Fox Evangelicals

Fox Evangelicals December 21, 2017

There is a brand of belligerent finger-pointing

A recent New York Times opinion piece offers what I think is one of the most insightful analyses of Evangelical support for Donald Trump that I have ever read. Here is an excerpt to whet your appetite, but you really should read the whole thing:

LifeWay’s researchers developed questions meant to get at both the way Americans self-identify religiously and their theological beliefs. What they discovered was that while one-quarter of Americans consider themselves to be “evangelical,” less than half of that group actually holds traditional evangelical beliefs. For others, “evangelical” effectively functions as a cultural label, unmoored from theological meaning.

Eric Reitan wrote along similar lines in a recent post about Evangelicalism’s deal with the devil:

There is a brand of belligerent finger-pointing Christianity–a culture-warrior kind of Christianity that attacks those who are Other, that wears Christianity like a visible cloak of righteousness rather than a humble vocation–that is particularly attractive to those who have deep moral flaws but who lack the moral courage to confront and confess with sincere humility. Instead, they try to find righteousness in an ideology of division: there is the in-group, and there’s the out-group, and being part of the in-group is what makes you good despite the evils you know are lurking in your soul.

Sometimes, the most vigorous agents of this us-them brand of Christianity are really fighting to justify themselves through the easy righteousness of belonging to the right group (instead of engaging in the deeply frightening task of confronting their sins honestly, feeling sincere remorse and penitence, and making a humble effort to open themselves up to grace).

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  • Illithid

    “…engaging in the deeply frightening task of confronting their sins honestly, feeling sincere remorse and penitence, and making a humble effort to open themselves up to grace”

    Well said. I’m an atheist, and this is exactly the sort of Christian with whom I have zero problems sharing a world.

  • arcseconds

    There is a brand of belligerent finger-pointing Christianity–a culture-warrior kind of Christianity that attacks those who are Other, that wears Christianity like a visible cloak of righteousness rather than a humble vocation–that is particularly attractive to those who have deep moral flaws but who lack the moral courage to confront and confess with sincere humility. Instead, they try to find righteousness in an ideology of division: there is the in-group, and there’s the out-group, and being part of the in-group is what makes you good despite the evils you know are lurking in your soul.

    Do they know evils are lurking in their soul?

    I think Christians like Reitan think Christians like Moore are just like them, except less honest and diligent, or something. On this view, Moore knows he’s a terrible sinner, but is trying to make up for it by an extravagant display of piety and loyalty to the right team. This is helped by the view held by many Christians that everyone is in sin, and are aware of it (at least the fact that they are in sin, although they might not fully appreciate how far their sin goes). And I think maybe reflective people in general might make errors like this: assuming other people also reflect.

    But I wonder whether Moore gives a second thought to his behaviour. I’ve just read a couple of his WorldNet columns, and he’s quite capable of asserting that Muslims can’t serve in Congress because (according to him, quoting Muslim extremists) Islam mandates State-backed worship of Allah, and in the very same article more or less saying that the ‘Judeo-Christian God’ (a different God from Allah, of course) is the fundamental source of American liberty. So it’s ambiguous as to whether the problem is that Islam violates the establishment clause, or if it’s simply the wrong religion that’s so being established (in fact, the answer might be both: religious freedom according to Moore appears to be the freedom to worship any god you like, so long as it’s the Judeo-Christian one).

    I don’t think he’s given a moment’s thought to how it might be that a Muslim may stand in exactly the same relationship to Islam as he does to Christianity.

    Moore seems to be simply an authoritarian. He’s backed the biggest Authority there is, and as a result he’s become a big man. Big men are entilted to things. And he gets angry when people buck the Authority (he’s blaming ‘Muslims and Marxists’ for his loss, and he’s publicising the shocking fact that Doug Jones’s gay son is happy that his father won).

    Reitan explains that by ‘evil’ he means ‘wicked character that corrupts’, ‘sinful agendas that can do so much harm’. I think the language of sin and evil tends to make it sound like there’s something there, something that the person must be able to find in their consciousness, or could if they only looked. But if your character flaw is just that you (say) completely lack any appreciation for how your actions affect others, there’s no item in your mind that you can find that correspond to this, and ex hypothesi you won’t gain any insight by reflecting on your actions, because you simply won’t notice or care what they do to other people.

    Bascially, I don’t see any reason to credit Moore with a conscience and a deep inner life where he’s tragically compensating for the sin he knows he has. I don’t think the ‘poor Christian sinner’ picture is necessarily applicable in a straightfoward manner, I think asking him to repent would at most get you a big show of repentance and zero actual soul-searching, and applying this picture to ‘fellow Christians’ puts Christians who actually are reflective and repentant (or even just, you know, not monsters) at considerable risk.

    Fred Clark has mentioned from time to time that evangelicals are vulnerable to grifters who can put on a convincing evangelical display. I think this bears thinking on.

  • Al Cruise

    A lot of evangelicals who may not be in the ” belligerent finger-pointing Christianity crowd ” privately support their views . They are just careful to maintain an outward appearance that looks like they are more moderate. They desire the same outcomes that finger-pointers seek. Rights taken away from marginalized and poor people, a far right conservative Supreme Court. I would say they are more dangerous than the Roy Moores of the world. Moore doesn’t hide much, it’s the wolves in sheep clothing that can really hurt you.

  • Lumen

    Here’s another article I think is a spot-on.

    The Biggest Loser in the Alabama Election
    by Mark Galli (editor in chief of Christianity Today)

    No matter the outcome of today’s special election in Alabama for a coveted US Senate seat, there is already one loser: Christian faith. When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.

    The race between Republican candidate Roy Moore and Democratic candidate Doug Jones has only put an exclamation point on a problem that has been festering for a year and a half—ever since a core of strident conservative Christians began to cheer for Donald Trump without qualification and a chorus of other believers decried that support as immoral. The Christian leaders who have excused, ignored, or justified his unscrupulous behavior and his indecent rhetoric have only given credence to their critics who accuse them of hypocrisy.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/december-web-only/roy-moore-doug-jones-alabama-editorial.html

    • Nick G

      Libby Anne has a highly critical commentary on that article, pointing out that it primarily blames that “chorus of other believers” criticising the Trumpist evangelicals:

      Moderate and progressive Christians’ condemnation of conservative Christians for their bigotry, lack of compassion, and rancid hypocrisy are somehow just as much a problem for Christianity as conservative evangelicals’ bigotry, lack of compassion, and rancid hypocrisy.

      • Lumen

        Thanks for the article:) I’ll take a good read. As for anti-Trump Christians severely criticizing pro-Trump Christians, Galli does say that the blame is on both sides.

        From moderate and liberal brothers and sisters, conservatives have received swift and decisive condemnation. They call these conservatives idolaters for seeking after political power. They call them homophobes for wanting Christian bakers to legally follow their conscience. They call them racists and Islamophobes for wanting secure borders. These moderates and liberal evangelicals are so disturbed by the political beliefs of their brothers and sisters that many say they don’t even want to be associated with them anymore; they seem to view these brothers and sisters in Christ as tax collectors and sinners. In general, we have witnessed few Christians among these critics taking the time and effort to understand the views of their conservative fellow believers or to delve into the social and political realities they might be coming from.

        Some secular analysts, who frankly acknowledge being on the Left, have been doing this admirably. UC Berkley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right strives to understand Tea Party advocates in Louisiana, most of whom are evangelical Christians. And law professor Joan Williams’s White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America unpacks the class dimensions of much of our political divide. And then there is Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, which demonstrates the moral ground of advocates left and right. None of these writers could be mistaken for a conservative, but they each at least attempt to be charitable and fair-minded in trying to understand the views of those with whom they disagree. If only some leading evangelical progressive or moderate would do the same.

        • Al Cruise

          “few Christians among these critics taking the time and effort to understand the views of their conservative fellow believers or to delve into the social and political realities they might be coming from. ” Totally false , most of these critics come from the conservative evangelical group. Having been raised in it and then participating in it until after some kind of awakening, leave. They understand it to well.

        • Nick G

          I know he does. This “the blame is on both sides” garbage is utterly dishonest. The majority of white evangelicals have lined up behind a financially corrupt, bullying bigot who has boasted about sexually assaulting women and bursting in on teenage girls in a state of undress, and who lies constantly and brazenly in a way that has no parallel in democratic politics. Are these the “values” Haidt associates with the right? It is quite clear that by far the best predictors of support for Trump are nothing to do with class or economic concerns, but are racial resentment and sexism.

          • Lumen

            Well, I can understand what you’re saying. I place more blame on the far-Right at this point. It’s like they’re saying “The Left has been mean to us, so we’re gonna abandon Christian principles and sell our souls to the devil in order to get back at them” … And needless to say this is totally unChristian … But I think anti-Trumpers (myself included) should also humble themselves and try to think “How can we bring these people to their senses?”

            Here’s an interesting perspective from an actor/comedian from the UK who is politically on the Left side … I think he dose have an insightful analysis of why Trump won … If we don’t want the Trump presidency to last for another four years, then anti-Trumpers have to find a way to reach out to pro-Trumpers. And I don’t think placing all the blame on them is the way to go. As it says in the clip, “When has anyone been persuaded by being insulted or labeled?”

            Post 2016 US Election – Why Trump Won
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkoRODfEMyY

          • Nick G

            He’s simply wrong. The evidence is clear that the most important factors in determining whether someone voted for Trump were indeed racial resentment and sexism, as shown by the polls I’ve already linked to. Similarly, while not everyone who voted for Brexit in the UK was motivated by racism and xenophobia, those were very important factors – along with general authoritarianism. And it’s blindingly obvious, from their complete imperviousness to facts, that any Trump supporters who have not yet woken up to what he is and who he favours – the very rich – are unlikely to be persuaded by “discussion”.

            “When has anyone been persuaded by being insulted or labeled?”

            How do you (or he) know they haven’t? He has a point with regard to Clinton’s uninspiring campaign, but what that points to is the need to appeal to the half of potential US voters who do not vote at all – a remarkably high percentage compared to other countries. That is a much more promising strategy than “reaching out to Trump voters” – which means throwing those who they treat with hatred and contempt under the bus.

          • Lumen

            Here are some breakdowns of Trump voters that are worth analyzing. If you take a look at the party affiliation(the 8th from the top), 48% of Independents voted for Trump.

            Election 2016: Exit Polls
            http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/08/us/politics/election-exit-polls.html

            According to a Gallup poll, the political affiliation of Americans (as of Nov.1-6, 2016) is :

            Democrats 31%
            Republicans 27%
            Independents 36%
            http://www.gallup.com/poll/15370/Party-Affiliation.aspx

            So, a good chunk of Americans who’re not partisan voted for Trump. Trump’s win isn’t solely owing to a strong showing of far-right-wingers. This is something we have to give serious consideration to.

    • Al Cruise

      Something that’s not being talked about is the amount of Christians that voted for Doug Jones. It’s in these Christian voters that Christianity has a bright future.

      • Lumen

        But didn’t some(or many?) of that same crowd excuse Bill Clinton’s predatory sexual tendencies saying “we’re not electing a pastor” or something to that effect? I’d say ‘hyper-partisanship’ which resembles ‘tribalism’ on both sides are the culprits.

        • Al Cruise

          Yes they did, however the Moore crowd claims they have a unique and higher authority to speak about moral issues based on their personal relationship with God.

          • Lumen

            Well, there are nuts both in the extreme Left and extreme Right. I hope moderates on both sides can come together and end this ugly division, the mentality of demonizing each other for having different views, in our country.

      • wullaj

        Me, me! 🙂