Saturday, January 30, 2016

What about Evangeliphobia?

At the Vital Conversations meeting that I mentioned in my previous blog article, one of the participants asked if anyone had read the novel Christian Nation. No one had—but I have now been reading it for the last several days. It is an intriguing book.

That 2013 novel by Frederic C. Rich is based on the author’s speculation of what might have happened if McCain and Palin had been elected in 2008. You will likely see me refer to Rich’s novel again in future blog articles.

As I began to read the absorbing book, though, it dawned on me that it was doing the same sort of thing that books and movies have done with regard to Islam. That is, it exacerbates fear and enmity toward people whom the author clearly dislikes and distrusts.

So, author Rich may be guilty of encouraging what might be called “evangeliphobia.” When I thought of that term, I thought that I was perhaps coining a new word. But, alas, there is nothing new under the sun.

I found use of that term as far back as 1998. And in a 2005 article posted online by The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, “Who’s Afraid of Evangelicals?” refers to “the recent rash of ‘evangeliphobia’.”

In his book The Fear of Islam, Todd Green explains that Islamophobia is closely linked to essentialism, which is the idea that characteristics of some individuals in a group apply to all the people in the same group.

Isn’t that sort of thing happening to evangelicals (as well as Muslims) in this country (and elsewhere)? In some circles aren’t all evangelicals being looked down upon because of the outrageous statements and questionable activities of some evangelicals?

As most of you know, I am highly critical of Christian, as well as other types of, fundamentalism. My first book was titled Fed Up with Fundamentalism (2007). In that book, though, I differentiated between being a fundamentalist and being a conservative: all fundamentalists are conservatives, but not all conservatives are fundamentalists.

And, of course, the word “evangelicals” could be used in place of conservatives in the previous sentence. Often, however, all evangelicals/conservatives/fundamentalists get lumped together as if they are all the same. That clearly seems to be the case in the novel Christian Nation.

And that is the reason for using the word “evangeliphobia.”

One of the ways to combat Islamophobia is by pointing out that there is much diversity among Muslims. All should not be judged and condemned because of the outrageous behavior of a few. That is a point insisted on by moderate/liberal Christians—such as those who gathered for the discussion of Green’s book at Central Seminary on Monday evening.

But some of these same Christians—and I don’t mean to be critical of my friends at Central—are guilty of this same sort of problematic thinking when it comes to evangelical/conservative Christians.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to tell you that I (still) consider myself an evangelical—but one who is on the far left of the evangelical spectrum, one who is a Jim Wallis or a Tony Campolo or even a Jimmy Carter type of evangelical.

However, I have many friends (and family members) who are evangelicals and far to my right theologically and politically/socially. But they are not political extremists and don’t deserve to be lumped in with the evangelicals who are exposed/condemned in Christian Nation.

Let’s beware of the unfairness of evangeliphobia we well as of Islamophobia.

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RECOGNIZING THE DIVERSITY AMONG EVANGELICALS
      For a recent article that clarifies the diversity among evangelicals, see 7 types of evangelicals — and how they’ll affect 2016.”


28 comments:

  1. If only white men voted the plot of Christian Nation would be reality. The following link shows the results of the 2008 election based upon past voting rules.
    http://www.buzzfeed.com/buzzfeedpolitics/what-the-2012-election-would-have-looked-like-with#.rm1W7V08W

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  2. Correction, the above link shows alternative results for 2012 election. But I'm pretty sure the same is true for 2008 election.

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    1. So is this is what some politicians now want to "take our country back" to?

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    2. Apparently, a majority of white men do.

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  3. Thank you for this blog entry, Dr. Seat. I too am an evangelical, and probably not as far to the so-called 'left' of Campolo, but the Lord isn't finished with me yet. :-) When I read your essay, I was reminded that there are many of the politically active, Tea Party affiliated, Muslim hating, military supporting, God-fearing people who, I believe, have mistakenly mixed (or perhaps have mistaken) a relationship with a loving Father in Christ with an American Civil Religion that sometimes does not know the difference between God and Country. From my perspective in Japan, it seems that the public discourse in America has gotten quite coarse, very polarized, simplistic, and ugly. In such an environment, essentialist thinking thrives. Thank you for your voice and your efforts to be a voice of thought and compassion. I appreciate you.

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    1. Thanks, Greg, your comments are much appreciated.

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  4. I visited the article on the 7 types of evangelicals. I didn't read it, but looked at the pictures. Here are the results. White Men: 14, White Women: 1 (in the entrepeneurial group), Black men: 1 (in the furthest left group), Black women: 0, Any other races, ethnicities: 0. Your use of the word diversity to describe the article is irony.

    I am not evangelical, but some of the best cross-Christian conversations I have had are with black women and men.

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    1. Debra, I get your point. But the article, and my use of it, was not about racial and/or gender diversity but about the political diversity among evangelical Christians. There are certainly women and African-Americans who could be identified with all of those seven positions. But the author of the article used the best examples he knew of to make his point. Isn't that understandable?

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  5. Gosh, Leroy, you're kind of making my point. As a woman, all my life I've been told that white men represent women's views and are the "best examples" of those views. I just need to understand that . . . followed by a lame explanation. "Women haven't been in the pipeline long enough." Or some such. And so the "best examples" of various political, religious, business or other leaders continue to be white men. And society stays in place. Right now there are more Fortune 500 CEOs named "John" than there are Fortune 500 CEOs that are women with any name. Until we start to respect women and people of color as best examples of some point of view, this will continue. And my black evangelical friends, I venture to say, would agree with me that those pictures are troubling.

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    1. Debra, the article is about what is, not what should be. I certainly agree that what is is not what should be. But it is what it is.

      Suppose you wanted to explain the varying evangelical positions, from far right to far left, and how they are impacting the current political scene? Who would you include on a gender and race inclusive list to illustrate your point?

      Of course, you might want to make the point that all evangelicals are "bad," because they lack gender and racial diversity. But, of course, most African-Americans are evangelicals, so surely you wouldn't want to dismiss all of them.

      Among those of the sixth category, and maybe only there, there is considerable emphasis on the equality of women. Consider evangelical Jimmy Carter's book "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power," for example.

      But who are the women in any form of evangelicalism now who are, in fact, speaking out and getting a hearing about their evangelical views? I agree, there should be more. But, again, I am dealing with what is--and admitting it is not what it should be.

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  6. And not to be a pest, but could there seriously be a better representative of the entrepeneurial group than Creflo Dollar? It's in his name. And where is Jesse Jackson? He's a best example of something.

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    1. Debra, I am always happy to have dialogue with you--whether here on the blogsite or at church.

      Yes, Rev. Dollar might have been used as an example--but while I happen to know a little about him, my guess is most of the readers of the CNN article wouldn't have known anything about him, and so inclusion of him would had little impact.

      And to honest, I didn't know Paula White, so the author's attempt to have at least some gender diversity had a negative impact on me because I didn't know who she is.

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  7. At one time I considered myself an evangelical, and was even a board member of a metro Association of Evangelicals (although a self-desribed "evangelical" Catholic priest was asked to disassociate with us). I still attend a congregation which makes that claim (although the militant "reformed" group seems to be driving many out) I am not really sure what the term means anymore. At one point saying some magic words and getting wet was sufficient. I still like the term, and the late Fr. Peter Gilquist's use of it as he transitioned into the Orthodox branch of the Church. So what does the term mean, and is it just another fading fad in Christendom (especially in the West)? An internet search seems to be dominated by atheists.

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    1. When I entered "meaning of evangelical" in Google, the first link to something other than a dictionary was to the National Association of Evangelicals.

      Here is what NAE defines/describes it: the term 'evangelical' comes from the Greek word "euangelion," meaning 'the good news' or the 'gospel.' Thus, the evangelical faith focuses on the 'good news' of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ.

      Although the NAE is on the conservative side of evangelicalism, that is a good definition, and those who agree with it should not hesitate to identify themselves as an evangelical.

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    2. That is a good definition with which I can identify. But so would various orthodox/traditional Christians like Fr. Pillipe', Fr. Doug, Fr. Peter, Bp. Keith, and St. John Paul II...

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  8. Local Thinking Friend David Nelson sent the following comments by email:

    "Thanks for another thoughtful reflection. Language creates reality and words make a difference. The word 'evangelical' is an often used word with such diverse meanings or understandings.

    "I am a proud member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the most progressive and liberal wing of Lutherans in this country. In our context it means that our loyalty is to the gospel (the evangel, good news, of Jesus Christ).

    Keep offering your provocative words, Leroy."

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    1. Thanks for your helpful comments, David.

      Yes, "loyalty is to the gospel" should be at the heart of any understanding of evangelicalism. Of course that is part of the problem today: there are such diverse interpretations as to what the gospel is.

      And, as you know, "evangelical" originally was the term used to describe Luther and his followers; it was the alternative to "Catholic." So when I was teaching historical theology at Rockhurst, I always told my students that "evangelical" as used in the U.S. is somewhat different from how it was originally, and still, used in Europe.

      It is also interesting that the first textbook I used at Rockhurst was by Hans Kung; even though he is a Catholic he made repeated emphasis on the importance of "evangelical" in the way you used the word.

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  9. I'm a little late to this dialogue this time, Leroy. So what I have to say, in part, echoes what's been said, and, in part, challenges it. It's all fine and good to appeal to the European notion of "evangelische," which is essentially synonymous with "Protestant." But it seems to me that given the heritage of "evangelicalism" in American religious history, especially as defined by the leading evangelicals of the 1950s through the 70s (such people as Carl Henry, Donald Bloesch, and Clark Pinnock), once you've abandoned the doctrines of (1) inerrancy of the Bible, (2) substitutionary atonement, and (3) faith in Christ as the ONLY way to salvation, you cannot possibly be an evangelical. In your essay you appeal to Jim Wallis. Now I haven't read him very much, nor have I read Walter Rauschenbusch very much -- but can someone explain the difference between the two to me? If we are to start typologizing Protestant theologies, I would argue that you and most of the "left" evangelicals are not evangelicals at all but either Barthian Neo-Reformed thinkers or liberals who don't want to admit it . Certainly in some alternate ethereal realm of thought, you, my good friend David Nelson, and other truly liberal theological friends of mine are quite right that you're all evangelical. But in the realm of culture and sociology, which is the realm reflected in our media, for you and they to continue to try to reclaim the moniker "evangelical" is . . . well . . . like spitting in the wind. I would add -- humorously: I invite you all to come out of the closet and embrace your liberalism. :-D

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  10. {Here is what Debra (see above) has tried to post, but for some reason it has not appeared here on the blogsite, so I am posting it for her.}

    Second try on a post. Will remember to copy and send by email if it doesn't make it this time. Did not remember to copy last time. Grr.

    Okay, first of all, welcome to the club! (And thank you for continuing to prove my point.) For me, "negative impact" and "little impact" are almost a daily occurrence. I am implicitly told that "my type" is unrecognizable or unimportant to the people who matter -- apparently "readers of the CNN article" are only white men (who have no need to know about Creflo Dollar or other people who do not look like them). For what it is worth, as a progressive I didn't recognize MOST of the people in the pictures. So, as you see, I didn't even choose to read the article. That's an example of "little impact." Of the pictures, Jim Wallis is the only one I read regularly and I have Jimmy Carter on my bookshelves, but have not read him thoroughly. He is an evangelical leader for a lot of reasons, however.

    People who ought to be on that list would include Joyce Meyers who looks back at me from several angles in the bookshelves at Barnes and Noble -- VERY recognizable (but maybe of little impact for you). Also, on my seminary-related bookshelves are the following authors of color who might be considered "leaders" if it weren't for their skin color or sex, and the fact that important readers of CNN articles wouldn't allow them to have any "impact" other than "negative" or "little." I suspect the first three or four are self-identified evangelicals, and I don't know about the other two. Melva Wilson Costen wrote African American Christian Worship. Miguel A. De La Torre wrote A Lily Among the Thorns: Imagining a New Christian Sexuality. Kirk Byron Jones wrote Rest in the Storm: Self-Care Strategies for Clergy and Other Caregivers. James H. Evans wrote We Have Been Believers: An African American Systematic Theology. Justo J. Gonzalez has written a lot of stuff, but is represented on my shelves by A Concise History of Christian Doctrine. Daniel L. Migliore wrote Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology (among other books). I also see Serene Jones represented by an excerpt in a book written by a white man.

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    1. Debra, are we talking about the same thing? My article was about evangeliphobia, which is a problem because all evangelicals are so often lumped in with the most extreme ones who are strongly disliked by large segments of society, including a lot of Christians such as you and me. Thus, all evangelicals tend to be looked down upon because some evangelicals are so obnoxious. That, I think, is unfair, and that is what I was writing about.

      My only reason for linking to the article about “7 Types of Evangelicals” was to show how one person, who happens to write for CNN, illustrated the wide variance within evangelicalism. I have no reason to defend who he chose to use in his article, but I assume he thought that referring to the most widely known people in each of the categories would have more impact than referring to people not so widely known. My use of the words “negative impact” only had to do with whether they were widely known or not. Evidently many of his examples had “negative impact” on you since you did not know (or care) who they are. Positive or negative impact has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality or importance of their thinking/beliefs/actions; the impact comes only from whether they are widely known or not. And, again, I assume the author chose whom he did because he thought they were the best-known examples. And, again, I assume he was basing his choice on the basis of what is, not necessary what should be.

      I do know who Joyce Meyers is, so it would have had more impact with me if she had been on the list instead of Paula White. And maybe she should have been there instead of Copeland. I don’t know why Daniel Burke chose the people he did, but that is really none of my business. I just assume he used the people he thought would have the greatest impact on his readers, whoever they are. And if you want to argue with him, go to it. I have no reason to hold up for him—or to criticize him. I think he made the point he was trying to make: there is a lot of variety among evangelicals.

      I was interested in the list of books and authors you listed—and to why you think they would have helped the general public understand the political diversity of evangelicalism. Some of those authors I didn’t know but others I know well. Miguel De La Torre is a personal friend—and a previous president of the Society of Christian Ethics. If someone was to make a list of the top ethicists in the country, he would quite likely be on the list.

      Having mentioned Hans Kung in an earlier response, I was interested that you made reference to Justo Gonzalez. After I decided that Kung’s book was too difficult for my students, I used one of Gonzalez’ books for my textbook at Rockhurst U.

      And then there is Daniel L. Migliore who wrote “Faith Seeking Understanding,” which I was planning to use as a textbook when I thought I was going to be teaching a class at Central Seminary. But from what I can tell, he is an old white guy like me.

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  11. "I have no reason to defend who he chose to use in his article,"

    Then you shouldn't. You did.

    "I assume the author chose whom he did because he thought they were the best-known examples."

    Perhaps they are to other white men.

    "he used the people he thought would have the greatest impact on his readers, whoever they are."

    And he was indifferent to attracting readers who were not white men.

    Last thought: If I had wanted to read the article at CNN, I obviously had the time to. I've blown much of today checking in on your blog. I was not compelled for some reason. You cited the article as a good example of diversity. I disagreed. It's just another ironic example. And, as you point out, it's a reflection of what is. . . . . . . and it will remain so as long as people accept that "what is" need not be exposed and challenged. Thanks for letting me challenge it.

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    1. Debra, let me try once again: Are we talking about the same thing? My article was about evangeliphobia, and I wanted to hear your (and other readers') thoughts about that. It's OK if you don't think the article is a good example of the diversity within evangelicalism. I am not asking for you to agree with me, must less with the CNN article. But the question remains: is there theological and especially political diversity within contemporary evangelicalism, or are all evangelicals basically the same--and like the ones who seem to many of us to be so obnoxious?

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    2. Leroy, it is my understanding that with blog posts, a commenter may choose to address (respectfully) the main thesis or deconstruct a sub-point or merely wish the blog writer good wishes. I chose to deconstruct a sub-point. I'm unqualified to comment on the political and theological diversity of evangelicals -- whether there are 7 categories, 14 or 4,000. As for NOT obnoxious vs. obnoxious, I have experienced evangelicals in both camps, and right now it feels like I'm corresponding with one who is trying to switch categories. (Cue Disney music, Elsa's theme song. Debra Ice skates away singing "Let it go... Let it go...")

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  12. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson responded to this blog article by posting the following comments on Facebook:

    "I don't fear Evangelicals or Evangelicalism, Leroy, but I think Baptists and representatives of other denominations would be wise to differentiate themselves from evangelicals, as I have tried to do.

    "In an article I wrote many years ago, entitled 'Baptist and Evangelical: What Is the Difference?' I tried to point out why we should not so readily let ourselves use the evangelical label. The word 'evangelical' is used in a confusing array of ways, often as a euphemism for 'fundamentalist,' and some aspects of evangelicalism clash with key Baptist principles: the voluntary principle in religion, religious liberty, separation of church and state, and voluntary association to carry out the world mission of Christ."

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    1. Here is my response posted on Facebook with an additional comment.

      Thanks for your comments, Dr. Hinson. I remember that article you wrote many years ago, and back then I was happy to identify myself with Baptists rather than with Evangelicals. But there is not so much difference now as a large percentage of Baptists as well as a large percentage of Evangelicals seem to be similarly aligned with the Religious Right.

      As you know well, the Southern Baptist Convention in aligning with the Religious Right has largely neglected key Baptist principals.

      In the blog article I mentioned Tony Campolo, who has long been identified as a (liberal) Evangelical. In a recent article, though, he said evangelicals like him need to move away from that label and to be known rather as Red Letter Christians. See http://tonycampolo.org/trumpism-and-evangelicals/#.Vq-xhY-cH6g

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  13. Interesting variances in the comments. I have heard some of the variations accept the gospel of others - egs. Bill Bright, Jim Wallis, Rick Warren, Billy Graham. Is that still true, or are there now divergent gospels within the evangelicals? Is it more than just politics? Is Christendom (even within the evangelical branch) becoming mutually anathema? I have felt the scorn of left, right, and other divisions, and have heard Catholics say the same. Is there still room for unity of a holy catholic Church and some good news?

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    1. There is a great difference between the evangelicalism of Jim Wallis, say, and Franklin Graham--much more than with his father. I don't see a lot of animosity being expressed, but there are certainly differences.

      The goal/vision of "a holy catholic Church" is still a good one to wish/pray for. But the Christian world is a very long way from reaching that place. Not only are there great differences remaining between Catholic/Orthodox/Protestant forms of Christianity, there are great differences within Protestantism and even within Evangelicalism.

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  14. I encountered "evangelical" as a young and new Christian some sixty years ago this Spring. Then the meaning was that I was to be a messenger of the message of Christ, speaking to the fact that redemption from the consequences of being a human and sinner is available by belief in Jesus the Christ, his death and resurrection and ability to forgive us if we repent. I grew up in what was an SBC church that was more moderate than most at the time. We generally looked askance at fundamentalists of various stripes. It was OK to believe that not all of the OT was the literal word of God, and that accommodation with science was not a sin.

    Today, people assume that the word evangelical has more meanings regarding beliefs that are not consistent with that long ago meaning, including shunning people who we were taught to befriend in order to show a life of faith and a path to salvation, not by force, but by love. Such a different world today.

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