10 votes

How politics poisoned the Evangelical church

18 comments

  1. [18]
    HotPants
    Link
    This article is interesting, because it points out that Jesus and his early followers were deliberately and consciously focused on things not political. I have a relative who is kind enough to...

    This article is interesting, because it points out that Jesus and his early followers were deliberately and consciously focused on things not political.

    I have a relative who is kind enough to share his conservative christian views publicly on facebook (,for me to react too.)

    I've noticed my relative blends religion with politics in his arguments all the time, as if they were inherently the same thing.

    I've unsuccessfully tried to argue that his political views are unchristian, e.g. in Jesus' time, abortion & homosexuality (& if you are completely literal, also having two fathers) were common, yet Jesus never once mentions those "hot topics."

    I really like the argument that any political argument is inherently unchrist like.

    5 votes
    1. [17]
      TheRtRevKaiser
      Link Parent
      I actually don't fully agree with this, and it was something that I didn't agree with in the article as well. I don't think someone who is really honest about their Christianity can be anything...
      • Exemplary

      I actually don't fully agree with this, and it was something that I didn't agree with in the article as well. I don't think someone who is really honest about their Christianity can be anything but politically involved. It's just that I think that one's Christian ethic should inform one's politics, and not the other way around as has become the case for so many people.

      Note that I do think that there is a coherent argument to be made for Christians that Jesus did see some separation between religious life and government ("Render to Ceasar what is Ceasar's", etc), but I believe that teaching was in the context of a system in which the people he was talking to would have had no ability to influence governance. I don't think that is can be universally applied, especially in modern democracies (although it can be argued how much influence the average person has in public policy in the U.S.).

      On the other hand, Jesus has a lot to say about the way that we interact with society and the people around us ("Love your neighbor as you love yourself"). In most modern nations, the way we engage with government and society, i.e. Politics, has the power to affect those around us, unlike most non-citizens living under roman rule. In my mind, a devoted Christian cannot separate their ability to influence policy and the command to love. A truly Christian politic, I believe, is one that is devoted to loving all others both in daily life and in public life.

      Up until the last decade, I would have said that was the main political point of disagreement between myself and (politically) conservative Christians. I would have said that those Christians were just as devoted to loving people in their personal, individual sphere as anyone, but that they believe that the place of government should be limited and that collective action should be done by private organizations. I didn't agree with that belief, but I could at least see that many of these people wanted to do good in the world, just in different ways than me.

      Now, though, it is obvious that something has gone terribly wrong with evangelical Christianity. I can see now the seeds of today's evangelicalism in the anti-desegregation movement and the use of fear and hate to mobilize evangelicals. What I can't see is any love of neighbor in the policies and speech of the Republican party or the Christians that support them, and I can't see any way for someone to follow the teachings of Christ and continue to support conservative politics.

      I know that not everybody on Tildes is a fan of Christianity, and I totally get it. The hate and anger toward the Church are well earned in so many cases. I believe that Christians, especially western Christians and particularly American Evangelicals, badly need to reckon with the harm that we have done to others in the name of Christ. What I'm not convinced of is that this means that we should withdraw from public life altogether, or somehow divorce our beliefs from our politics. What is needed is some real examination of whether those politics actually line up with our professed beliefs.

      15 votes
      1. [6]
        Micycle_the_Bichael
        Link Parent
        I want to come back to this later when I have time and mental capacity to flesh out my thoughts more but I really appreciate this post. I agree with it a lot. I'm just having a really hard time...

        I want to come back to this later when I have time and mental capacity to flesh out my thoughts more but I really appreciate this post. I agree with it a lot. I'm just having a really hard time organizing my thoughts into words.

        What I'm not convinced of is that this means that we should withdraw from public life altogether, or somehow divorce our beliefs from our politics.

        IMO the push you're describing is a subset of the rationalist/logic movement where feelings and emotions need to be divorced from making decisions. It is a really common mindset on this site. To me, this is one side of the coin, with the other being what this article is criticizing. Beliefs should not be divorced from your politics. It does not matter if your beliefs come from "logic" or from a religious book. Your morals should be your guide to your politics. There is a world of difference between someone advocating for religious laws and someone following their morals (which they derived in part from their religion) to make political decisions.

        6 votes
        1. [5]
          TheRtRevKaiser
          Link Parent
          That's an interesting point, although it's not exactly what I was thinking of when I was writing it. It's weird to think of any amount of overlap between rationalists and the religious, although I...

          IMO the push you're describing is a subset of the rationalist/logic movement where feelings and emotions need to be divorced from making decisions.

          That's an interesting point, although it's not exactly what I was thinking of when I was writing it. It's weird to think of any amount of overlap between rationalists and the religious, although I have noticed sometimes that some folks get a little religious about rationalism sometimes, lol.

          There is a line of thinking in Christianity, which isn't new but I have seen a resurgence of, that asserts that Christians should be completely withdrawn from public life (e.g. Christians should not even run for public office or vote) or that somehow religion and public life (including politics and business) don't overlap and should not influence one another. I've been hearing more of this lately from Christians who are uncomfortable with the association of Christianity with far-right views. IMO this is nothing more than a desire for religion to be comfortable and unobjectionable, without pushing them to do or stand up for anything that might put them out in any way.

          3 votes
          1. [4]
            TheRtRevKaiser
            Link Parent
            If anybody is interested, here is a very brief article about David Lipscomb's views, who was one of the theologians opposed to Christian participation in civic life in the late 1800s. He's...

            If anybody is interested, here is a very brief article about David Lipscomb's views, who was one of the theologians opposed to Christian participation in civic life in the late 1800s. He's certainly not the first to make the assertion, or the most influential, but it's of interest to me because he was involved in the particular branch of Christianity that I grew up in.

            3 votes
            1. [3]
              NoblePath
              Link Parent
              Did we meet on the other thread? Another church of christer? I find it interesting that sometimes Lipscombe is referred to as the first American anarchist. Also CoC is among the very worst...

              Did we meet on the other thread? Another church of christer?

              I find it interesting that sometimes Lipscombe is referred to as the first American anarchist.

              Also CoC is among the very worst perpetrators of this sort of thing.

              3 votes
              1. [2]
                TheRtRevKaiser
                Link Parent
                Hey, yeah I think we did. And I'd agree that the CoC is among the very worst perpetrators of a lot of things, lol. I have never encountered a group of people more willing and able to absolutely...

                Hey, yeah I think we did. And I'd agree that the CoC is among the very worst perpetrators of a lot of things, lol. I have never encountered a group of people more willing and able to absolutely tie their own brains in knots than the church of Christ. There are and were a lot of very sincere people trying their best to live the way that they think God told them to, but the way they have inherited of interpreting scripture and determining right from wrong is so absolutely ass-backward and twisted that it gets really weird and sometimes very bad. I have witnessed some of the most bizarre theological battles, things that wouldn't make sense to anybody who didn't grow up in that tradition. Church splits over things like water fountains and children's homes. It makes for a really strange moral framework, but sometimes you get folks (like Lipscombe) who because of this weird way of looking at morality and scripture really don't map to our traditional liberal/conservative political compass. I've noticed, though, that way of thinking seems to be dying off and being absorbed into the typical shitty Conservative Evangelical morass. Not sure whether that's a good or bad, or just neutral.

                3 votes
                1. NoblePath
                  Link Parent
                  I bet they still think that the heathens who weren't fully immersed are bound for hell ;) Seriously, it really makes it hard in my family of origin. They all believe in their core I'm bound for...

                  being absorbed into the typical shitty Conservative Evangelical morass

                  I bet they still think that the heathens who weren't fully immersed are bound for hell ;)

                  Seriously, it really makes it hard in my family of origin. They all believe in their core I'm bound for hell because I don't take communion any more. I do my best to love them where they are.

                  2 votes
      2. [3]
        HotPants
        Link Parent
        That is a really good point, thank you. I love Jesus' moral teachings. They are good moral teachings. And good morals presumably make for good laws. The trouble is, when do the good morals end and...

        That is a really good point, thank you.

        I love Jesus' moral teachings. They are good moral teachings. And good morals presumably make for good laws.

        The trouble is, when do the good morals end and the religious specific rules begin?

        And it's not even like within Christianity that everyone agrees.

        Protestants would politicize different issues from Catholics, from Mormons.

        Everyone would politicize different issues even from Christians even two hundred years ago.

        Would it be fair to say, do you think, that biblically speaking, sola scriptura is unreliable at best? E.g. the need for constant prophets to re-explain the ten commandments, the Pharisees vs Jesus, the communities who tried to understand the pauline epistles.... I am finding it difficult to think of one case of the written word being interpreted correctly.

        4 votes
        1. [2]
          TheRtRevKaiser
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          I read a couple of really good books (The Bible Tells Me So and How the Bible Actually Works) a few years ago by a theologian named Pete Enns, and he has a really good perspective on this. He...

          I read a couple of really good books (The Bible Tells Me So and How the Bible Actually Works) a few years ago by a theologian named Pete Enns, and he has a really good perspective on this. He described how often, scripture is in tension with itself and that this is a result of writers interpreting and examining earlier writing and tradition in light of their own place and time. For example, it's thought that a lot of the Torah was written (or at least assembled from earlier oral tradition) in Babylonian captivity, and you can at times see the process of the writers trying to piece together an identity for themselves while they are in captivity. He talks a lot about how you can see the process of the writers trying to exercise "wisdom" in their grappling with earlier writing and law, and how that points to how we should respond to scripture: as something leading us toward wisdom and showing us our spiritual ancestors' own grappling with God; not as a set of strict rules or guidelines. Because frankly, as a rulebook it doesn't really work. It's contradictory and full of gaps and holes if you are trying to use it as a user's manual.

          I'm still grappling with how I think about scripture; I find myself falling into old habits a lot and having to stop and force myself to engage with scripture in its context and not just as a series of commands beamed down out of heaven for me to follow mechanically. It's hard as somebody who was very much raised in a tradition that looked at things that way, but I'm finding my conscience in conflict with my religion a lot less often, which was always a very uncomfortable situation to be in.

          In the end, I think that Sola Scriptura just isn't a practicable way of living. I think probably something like Richard Hooker's "Three Legged Stool" (Scripture + Tradition + Reason) or Wesley's Quadrilateral (Scripture + Tradition + Reason + Experience) are better guides to truth. Scripture doesn't give us a rule for every situation of life, and I don't think it was ever meant to. It is a bunch of ancient writings from writers who were grappling with God in their own unique contexts. I think it is of immense value to us to be able to witness those struggles, but we can't just try to copy/paste their answers onto our own situation.

          Sorry for all the rambling. This is all something that has been very present on my mind for a long time, and as I've worked out my feelings about it I've experience mounting frustration with Evangelicals who just seem capable of uncritically accepting a view of scripture that just doesn't stand up to close examination.

          6 votes
          1. HotPants
            Link Parent
            I am in awe of Christians like you, who can accept the bible, while acknowledging its imperfections. It is so intellectually honest. I love it. My Uncle, an elder at a church, once invited a...

            I am in awe of Christians like you, who can accept the bible, while acknowledging its imperfections.

            It is so intellectually honest. I love it.

            My Uncle, an elder at a church, once invited a scholar similar to Enns to talk to his church about topics similar to the books you recommended. My Uncle was told by the church to kindly never invite the scholar back. Because while my Uncle gladly welcomed refreshing insights on how to read difficult passages, everyone else didn't appreciate that approach.

            4 votes
      3. [7]
        NaraVara
        Link Parent
        What does this actually mean in practical terms though? If it's a generic sense that we should put into practice certain, fairly universal, values around love and kindness I'd say that's pretty...

        It's just that I think that one's Christian ethic should inform one's politics, and not the other way around as has become the case for so many people.

        What does this actually mean in practical terms though? If it's a generic sense that we should put into practice certain, fairly universal, values around love and kindness I'd say that's pretty broadly applicable enough to not be a particularly "Christian" politics.

        Generally when people talk about Christian politics, though, it's with an emphasis on the stuff that comes from a distinctly Christian point of view and is not broadly applicable or agreed upon by anyone else. When you get to this stuff, then it needs to be imposed on non-Christians (or even different denominations or interpretations of what it means to be Christian) whether they like it or not.

        There is some room for this under a secular government, namely if there is a preponderant state interest in maintaining certain mores in the interest of social harmony. But that's a pretty narrow band of stuff and it doesn't seem to be enough for Evangelicals. Now if we take the general principle of having to love thy neighbor as thyself, you can argue that this means maintaining a general norm of freedom of conscience for non-Christian neighbors, as this is something Christians would also want if the roles were reversed. And that makes sense, but it doesn't seem to be a point of view with much cachet anymore. Much of political Christianity seems to think they have a responsibility to "save them from hellfire" over permitting any sort of freedom of conscience. I just don't know how we can have any kind of social harmony if people are walking around with that interpretation, but they seem fine with it and will approvingly quote Matthew 10:34† to justify it.

        †Matthew 10:34: Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.

        4 votes
        1. [2]
          inwardpath
          Link Parent
          I also think one small part of this big nuanced discussion is that for some Christians, love is defined quite differently. Some hateful streetpreachers or anti-LGBT preachers or <etc etc> see what...

          I also think one small part of this big nuanced discussion is that for some Christians, love is defined quite differently. Some hateful streetpreachers or anti-LGBT preachers or <etc etc> see what they do as a form of "love" because they think they're attempting to save people from eternal hellfire.

          It is interesting how extremely corrupted a definition of love can become when warped by dogma.

          (Disclaimer: I am strongly biased as an ex-Christian, but I tend to consider dogma poisonous to begin with- so I'm not inclined to think politics poisoned Evangelicalism, but that it just amplified it exponentially.)

          5 votes
          1. NaraVara
            Link Parent
            Personally, as a polytheist, I don't draw firm distinctions between the religious and the mundane or the personal and political. So I'd agree with you that the politics couldn't poison the...

            Personally, as a polytheist, I don't draw firm distinctions between the religious and the mundane or the personal and political. So I'd agree with you that the politics couldn't poison the Evangelicalism, if there wasn't something rotten there to begin with the wordly/political manifestations of the dogma wouldn't come out noxious.

            In fact I don't even inherently believe in "secularism" as a concept. I think a religion that can't make room for living in harmony with neighbors who have conflicting beliefs is simply incompatible with life in a large, plural society and they should either leave or sequester themselves into enclaves of like minded people. This isn't like a sphere "outside" of religion. It's a theological position that religious communities need to hold in order to participate in a plural society. Otherwise they will always be organizing to impose themselves on their fellows. I'd apply the same cautionary lesson to any totalizing ideology, religious or secular. As much as Christians or Muslims or Jews or whomever need to be able to make peace with the fact that non-whatevers will live next door, so do liberals and traditionalists and socialists.

            4 votes
        2. [4]
          TheRtRevKaiser
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          I have a few thoughts about this. I'm gonna try to be organized about how I address them because I have a tendency to ramble. First, I want to be clear that when I talk about what I do and don't...

          I have a few thoughts about this. I'm gonna try to be organized about how I address them because I have a tendency to ramble.

          First, I want to be clear that when I talk about what I do and don't mean when I talk about having a "christian politic". What I don't mean is that christians should strive to impose their will on others. I think that desire for power or domination over others is distinctly un-christlike. This is the guy who said "‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave" and then (I believe) demonstrated that in his own suffering and death. A Christian politic can't be about imposition of one's will on others if that is the model of leadership that we follow.

          What I do mean is that Christians should have ethics and a personal moral code that are informed by their belief, and that ethic should inform the way they participate in society. I believe that the christian ethic is one of sacrificial love, mutualism, concern for the poor and marginalized, and a high personal moral standard.

          When you look at the teachings of Jesus, he is rarely concerned about strictly policing the morality of the people he's interacting with. At most he tells the people that modern christians would be the most rabid about condemning (loosely paraphrasing) "you're forgiven, now try to do better". The people he reserves his rebukes for are those that are exploiting others, particularly the religious leaders who use their status for their own gain and to oppress the marginalized. That is the attitude that I think Christians ought to take in their interactions with society. I think we need to be less concerned with policing what we see as "morality" and we need to be more concerned about healing and reconciliation both in individual lives and in society at large.

          So I guess to sum all that up, I definitely don't mean that we should be striving toward an explicitly christian government, or that that should be the goal for any christian. What I believe is that christians shouldn't try to divorce their religious beliefs from their political beliefs, because I think it's impossible for anybody to do that in a coherent way. I just think that christians, especially evangelical christians, really need to be re-examining where it is that they're getting their core beliefs about politics, and whether those things are really compatible with their faith.

          Sorry, I don't think I succeeded very well at not rambling. It's hard to organize my thoughts on these things because I've got a lot of them and it's something that I've been thinking about a lot.

          On another note:

          Much of political Christianity seems to think they have a responsibility to "save them from hellfire" over permitting any sort of freedom of conscience. I just don't know how we can have any kind of social harmony if people are walking around with that interpretation, and they seem fine with it and will approvingly quote Matthew 10:34† to justify it.

          Anybody using this passage in this way is taking it wildly out of context. I don't doubt for a second that they are, though. That kind of out of context reading of scripture, combined with a really messed up "sola scriptura" mindset leads to a lot of really bad justifications for awful things in the name of christianity.

          Amusingly (I guess), that particular passage is in the context of Jesus telling his disciples that he's sending them out into the world and that they're going to be hated and persecuted because of him. His followers are not the ones wielding the sword in this passage, for sure. Right before this he tells them, "16 ‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved." For this passage to be used as justification for violence toward anybody is either ignorant or malicious.

          Edit: I'm reading back over your comment and mine and I don't know that I did a great job of actually addressing what you're saying. When you say:

          What does this actually mean in practical terms though? If it's a generic sense that we should put into practice certain, fairly universal, values around love and kindness I'd say that's pretty broadly applicable enough to not be a particularly "Christian" politics.

          Generally when people talk about Christian politics, though, it's with an emphasis on the stuff that comes from a distinctly Christian point of view and is not broadly applicable or agreed upon by anyone else. When you get to this stuff, then it needs to be imposed on non-Christians (or even different denominations or interpretations of what it means to be Christian) whether they like it or not.

          I think this is where evangelical christianity has gone completely wrong and done the most damage to the faith. That people think "love and kindness" aren't particularly christican, and all of the moralism is the real crux of the matter, is not a universally christian belief. But the "moral majority" has been banging that drum so hard, and I think that christians that believe differently have allowed them to be the loudest voices. But when someone asked Jesus what the most important law of God was, he said:

          ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
          To me that says that love of God and others is the primary christian ethic. Anything else has to follow from that.

          3 votes
          1. WarLorax
            Link Parent
            As a Christian, this is always the verse I go to. I figure if I'm ever able to sort out loving God and loving my neighbour as I'm supposed to, then I can focus on following the ten commandments,...

            As a Christian, this is always the verse I go to. I figure if I'm ever able to sort out loving God and loving my neighbour as I'm supposed to, then I can focus on following the ten commandments, then I can focus on the lumber yard in my eye, and then maybe, just maybe, I'll have time to look at other's sins. (Hint: I'm not very good at the first two yet.) My brother has another great phrase: why do we care so much when other people sin differently than we do?

            3 votes
          2. [2]
            NaraVara
            Link Parent
            By that I didn't mean it to read as "Christians aren't this way." I meant it as "not only Christians valorize these traits." It can't be a Christian thing if everyone does it any more than the...

            That people think "love and kindness" aren't particularly christican

            By that I didn't mean it to read as "Christians aren't this way." I meant it as "not only Christians valorize these traits." It can't be a Christian thing if everyone does it any more than the general idea of praying to a deity could be termed a particularly "Christian" thing.

            1 vote
            1. TheRtRevKaiser
              Link Parent
              I mean, I think they are christian values, but I don't think they are only christian values. And I don't think that christians can arrive at some unique ethical system that is impossible to hold...

              I mean, I think they are christian values, but I don't think they are only christian values. And I don't think that christians can arrive at some unique ethical system that is impossible to hold otherwise.

              I just think that christians need to look at the values that are espoused by the one they claim to follow, and those should be the things they value most in their person and public lives. That's all.

              2 votes