Evangelical tribalism: 3 more data points

Evangelical tribalism: 3 more data points September 6, 2012

Life inside the evangelical tribal bubble is a wondrous place.

Come with me inside, through the un-looking glass, wherein we will learn that the oldest churches aren’t sufficiently traditional, that a 47-year-old white rapper is the pinnacle of Christian art since “Butterfly Kisses,” and that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are more authentically evangelical than T.D. Jakes.

1. Fuller Seminary’s Burner blog redefines “traditional” and “conservative”

Here’s a snippet of the Burner’s review of the Wild Goose West festival:

Those who attended the “Denominations: Dead or Alive” discussions would have found that no traditionally conservative denominations were present. Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian, and Lutheran were present to discuss, but nobody else.

That right there is why evangelicals can be so confusing. For American evangelicals, only younger, newer, innovative American forms of Protestantism are “traditionally conservative.”

Those old denominations that have been around for centuries? Liberals.

But the Presbyterian Church in America — the splinter denomination founded in 1973 — I’m guessing that’s what they mean by a “traditionally conservative denomination.”

And this kind of makes sense if you think about how they think about “conservative.” You start clinging tightly to the absolute truth, pure and undefiled. But the longer you endure as a denomination, the more likely it is that your grip may slip or that you will be tainted and defiled by the very fact of having existed for so long in this worldly world. Conservativism isn’t something than can be conserved forever. The purest denominations — the “most conservative” ones —  will thus always be the newest.

2. Christianity Today reports: “TobyMac Tops Billboard 200, First Christian Album at No. 1 in 15 Years”

Fans of Christian artist TobyMac may remember him from his days as a member of DC Talk. In the late 1990s, DC Talk notched five appearances on the Billboard 200, the main U.S. album chart.

Now TobyMac has landed at the top, earning his first appearance in the No. 1 slot of the Billboard 200 this week. His latest album, Eye On It, is only the third Christian album ever to reach the top spot.

The only other Christian albums to hit No. 1 were LeAnn Rimes’ You Light Up My Life — Inspirational Songs in November 1997, and Bob Carlisle’s Butterfly Kisses (Shades of Grace) in June 1997.

Got that? TobyMac’s is “only the third Christian album ever to reach the top spot.”

Let me just turn down the exultant Gospel strains of “Land of Hope and Dreams” here so I can concentrate while I type this: a nice Catholic boy like Bruce Springsteen clearly doesn’t count as someone making “Christian albums.” Wrecking Ball may be a Christ-haunted musical meditation on death and rebirth, but that doesn’t make it a “Christian album,” so it doesn’t matter that it was No. 1 on Billboard’s chart back in May. (Sorry about that, John Fea.)

And Evanescence’s recent No. 1 album doesn’t count as a Christian album because, like, they’re all Goth-y. A “Christian album” is one by someone who is an outspoken, born-again, evangelical Christian.

You mean an outspoken, born-again, evangelical Christian like Carrie Underwood or Justin Bieber, both of whom had the No. 1 album earlier this year?

But no, of course they don’t count either. Underwood is on Arista Records and Bieber is on Island/RBMG, so sales of their records don’t profit the Christian Music Industry.

And, let’s be clear, that’s what “Christian album” refers to, both inside the tribe and at Billboard. It has nothing to do with the faith of the artist or with the expression of faith in the music. It’s a function of who owns the label and who gets the money.

That’s why Johnny Cash’s Live at San Quentin doesn’t count either.

3. David French explains, yet again, that “evangelical” is just a euphemism for anti-abortion white Republicans.

Par for the French, it’s a rehash of the usual circular argument. All evangelicals are anti-abortion. What about the more than a third of us who are pro-choice? Ah, says, French, that proves we’re not really evangelicals.

And, as far as he’s concerned, no one can ever refute the tight circle of that argument. You can never show him one legitimate evangelical Christian who doesn’t make it a priority to criminalize abortion because anyone who doesn’t make criminalizing abortion a top priority isn’t a legitimate evangelical Christian. Q.E.-fricking-D!

As for the millions of American evangelicals who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, French says either they will repent and vote for God’s Annointed Republican this time around, or else they were not really evangelical Christians either. Says French:

Many of the “evangelicals” who worked most diligently to advance President Obama’s cause have turned out to be, well, not all that evangelical. … It turned out that Obama-love was part of the exit process, rather than a new movement within evangelicalism.

That’s the French twist: We know that the Christians who voted for Obama weren’t really Christians because they voted for Obama.

French isn’t wholly wrong — for quite a few young former evangelicals, the 2008 election really was “part of the exit process” — the beginning of a process in which people like David French shoved them toward the exits and out the door of the church, slamming it behind them and ordering them not to return until they were sufficiently anti-gay, anti-abortion and Republican.

So if voting for Obama means you’re leaving Christianity behind, what is French trying to say about the millions of black Christians who voted for Obama in 2008 and fully intend to vote for him again in 2012?

Well, to French and his brethren at the National Review, those black Christians are just as mute and invisible as Clint Eastwood’s imaginary Obama.


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