I no longer work nights at the newspaper, and I don’t know if Betty is still there as the night-time security guard. But apart from those details, everything from this 2009 post — “Pulling a Lieberman” — remains depressingly true. This is still an accurate description of how the white evangelical tribe and its gatekeepers police its (white, partisan, political) orthodoxy.
Why revisit this post now? Because the original post was a lamentation over my old friend Ron Sider’s 2009 endorsement of the pompous and ridiculous “Manhattan Declaration,” and Sider is now doubling down — adding his endorsement to the equally fatuous 2015 statement, “Here We Stand: An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage.” It’s more of the same Bonhoeffer-LARPing and posturing — a declaration driven by palpable fear of irrelevancy that may as well have been titled “Here We Stand: Desperately Wishing We Still Had Standing.”
So, you know, Ichabod and all that.
And also because today we learn that J.R. Daniel Kirk is getting the heave-ho from Fuller Theological Seminary for, essentially, insufficient anti-gayness. (See also Kyle Roberts’ “The Danger of Asking Hard Questions: Tom Oord, J.R. Daniel Kirk, and Evangelical Anxiety” and Kirk’s own, gracious post on the matter.)
So for those keeping score at home: Ron Sider and Fuller Seminary get to retain their good standing with tribal gatekeepers, and Daniel Kirk gets to retain his integrity.
And so it goes. Here’s how I described this gatekeeping dynamic and its quenching of the Holy Spirit back in 2009:
At the paper overnight it’s just me and Betty, the security officer who comes through every half hour on her rounds. Private security is all about “loss prevention,” which means, more or less, that it’s Betty’s job to circle the building every half hour to confirm that it’s not on fire. But Betty’s bosses and the insurance company don’t just take her word for it that she’s making her rounds. She has a little electronic wand that she has to wave over little electronic checkpoints throughout the building to confirm and record that she’s faithfully doing her job. If she ever slipped up and missed a checkpoint, the wand would record this omission and she’d be in a world of trouble.
That’s basically how the evangelical subculture works. Everyone within that closed system has to check in, regularly, to reaffirm their allegiance to the two core principles of the religion: opposition to legal abortion and the legal and cultural marginalization of homosexuals.
It doesn’t matter if those things have little to do with the work to which God may have called you. You might be a nurse in a mission hospital or you might run a soup kitchen or a rehab center or you might be the choir director for a local church. It doesn’t matter. You’re still going to have to check in regularly to confirm your opposition to The Gay and to legal abortion.
Fail to do so with the requisite enthusiasm and you’re out, you’re done, you’re anathema.
Formal structures for enforcing this are unnecessary — it’s woven into the fabric of the subculture. Periodically, this implicit requirement is made explicit through formal “declarations” like this Manhattan thing, but such formal reinforcements are hardly needed.
Playing along with this system is easy. Just wave the little wand over the checkpoint and pretend that it makes perfect sense to regard abortion and homosexuality as the “paramount” concerns of the Bible, of the Gospels, of Jesus Christ. Pretend that it makes perfect sense to view the requisite stances on those issues as compatible with what the Bible, the Gospels and Jesus Christ have to say.
Just play along and say what you’re required to say and they’ll let you go back to whatever lesser things you might have been trying to do for a little while. Embrace the smug on cue. When asked, pledge your allegiance to the idea that self-righteous pride — the cardinal vice — is a worthy replacement for the cardinal virtue and you’ll be an evangelical in good standing.
And even if you personally don’t require a disingenuous claim of persecution to get your jollies, what does it cost you to play along with the lie? What does it really cost you to pretend that your privileged, hegemonic majority is being persecuted by minorities forced to live on the fringes of your culture? What does it really cost you to pretend that your own religious freedom requires the restriction or eradication of others?
What does it cost you, I mean, besides your soul?