The Bartonizing of ‘mainstream’ white evangelicalism continues apace

The Bartonizing of ‘mainstream’ white evangelicalism continues apace April 2, 2016

Back in January, I worried that “A Ted Cruz win could further Bartonize ‘mainstream’ white evangelicalism.” Specifically, I worried that folks like John Fea and Warren Throckmorton would be subjected to the marginalizing tactics long practiced by the right-wing gatekeepers of the white evangelical tribe.

This is what I was talking about. Dr. Fea’s restrained, temperate discussion of Cruz’s Christian nationalism on Christianity Today’s website — “The Theology of Ted Cruz” — prompted a passive-aggressive wailing from CT editor Stan Guthrie.

Guthrie is an enthusiastic member of Team Cruz. To give you an idea of his politics — and how those politics are intertwined with and indistinguishable from his faith — here is a post from his blog, on Thursday, bidding “Goodbye to Rush Limbaugh.” Guthrie has been a long-time fan of Limbaugh, but he has decided to part ways with the reprehensible, racist gasbag — just now, in two-thousand-by-God-sixteen — because Limbaugh is siding with Donald Trump against Team Cruz in the Republican primary.

OK, then.

For those keeping score at home, the guy on the left here is a cultural commentator revered by white evangelical gatekeepers. The guy on the right is a dangerous, controversial figure affiliated with the liberal Sojourners.

Given that Rush Limbaugh is Guthrie’s idea of “mainstream” white evangelicalism, you can understand why he can’t tolerate even somebody like a Messiah College historian who’s tried to get white evangelicals to rethink the many lies of David Barton. Thus Guthrie does what gatekeepers always do — he attempts to paint Fea as “controversial,” sending a warning to others that listening to this guy might put your own standing with the tribe in jeopardy. Such a person should not have been permitted to publish at Christianity Today, Guthrie says, unless “the author’s past advocacy for Obama and affiliation with the liberal Sojourners [were] noted” as a kind of trigger warning for good, upstanding Limbaugh-evangelicals like himself.

Yeah. That’s what he’s got against Fea: He’s occasionally had positive things to say about That Man in the White House, and he’s been “affiliated” with “the liberal Sojourners.” That “affiliation,” by the way, consists entirely of Fea publishing one article in the magazine and Sojourners reposting another of his columns on its website. By that standard, Fea would also be “affiliated” with Christianity Today.

Heck, by that standard, I would be “affiliated” with Christianity Today. And so would Jim Wallis — founder of “the liberal Sojourners.”

Ergo, by the transitive property of gatekeeper guilt-by-association sleazery, Stan Guthrie is affiliated with the liberal Sojourners.

I’m not suggesting that this means Guthrie should be banned from publishing in respectable white evangelical magazines. But this affiliation should be noted so that Guthrie’s otherwise-unsuspecting readers can be appropriately warned that they are reading the words of someone controversial.

I suppose I should cut Guthrie a bit of slack due to the mitigating factor of primaryitis. A lot of people are coming down with that this year. And I guess if I’m willing to give many of my friends a pass for saying silly things when they get caught up in their enthusiasm for Hillary or for Bernie, and thus in their antipathy to the other one, then I should extend a measure of the same grace to poor Stan Guthrie as he struggles with his rather severe case of primaryitis too.

In any case, I’m still very worried that a Ted Cruz win (or a Donald Trump win) will further radicalize the already radical right-wing politics of white evangelicalism. And I’m still worried that my mainstream white evangelical friends — theologically and politically conservative folks like Fea and Throckmorton — will be further marginalized as the tribe shifts further to the right this election year.

Of course, it won’t help them any to have someone like me defending them. But maybe I could help by attacking them. I am, after all, a notoriously pro-choice, evolutionist Democrat formerly “affiliated” with the too-liberal-to-even-comprehend The Other Side.* So I could go after Dr. Fea from the left. If I made such an attack really nasty and vicious and cutting, then tribal gatekeepers might be forced to defend him rather than controversializing him. (I wouldn’t relish doing that, but, hey, a friend in need and all that.)

– – – – – – – – – – –

* The Other Side was a terrific magazine published by a radical Christian “intentional community” — a non-agricultural kibbutz, basically — in North Philly. These folks were Anabaptist-y evangelicals, and they were amplifying LGBT voices in the church and in society back in the 1980s.

I wish I had worked with them more closely and learned from them a lot sooner. Alas, my “affiliation” with TOS consisted only of one music review I wrote for them in 1991. (We also played a lot of softball — some of those pacifists can hit.)

All told, I wrote the same number of articles for The Other Side as I did for Christianity Today — (a publication that believes gay and lesbian couples are “destructive to society”). But I’m far more proud of the former “affiliation.”

Here’s Mark Heard’s “Nod Over Coffee” from his 1991 album Second Hand. If you dig up an old issue of The Other Side, you’ll see I really liked this album.


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