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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  • Carstonio

     I never realized before now that frankincense was in fact incense. I never knew what it was. If it weren’t for the opening of Life of Brian, I wouldn’t know what myrrh was, either.

  • Hmm. I’m an anti-abortion black independent voter who didn’t vote for Obama in 2008 and will not this year either. Do I even exist?

  • I’m an anti-abortion black independent voter who didn’t vote for Obama in 2008 and will not this year either. Do I even exist?

    According to recent polls, if you’re also planning to vote for Romney, the answer is “no, you do not exist”.

    But setting that aside, the real question is are you describing yourself as an “independent voter” because you are open-minded
    and don’t vote consistently for one party or another, or merely because you haven’t registered as a Republican? Because if it’s the former, (open-minded, willing to change voting patterns each election) then no, you probably don’t exist, at least, not in the way you’re labeling yourself.

  • We’re safe in that regard, at least inasmuch as I don’t have a basement.

  • I hope things get better for you soon.

    Yeah…that’s probably not going to happen in the foreseeable…ever, but thank you.  I’ve been – and will be – mostly fine, for a Jon-specific value of “fine,” but there are a lot of rough patches.

    It’s just going to take a while for me to fully integrate this latest thing in with everything else and get accustomed to its presence (or, absence, in this case, I suppose).  In the meantime, I will, on occasion, get knocked upside the head/punched in the chest, etc. by the odd sad song (or some other trigger).

  • Isn’t “The church of our fathers has gotten too worldly so we’re foundign a new one to get back to good old-fashioned burning people at the stake for heterodoxy,” pretty much the origin story for christian denominations?

    Not for Quakers or the Church of England or most denominations, actually. If you took out that “burning people at the stake” bit, it would apply more widely. Most Christian denominations are not actually founded on the principle of killing people.

  • On the other hand, any definition of “traditionally conservative” which doesn’t include Catholics is wrong. Granted, they are more ecumenical than the Baptists and PCA Presbyterians, but it’s not like they will give an inch on biblical inerrancy or premarital sex or hell or substitutionary atonement or abortion.

    You mean the Vatican, not Catholics. Those are entirely different things.

  • Protestants believe Jesus was crushed beneath the wrath of God as a divine substitute, basically because God had to pour out His wrath on someone and so Jesus took the penalty.

    Not all Protestants believe that. But I was raised in a (Lutheran) tradition that sort of does, and it’s more complicated than that. As I understood it, it’s not about God having to hurt someone — it’s about the necessity of God walking among us to learn more about us and to teach us, and then the mystical importance of a sacrifice, both so that God may learn what it is to die and so that we can realize, through God sacrificing his son who is himself, how much he loves us. 

    Nearly every religion I know anything about has some god or other being who dies and is reborn, either once or every year. Rome was a hotbed of all sorts of different religions around the year 0 C.E.,  and Jerusalem was one of its central cities, where people of many traditions met, fought, married, and birthed new traditions. There were a lot of mystery cults popular in the heart of the Empire around Jesus’ time, and those of both Isis (who re-assembled Osiris) and Mithras (who died in winter and was reborn in spring) were especially popular. 

  • Of course, maybe at heart I’m really just an emo teenage girl instead of a middle-aged man…

    Having emotions doesn’t make you an “emo teenage girl” — it makes you a normal human being. I’m sorry things are rough for you right now. Please don’t feel you’re less masculine because you’re human. (And please don’t insult teenage girls, they have enough to deal with.)

  • AnonymousSam

     For that matter, emotions aren’t an indicator of masculinity or femininity, nor is either a negative trait to have if such a thing even exists. I hate the whole concept of dividing up behavior or feelings by gender. Men cry, women get pissed off and have to break things, and at the end of the day, we all came from the same orifice and share >99% of our DNA with each other.

  • I understand that, and it’s not my masculinity I question, it’s my intelligence (or lack thereof, which is ultimately what led me to this situation).

    And I also didn’t want to insult teenage girls (or middle-aged men, for that matter), but I’m afraid I drew a blank when coming up with another appropriately recognizable cliche that indicates that I’m spending some time wallowing in self-created drama and exaggerating the direness of my situation.

    I suppose I should have said that I’m just not very pleased with myself and my behavior, and left it at that.  Or said nothing at all.

    In any case, my apologies.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I’ve been to a couple of Catholic weddings and funerals, and at the latter, the priest swings a smoking metal ball. When he passed by, I caught a whiff and realized that it was incense. Took me by surprise – I had thought of incense as something used by Asian and Native American religions or by hippies.

    The smoking metal ball is called a thurible. One of the things I like about being Catholic is the incorporation of sensual experiences in our sacred ceremonies–burning incense, anointing with oils, the bread and wine, chants, bells, spoken communal prayers, the sign of peace, genuflecting, adopting different body positions at different moments in the mass etc. We’re not disembodied spirits, and our bodies are not base things to be despised or shut down*. We’re sensual creatures, so it’s appropriate that our worship be a sensual experience. Just as we’re communal creatures, so it’s appropriate that our worship be communal.

    I remember feeling surprised and kind of sad when I first came across Protestants who expressed the view that the “bells and smells” aspect of Catholicism was “primitive”–fitting for Spanish peasants maybe but certainly beneath advanced intelligent cultures like good old modern Anglo-Saxons. I wondered if they lived their whole lives as if the only things that count are intellectual propositions. Is the experience of love for them a list of positive attributes that they recognise and affirm in the object of their love, or is it like it is for me–a kind of stomach ache?

    *The fact that so many Catholic leaders have, for generations, believed and acted contrary to this idea is a symptom of messed up theology and messed up psychology, I think, but in my lifetime I’ve seen things turning around, at least at the local level.

  •  One of the things that the Catholics have that several of the major bunches of the protestant faiths (particularly the ones associated with puritanism) lack is the spectacle.  For a lot of them, this is deliberate; that whole “The church of our fathers was decadent and corrupt, we need to get back to being pious and dour and self-flaggelating” thing.

    If you were most anyone in medieval europe, with the limited access to fine fabrics and pigments, and a shortage of pretty much anything that did not at least superficially resemble dung, the church was supposed to be the place on earth that gave you a little hint of what heaven was going to be like.

  • Carstonio

    Although I wouldn’t have thought of the incense as being a sensual aspect of the ceremony, I can appreciate that aspect, just as I can appreciate the overall value of ritual in worship. When I first learned of the use of sacramental wine, I was surprised  because I had assumed in my teenage years that devout Christians were opposed to alcohol consumption. There’s something distasteful about some of the Etiquette Hell entries complaining about weddings with no alcohol (Southern Baptist, I think), as if this was the same as going without food. 

    Maybe those Protestants simply don’t trust humans to show restraint when it comes to sensual experiences, like the old joke about sex leading to dancing. Some of the adults in in family seemed to believe that, and they were a mix of Presbyterian, Lutheran, and northern Baptist.

  • The_L1985

     This is why I love Paganism.  It’s the “bells and smells,” without the….Vatican. :P

  • The_L1985

    Basically, yes.  A lot of Protestants don’t trust others to have self-control.

    As if flailing about wildly doing whatever was any good for anybody.  We wouldn’t even have a society if most people didn’t exercise self-control.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    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?

    No, some conventional born-again evangelical Christian(TM) knockoff like Johnny Hammer, who is marketed as “Just like Justin Bieber, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”