Oct 20 2008

Evangelicals, politics and society: what the Left wishes was true, but isn’t

Category: election 2008,left,philosophy,politics,right,theologyharmonicminer @ 2:17 pm

J. Daryl Charles, author of “Between Pacifism and Jihad“, comments on an example of journalistic wish-fulfillment in which David D. Kirkpatrick prays earnestly for the “crack-up of Evangelical politics”. Well, to be fair, he only cheerleads what he wishes was the end of Right-leaning evangelicalism.  After pointing out that the trends present in mega-churches and the “emerging” church are not dispositive of the major part of evangelical Christendom, Charles, whose knowledge of evangelicalism is wide and deep, provides plenty of examples that were in Kirkpatrick’s backyard, but which he failed to notice…  maybe the fences were too high in New York City, so Kirkpatrick had to go to the midwest to find something to write about.  Ending graphs, though Charles’ entire take is worth reading:

And yet, had Kirkpatrick done his homework, his research would have taken him, not to Wichita, Kansas, but to his own backyard and New York City, where evangelical congregations are vibrant and socially engaged. Consider, for example, the very large and increasingly influential Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, which embodies what is salutary, healthy, and encouraging about Protestant evangelicalism. But because Redeemer, given its simultaneous commitments to theological orthodoxy and social responsibility, has been making a difference in the city for almost two decades (and doing so without a so-called leftward political shift), such evidence would undermine Kirkpatrick’s thesis. Similar examples abound in metropolitan areas nationwide.

Like their Catholic counterparts, evangelical Protestants face significant challenges in the present post-consensus cultural climate, partly stemming from their theological orthodoxy (where found) and partly due to a wider cultural backlash. Unlike Catholics, their fragmentation and lack of authoritative voice hinder their ability to marshal a concerted cultural witness.

In the end, important changes surely have been afoot throughout wider evangelicalism, but neither are the most significant of these developments “recent” nor do they spell a collapse of traditional evangelical commitments in the social-political arena that equate to an exodus to the Democratic party, Kirkpatrick’s own wishes notwithstanding.

There is—and will always be—the potential for uncritically adopting political allegiances that obscure the church’s role in society. But just for once—only once—I would love to hear an activist, or a New York Times correspondent, chasten the religious left and warn against the idolatry of hitching our horse to the Democratic party. Indeed, the last time I checked, the new wave of political messianism had the unmistakable smell of Chicago-style politics.

And therein lies a tale.

Charles’ article was written in June of 2008, when Obama had the nomination locked up, was in the lead in the general election polling, and before either party’s convention.  Kirkpatrick’s article was written in October of 2007, when Hillary was the expected Democratic candidate, and Obama was thought merely an interesting sidelight with little real chance to win the nomination. 

By June of 2008, Obama was surely the most interesting new phenomenon on which enterprising reporters could base stories.  By then, Obama’s relationship to Wright had been whitewashed (er, I mean, well explored) in the press.  Where are the investigative articles on the small percentage of black evangelicals voting for the Republican side, and giving them credit for openness and maturation as they swim against the tide?  Where are the articles pointing out the lockstep voting pattern of AME (African Methodist Episcopal) blacks on the Left?  Where are the articles pointing out the Leftward tilt of mainstream Protestants?  Isn’t the combination of their rapidly shrinking numbers while clinging to leftist orthodoxy evidence of a “crackup”?

But to religion writers in the main-stream media, religio/political idol worship is only possible on the Right, not the Left, much as racism is viewed, by the Left at any rate, as only possible in whites, not minorities. 

Kirkpatrick’s schadenfreude is misplaced, as he will presumably learn at some point, not that he’ll write about it.  In the meantime, rumors of the Evangelical Right’s death are highly exaggerated, which is demonstrated by the closeness of the current election, in a year where every indicator (the economy, two unpopular wars, unremitting negative coverage of the Republicans in the media and press) should favor the Democrat candidate by at least double digits, even if he was a blue dog.

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