On November 8, David P. Gushee, Distinguished University Professor at Mercer University, leading evangelical ethicist, and TIF contributor, will give the keynote speech at The Reformation Project Conference (which “seeks to reform church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity”) and affirm his support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.
Posts Tagged ‘Evangelicalism’
It is a distinct honor when someone as lettered as Leon Wieseltier takes one on in public, as he does in “Dumbing Religion Down in the New York Times,” published October 24 in The New Republic. He does seem to have written this essay in one of his grumpier moods. He accused me of proselytizing for religion (or, to capture the tenor of the critique, of turning The New York Times into a Pentecostal tent revival, as one of my own readers, Jon Bialecki, pointed out). That’s not my understanding of the intent of my columns or of my work. I see myself as pointing out that an activity which makes many readers of The New York Times spit nails—or at least shake their heads in bafflement—has something to recommend it. I mostly ignore the politics because, while there is much to say about the political swing of many evangelicals, sharp writers like those who appear in The New Republic and The New York Times already say it well. But there is nothing inherently right-wing about evangelical religion and there are a lot of left-wing evangelicals to prove it. My goal, instead, is to follow the lead of one of the great founders of anthropology, Emile Durkheim, who said that we could not understand religion if we began with the premise that religion was founded on a lie. He did not mean that God was real (he was a devout atheist). He meant that if we wanted to understand why religion is so palpably important to so many people, we need not to begin with the assumption that they are idiots.
Climate change and the environment can be contentious issues, particularly in American politics. Despite political differences, weather events such as droughts, floods, hurricanes and wildfires in the United States have highlighted environmental issues for impacted communities, including various religious groups and faith traditions. In recent years religious individuals and organizations have become increasingly vocal about various environmental issues, and the following roundup presents some of the latest perspectives from different faiths.
Few books in the field of American religious history has received more attention over the few years than John Modern’s Secularism in Antebellum America.
Over at Theos, a British think tank working in the area of religion, politics and society, recently released a new report asking: “Is there a ‘Religious Right’ emerging in Britain?“
Marcia Pally’s incisive essay on “the new evangelicals” highlights a relatively small but growing population of white evangelicals who appear to be embracing broader, less conservative visions of the common good, and public policy views (at least partially) more in line with Democratic politics than their recent forebears. While her descriptions presumably are not limited to those who necessarily call themselves “new evangelicals,” she does invoke the work and ideas of public evangelicals who clearly self-identify as such. This points to an interesting observation worth considering here: to assume the mantle of newness is to make an ideological statement as well as a historical claim.
Marcia Pally’s post tracks the important fact that contemporary American evangelical social and political engagement is fragmenting. She rightly observes that such fragmenting is not historically novel, and is a self-consciously critical response to the power of the Religious Right.
To read of “robust polyphony” among evangelicals was especially welcome to me, as I addressed this phenomenon in a recent ethnography, Emerging Evangelicals (NYU Press, 2011). As a cultural anthropologist, I explored the identities fashioned, practices performed, histories claimed, institutions created, and critiques waged among evangelicals influenced by the Emerging Church movement. Pally’s astute analysis returned me to a question I stopped short of fully developing: does fragmentation equal change?
Celebrating the ideological diversity of contemporary evangelicalism, Marcia Pally heralds the advent of a religious non-right. Shattering stereotypes of a monolithic conservatism, she performs a valuable service.
As Pally notes in her essay, this isn’t the first time evangelicals have hoisted the banner of social reform. Recalling the activism of nineteenth-century American Protestants, she sees the “new evangelicals” as their contemporary successors.
You don’t have to go back to the nineteenth century to find evangelical progressives. Like Jim Wallis and Ron Sider, many got their start in the 1970s, building institutions that are still around today (Sojourners, Evangelicals for Social Action, Bread for the World).
As both Marcia Pally and David Gushee note, there is no historical reason why evangelicalism should identify with a single political orientation. There is also no global reason. Research on evangelicals in Asia, Africa, and Latin America is uncovering startling political diversity. Paul Freston, one of the most informed scholars on the subject, dismisses “facile equations of evangelicalism with conservative stances.” Historical and contemporary conditions, he writes, demonstrate “the distance of these actors—indeed, total independence of these actors—from the American evangelical right.”
The American religious landscape is being altered by what Mark Noll calls “a more pluralistic evangelicalism than has ever existed before.”
In the movement Marcia Pally describes, evangelicalism is no longer synonymous with white evangelicals. Conservative black churches have long held a pro-life, pro-marriage ethic in balance with energetic social activism. Immigrant churches, the fastest-growing segment of Christianity, tend to be conservative theologically while progressive on issues like poverty and immigration. The increasingly influential Hispanic community naturally aligns with this movement. As Samuel Rodriguez puts it: “Where Billy Graham meets Dr. King, that’s where you will see the Hispanic Christian community emerge.”
In her piece, Marcia Pally continues her most commendable attempt to describe the diversity of evangelical political opinion in the United States, and to provide a more nuanced account even of the evangelical right. As she suggests, the core of all evangelical political outlooks tends to be a belief in the importance of individual virtuous action and collaboration. This by no means betokens an entirely uncritical embrace of neoliberalism; the alliance with the latter has probably been forged by a horror at the (historically novel) libertarian cultural mores of the contemporary left. In actual practice much evangelical social action is more concerned with the common good than is the general run of more recent GOP attitudes, and it is, I think, partially a reflection on the political implications of this that has, as Pally notes, led many younger evangelicals to move leftwards.
On the evening of Good Friday 2013, several thousand young evangelicals will file into The Church at Brook Hill in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the largest Southern Baptist congregations in that Red State. They will open up their Bibles and then for the next six hours listen as a slender, boyish-looking pastor walks them through long passages of Scripture verse by verse and tells them to forsake material goods and self-indulgence and devote their lives to serving Jesus. All around the country other gatherings of young people will tune in by simulcast. David Platt, author of Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, is not a typical celebrity pastor. He does no book tours, doesn’t drive a Bentley, seems to have no opinions about politics, and hardly ever has time for even a brief interview with reporters. And he’s not the stereotypical Southern Baptist power broker.
Baptist minister and sociologist Tony Campolo was arguably the first to send shock waves through the ranks of the religious right two decades ago when he responded to a question about his political leaning—Democrat or Republican? His reply: “It depends on the issue.”
Fundamentalists scorned him, calling him an apostate, but his assertion gave a new generation of evangelicals permission to scrutinize political platforms and move to the middle. The middle seemed to make more sense to younger followers of Jesus who were hearing and heeding calls to humanitarian causes at home and abroad.
I am one of those evangelicals who, in Professor Marcia Pally’s words, have “left the right.” As a former President-elect of the Christian Coalition of America, I resigned that position and all other positions that would box me into ideologies that were becoming insidiously narrow and negative. As a 64-year-old pastor, I may not yet be representative of my generation or profession in my political openness, but I am one of a growing number of white evangelicals who are making biblically-based decisions on an issue-by-issue basis, in a wider circle of conversations than ever. We are put off by the “hardening of the categories” that is stifling not only intellectually, but also spiritually.
Professor Marcia Pally aptly describes the evangelical polyphony of our time. Despite the dreadful habit of newspapers of using the term “evangelical” to mean “white social conservative bloc of the GOP,” contemporary evangelical political views are much more diverse than that.
As Pally notes here and in her book, The New Evangelicals, it is not accurate to say that the diversity of evangelical politics and public engagement is some kind of new trend. What is actually the historical aberration is the way a distinguished global movement within Protestant Christianity that has always had diverse politics got swept into the Republican Southern Strategy of the Nixon years and beyond. It is a terrible historical accident that the movement that gave us the abolitionist William Wilberforce and the firebrands of the early Social Gospel movement became identified, after 1972, with reactionary white right-wing politics in the American South.
Post-election reporting that 79 percent of white evangelicals voted for Mitt Romney got little attention in the news because most journalists thought it wasn’t news. Evangelical support for the GOP has been consistent; even Romney’s Mormonism didn’t put them off. So election analysis approached white evangelicals as it usually has: as religio-political lemmings, all voting Republican for all the same reasons.
Yet where there was once the appearance of a monovocal evangelicalism there is now robust polyphony—what theologian Scot McKnight calls “the biggest change in the evangelical movement at the end of the twentieth century, a new kind of Christian social conscience.” This deserves our attention because most politics does not happen at elections but in between, when policy is negotiated and implemented. Current shifts in evangelical activism have re-routed the flow of evangelical money, time, and energy, and are changing the demands on the US political system. This essay investigating the shift is based on seven years of field research in evangelical books, articles, newsletters, sermons, and blogs, and on interviews with evangelicals, ages 19 to 74, across geographic and demographic groups—from students in Illinois to retired firemen from Mississippi, from former bikers to professors and political consultants.
New Directions in the Study of Prayer Grantee Tanya Luhrmann’s book, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God, was named one of the New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2012. As Molly Worthen wrote in an early 2012 review of the book: After more than four years of observing and interviewing […]
In The New Yorker, Joan Acocella gives a favorable review of Tanya M. Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God.
In the last issue of First Things, a self-described coalition of “Catholics and Evangelicals together” defends religious freedom. The coalition includes a number of notable Americans, like Charles Colson and George Weigel, with endorsements from the archbishops of Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, along with many others. According to the statement, the situation is unexpectedly urgent. After the fall of the Soviet Union, “throughout the world, a new era of religious freedom seemed at hand.” But, now it is blatantly clear that the scourge of intolerance—especially secularist intolerance—persists.
In light of Rick Santorum’s recent comments on religion and the public sphere, we asked a small handful of scholars about the status of such claims regarding religion in American political life. Just how “naked” is the American public square? What is the appropriate place of religion in the public sphere?
Read responses by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, Michele Dillon, John L. Esposito, John H. Evans, Philip S. Gorski, R. Marie Griffith, Cristina Lafont, Nancy Levene, Nadia Marzouki, Ebrahim Moosa, Justin Neuman, and John Schmalzbauer.
Fred Clark on evangelicals and the view that human life begins at conception.
The 9/11 debate was centered on a single issue: Islam. Osama Bin Laden was taken at his own words by the West: Al-Qaeda, even if its methods were supposedly not approved by most Muslims, was seen as the vanguard or at least a symptom of “Muslim wrath” against the West… Then came, just ten years after 9/11, the Arab Spring, in which Islam did not play a role, and the killing of Osama Bin Laden, whose death went almost unnoticed among Muslim public opinion. What about the “Muslim wrath”? Suddenly, the issue of Islam and jihad being at the core of the political mobilization in Muslim societies seemed to become, at least for a time, irrelevant. So what went wrong with the perception of the Western media, leaders, and public opinion? Was the West wrong about the role of Islam in shaping political mobilization in Muslim societies? Yes. The essentialist and culturalist approach, common to both the clash of and dialogue of civilizations theories, missed three elements: society, politics, and more astonishingly . . . religion.
Earlier this year, Jonathan D. Fitzgerald, a former adjunct professor at King’s College, wrote an exposé for Killing the Buddha on the small Evangelical and—at least in the eyes of its authorities, if not in those of all of its students—politically conservative college housed in New York’s Empire State Building. Now, Andrew Marantz, of New York Magazine, takes a closer look at D’Souza’s tenure, the college’s sense of its vocation, and the student body being trained to become, in D’Souza’s words, “dangerous Christians.”
Meghan O’Gieblyn, writing for Guernica, forays into the history of CCM, or Christian contemporary music, which also happens to be that of her own adolescence, tracing the gradual displacement of the more overtly gospel elements of Christian pop, rock, and rap, as the Christian music industry, in its growing drive for “relevance,” felt the squeeze of secular music, especially under the pincers the more profitable and marketing-savvy MTV. More than the fate of explicitly Christian popular music, this course, O’Gieblyn suggests, reflects the simultaneous devolution of a distinctly evangelical way of being in the world, which, stuck as it is between oppositional self-cloistering and secularizing dissipation, seems to O’Gieblyn to have tended toward to the latter.
A long-simmering conflict within U.S. evangelicalism came to the fore recently—a conflict which, as Martin Marty points out, may be more significant in the long run than the question of whether evangelicals support Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin for the presidency in 2012. Partly theological and partly generational, it pits Rob Bell, the 40-year-old founding minister of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan (not to be confused with the equally prominent Mars Hill Church in Seattle), against the likes of John Piper, the 65-year-old theologian, pastor, and author, who has long stood in opposition to newer developments in evangelical theology sometimes called “the emergent church.” Now, the conflict erupted into the public. . . . Bell’s critics are taking advance materials for his forthcoming book, Love Wins, as suggesting a negative answer. According to Bell’s alleged universalist stance, everybody is “saved”; there is no punishment for non-Christians. Since then, various media—online and offline, Christian and secular—have been reverberating with the charge of heresy.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley spent his first day in office finding out how Christian an elected official can get before causing a scandal.
In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Timothy Beal reflects on the historic inattention of academic research to popular evangelical trends and highlights some of the most important work performed in this area since the late ’80s.
The 2010 elections changed a lot about the makeup of Congress, but did they change much about American secularism? A new poll shows partisanship in pulpits is rare, issue-based politics is alive and well, and Islam’s electoral prominence is ripe for future manipulation.
Glenn Beck’s track record of keeping promises may not be pristine (in fact, Pulitzer Prize-winning politifact.com has often given his statements a rating of “Pants-on-fire”), but the August 28 Restoring Honor rally seemed actually less political than past Tea Party gatherings.
As Michael Blood from the AP reported in an article on August 5, audio and transcripts from an interview Sharron Angle gave in April to TruNews Christian Radio indicate that the nominee’s opposition to “big government” is theologically motivated.
The ‘Son of Sam’ serial killer, David Berkowitz, has developed a large following after becoming a born-again Christian 23 years ago. Berkowitz’s ‘followers’ are predominantly evangelical Christians as many have become inspired by his apparent spiritual makeover, The New York Times reports.
Two recent contributions from the United Kingdom shed some light on the elusive phenomenon knows as the “emerging church” or, alternatively, the “emergent church” movement.
In her article, “The Persistence of Patriarchy,” subtitled Hard to believe, but some churches are still talking about male headship, founding member of the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus, Anne Eggebroten laments the institutionalized gender inequality still present in some Christian services and lifestyles.
The Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) was introduced in 2009 to close a loophole in immigration law that discriminated against homosexuals. As Sarah Posner documents at Religion Dispatches, this provision has become more controversial as the democrats have reached out to religious organizations to help in their fight for immigration reform.
In a recent article for Mother Jones, Suzy Khimm asks whether a right-wing schism may be developing over immigration reform. In recent months, many evangelical leaders- including conservative Christians like Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention- have voiced support for immigration reform that would include a pathway to legalization for many undocumented immigrants. While Land’s group has supported a comprehensive approach to reform for several years, he has become more adament in his support since the passage of Arizona’s contentious immigration law. These increased efforts by conservative Christians on behalf of immigrants have created conflict between their groups and right-wing groups opposed to immigration reform, making former allies into possible political enemies.
In early June, the Claremont School of Theology announced that it would merge with its local Jewish and Muslim counterparts to form an inter-religious university this coming fall. Philip Clayton discusses the controversy this has aroused in conservative Christian communities.
Conventional wisdom states that the Czech Republic is the least religious society in the West. At The Guardian, Dana Hamplová discusses the historical origins of the Czechs’ famed secularity, which reach back before Communism, and highlights the abiding forms of religious activity in the former Soviet satellite.
Public Religion Research and Third Way have jointly released a new report, Beyond the God Gap, which presents new research on “the beliefs and values underlying attitudes toward politics and cultural and domestic policy issues among white evangelical Protestants, white Mainline Protestants, African American Protestants, and Roman Catholics (Latino and non-Latino), which together account for about three-quarters of the U.S. population.”
At Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner dismisses the possibility that, with Sarah Palin as its leader, the Christian right could become a women’s movement
In a recent Newsweek article, “Saint Sarah,” Lisa Miller chronicles Sarah Palin’s iconic status among evangelical Christian women in the United States, noting that Palin blends talk of politics and faith in a way that resonates among her “mama grizzly” followers. . . . What I find fascinating in the “Saint Sarah” piece, and what I will explore over the summer in this blog, is the ways that the stories we tell—about self, nation, human rights, and other things we hold dear—often reveal a complicated intermingling of the things once characterized as distinctly separate: church and state, religion and politics, spirituality and human rights.
This Thursday, Get Mad at Sin! opens at The Chocolate Factory in Long Island City. Conceived and performed by Andrew Dinwiddie and directed by Jeff Larson, Get Mad At Sin! is based on a 1971 record of evangelist Jimmy Swaggart recorded at the First Assembly of God in Van Buren, Arkansas. It is both historical document and portrait of Swaggart in his element before his televised rise to fame.
What’s the number one bestseller on Amazon.com? Give up? As of May 20, 2010, it was George Washington’s Sacred Fire by Peter A. Lillback, a work arguing that our first president “was indeed a devout, practicing Christian,” a view rejected by many scholars of colonial America. How did a seminary president become Amazon’s bestselling author? On Tuesday, May 18, Lillback made an appearance on the Glenn Beck Program with Jerry Falwell, Jr., chancellor of Liberty University. Though the focus was on the roots of social justice, Beck took the opportunity to plug Lillback’s George Washington’s Sacred Fire. Lillback thanked him for the exposure.