The evangelical habit of bearing false witness against mainline Protestants

Brian McLaren shares a confession, and a personal testimony, about the pernicious and pervasive temptation to bear false witness against one’s neighbors.

Specifically, he addresses the widespread convention among white evangelicals — so widespread it’s an expectation, almost a requirement — that says it is somehow acceptable, and not vicious, to bear false witness against mainline Protestants:

I agree with Tony [Jones] that there’s a common rhetorical strategy among Evangelicals that I myself have indulged in, as has Tony by his own admission: trying to seize the middle ground as morally high ground. If you have critics to your right, the only way to gain some space to differ “to the left” is by throwing somebody farther to the left under the bus, so to speak. …

One example: years ago, I spoke with disdain about a “mainline liberal” writer — my attempt to bolster my Evangelical credentials and seize middle-moral high ground by throwing “a liberal” under the bus. I had actually never read anything he had written, but people I respected thought he was dangerous. So I echoed them, needing to bolster my reputation to my right, a sign of my immaturity and insecurity on my part. Again, things I’m not proud of.

Some time later, I was asked to speak at the same event as this person. He was easy-going and gracious. I suppose he knew what I had said about him, but he didn’t throw it in my face. Anyway, at the end of the event, there were long lines of people waiting to talk to us and get books signed. His line was much longer than mine.

So when my line dwindled away, I had the chance to eavesdrop on what people said to him. Person after person said, sometimes tearfully, “Thank you. If it weren’t for your books, I wouldn’t be a Christian,” or “Through reading your book, I became a Christian,” or “I left the church 30 years ago, but when I read book X, I came back.” That’s pretty moving for an evangelical to hear, you know? I realized that this fellow was actually an evangelist, reaching people for Christ who never would be reached by my more conservative friends, or by me!

… One of the challenges of getting older is that you have to keep leaving behind rhetorical “tricks” that you considered acceptable (or were completely unconscious of) when you were younger.

My guess is the other author was John Shelby Spong, the liberal writer unread but widely reviled by evangelicals as history’s greatest monster. But it could have been any number of other mainline Protestant writers. When it comes to liberals routinely condemned as “dangerous” by respected members of the white evangelical establishment — and thus supposedly fair game for disdainful, dishonest attacks — there’s no shortage of potential candidates.

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