Bebbington, schmebbington: Evangelicals’ politicized animosity to gays and women is not a media invention

At the Christian Century, Dennis Sanders echoes Skye Jethani’s contention that evangelical hostility to LGBT people is an exaggeration — a media creation resulting from disproportionate attention given to the loud voices of “politically rabid evangelicals” who “fit the narrative advanced by the news and entertainment media.”

It’s certainly true that we’re not all like that — that all of us white evangelicals are not “politically rabid” right-wingers obsessed with anti-feminist and anti-gay activism. But Jethani’s claim that such evangelical rabidity is nothing more than a “myth” simply doesn’t hold water.

Because some of us are like that. And white evangelicals who are like that are completely secure in their place within the subculture. They get speaking gigs, tenure, book deals and constant affirmation from throughout the larger white evangelical community. Their standing within the tribe is unquestioned, unchallenged and  not “controversial.” But those of us who aren’t like that are, at best, treated as “controversial” and only semi-legitimate members of the tribe. We aren’t usually even allowed to say that we’re part of us.

Just look at the lines drawn here at Patheos. Owen Strachan — a rabidly anti-feminist and anti-gay, politicized culture-warrior — is comfortably welcomed into the evangelical channel. So are David and Nancy French and that poor kid who blogs for the Manhattan Declaration. But John Shore isn’t allowed in that club. Tony Jones keeps getting kicked out and fighting to be reinstated. And even St. Francis Schaeffer’s own kid doesn’t make the cut.

The tribe draws its own boundaries. That’s done by the gatekeepers within the tribe — not by some conspiratorial “narrative advanced by the news and entertainment media.”

Those rabidly political types who claim to represent all of white evangelicalism are allowed to do so. The tribal gatekeepers never refer to Tony Perkins or James Dobson or Pat Robertson as “post-evangelical” conservatives. Yet folks like Brian McLaren or Jay Bakker are routinely classified as no longer legitimate members of the tribe.

The message there is clear: Rabidly political evangelicals who revile LGBT people in the most vicious terms remain welcome in the tribe. Bible-quoting, Jesus-loving evangelicals who refuse to condemn LGBT people have crossed a boundary and are no longer welcome. The news and entertainment media did not create that boundary, the tribal gatekeepers did.

Sure, there are plenty of white evangelicals who aren’t rabidly anti-gay — millions of Very Nice People like those described by Dennis Sanders and Skye Jethani. If folks like that encounter an LGBT person, they will be personable and kind. Very Nice evangelicals like that would happily welcome LGBT people to their table and offer them the shirt off their backs. And as long as those folks — like Ned Flanders, or Ed Stetzer, or Ron Sider, or Skye Jethani — don’t go any further than such Very Niceness, they will be permitted to remain as members of the evangelical tribe in good standing.

But if any of them took another step — arguing that niceness isn’t the same as justice, and that LGBT people ought to be recognized as fully equal members of society and of the church — then they would quickly be branded “controversial,” and be cast into the outer darkness with McLaren, Bakker, Rob Bell and the wretched mainline Protestants.

Jethani’s “it’s a myth” spin can’t account for the aspects of evangelicalism that exist independent of, unnoticed by and unreported on by any of the “news and entertainment media” he wants to blame for them. Consider the angrily anti-gay Defenders of the Authority of Scripture who troll the comment sections of blogs like this one or who fire off hate-mail when Rachel Held Evans endorses unconditional love for gay children. Or consider the casual cruelty that Registered Runaway writes about here, or stories like this one, or experiences like this and like this and like this, or the continuing “mainstream” respectability of venomously hateful publications like Charisma magazine.

Those are all organic aspects of the white evangelical subculture. They are not creations of some outside media narrative.

Or, to put it another way: Here is Jason Micheli’s response to the Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality. Here is James Dobson’s response. One of those men is an evangelical icon, was the subject of a hagiographic Christianity Today cover story, and his books can be found in the homes of millions of white evangelicals. The other is not regarded as an evangelical at all, even though he’d fit any Bebbington-style theological definition anyone would care to use.

Such theological definitions don’t matter. You will never be branded as “controversial” or banished from the evangelical tribe for insufficient biblicism. Or because your enthusiasm for crucicentrism, conversionism or missional activism is regarded as suspect. But if you’re feminist or pro-gay, you’re out. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

Bebbington, schmebbington. The tribe defines itself: An evangelical is a white Protestant who opposes legal abortion and homosexuality. Period.

  • Lori

    The thing is, pretty much everyone knows who Hitler is and is aware of why he’s bad. The same can’t be said for Harry Hay and the Mattachine Society (at least outside of whichever corner of wingnuttia qulady is visiting from).

    If you’re going to work a fallacy at least do it right, you know?

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    I think the relative obscurity is part of the point. It lets him imply that we may be trotting Hayisms and not even know it. This threat does not much concern me.

  • Lori

    Yeah. That would still come a lot closer to working if it was actually widely known and obvious why association with Hay is a bad thing. Obviously it still wouldn’t work because fallacy is fallacious, but it would likely get a bit better response.

    If you compare someone to Hitler, no matter how stone stupid the comparison, they tend to feel compelled to respond. The vast majority of the time comparing someone to Hay isn’t going to have that effect. The whole thing is just dumb.

    We’ve been going back & forth on this and I’m still not sure why comparison to Hay is supposedly so awful. I can see disagreeing with him. Plenty of people do. I’m just not sure why he’s supposedly such a boogyman. Is it because he was called before HUAC? Because decent people don’t think that’s exactly the mark of the beast.

  • qalady

    this is about the source for the slogans, mantras, and repeated words found in the writings of Hay, members of the Mattachine Society, and other leaders

  • qalady

    And so?

  • qalady

    It’s about the source for all of the repeated words, slogans, and mantras used by those who use that “reason” you list. The sources do matter as to how those slogans were used for by the creators / leaders.

  • qalady

    Spelled “contusions” on purpose, but you missed the intent…..

  • qalady

    When the gays and lesbians use the very same slogans and mantras that were written by Hay, Mattachine Society members, and other leaders who wrote those for specific reasons, including the support for pedophilia, then I don’t have to “conclude” anything you mention.

  • dpolicar

    You don’t have to conclude anything at all; you have free agency. Consistency, charity, logic, these things can only compel you if you choose for them to. Similarly, you’re under no obligation to answer my questions; you’re free to evade them and continue to repeat your original point, however irrelevant.

    That said, the more blatantly you do those things, the less compelling you are to people who care about consistency, charity, logic, and relevance.

  • qalady

    As stated before, every movement is defined by the words and writings of its leaders and founders. The mantra and slogans used now can be found in Hay’s own writings, and the reasons for why he wrote those also define their direction for people using them.

  • dpolicar

    See? That’s much more relevant. Thank you.

    It’s also wrong, but that’s OK. Being wrong is a far easier state to recover from than a refusal to engage with questions.

    Harry Hay did not found queer equality; there were people treating queers as human beings and advocating for such treatment long before Hay was born. He did found one of the first successful gay rights groups in the United States, though, so perhaps you’re just talking about U.S. queers.

    And, yes, he supported NAMBLA. Also Marxism. The queer equality movement rejected both of those positions.

    Which gets me back to my original question: how generally does your strategy apply? For example, if it turned out that many founders of the United States were slave-owners, and had written extensively on slaveowning as part of United States culture, would it follow that I, as a United States supporter, probably endorse slavery? Or is the fact that the United States rejected slavery in some way relevant?

    I’m curious about the slogan thing, though. Can you list a couple of slogans in common use by the queer equality movement that Hay created, and his reasons for creating those slogans?

    Obviously the intentions of a writer or speaker don’t define the intentions of those who later quote him — like the man said, the Devil can quote Scripture to suit his purpose — but the history can be interesting, regardless.

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

    OH! I HAVE BEEN SLAIN BY YOUR AMAZING WIT ONLY YOU UNDERSTAND THE MEANING OF.

  • Lori

    What are you talking about? What reason did I list and what are you trying to say about the source?

    Frankly, it sounds like you’re talking about your side of the issue. All the repeated words, slogans, and mantras that come out of bigot-groups sponsered by the Catholics and the Mormons, which then get broadly transmitted by Fox News and then get repeated by bigots like you.

  • melissia

    “No one here pays attention to what the major gay leaders wrote that is publicly-available for everyone to read, and how these leaders promoted bestiality, pedophilia, polygamy, and other “free” practices”

    I do tend to find it hard to read something that doesn’t exist.


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