A Fundamentalist Is A Mean Evangelical

It wasn’t supposed to work out this way. Evangelicalism of the Billy Graham variety was supposed to present a kinder gentler conservative Protestantism. But as Tommie Kidd recently observed, evangelicals rarely receive positive press these days:

It’s nice to be liked. But it also comes with temptation – that of focusing all the church’s work on things that will engender the world’s approval. A hundred years ago, social gospel Christians began to suggest that service and aid, not evangelism, should encompass all of a believer’s missionary responsibility. Thus began one of the most important turns away from evangelical Christianity which has haunted the mainline denominations in America ever since.

That lesson may be one that advocates of a progressive brand of evangelicalism may want to remember. I mean, if Jimmy Carter is the best you can do for presenting a positive image of evangelicalism, then you may not be operating from a position of strength. Unless, that is, you want to make this all about Christian truth and devotion and turn Jimmy Carter’s critics, whether political or Southern Baptist, into mean SOBs who don’t trust Jesus as their personal savior. In which case, the kinder, gentler, progressive version of evangelicalism is no less intolerant than fundamentalism.

The subject of evangelical meanness is much in the news these days with all the hysteria over Indiana’s religious freedom laws. It’s a hysteria that has the socially conservative Roman Catholics and evangelicals (and some Eastern Orthodox) pitted against the secular left who as some people tell it are out to destroy freedom in America. I had wanted to follow Eric’s advice and sit this one out with this assessment of the situation:

What we have here it seems to me are 3% of the population who would not do business with gay people in a fight with a minority of gay people who would try to force someone who is hostile to them to perform services for them or sell goods to them. Meanwhile the rest of the population takes sides and gets mad at each other over it while politicians of all stripes posture.

For the defenders of this law not to think that gay marriage is the subtext is well-nigh inconceivable and suggests a level of naivete that is truly destructive of politics since politics goes best when people admit self-interest rather than thinking themselves innocent.

Just as helpful was the Reformed Episcopal Curmudgeon’s point about the flaws of Civil Rights legislation and a legitimate question of whether the federal government should have such social engineering power as to legislate business transactions:

What the “public accommodations” law required, if originally in a limited fashion, was that businesses which provided “accommodations” were required to do business with anyone regardless of race. Goldwater believed it was morally repugnant to practice racial discrimination in providing “public accommodations,” but he believed the federal government had no power to coerce businesses that provided “public accommodations” to provide them to anyone who wanted to do business with them. In other words, the government should not force hotels to sell rooms, restaurants to sell food, or movie theaters to sell tickets to anyone who wanted to do business with them. Those were decisions for business owners to make.

What does this have to do with gay rights? We have accepted as a society that civil rights includes the requirement that all businesses sell their goods and services without discrimination. We believe that a person, regardless of race, ethnicity, or color has the right to buy gasoline from any business that sells gasoline. . . .

It seems to me that the only protection against being forced to do business with gays who want to marry is if there were a recognized right not to have to do business with anyone you don’t want to do business with. It is too late by much, but perhaps, if Goldwater had prevailed in 1964 and the freedom to do business or not do business with anyone you please, even if you are wrong, had been established, those with moral objections to doing business related to gay weddings would be protected. Put another way, perhaps protecting the freedom of people to do wrong (discriminate in doing business with blacks if that is what you want to do) is the only way to protect their freedom to do right when when an action violates their moral code (not do business with gays planning marriage).

Sheesh, what will the obedience boys do with civil magistrates who protect the freedoms of citizens to do wrong?

I still don’t understand why a gay or black person (caution, we’re treading in microaggression territory) would want to give business (and the inherent profits) to someone whose views they find repugnant. I understand the importance of sit-ins during the Civil Rights protests. But conceivably, an African-American who objected to Jim Crow could occupy a lunch-counter seat and not purchase anything. But after segregation laws went away, did African-Americans return to businesses that had refused to serve them? I could well imagine why they wouldn’t. So why do gay people and their enablers want to make anti-gay bakers make a cake for gay weddings and have gay people pay anti-gay people for such services? The whole understanding of human motivation is off. Doesn’t anyone fear an inedible cake? Or will the government set standards for tastiness to which all business must comply?

What I understand even less is the sensitivity of religious consciences to gay marriage. I do not support the legalization of gay marriage on social grounds. But I have no idea why some consciences object to gay marriage but not to providing services for other breakers of the Decalogue. Would a Protestant baker object to making a wedding cake for a marriage in a Roman Catholic church even when Rome’s teaching on marriage violates the sufficiency of God’s word? Or what about a cake for non-believers? I get it. Their money spends. But are we really supposed to think that homosexuals are the only ones with sin entering into nuptials?

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The Problem of Sappy Evangelicals

One of the arresting aspects of marriage is that if a husband tells his wife she should watch her weight the wife gets angry. And then if hubbie tells wifey that she is angry — as if that’s a bad thing — for some reason the wife does not calm down but gets angrier. The reason for such humdrum recounting of marital relations is yet another post over at the Gospel Coalition about angry Calvinists. Justin Taylor, with lots of help from John Piper, speculates on the traits that cause Calvinists to be an angry lot (and not to be missed, make the young Calvinists at TGC look so incredibly nice).

According to Taylor:

Angry Calvinists are not like unicorns, dreamed up in some fantasy. They really do exist. And the stereotype exists for a reason. I remember (with shame) answering a question during college from a girl who was crying about the doctrine of election and what it might mean for a relative and my response was to ask everyone in the room turn to Romans 9. Right text, but it was the wrong time.

This is an odd observation because Taylor never identifies a single angry Calvinist. He has engaged in a form of stereotype that would be politically incorrect if applied on the lines of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. You’d think that the nice Calvinists at TGC would be more sensitive about theological profiling.

You’d also think that if Taylor believes Calvinists are prone to anger then a pastoral response might be to avoid winding them up — as in not mentioning the problem. Does he refer to alcoholic Christians as those “dipsomaniac Protestants”? Does he make a habit of calling attention to questionable character traits in his readers?

As for the diagnosis, he cites Piper who writes (in part):

So the intellectual appeal of the system of Calvinism draws a certain kind of intellectual person, and that type of person doesn’t tend to be the most warm, fuzzy, and tender. Therefore this type of person has a greater danger of being hostile, gruff, abrupt, insensitive, or intellectualistic.

Piper doesn’t seem to consider the type of person that can’t handle people who are insensitive, or the kind that has to publicly broadcast that a certain slice of Christians are insensitive. Profiling works both ways. Hence sappy evangelicals.

Which is why it is possible that the problem afflicting the evangelicals at the Gospel Coalition is one of sentimentality. That is, they value feelings more than doctrine. This is what Ken Myers called orthopathy instead of orthodoxy. This does not mean that the folks at TGC ignore doctrine. Obviously, they promote it. But they never let it function in a way that might make leaders, readers, or bloggers uncomfortable — that is, doctrine will never be offensive, especially to the co-allies. But they seem to have no problem patrolling the Christian world for incorrect emotions.

This would apparently explain why the bloggers at TGC have yet to mention the two six hundred pound gorillas in the TGC parlor — C. J. Mahaney and Mark Driscoll. The former has at the very least created a ruckus about the kind of pastoral leadership within SGM circles, which would seem to undermine TGC’s commitment to promoting gospel-centered churches. And then there is Dricoll’s clairvoyance which in sixteenth-century Geneva would have gotten him drowned. I understand that these situations are delicate and that friends want to stand by friends. But to call Calvinists — yet again — angry when TGC has its own image problems is well nigh remarkable unless, that is, you remember the importance of feelings, affections, passions, and hedonism. A co-ally may not be able to spot Mahaney’s or Driscoll’s errors but can FEEL their pain.

Maybe the problem is one of discipline. When I was a boy and got in trouble my dad would take out the belt and give me a wallop or two across my behind. I thought he was angry. I also thought he was mean. Never mind that he always shed a few tears while executing his duties. His tears could not compare to mine since I was the one who really felt pain and he was the one inflicting it.

Could it be that Calvinists look mean to Gospel Co-Allies in the same way that disciplining dads do to wayward children? Maybe. But if you want direction and counsel that prevents you from wandering off the right path, would you rather go to a Presbyterian pastor or leave a message with one of the Gospel Coalition’s celebrities and wait for one of his assistants to respond?

Postscript: Ross Douthat has a post about the reign of niceness among Harvard University undergraduates. He writes: “The pursuite of niceness and the worship of success can complement one another as easily as they can contradict. But the kind of culture that’s created when they combine — friendly and deferential on the surface, boiling with resume-driven competitiveness underneath — isn’t one that a great university should aspire to cultivate.” I wonder if a similar combination could be responsible for the culture of niceness over at TGC.