricksterson

    And this was supposed to be bad?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Found it!

    Glinda and Elphie were victims of pure nomenclature—
    So many believe that your name is the whole of your nature—
    They named one as “wicked,” they named one as “good,”
    And left them both lonely and misunderstood,
    Wishing only to turn back the clock and go back to their youth
    When innocent eyes looked on emerald lies as the truth. and the song’s actual lyrics are at and the song can be acquired at

  • Larry Linn

    commentator and former alter-boy George Carlin sums it up, “Think about it.
    Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in
    the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the
    invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And
    if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and
    smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and
    suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of
    time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs
    money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just
    can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes,
    and they always need a little more.”