Ed Stetzer seems like a very nice guy.
I would bet, in fact, that Stetzer — the head number-cruncher for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Lifeway Research — actually is a very nice guy. He’s exactly the sort of mainstream white evangelical who makes you appreciate the fond accuracy of Ned Flanders on The Simpsons. (And I’m not referring there to any similarities in appearance that may or may not strike you.)
I would bet that if you met Stetzer in person he would be unfailingly kind and polite — even if you told him that you were a pro-choice, gay, atheist, jihadist Communist. He’d be no less nice to you for all of that. Unlike some of the fire-breathing culture warriors of the religious right, Stetzer is also smart enough to realize that no one could really be all of those things at the same time. And he’s honest enough not to go around accusing everyone he disagrees with of being all of those things.
I admire that Stetzer is committed to his discipline and won’t betray what it tells him just to score political points. He’s a data-driven pollster and survey researcher, and when his fellow conservatives are misreading or misusing polling data, he doesn’t hesitate to call them on it. (Including, especially, Fox News — whose routine abuse of polling data has been so egregious that they seem to have earned Stetzer’s distrust across the board.)
What I’m saying is that Ed Stetzer is the very picture of the moderate, mainstream white evangelical. When he recently moved his blog over to Christianity Today, I thought, yes, right, ding — that is where he belongs.
Folks like Stetzer and the editors of CT tend to agree with most of the radical policies endorsed by the religious right. They share the same “stance” on abortion, marriage equality and whatever the next litmus test turns out to be. As with the culture warriors, they hold those stances unquestioned and hold them as unquestionable. Those positions are unexamined, and any attempt to examine them is generally regarded as forbidden.
But for the moderate mainstream folks, political battles are never the priority. Their real passion lies elsewhere — with evangelism and church growth. And so while they may share the “stances” of the religious right, they don’t share its emphasis, its priorities, or its immoderate tone. They prefer, instead, to emphasize civility.
I like civility. Civility is good. Yay civility!
It would be a positive thing if these moderate mainstream white evangelicals, these Very Nice People with their emphasis on civility, were able to provide a challenge to the vitriol, dishonesty and power games of the culture warriors.
But unfortunately, that’s not the role they play most of the time. Most of the time their smiling civility doesn’t provide a challenge to the culture warriors, it provides a cover for them.
Consider, for example, the nasty dishonesty of hate-rag Charisma magazine, which serves as an enthusiastic propaganda sheet for publisher Steven Strang’s far-right politics (see for example) and for some decidedly out there theological theories.
One of Strang’s most vicious hatchet-wielders these days is columnist Jennifer LeClaire, who can’t seem to go two weeks without mentioning her belief that LGBT people are tools of Satan who are destroying America and persecuting Real, True Christians like herself. It’s one of the two big themes in LeClaire’s columns — the other one being her own stalwart heroism as an anti-gay spiritual warrior.
No one would ever mistake Jennifer LeClaire for Ned Flanders — or for a member of the moderate mainstream of Very Nice People. Accusing other people of serving Satan’s Agenda to Destroy America and the Church is not nice. Nor is it true. It’s an ugly, nasty, hateful lie.
J.Lec’s nasty lie is useful for firing up the base, feeding its fears of the Satanic baby-killers and Satanic Gay Menace, and fueling its fires of self-righteousness and resentment. But there are also many people who find her dishonest claims and aggressive incivility a bit off-putting. They might be open to supporting the policies she advocates, but they’re uncomfortable with her intemperate tone.
And that’s where the Very Nice People play their designated role. Now is the time for all Nice Men to come to the aid of their party:
“I saw this in Charisma,” Ed Stetzer wrote last week, “and thought it worth passing on.”
It’s the latest column from Jennifer LeClaire (a Reefer Madness-style denunciation of Sanjay Gupta). The mainstream endorses LeClaire, with a kindly smile.
This is how the smiling, “civil” face of the moderate mainstream validates the snarling, ranting face of the religious right. This, all too often, is the role and the function of this moderate mainstream — and there’s nothing moderate or mainstream about it.
Validating the haters is not civil. Or kind. Validating haters is the very definition of incivility and unkindness.