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Dobson, Huckabee get a bit of push-back from mainstream evangelicals

Dobson, Huckabee get a bit of push-back from mainstream evangelicals December 24, 2012

Here are a few posts that give me a bit of Christmas cheer.

Last week, I repeated my longstanding complaint that “mainstream” evangelicals aren’t doing enough to distance themselves from the hateful voices of the religious right. See: “Why James Dobson is unable to speak of the actual murder of actual children;” “The Sting: ‘Mainstream’ evangelicals and the religious right” and “If the evangelical mainstream wants me to view the religious right as marginal, then they should do more to marginalize the religious right.”

Well, following some particularly egregious comments on the Sandy Hook massacre by prominent religious-right evangelicals like Mike Huckabee and James Dobson, there’s been a bit of push-back. A few folks from the evangelical mainstream are speaking out and condemning those comments.

Here’s Michael Cheshire writing at Out of Ur:

When high profile leaders do things like this, I feel like I’m with a crazy uncle who makes ignorant comments while you’re helping him shop. You have to stand behind him and mouth, “I’m so sorry. He’s old and bit crazy. He means well.” So to my gay friends, scientists, iPhone users, and others he blamed for the horrendous killing spree by that mentally ill young man, I stand here mouthing a few words of apology to you. And while I’m at it, maybe I could talk to my own fellow Christ followers as well.

While some Christians say that the reason we have school shootings is because we have taken God out of schools, I wonder why we have shootings in our churches as well? … Maybe the fall in church attendance has less to do with the gay agenda, the lack of prayer, or abortion issues, and more to do with the fact that we are all too often seen as a hate group. …

Cheshire isn’t exactly a house-hold name — he’s the pastor of an evangelical church in Colorado and author of a book on ministry. But this post is noteworthy for appearing on Out of Ur — the blog of Leadership Journal, and thus part of the Christianity Today publishing world.  CT and Leadership Journal have provided plenty of column space over the years to the crazy uncles Cheshire describes, so it’s good to see them allowing space for such criticism on their blog.

Cheshire’s entire piece is quite good. It’s forceful enough, and follows the line of his argument far enough, that I fear it might get him banished into the limbo of “controversial” evangelical voices — Cizik-ed away to a seat beside folks like Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis, whose continued membership in the tribe is permitted mainly as a way of marking its boundary.

Internet Monk isn’t part of the mainstream evangelical establishment — particularly since its late founder, Michael Spencer, famously predicted a “Coming Evangelical Collapse,” and argued that it was well-earned.

But Internet Monk is widely read among mainstream evangelicals, and hasn’t yet been relegated to the limbo of “controversial.” It’s more a voice to the mainstream evangelical establishment than a voice of that establishment, but it was still encouraging to read this Internet Monk post from Jeff Dunn:

Stephen Prothero tells us six things he doesn’t want to hear after the school shootings in Connecticut. I have five people I don’t want to hear talk about it — or really, anything — ever again. Start with James Dobson. Then Mike Huckabee. David Barton. Bryan Fischer. And this yahoo from Tennessee.

Memo to these five: Do not ever bring up your culture war agenda when the hearts of parents, spouses, brothers, sisters and friends have been ripped out by a senseless, horrible act. I wanted to call these five “idiots,” but I thought it might be offensive to those who are merely clueless about life. These five go beyond that. God did not cause 20 innocent children to die because prayer was taken out of public school or because some states now allow same-sex marriages. Get that through your mushy skulls once and for all. And mix in a large glass of shut the hell up.

Peter Wehner is probably better known as a political figure than a religious leader, but he’s a prominent evangelical whose conservative credentials are unquestioned. His initial response to Mike Huckabee was posted at Commentary — a journal not widely read in evangelical church circles — but his sharp remarks still got some attention in mainstream evangelical circles.

Governor Huckabee is using a heartbreaking and inexplicable mass killing to push his conservative social agenda. Now as it happens, I’m somewhat (though not entirely) sympathetic to the conservative social agenda. But to use this incident, even before the bodies were removed from the school, to argue that if only we had let God in “on the front end” we wouldn’t now need him “on the back end” borders on being grotesque. And it’s not the first time Huckabee has done this. He made similar comments in the aftermath of the mass killing in Aurora, Colo. The psychologist Abraham Maslow once said that if you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. For Mike Huckabee, his hammer is removing God from school – and he tends to see every massacre as a nail. …

Wehner followed that up with a similar response to James Dobson, which I was pleased to see posted at Timothy Dalrymple’s blog in Patheos’ evangelical channel.

Parts of Wehner’s commentary on Dobson read like they could have been written by Tony Campolo:

Surely Dobson knows that Jesus mentions divorce more often than he mentions homosexuality (which Paul addresses but Jesus does not). So why is same-sex marriage on Dobson’s list but divorce is left off? And what about the other things that concern God – like indifference to the poor, not caring for the stranger and alien in our midst, a haughty spirit, and riches? When I listen to James Dobson and I read the gospel accounts, two jarringly different portraits emerge.

Wehner then cuts to the heart of why it is important for conservative, “mainstream” evangelicals to make themselves heard when people like Huckabee and Dobson seize the microphone and presume to speak for all American evangelicals:

Assume you were a parent of one of the children who was gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School and you heard a well-known Christian figure like Dobson declare that the worst thing you could possibly conceive of – the murder of your first-grade daughter — was a result of the wrath of God. If you believed this, it would only add to your grief. And if you didn’t believe it, it would only add to your anger. And what would Dobson say to the father of the boy who had just dedicated his young life to the Lord? Why was he the target of God’s judgment? Because Washington State passed a same-sex marriage initiative?

(Image snitched from Laryn Kragt Bakker.)

Why is it that tragedies often bring out such callous statements – including from the very people you would hope would show some measure of grace, discernment, and perspective? And why are some of the most offensive statements made by some of the nation’s most visible (conservative) Christians? I am at something of a loss to explain it.

Since in the past I’ve criticized other Christian leaders for making similar statements, I wanted to explain why I, an evangelical Christian and social conservative, find them to be disquieting. It’s because they discredit a faith I cherish – and what these people say is not the expression of the faith I hold. For them politics, not faith, is their interpretive lens. Christianity becomes a blunt instrument in an ideological struggle. The result is that people of faith explain a brutal massacre by connecting imaginary dots. And the fact that doing so damages the Christian faith seems to bother them not at all.

I don’t share Wehner’s politics, but I do share his evangelical Christian faith. And I’m very pleased to see him and these others — including Christianity Today’s blog and my friends here at Patheos — resisting the efforts of Huckabee, Dobson, et. al. to redefine that faith as “a blunt instrument in an ideological struggle.”

Of course, shortly after Wehner posted his response to Huckabee and shortly before his response to Dobson, Franklin Graham — a crown prince of mainstream evangelical royalty — sat down with Buster Wilson of American Family Radio and repeated what Huckabee and Dobson said earlier.


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