OK, so on the one hand, I’m very pleased to see that the ugly manifesto of the hastily formed Trumpite “American Association of [White] Evangelicals” is getting little press attention and having little influence. That’s good.
This is a document, after all, that carries no weight except for the names of the luminaries the organizers were able to recruit to lend their credibility to it, and this bunch has been running a credibility deficit for years. Just look at some of the names attached here, it’s quite the basket of deplorables: Jerry Boykin, Mat Staver, Harry Jackson, Jim Garlow, Frank Pavone, a Wildmon, a couple of Benhams, the Charisma guy, creationist fossil John D. Morris, Rick Scarborough, and David mother-loving Barton.
(What? They couldn’t get Larry Pratt? He’s pro-Trump, too, and he’s been spouting this kind of racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theory blather since the ’80s.)
These folks are professional attention-seekers who’ve been at the game too long. Granting them the media spotlight they crave has never resulted in anything worthwhile for journalists or their readers. And, in any case, seeing this bunch get together to say that America’s future is at stake and divine wrath is coming and the only thing that can save us is electing a right-wing politician … well, that’s pretty much dog-bites-man. Yawn. Not news.
But even if this isn’t news, it is a slice of history — a part of the record of white evangelical faith in America. It’s the sort of relic that future historians may well look at as a snapshot of white evangelicalism’s final, fatal surrender to its worst impulses. Because what you can see there in this group’s declaration or open letter (or whatever it is they’re calling it) is a key point. som
I know — you’re probably thinking that folks like Barton, Staver and Garlow crossed that line ages ago. They did. The nutball fringe of the religious far-right has always embraced this kind of conspiracy thinking while never having much respect for facts or evidence or even theology. But there are also a few names on this document who are not yet considered part of that bonkers Bartonesque fringe. This thing was also signed by a handful of prominent white evangelical figures who retain a measure of respect and credibility among “mainstream” white evangelicals. Specifically, there’s Eric Metaxas, Wayne Grudem and George Barna.
Metaxas included just enough Bonhoeffer in his Bonhoeffer biography to make some people think the author was as profound and admirable as his subject. Alas, this blinded many of his readers to the fact that this was actually Metaxas’s thesis — that the author was as profound and admirable as his subject. Many of those readers have also failed to notice how violently Metaxas has gone off the rails since the publication of that book. His recent coziness with Ann Coulter and his endorsement of her Korematsu-style plans for rejecting refugees and mass-deporting non-citizens should’ve tipped people off that this guy doesn’t know from Bonhoeffer, not the first thing. Hopefully, his involvement with this deliriously vicious manifesto will convince them that his mainstream respect is misplaced.
The “mainstream” respectability of Wayne Grudem has also eluded me. This is a guy who: 1) Helped launch something called the “Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” and 2) Didn’t see anything at all creepy or weird about the name “Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” I understand he authored a widely consulted volume of conservative systematic theology,* and many who read that have found it valuable. OK, fine. But here he is happily volunteering his name to a document that derives its nightmares of Jewish bankers from 1930s Germany, its version of black-protester bogeymen from 1950s Alabama, and its understanding of LGBT people from 1970s Anita Bryant.
So the male supremacist is also fond of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, white-supremacist propaganda, and some of the nastiest anti-gay vitriol still surviving in the 21st century. He’s intersectional! Maybe evangelical seminaries would like to switch to a systematic theology text that wasn’t written by someone who endorses whackaloon bigotry. Try Berkhof, maybe.
The final name there is someone even those not within the evangelical subculture will recognize: pollster George Barna. The Barna Group has done a lot of good research over the years. I’m not always keen on the questions they’ve used to try to measure religious devotion or seriousness, but I’ve appreciated the attempt. David Kinnamon, who leads that group, seems like a reasonable, respectable fellow.
I have to wonder, then, what Kinnamon thinks of his boss attaching his name — and thus the Barna Group’s credibility — to a fetid mess of hateful nonsense like this declaration. Some journalist needs to ask him about that.
And, before any Barna research or poll is ever cited again by any publication other than Stormfront or Executive Intelligence Review, Barna himself needs to be asked some blunt questions about his endorsement of this crap: Does he really believe that the United Nations is forcing refugee resettlement on white American neighborhoods? Does he really believe that international Jewish financiers are secretly funding “paid demonstrators” to sow division and bring about a race war here in America? Does he truly believe that the Democratic Party is funding a “growth industry trafficking in human baby organs”?
If Barna’s answer to those questions is “No,” then the follow-up questions are clear: Then why did you sign your name to this? Will you be withdrawing that endorsement? When will you apologize?
If the answer to those questions is “Yes,” then the reporter should back away, slowly, and avoid any sudden movements lest they cause Barna to decompensate further.
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* I don’t quite understand the need for anyone to keep writing conservative evangelical systematic theologies. The whole point of being a theological “conservative” is to avoid saying anything controversial or potentially troublesome — which is to say, to avoid saying anything new. So why write yet another new book repeating the same old things? It seems like the only thing a conservative evangelical systematic theologian could safely do would be to paraphrase older texts with enough care to avoid the opposing pitfalls of plagiarism and “heresy.”