Gigliogate and Evangelical Identity

Fred makes the salient point that Gigliogate and the Chik-fil-A fustercluck are basically the same. Evangelicals wade into the public square, air our their opinion on a social issue, take a beating in said public square, and then crawl back into their holes, wailing that they’ve been discriminated against.

Well, Christian Smith predicted all of this. 

Smith did all of us who follow American evangelicalism a great service with his 1998 book, American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving.  Therein, he described how evangelicals have developed a “sub-cultural identity,” wherein they told themselves a story about their own position as an embattled minority, even as they became the most powerful bloc in our society.

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Meet the New Evangelical Boss, Same as the Old Evangelical Boss

Gabe Lyons is sad.

In response to Gigliogate, Gabe Lyons wrote a tirade about how this was a hate crime against his fellow evangelical speaker and that Barack Obama was facing a Martin Luther King moment in how he responds. David Sessions came back at Lyons in stunning fashion. His opening paragraph says what I’ve been trying to say for some time: the young, hip evangelical intelligentsia is no different from from the older cabal of Dobson, Colson, and the like. Here’s Sessions:

I wrote a short thing some time ago about the garb of non-ideological non-partisanship in which a younger generation of conservative evangelicals have cloaked themselves. They often explicitly and forcefully position themselves against the religious right, but there is very little substantive difference when you get down to it, especially on some of the most important social issues of the moment.

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Proof: There Are No Evangelicals

Gabe Lyons, “I do not define myself as an evangelical.”

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the first of four “Civil Conversations” that Krista Tippett is hosting in advance of the election. The Civil Conversations Project is attempt to bring some nuance and sophistication to the too often shrill soundbytes that overwhelm us these days.

The first conversation was meant to bring some complexity to the way that we think of evangelicals, so Krista sat down with Gabe Lyons, the founder of Q Ideas, and Jim Daly, the successor to James Dobson at Focus on the Family. Basically, both of these guys play for the same team.

You can listen to the hour-long edited version, the two-hour long unedited version, or watch the video.

Here are some of my observations of their conversation:

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The Problem with Pietism

Last night, I was at a public conversation between two evangelicals (more on that soon). After the the dialogue, there there was a private gathering for the interlocuters and some others, with a table of finger food and a few bottles of wine.

The evangelical leaders didn’t drink any wine. One looked at the wine in my hand and made a comment to the effect of, “Looks good; wish I could have some.” I took that as a challenge and spent the rest of the evening trying to ply him with wine or get him to join us at the Town Hall Brewery afterwards. He didn’t bite, nor did the supporters of his ministry who surrounded him.

At one point I exclaimed, “You know, you can love Jesus and drink wine!” to which he chuckled uncomfortably. He then told me a story about a very famous evangelical leader who sent the organization’s custodian to the store to buy his wine.

I didn’t grow up in cultural evangelicalism, nor in pietism, so I can’t quite say that I understand from an insider’s perspective. However, I’ve been told about it. The pietistic behavior among evangelicals is an attempt to maintain “holiness,” as exhorted in biblical passages like,

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