Did Evangelical or Liberal Protestants Have a Better Week?

First came the news of Mark Sanford’s victory in South Carolina’s First District to Congress. For anyone who remembers Sanford’s well publicized marital infidelity, it must have struck many observers as strange that evangelical Protestants — I hear South Carolina is thick with them — would return Sanford to public office. But they also had no problem with Newt Gingrich in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries:

This wasn’t the first time the Republican voters of South Carolina put fidelity to party over fidelity to fidelity. In the 2012 Republican primary, voters were reminded of Newt Gingrich’s admitted adultery and three marriages. His second wife spoke out just days before the vote. Gingrich won by 12.5 percentage points over the morally pure Mitt Romney. He won 45 percent of the evangelical vote, a group that has at times shown more than a passing interest in the morality of public officials. He won 46 percent of those who said that the religious beliefs of a candidate were very or somewhat important.

South Carolina conservatives may still say a candidate’s sins matter, but they aren’t voting that way. In fact, if you weren’t privy to the state’s strong social conservative history, you could almost mistake South Carolinians for city folk—people who vote for experience, policy, and political leanings and show a sophisticate’s relativism toward personal moral failings. These days, South Carolinians seem almost Parisian when they enter the voting booth.

Ross Douthat is having none of Sanford’s theological interpretation of his victory, nor is the columnist optimistic about what this election means for “family values,” once the brand of evangelical Protestant politics:

I’m not particularly surprised by that outcome: Sanford was the G.O.P. candidate in a conservative district, and voting on party rather than character is usually the path of least resistance for partisans on both sides. But the fact that South Carolina Republicans took that path, and made his swift and shameless comeback a success, is still a useful indicator of where the energy is on the right — and it emphatically isn’t with people who see the decline of marriage as a bigger issue for conservatism and America than the precise balance of power in the House of Representatives. Again, the preference among conservatives is obviously for stable marriages and family values and so forth — for the example set by the figures McArdle lists, rather than for Sanford-style shenanigans. But there apparently isn’t enough passion behind that preference at the moment to induce Republican voters to sacrifice even a single House seat on its behalf.

At the same time, this was not a complete win-win for evangelicals since it seems that Sanford himself is an Episcopalian (which suggests that evangelical Protestants are truly ecumenical and likely clueless when they vote according to their w-w, that is, if the lines between evangelicals and mainline Protestants still matter).

And then came yesterday’s news about Martha Mullen, the Virginia Methodist who found a place for Tamerlan Tsarnaev to be buried. When I heard her interview on NPR I could not believe — it moved me to tears (Edwardseans should be happy) — how Christian her motivation (but I’m not an Edwardsean and can’t see her heart) was. Here’s part of the transcript:

CORNISH: Now, you took it upon yourself to find a cemetery that would bury his body, and you don’t have a connection to his family, so why get involved?

MULLEN: Well, I was listening to NPR and I heard the story ongoing that he was unable to be buried and that people are protesting him. And it made me think of Jesus’ words: Love your enemies. I felt that, also, he was being maligned probably because he was Muslim.

And Jesus tells us to – in the parable of the Good Samaritan – to love your neighbor as yourself. And your neighbor is not just someone you belong with but someone who is alien to you. That was the biggest motivation, is that, you know, if I’m going to live my faith, then I’m going to do that which is uncomfortable and not necessarily that’s what comfortable. . . .

CORNISH: Martha, you heard about the story because of the protests. And did you have concerns about making this move that you would become the target of protests or people would have a real problem with what you were doing?

MULLEN: Well, I thought about that, but there’s a line in the Scripture that says whether we live or whether we die, we’re the Lord’s. And I feel like – I don’t think anything really horrible is going to happen to me. I think people are probably going to be upset and irritated and disagree with what this interfaith group has decided to go forward with, but I feel like it was the right thing and it’s important to be true to the principle of your faith.

Now words like these may be cheap, and Jesus’ words are certainly not obscure. But that it took a mainline Methodist to undertake what strikes me strikes me as something so obviously right was amazing, especially considering how many Americans (including Protestants of all kinds) were opposed to letting this terrorist be returned to dust. We do not refuse to bury persons our law enforcement system sentences to execution. So why we should try to prevent Tamerlan Tsarnaev from being buried, or even be suspicious of Martha Mullen or the owners of the cemetery that received the body, is dumbfounding. I know I may be naive about Islam thanks to a trip to Turkey, which is hardly the most representative of Muslim societies. But if conservative Presbyterians think that Paul Hill is not representative of strict Reformed Protestantism, is it not possible for Americans to imagine that Tamerlan Tsarnaev is not your average Muslim?

Then again, the United States has a tradition of moralism that insists, one strike and you’re in hell. The Boston bombings were truly heinous. But a civilized (even Christian) society refuses to abandon conventions like burial of dead bodies even for murderers. The lesson of Joe Paterno, who simply did not do enough to turn in a pederast and for that misdeed lost a chance to be considered one of the greatest coaches of all time, is a reminder of that moral standard. Who indeed can stand in that great day?

52 thoughts on “Did Evangelical or Liberal Protestants Have a Better Week?

  1. Truly Sanford was a jerk. (I live in SC, but not in District 1.)

    Does it therefore follow that one should vote for Colbert Busch? (Don’t think so.)

    Or does it follow that the voter should stay home? (Don’t think so.)

    Are there other choices?


  2. Given the choice between a more or less conservative “jerk”…or an upstanding utopian leftist who knows better than I (us)…I’d stick with the jerk. The jerks usually have their limits.

    Leftist utopians never leave you alone. Their “job” is never finished.


  3. I was at a local bar function yesterday, and was discussing this with several guys whose firm primarily represents the RNC (and related entities).

    We got into a discussion about social issues. Besides evangelicals, social issues are popular among another demographic, white-collar urban professionals making $100-250k a year. Both parties treat this class of persons pretty equally on the economic front. These folks make too much to benefit from Democratic economic plans, and make too little to benefit from Republican economic plans. The only thing left for them is social issues. And they are overwhelmingly libertarian on social issues, and therefore vote for the Dems by a 4-to-1 margin. I suggested that the GOP could make huge in-roads among this class if the Party simply dropped its opposition to SSM and gay rights.

    They agreed. They mentioned that there’s almost no one in the DC-based GOP leadership that isn’t progressive on most social issues. Yet they acknowledged the delicate balance. They were excited about the Sanford victory, as it indicated that the base may be softening up on social issues.


  4. They agreed. They mentioned that there’s almost no one in the DC-based GOP leadership that isn’t progressive on most social issues. Yet they acknowledged the delicate balance. They were excited about the Sanford victory, as it indicated that the base may be softening up on social issues.

    Perhaps. But there is much scholarship indicating that many who came to form the Moral Majority/Religious Right were formerly non-political [I suppose in an agreeably 2K way] before Roe v.Wade. Were the GOP to abandon social issues, they’d go back to staying home in November, and some lefty pencilneck could write There’s Nothing the Matter with Kansas.

    For anyone who remembers Sanford’s well publicized marital infidelity, it must have struck many observers as strange that evangelical Protestants — I hear South Carolina is thick with them — would return Sanford to public office. But they also had no problem with Newt Gingrich in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries*

    I’m always amazed at those outsiders who try to use their twisted understanding of Christianity against Christians, as though when they’re not acting like the cementheads they’re supposed to be, they’re hypocrites.


  5. Tom,

    Most of the hard-core social conservatives are in states that are already reliably Republican. Do you honestly think that a few evangelicals staying home in Mississippi is going to shift the state into the blue column?


  6. Bobby, I think if the socialcons stayed home in the purple states, they’d go blue. Yes, I do sir. I think the number of social libs who would vote GOP if only they weren’t opposed to gay abortion is the number that’s severely exaggerated.


  7. Steve Martin wants to stick with “the jerk” because they have their limits?

    I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray. And this paddle game. The ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that’s all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control, and the paddle ball. And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game, and the remote control, and the lamp, and that’s all I need. I don’t need one other thing, not one. I need this. The paddle game and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches for sure. What are you looking at? What do you think, I’m some kind of a jerk or something! And this. That’s all I need.


  8. Tom – I’m always amazed at those outsiders who try to use their twisted understanding of Christianity against Christians, as though when they’re not acting like the cementheads they’re supposed to be, they’re hypocrites.

    Erik – Are you suggesting it requires a “twisted understanding of Christianity” to observe that it’s odd that Christians would support the thrice married Newt?

    You may be right that outsiders will either regard us as “cementheads” or “hypocrites”, but isn’t it better to be regarded as consistent cementheads?


  9. Phil, now you’re thinking like a 2ker. Apparently, we use criteria other than Christian truths when thinking about the common realm. You’re coming along nicely.


  10. Tom,

    “gay abortion”?

    I don’t know if we could get that social problem if we tried. In gay relationships the sperm and egg generally do not cross paths.


  11. Zrim,

    The absolute best part of that quote is:

    “I don’t need one other thing, not one. I need this.”


    “The Jerk” came out in 1979 and I was nine or 10 years old. My dad took me to see it in the theater near the Iowa State campus. Too late for anyone to call child & protective services — the statute of limitations has expired. Now that you know this fact about me everything else is presumably falling into place.


  12. Um, Erik, “gay abortion” was, oh never mind.

    And poor Newt [his first was was his 26 -yr-old high school teacher] got annulments from his church. So yeah, I don’t think “Christian” equates with “judgmental cementhead.” But your 2K mileage may vary. Certainly, as we see above, it means they miss a lot of jokes.


  13. Tom,

    I think you tie yourself (and your readers) in knots from time-to-time. At this point I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about and my reading comprehension is generally pretty good.


  14. @Larson
    He won the primary. Voters in the 1st had 14 choices, then two in a run off, then a choice between a centrist democrat and libertarian republican. The voters clearly weren’t concerned about his irresponsible behavior as governor or his infidelity. Not that there is anything wrong with that…


  15. As a resident and voter in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional district, I at first planned to sit it out on the grounds that Sanford had abandoned his office as governor when he went unaccounted for for a while. In retrospect, that ws probably a cover for Edwardsian type thinking, Then, in the last few weeks of the campaign, it came out that his opponent had her own messy life as well, including spending a night in the pokey when not doing what she was supposed to do during her divorce. That was enough to shake me out of the daze of old Evangelical thinking and remember the cloak of 2K I had put on – and realize I am really voting to hire a plumber or neurosurgeon – not a Pastor, or teacher for my young (now old) children. Sometimes reversion to the old ways can be so easy and comfortable. Thankfully, the courage of what might be 2k convictions returned and I pushed the button for Sanford. Hopefully, the brain (or federal fiscal) surgery will go well.


  16. Warren – I at first planned to sit it out on the grounds that Sanford had abandoned his office as governor when he went unaccounted for for a while.

    Erik – As I recall he was either hiking the Appalachian Trail, in Argentina visiting his mistress, or on an intergalactic diplomatic mission to the Planet Lovetron.


  17. I’m not surprised that they re-elected him in the least. What I do enjoy, however, is how clear it is in this moment that marital infidelity among politicians only matters to the conservative right when it is a politically expedient way of tearing down a member of the opposing party.


  18. And Democrats only care about infidelity when they can use it as a weapon against Republicans. So it goes.


  19. In answer to the titles question, I’d have to say the Liberal Protestant’s had the better week. The whole debate and outrage about where to bury the terrorist is silly. I get the heinous nature of the crime, but this is never seems to be an issue for others that have done the same at some level.


  20. Which have had longer lasting marriages?:

    (A) Newt Gingrich
    (B) John McCain
    (C) Harry Reid
    (D) Nancy Pelosi
    (E) Rush Limbaugh
    (F) Barack Obama


    (A) On third wife
    (B) On second wife
    (C) Married to one woman since 1959
    (D) Married to one man since 1963
    (E) On fourth wife
    (F) Married to one woman since 1992

    Now one could do a quiz with opposite outcomes, but which party claims to be “family friendly”?


  21. Erik, using your formula, you would exclude King David who had multiple wives, (even committed murder) yet God described him as a man after my own heart, who will do *all* of my will.

    We love King David who wrote the Psalms, perhaps we shouldn’t be so judgmental when a man has more than one wife in his life. We all believe in redemption and forgiveness, no?


  22. The Voice of the Church

    by R.C. Sproul

    When Planned Parenthood adopted a strategy to win the debate on abortion and establish the legal right for women to have abortions on demand, it asked a strategic question: “From where will our strongest opposition come?” The organization anticipated that opposition would come most fiercely from the Roman Catholic Church. In order to offset the impact of the Roman community, Planned Parenthood adopted a strategy to encourage Protestant churches to support a woman’s right to abortion on demand. It encouraged the use of the mantras “A woman’s right to choose” and “A woman’s right over her own body.” A further part of the strategy was to use the slogan “prochoice” rather than “pro-abortion.” In other words, the effort to legalize abortion on demand was wrapped in the flag of personal liberty.

    The Planned Parenthood strategy was eminently successful. For the most part, the mainline liberal churches backed the feminist crusade in favor of “choice.” What was most distressing was the silence of evangelical churches, churches committed to the authority of the Bible and the classical Christian faith. It took many years for the evangelical church to come to a consensus on the evil of abortion but, more tragically, many evangelical churches still refuse to speak out against the destruction of babies made in the image of God.

    Several years ago, I produced a series of video lectures, out of which emerged my book on abortion. We made an effort to get these educational materials to evangelical churches, to help them instruct their members concerning this profoundly serious ethical issue. I was saddened to receive the same response over and over again. Innumerable evangelical pastors told me they could not use our materials in their churches because the issue of abortion is so controversial. If they took a stand against abortion on demand, they said, they would divide their churches. What? Divide these churches? What could be a greater evil than such a division? The answer is this: Remaining silent on the most serious ethical issue that the United States has ever faced.

    If the slaughter of millions of unborn babies is to stop, the church must once again become the church. Those who hide behind the idea that the church should never speak to political issues have missed the scriptural accounts of what we would call prophetic criticism. It may have been politically incorrect for Nathan to confront David over his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah (2 Sam. 12:1–15a). It may have been politically incorrect for Elijah to confront Ahab for his sinful confiscation of Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21). It may have been politically incorrect for John the Baptist to challenge Herod the Tetrarch’s illicit marriage (Matt. 14). In these and other examples from sacred Scripture, we see representatives of the church not trying to become the state but offering prophetic criticism to the state—despite the potential consequences. The church is not the state, but it is the conscience of the state, and it is a conscience that cannot afford to become seared and silent.

    The state is an instrument ordained by God. It is also governed by God. The church does not need to be the state, but it must remind the state of its God-given duty. The principal reason for the existence of any government is to maintain, sustain, and protect the sanctity of human life. When the state fails to do that, it has become demonized. And it is the sacred duty of the church and of every Christian to voice opposition to it.

    The evangelical church’s chief strategies to end abortion have been to put pressure on abortion clinics and on elected officials. There is nothing wrong with these strategies; however, one strategy that has not been used or adopted widely is that of protesting those churches that support the ghastly murder of unborn babies. It is time for Christians to give prophetic criticism to the church, specifically to those churches that support abortion on demand or remain silent on this major issue.

    In my own city, one of the largest evangelical churches has publicly welcomed the woman in America who is the most visible and vocal supporter of partial-birth abortions. That’s a scandal to the Christian community. It’s a scandal to the cause of Jesus Christ. That church needs to be called to account.

    It is time for churches that see the evil of abortion to stand up and be counted—no matter the risk or the cost. When the church is silent in the midst of a holocaust, she ceases to be a real church. Wherever human dignity is under attack, it is the duty of the church and of the Christian to rise up in protest against it. This is not a political matter, and neither is it a temporary matter. It is not a matter over which Christians may disagree. It is a matter of life and death, the results of which will count forever.


  23. Tom – Migod, Erik, that’s the most dishonest partisan hackery yet.

    Erik – That might be valid if I had ever voted for a Democrat. I don’t have a political “team”, although I am still a registered Republican.

    Like with the Salem Witch Trials you have a knee jerk reaction, but no real argument against the post. That won’t fly here.


  24. Doug,

    King David is your conundrum to solve, not mine. You will probably say he gave it the old college try, which is what counts, but I’m not buying.


  25. No Erik, you misunderstand, God called David the greatest King of Israel, not me. God called David “a man after my own heart, who will do all of my will.”

    Oh Erik, I thanked you for RC Sproul’s writing on abortion. Sorry if I confused you.


  26. Doug,

    Funny you should ask…

    There are theological roots to the problem that Sproul identifies, but I don’t necessarily agree with his proposed solution. The reason that mainline Protestants embraced abortion is because their churches are spiritual wastelands and they are practicing a different religion from Christianity, as J. Gresham Machen identified in “Christianity & Liberalism” way back in 1923.

    (Some) Evangelicals embrace abortion because many of their churches are bastions of spiritual baby food, leading to spiritually immature Christians who are unable to think through issues like abortion in a clear way.

    The solution to theological problems are not found in getting more involved in partisan politics. If a tree is not bearing good fruit, check the roots, don’t just attempt to polish the fruit.

    With that being said, I still don’t think that even theologically healthy churches need to be getting involved in partisan politics, even on this important issue. Individual Christians can and should be involved in many different ways, however, including politically, as their consciences direct them.


  27. One of Sproul’s suggestions is that we protest Mainline churches. I can just see a bunch of middle aged white guys with picket signs on a sidewalk in front of a church while the woman minister and a bunch of 70+ year old parishioners look at them with befuddled expressions on their faces. Yeah, that will work.


  28. Erik, why separate from the church, and take this on individually? Doesn’t one drive a thousand to flight and two ten thousand? And isn’t there a spiritual dimension to this grievous sin?

    Isn’t this a prayer issue first and foremost?


  29. Doug,

    Prayer to end abortion, even pastoral prayer, is fine. I don’t see that high on Sproul’s list, though. The man has influenced evangelicalism, but he has also been influenced by evangelicalism. He’s getting to the age where we probably have to start taking his pronouncements with a grain of salt.


  30. Actually, Mark Sanford has not been an Episcopalian for some time — he attends the non-denominational and quite large SeaCoast Church, as does Sen. Tim Scott.


  31. dgh said: it must have struck many observers as strange that evangelical Protestants — I hear South Carolina is thick with them — would return Sanford to public office.

    Darryl, I know that this rhetorical flourish was helpful to this post’s argument, but it is factually wanting. SC-1, the district that Sanford will represent, is based in the Charleston metro area. That area is not quite as “thick” with Evangelicals as the part of the state where your parents went to school. According to ARDA, Evangelicals make up less than 20% of the population in the Charleston metro area, compared to over 38% in the rest of the state (almost 44% in Greenville).

    Sanford’s return to Congress is a shame, but let’s not unfairly lay it at the feet of the Evangelicals.


  32. Yep. Voting for Newt was horrible. That one is a fair demerit on the Evangelical scorecard.

    But this is a different case. Charleston County is actually one of the few counties where Mitt beat Newt. Again, partly because there aren’t that many Evangelicals there.

    Just trying to keep you honest.


  33. Nope. No exits. Just anecdotal stuff like this report and this one. I’m just mostly going on previous voting performance: McCain beat Huck in Charleston County by almost 3-to-1 in the ’08 SC primary.


  34. For a moment let us explore this whole Tsarnaev / Mullen caper.

    It is not un-CHRISTian to shun evil. In fact, CHRIST tells us it is requisite. Required for GOD to love us? No. GOD’s love is unconditional. At the same time the eloquent Apostle Paul explains, numerously and quite effectively, the need for us to run from evil. One of the last “the wayward chump” did on this earth was EVIL.

    Additionally, the Mullen lady stated she couldn’t see why *the spoiled punk* could not have a “proper” burial. My answer to that?: Why should any American give a rat’s eyeball if the body of any terrorist coward is cleared away by scavengers? I mean that seriously.

    And let us not forget that this becomes an open invitation to other and more terrorist petulance, after all, we are going to make sure they get a “proper” burial.

    Let us review:
    1- This was not a CHRISTian thing to do.
    2- A terrorist does not deserve a “proper” burial.
    3- Send a message to all other terrorist punks: “We DO NOT like you.”

    I welcome rebuttal and yield the floor.


  35. …forgot, one more thing.

    I noticed all in favor of this outrageous performance with someone’s patience did not request the terrorist punk be buried in their front yard.

    There’s an interesting little fact.

    Oh but the permits…?

    Shut up. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

    You think this is such a good thing BECAUSE ‘it’ is not on your front yard.

    Thanks for coming…


  36. …and one more thing once more:

    This isn’t about forgiveness or not forgiving.

    The dummy is dead.

    Nothing left to forgive.

    Now i’m done…


  37. A Major,

    Perhaps David the murderer and Paul the murderer did not deserve decent burials. Perhaps you and I don’t deserve decent burials. Perhaps Jesus and Stephen should have cursed those who brought about their death. Ditto all the Christian martyrs over the centuries.

    But maybe there is something in Christianity that treats people better then they deserve. Perhaps meting out vengeance is not the concern of a Christian. Perhaps modeling graciousness is.


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