Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Complicated, Contradictory World of Evangelicals

As a person born into an evangelical and fundamental Christen home, I have spoken often of my lack of my growing lack of respect for all things evangelical or fundamental. This type of Christian begs the question: Is religion as a whole a force for good in the world or a force for evil?

Even Jesus Christ found the church of his day as more a force for evil than of good. I believe he would have the same opinion of many of today's evangelical and fundamental churches. That is not a new opinion for me. By the time I was 10 years old, I knew I wanted nothing to do with evangelical and fundamental Christianity. One of my first acts as an adult was to find a liberal minded liturgical church which approached the Bible and Christian dogma with a degree of common sense led by clergy highly educated in theology.

It has been 54 years since I came to the conclusion that evangelical and fundamental Christianity was worse than no religion at all. In those 54 years, the fundamental and evangelical churches have only increased their misunderstanding of the Gospel of Christ in a reactionary assault on what they see as a world bound for Hell. The denomination I belonged to as a kid took it as a point of pride that they believed in total separations of church and state. Now, they are doing their best to make sure they can use the state to force their religious view concerning abortion, homosexuality and other things on every American. They have become what they once feared most.

Yet, fundamental and evangelical churches are among the few churches that are still growing in the United States. What is the pull on people that keeps so many of one of the highest educated people on earth streaming through the doors of churches that literally make it a practice to denigrate and deny education itself?

The following article appeared in the Weekly Standard October 3, 2011 issue. The article is  a well deserved probe, perhaps a well deserved attack, on those who assail education and even common sense in the defense of a simple minded view of religion that negates all the Good News to man in the Gospel  of Christ. The word "gospel" means "good news", but there is no good news at all in the dogma of the fundamentalist and many of the evangelicals. God is an angry old man who hates almost everyone and is anxious to throw almost everyone into an eternal lake of fire in their view. Where's the good news in that?

The article is not an easy one to read, but if you are a married bisexual man hounded by the declaration of fundamental Christians that you are headed for Hell, it is well worth the reading.

To make it a little easier, I'm going to take the advice of Two Lives and others and break the post into two parts.

Good News Bears
The complicated,contradictory world of evangelicals. 

BY A. THOMAS WALKER a policy analyst Jor the Family Foundation
The Weekly Standard October 3, 2011

The constant tension in any movement is who gets to define it, and how. Enter the debate over evangelicalism, which exists in two forms. Evangelicalism as a doctrinal movement has often been defined according to what is called the "Bebbington quadrilateral"a strong commitment to the Bible, Christ's atoning work, evangelism, and activism. Yet another evangelicalism, an Anglo-American phenomenon, peppers the American landscape with its own cultural signifiers. This kitsch evangelicalism, known more for its cultural oddities, consistently edges out the intellectual and doctrinal coherency of evangelicalism in popular culture. 

The Anointed - Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age by Randall J. Stephens & Karl W. Giberson picks up on this theme, insisting that evangelicalism has come to be defined more by its reactionary elements —opposition to evolution, aversion to modern psychology, apocaIypticism, and support for an unabashedly Christian America. So what drives evangelicals to reject the overwhelming evidence in support of evolution? Why do evangelicals insist that the Founding Fathers were devout Christians when other evangelical scholarship points to the contrary? Plagued by perpetual disputes as to what properly qualifies one as an "evangelical," and a looming fissure among its youth, evangelicalism is facing an uncertain future in America. Randall Stephens and Karl Giberson insist that holding steady on culturally marginalized positions will not help evangelicalism in its quest for cultural relevance or intellectual coherency. 

Profiling such figures as the noted creationist Ken Ham, David Barton of WallBuilders, and James Dobson of Focus on the Family, the authors search for the affinities of what draws evangelicals to the opinions of "the Anointed"—discredited spokesmen and authorities who receive celebritylike adoration and expert-like status among evangelicals. Such opinions foment the cultural derision and scorn heaped. on evangelicalism by its opponents and further intensify the entrenched and embattled mindset of evangelicals. Their quest is to offer a psychological analysis of evangelical authority structures. 

Evangelicals opposing evolution, for instance, argue that the loss of a Divine Being results in no authoritative moral norms. Lamenting America's break from its Christian heritage, evangelicals warn of further moral decay as God is marginalized from the public square. And spurning modern psychology for its "secular bias that menaces spirituality," evangelicals gin up alternative authorities to conceal their own machinations. With decreased cultural influence, and fearing secularization, many evangelicals retreat into what the authors call a "parallel" culture. 

But because evangelicalism encompasses such a large swath of the population and, by default, its own economic subculture remains intact within a larger religion-free market, the authors are right to suggest that evangelicals can reject expert opinion for the "selfsufficiency of their parallel culture." Leaders are formed through an informal process of constituency building and rallying followers by "playing on common fears, identifying . out-groups to demonize, and projecting confidence." Joined by the direction of a leader with "charismatic trustworthiness," spokesmen are said to "speak for God" and given preeminent status. A pervasive anti-intellectual spirit congeals these ingredients into an identifiable subculture: The authors attribute these features to an innate and evolutionary penchant for tribalism — the need to belong, identify, and embrace: "People, not surprisingly, more readily follow experts they know or perceive as being like them, even if their expertise is marginal or even suspect." 

Liberty University
The criticism offered here is punctuated by a tone of dismissal and reliance on academic pedigree. Ken Ham is eviscerated as an uncredentialed profligate who peddles fear as he does homeschooling textbooks; David Barton of the "Christian America" thesis is a likable dunce preoccupied with theocracy; .and James Dobson is a colloquial, grandfatherly sap offering sage advice on how to prevent homosexuality in youth. All of them have "undermined the academic status quo" and deter intellectuals from embracing the Christian faith. 

To be sure, the authors are not wrong in many of their assessments. As they state, A winsome preacher who can quote the Bible and tell heart-warming stories of God's blessings may possess more authority on global warming for believers than an informed climatologist ... from Harvard. 

And an anti-intellectual current does drive much of populist evangelicalism, as Mark Noll famously lamented in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. The castigation evangelicals receive is often far from unwarranted. Yet one can hardly say that evangelicals are the only ones to blame for glossy truisms and simplistic maxims in American culture. The authors ground anti-intellectualism in a larger American enthusiasm for commonsense explanations, plus an aversion to overtly cerebral leaders. The authors are also driven by their search for a version of evangelicalism with greater intellectual awareness and capaciousness, an evangelicalism at home with academic elites that rejects the "democratic impulse" of populist evangelicalism.

End of Part One

Some questions for married bisexual or married or unmarried homosexual men to contemplate:

1. Thomas Walker suggests that the tension in any movement is the product of who gets to define  the movement and how they define it. Who have you allowed to define your view of religious beliefs? Have you read and studied theology on your own or have you simply accepted as truth the views of people whose backgrounds and educational levels are unknown to you? Do you understand that some colleges exist in name only and their chief purpose is to deny and distort real scientific facts for those whom they are preparing to be clergy in fundamental churches?

2. Do you know that that the harsh and vulgar dogma of much of the current fundamental American churches is a product of the American frontier which took root throughout the American culture when educated clergy was scarce. And small churches across the vastness of the American continent were served by uneducated men who only spoke of their own ideas of God? Are you willing to risk both your physical and spiritual life on the dogma that resulted from such circumstances?

3. Does it suggest anything at all to you that both educated non believers and most educated Christians find no incompatibility at all in the Book of Genesis and evolution while most fundamental Christians who are generally much less educated think that acceptance of the theory of evolution negates ones ability to be moral?

4. Do you really think that people such as the reverend fred phelps speak for God when he thanks God for dead American Soldiers and preaches that dead American soldiers are burning in Hell because they enabled American gays? The reverend fred phelps is only the best known of American fundamental preachers. Others like him are in community churches across the nation. 

For bisexual and homosexual men, their ability to find a place in mainstream society is crucial to self acceptance and personal growth. For bisexual men and homosexual men who happen to be Christians, do that is complicated. I found my place because I did not allow myself to be overcome by my fundamentalist upbringing. It never overcame my ability to work out my own salvation with God, just as the Bible itself recommends we do.

Part two of Thomas Walker's The Weekly Standard article follows in a few days.

Jack Scott


  1. Thanks, Jack, for taking on this topic. I spent many years in a new religious movement with just the same us vs. them evangelical fervor. When I finally realized that this faith did not speak for me, and in fact marginalized who I am as a human and spiritual being...I made my exit. But it took a decade of grieving and searching for me to find my way. We must speak out against hatred and small-minded individuals who would legislate what we are to believe and how we are to act in the world. This is already an innate part of us by virtue of our humanity and higher selves...and our lifelong experience of living and learning who we are.

    1. Thanks Anonymous for the comment. I'm happy your finally found your way.

      Real religious faith can be so comforting and supportive. The false kind of faith taught by so many fundamentalists can be neither of these in the long run.

      Jack Scott

  2. Jack-
    This issue of anti-intellectualism and anti-science as a major feature of most evangelical movements is also part of a larger and dangerous way that so many Americans have self selected to live only among those like themselves and take all their news and opinions from a narrow band of believers. Susan Jacoby's excellent and very readable book, "The Age of American Unreason" looks at these trends that go back into other eras of American culture, and are often linked to demagogues who stir up anger and resentment in the pursuit of their own power.

    The difference in the modern era is that the secular "leaders" of the right wing are not just cynically manipulating the masses, many of the elected leaders who espouse this stuff actually believe what they say - and there are plenty of right wing highly funded "foundations" that pump out pseudo scientific arguments. It is not that the right wing is anti-science...they actually use logical arguments and false science to make claims to support their world view.

    Now we have the super PACs with no limits on their spending in campaigns, ready to pump out even more outrageous claims and lies. And just who is contributing to all this dissemination of falsities and pieties and hatred of those who do not conform to their view that a middle class family has more to fear from the poor and queers than from the rich?

    And why does the platform of the evangelicals or their chosen candidates for office embrace the notion that the government is the problem, that tax cuts for the wealthy are in the interest of the working class, and that the "welfare" problem we have is taking care of the unemployed and poor (not the much bigger subsidies and tax exemptions for large corporations, many of which pay no US taxes)

    Let's not think this rise of a manipulative right wing, using the evangelicals as their "shock troops" is just a threat to those of us with aberrant sexual orientations. I know you are a Republican Jack and I am a very left leaning Democrat, but what we both seem to agree on is that we are all becoming captive to an extremist group. And on the Democratic side, the influence of the "Israel can do no wrong" types and the tech sector corporations who want their own share of tax breaks are also making huge numbers of campaign contributions too.

    Thanks for verging into this territory Jack.

    1. Thanks Jason for a thoughtful comment.

      There was a time I thought of fundamentalists as a misguided but well meaning group of Americans. I no longer see it that way. As you correctly note, they are an increasingly dangerous group.

      If left to their own many of them would willingly abandon the Constitution of the United States and replace it with a fundamental theocracy that stripped individual liberties in favor of religious decrees.

      We are not only endangered by theocrats from the Middle East. Some of the danger lies much closer to home.

      Jack Scott


I deeply regret that I must reinstate the verification process for those who want to leave comments on my blog. This is due to the intolerable amount of spam that spammers are attempting to leave on the blog.

At the same time I am changing settings so that those of you who have a Google Blogger ID or other recognized blogger ID will not have to have your comments moderated. My hope is this will encourage more readers to take the time to comment. The fact is I want to read comments with those of you who disagree with me as well as those of you who agree with me. All I ask is that you keep your comments clean and non-threatening.

The only reason I take the time to write this blog is to spur your thoughts and comments. Please do not let the spammers cause you not to comment. I know entering the verification words and numbers is a pain in the ass, but I hope you will not let the spammers cause you not to comment.

I still very much look forward to hearing from you.

Jack Scott

Anyone can comment on what I write in this blog. Regretfully, the recent amount of spam in my email account as required that I reinstate the word verification process for comments which I personally hate.

But at the same time I have loosened the comment moderation process so that those of you who have a Google Blogger ID or other recognized blogger ID will no longer need to wait for your comment to be moderated. I'm hoping this will tempt you to take the trouble to comment.

The truth is I want respectful comments both from those who agree with me and those who do not. All I as is that you keep comments to the point, clean and non-threatenting.

I look forward to hearing from each of you.

Jack Scott