One of the disadvantages of growing up Episcopalian is that I’m ignorant of a lot of the things going on in the Evangelical subculture. Since Evangelicals are one of the largest Christian groups in America, that means that I just don’t understand certain things that are going on around me.
Here’s a problem that I’ve just noticed. Many Evangelicals are big on “moral absolutes.” I used to listen to right wing radio shows on a Christian station, and not a day went by when someone didn’t rail against “moral relativism,” and insist that morality should always be objective and absolute.
One guy’s favorite example of something that was always wrong, no matter what, was torture. This was a decade ago, and I wonder if he’s still sticking to that line.
Well, apparently one of the implications of this insistence on moral absolutes is that lying is always wrong. As Fred Clark over at Slacktivist recently put it:
Thanks to the popularity of this garbled deontology, “moral absolutes” has become, for most American evangelicals, a buzzword meaning, roughly, “opposed to legal abortion.” The upshot of all of that is that for many American evangelicals, the idea of that it might be necessary in a given situation to tell a righteous lie — such as by lying to the Antichrist himself to prevent his slaughtering your entire community — is tied up with the collapse of all morality, all truth, all meaning. Any concession that rules might sometimes need to be broken could, in their minds, lead directly to a slippery slide down the slope to gay abortionist indoctrination camps for preschoolers. Man was made for the sabbath, after all.
So, alright, lying is always wrong, no matter what. But just recently I was listening to an episode of This American Life, entitled “Bait and Switch.” They interviewed a former Evangelical named Dave Dickerson about the various fronts that Evangelicals will put on in order to convert the unbeliever.
I have always known that some Evangelicals could get a little bit deceitful when trying to attract the attention of the un-churched. Take the evangelical tracts that look like money. Making your message look like a $20 bill is one way to make sure someone picks it up. It’s a little annoying, but it only makes me angry when some idiot leaves one as a “tip” to the wait-staff.
But Dickerson talked about throwing mock beach parties with girls in bikinis in order to hold people’s attention long enough to deliver their message. Alright, it’s not “flirty fishing,” but it’s still a bit seedy and dishonest. He also mentions a trick where they’d pose as students giving a religious survey on campus. They’d use it as a starting point, and follow it up with an invitation to visit their church.
What am I missing? Is this a case where I’m seeing two different factions of the diverse Evangelical population? Or is this just blatant hypocrisy?