Slouching away from Bethlehem

Slouching away from Bethlehem April 4, 2023

• This story may be an example of something extremely rare, an instance of ultra-conservative white evangelical gatekeepers policing their far-right boundary: “Joe Rigney, Bethlehem Seminary president, resigns due to support of Christian nationalism and infant baptism.”

Bethlehem is the Minneapolis seminary that grew out of John Piper’s Extremely Reformed Bethlehem Baptist Church. Rigney was a professor at the seminary for before becoming it’s president in 2020. He’s since made himself somewhat infamous as a troll:

Rigney is perhaps best known for claiming that empathy is a sin and for a 2021 conflict over race relations at the seminary and Bethlehem church. He has also drawn attention for his relationship with [Doug] Wilson, a Moscow, Idaho, pastor known for his statements in support of Christian nationalism and for past statements saying American slavery was in keeping with Christian principles.

(Wilson is also known for his sheltering of abusers and for his icky, rapey rants about sex as “conquest.”)

Piper and the Piper-people at Bethlehem and Desiring God have never fully denounced Wilson, so it’s hard to see how Rigney’s links to their boy in Idaho encouraged his semi-voluntary resignation.

For “anti-woke” white Christians, empathy is the new deadly sin.

The interesting thing here is the pairing of Rigney’s explicit [white-]Christian [white-]nationalism and his reconsideration of infant baptism. That’s consistent on his part. The unification of church and state — the establishment of a particular Christian sect as the official religion of the nation — entails a kind of birthright ecclesiology. Those born into a Christian nation are, therefore and thereby, born into that Christian nation’s official Christian church. No point waiting for them to decide for themselves whether or not they wish to be baptized into that church because in such a nation they don’t get to decide.

Believers baptism is one form of witness against the idolatry of “Christian nationalism.” It is, or should be, impossible to reconcile with the Christian nationalism Rigney chose to embrace. It’s not entirely clear that the board of Bethlehem Seminary understands that. They condemn Rigney’s explicit Christian nationalism (Good!). And they also condemn his openness to infant baptism (Good!). But I’m not sure if they recognize how those are two sides of the same Caesar’s coin.

See earlier: “Bethlehem Baptist coddles white supremacy.”

• This headline is technically accurate, but still misleading in the way that “critics say” all such headlines are technically accurate, but still misleading: “Florida Pastors Worry Immigration Bill Would Criminalize Church Rides.”

Yes, it’s true, [some] Florida pastors do, indeed, worry that Republicans proposed immigration bill would criminalize church rides because the proposed immigration bill would, in fact, criminalize church rides. The timid journalistic convention here — “Critics say water is wet” — demotes fact to opinion, abdicating the journalistic responsibility of checking it out, of determining what the facts actually are rather than what “both sides” say about them. Reporting that “Opinions on shape of Earth differ” isn’t wrong, per se, it’s just very much something other than a reporter’s actual job.

The Florida bill is a copycat of the statewide measure Alabama passed back in 2011, followed by a similar local law in Hazleton, Pa. Those laws were challenged, and largely defeated, in the courts. So why would Florida imagine that a law found to be unconstitutional just a dozen years ago would be any less unconstitutional now? Because of the new legal philosophy of the Alito majority: Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!

Lawless courts, Republicans are hoping, will allow lawless laws — including those in which pastors and church van drivers can be arrested based on the status of congregants’ paperwork.

• Here (via Pharyngula via perfectnumber) is a video raising an alarm about two things: 1) The way Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis are broadening their agenda beyond young-earth creationism to include a host of right-wing culture-war issues; and 2) The creepy antisemitic conspiracy theorist Ham has apparently tapped to lead AiG’s attack against those he regards as the wrong kind of young-earth creationists.

It seems that the pseudonymous Answers in Genesis writer “Harry F. Sanders, III” is the same person as the also-pseudonymous-and-probable-anagram writer and YouTuber “Emory Moynagh.” The “Sanders” byline is credited with dozens of articles on AiG’s site, and seems to be the author of many of its uncredited pieces as well. The “Moynagh” persona has published identical articles elsewhere, but also focuses on antisemitic conspiracy theories and anti-vaxxer nonsense.

I’d place the most popular and conventional strains of young-earth creationism somewhere in the pink, “Reality Denial” level of Abbie Richards’ excellent Conspiracy Chart. That’s where Richards locates most conspiracy theories that are “unequivocally false, but mostly harmless” — stuff like “Elvis Lives” or “Avril Lavigne was replaced by a body double.” But conspiracy beliefs can only stay at that level if they’re lightly held. Once a person becomes invested enough to make the conspiracy belief a core pillar of their identity, then their tightening, white-knuckled grip on the belief requires them to account for why this secret truth is being suppressed.

And that always leads to the idea that this secret truth is being suppressed by a shadowy cabal of powerful global elites who, in cultures shaped by the former Christendom, inevitably are identified as “The Jews.” Hence Richards’ “Antisemitic Line Of No Return.”

I don’t think that young-earth creationism necessarily compels its believers to cross that line of no return, but it doesn’t stop them from doing so either.

• Since we started this post with Doug Wilson, may as well end it with Paul Pressler.

Pressler’s Wikipedia page includes a fine three-sentence summary of the man:

Pressler is a retired justice of the Texas 14th Circuit Court of Appeals in his native Houston, Texas. Pressler was a key figure in the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention, which he initiated in 1979. He has been accused of sexual misconduct or assault by at least six men, some of whom were underage at the time of the alleged activity.

That’s him: Big-time Texas Republican powerbroker, big-time Southern Baptist fundamentalist, and big-time into nonconsensual sex with minors.

The main point of the Texas Tribune article Charles Kuffner points us to is that the Texas Republicans and the fundamentalist Southern Baptists knew exactly who they were dealing with: “Houston GOP activist knew for years of child sex abuse claims against Southern Baptist leader, law partner”:

Pressler, a former Texas Court of Appeals judge and one-time White House nominee under George H.W. Bush, allegedly used his prestige and influence to evade responsibility amid repeated accusations of sexual misconduct and assault dating back to at least 1978, when he was forced out of a Houston church for allegedly molesting a teenager in a sauna. …

In recent sworn testimony, Woodfill said he’d known since 2004 of an allegation that Pressler had sexually abused a child. Woodfill learned of those claims, he said, during mediation of an assault lawsuit filed against Pressler that he helped quietly settle for nearly a half-million dollars at the time. Despite his knowledge of the accusation, Woodfill continued to work with Pressler for nearly a decade — leaning on Pressler’s name and reputation to bolster their firm, Woodfill & Pressler LLP.

Rather than pay him a salary, Woodfill testified, the firm provided Pressler a string of employees to serve as personal assistants, most of them young men who typically worked out of his River Oaks mansion. Two have accused Pressler of sexual assault or misconduct.

OK, then.


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