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The Changing Face of American Evangelicalism

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William Crawley | 10:27 UK time, Wednesday, 11 April 2012

It would be a mistake to assume that American Christians speak with only one voice -- on any issue. I spent today attending the 5th annual Q conference at the Mellon Auditorium, just a few blocks away from The White House. I was amongst hundreds of mostly evangelical Christians -- pastors, thinkers and activists -- and an emerging transformation in evangelical identity was very evident. This new generation of Christians have a very different approach to the role of religion in public life. Different, that is, to their parents' generation.


They are unhappy that the church's message has been, too often, compromised or ridiculed because of party-political alliances. They call for a radical re-think of the church's approach to culture, technology, human relationships and the political establishment. Instead of a focus on narrow religious or political agendas, they argue that the church should campaign for the common good of society -- standing up for the rights of others, particularly the poor and the marginalised; they are passionate about the need to develop civility in political discourse, where citizens can fundamentally disagree about some basic issues in a spirit of respect while building coalitions on common interest. And, perhaps most significantly, they are standing up against the idea that Christians should seek to build a theocracy.

Instead, this new generation of Christian leader advocates a kind of 'principled pluralism', where difference is protected and respected under the law. That means that you don't outlaw another person's perspective or life-choices simply because they fail to comply with your own theological perspective.

The consequence of this is that the issues that matter to many of those I met today are not the issues that defined evangelicalism in the past. Creationism is not their concern, nor are they particularly animated about homosexuality or climate-change denial. Instead, they care deeply about defeating poverty, extending rights to minority groups (such as illegal immigrants), and taking a stand against human trafficking.

It will be fascinating to see how this new kind of evangelicalism finds its voice during what many predict will be the ugliest and most partisan presidential election in living memory.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Sounds like a bunch of liberals to me.

    William, you're only a week in America and already talking like a yank - "Different TO their parents' generation". I think we say "different from".

  • Comment number 2.

    "...this new generation of Christian leader advocates a kind of 'principled pluralism', where difference is protected and respected under the law. That means that you don't outlaw another person's perspective or life-choices simply because they fail to comply with your own theological perspective."

    So what about the protection of human beings who have no ability to protect themselves? If the state cannot protect the very most vulnerable and weakest members of society, WHAT IS IT FOR?

  • Comment number 3.

    Fionnuala;

    If mscracker wasn't so gracious, she might be tempted to retaliate with anti-Irish/English disparagement.

  • Comment number 4.

    1.At 12:16 11th Apr 2012, Fionnuala wrote:
    Sounds like a bunch of liberals to me.

    William, you're only a week in America and already talking like a yank - "Different TO their parents' generation". I think we say "different from"."
    **
    I live in the South & we say "different from", too.
    (Please don't call a Southerner a "yank.")
    Thanks! :)

  • Comment number 5.

    @2.Theophane,
    I looked at the site for the conference & saw this article which was well written:

    http://www.qideas.org/essays/the-sanctity-of-human-life.aspx

  • Comment number 6.

    1. Fionnuala,

    What an odd way you have of telling Will his grammar is simply perfection when he’s at home.

  • Comment number 7.

    Not legislating morality? Not wanting theocracy? What novel concepts!

  • Comment number 8.

    Mscracker - that's why I said Yank, not American.

  • Comment number 9.

    This "Q" is very different from the "Q" directed by Laurent Bouhnik!

    I think the phrase "standing up for the rights of others" could still be used by dangerous Christian fanatics to justify attacks on doctors who perform abortions. Is there not a contradiction between "principled pluralism" and evangelicalism? Evangelicals knock your door to deliver a message; not to receive one.

  • Comment number 10.

    Fionnuala;

    I apologise - your knowledge of American grammar is much better than mine, and i didn't realise.

  • Comment number 11.

    I wouldn't assume that all Christians speak with the same voice. There are Christians who would not sack a teacher because she fell pregnant.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/appeals-court-hears-arguments-in-case-of-fla-teacher-fired-after-asking-for-maternity-leave/2012/04/10/gIQAjVSZ8S_story.html

    What is very interesting about this case is that the school is arguing the teacher was "legally and constitutionally a minister". A judgement in favour of the school on this point would mean that a "ministerial exception" to anti-discrimination laws would apply.

    I remember a similar argument being made recently concerning the Church of Scientology. A former member alleged she was made to live in cramped and unsanitary conditions. A statement from the Church referred to the Supreme Court and how it has consistently upheld judgements favouring the right of religious organisations to discipline their own members.

  • Comment number 12.

    mscracker, #5;

    Thanks for that link. Reading the article, a sentence that bears closer examination might be this:

    "[The sanctity of human life] is a concept worth protecting—both from those who understand its meaning only vaguely and use it as a cheap political slogan, and from those more deadly foes who know exactly what it means and therefore seek to reject it at its roots."

    The most 'deadly foes' of the sanctity of human life, it seems to me, are those who "use it as a cheap political slogan" - while knowing exactly what it means and seeking to reject it at its roots. Here are two quotes from Britain's erstwhile premier Tony Blair. In response to the September 11th attacks he said:

    "It is perpetrated by fanatics who are utterly indifferent to the sanctity of human life."

    But less than a year previously he was quoted as saying, in defence of the scientifically worthless and morally repugnant practice of embryonic stem cell research:

    "Our conviction about what is natural or right should not inhibit the role of science in discovering the truth."

    Quite apart from the fact that this is the basis for a defence of nazi experimentation and any number of other squalid misapplications of science, more widely of course Blair was well qualified to discuss "indifference to the sanctity of human life" because, as witnessed not least by his determined backing of the abortion industry at every turn, that was his very own, entrenched, personal position.

  • Comment number 13.

    Theo

    I take it you are against IVF treatment then?

  • Comment number 14.

    John, hi (long time!)

    “What novel concepts!”

    Indeed, but you know as well as I do that many an evangelical needs convincing of those positions - don’t be too dismissive.


    Fionnuala

    In what way would you say, ‘liberal’?


    Theophane

    I’ve argued against abortion as much as any (christian) on here, but it seems to me that there’s a bit of ‘knee-jerk’ about your comments this time. (If I might say so.)


    newlach

    Would what you mean be, ‘not an evangelical about the place’?


    ”It will be fascinating to see how this new kind of evangelicalism finds its voice during what many predict will be the ugliest and most partisan presidential election in living memory.”

    Perhaps it will be an evangelicalism which isn’t dependent on the political system in order to find it’s voice - one can always hope.

  • Comment number 15.

    And, perhaps most significantly, they are standing up against the idea that Christians should seek to build a theocracy.

    One man's theocracy is another man's freedom fighter...or something like that.

    The consequence of this is that the issues that matter to many of those I met today are not the issues that defined evangelicalism in the past....Instead, they care deeply about defeating poverty, extending rights to minority groups (such as illegal immigrants), and taking a stand against human trafficking...They are unhappy that the church's message has been, too often, compromised or ridiculed because of party-political alliances.

    If they think the church's message is defeating poverty, extending rights to illegal immigrants and taking a stand against human trafficking, well that obscures the church's message just as well as party-political alliances.

  • Comment number 16.

    Andrew

    "If they think the church's message..."

    Yea, sure, if that's all they are doing; then again, if we think the church's message is to issue a weekly alter call... (no, not a spelling mistake)

    Anyway, there's not a whole lot new in this. There have always been evangelicals, certainly from the 18th Century, who have understood the here and now (call it social, I suppose) dimension to the gospel/redemption/Kingdom of God; and, I would argue, that this is simply to be biblical.

    What would bother me more about this (and while this particular conference is new to me, I've come across some of the names involved), is that it's just another in the long line of evangelical movements/events/self indulgences as opposed to figuring out what the church is. If it is the former, then sooner or later it will develop party-political alliances, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, it will take on a life of it's own and it will be more about Christians seeking power rather than Christians seeking the 'good of the city' (although that biblical text is fast becoming an evangelical urban myth).

  • Comment number 17.

    I like the tone of these presentations although it strikes me as more (Steve) Jobs than Jesus.

  • Comment number 18.

    Paul James, #13;

    "I take it you are against IVF treatment then?"

    Paul, you are not wrong.

    “...the union of a man and a woman, in that community of love and life which is marriage, represents the only worthy ‘place’ for a new human being to be called into existence,” said Pope Benedict in an address in February.

    He added that temptations leading scientists to offer unacceptable infertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization include “easy money or, even worse, the arrogance of replacing the Creator.” He noted that such pride endangers humanity itself.

    The Pope told the 200 scientists and members of the Pontifical Academy for Life in attendance that the field of human procreation seems to be dominated “by scientism and the logic of profit,” which often “restrict many other areas of research.”

    Benedict XVI also spoke with compassion in addressing married couples unable to conceive children. “The Church is attentive to the suffering of infertile couples”, he said, “and her concern for them is what leads her to encourage medical research.”

    “Science, nonetheless, is not always capable of responding to the needs of many couples, and so I would like to remind those who are experiencing infertility that their matrimonial vocation is not thereby frustrated. By virtue of their baptismal and matrimonial vocation, spouses are always called to collaborate with God in the creation of a new humanity. The vocation to love, in fact, is a vocation of self-giving and this is something which no bodily condition can impede. Therefore, when science cannot provide an answer, the light-giving response comes from Christ.”

    Children are a *gift*, not a *right*. IVF entails the harvesting and slaughter of human embryos, of the kind you and i, and even each one of these clever boffins who make rather a nice living from IVF thank you very much, once were. But that was all before any of us can remember - when you were still in your mummy's tummy.

  • Comment number 19.

    peterm2;

    "...it seems to me that there’s a bit of ‘knee-jerk’ about your comments this time. (If I might say so.)"

    Good Heavens peterm2 - of course you might say so! And i hope you are right. But Will's article talks about "life-choices", and i've taken the bold inference that abortion might just be concealed somewhere under that heading. In any case, please don't feel that i think they might be soft on moral issues because they are Evangelical - there is certainly no shortage of people who fall for fashionable anti-life and anti-family gibberish in the Catholic Church.

  • Comment number 20.

    Imo, Q conference is about getting/strengthening the Christian brand in government and society. If people (esp. coming out of Washington) really want to do good works across the cultures in our society, then take the brand off, organize something and just do it. Between the lines, principled pluralism sounds ecumenical to me -- not interfaith, not secular and not even culturally pluralistic. Interestingly, it seems like the non-religious are buying this appropriately-labeled ‘evangelical’ movement more than the Christians. Maybe that’s the idea. No, I don’t think the ‘blend in, say the cool stuff’ technique is a new one. It’s like ragamuffin-gospel-style for the 21st century Western government.

  • Comment number 21.

    @20. marieinaustin:
    " If people (esp. coming out of Washington) really want to do good works across the cultures in our society, then take the brand off, organize something and just do it. '
    **
    I agree.

  • Comment number 22.

    Peterm2

    They certainly do appear to be thin on the ground!

    ----------------------

    Last night I dipped into Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation. He refers to a Gallup Poll that showed that 53 per cent of Americans are creationists. I find it difficult to believe that the figure is so high.

    He also makes the point that some Christians are less interested in the potentially harmful consequences of sex than in sex itself. He justifies his assertion by referring to a senior evangelical who sat on the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. This individual said he would consider opposing an HIV vaccine on the grounds that the vaccine would encourage premarital sex by making it less risky.

  • Comment number 23.

    Hi Peter


    Yea, sure, if that's all they are doing; then again, if we think the church's message is to issue a weekly alter call... (no, not a spelling mistake)

    Well you know I agree. Yet I can't but think if they believe (I am being very general, too general), as Will seems to imply, that dropping one political message for another (albeit a more socially popular one) they are somehow clarifying the purpose and message of the church then, well...I don't think that is very clarifying. Not that the alternative to that is altar calls, alter calls and anxious benches.

  • Comment number 24.

    22. newlach,

    “...some Christians are less interested in the potentially harmful consequences of sex than in sex itself.”

    Too true.

    Anyone in the US who hasn’t been living under a rock of denial is aware of that. I just wanted to point out that Letter to a Christian Nation was published in 2006, and the problem of some Christians’ beliefs and ensuing actions harming society existed well before Harris, or newlach, shown another, still-much-needed light on it.

  • Comment number 25.

    Theo
    Strange that Josef prohibits a method of fertilisation previously favoured by god himself.

  • Comment number 26.

    @22. newlach ,
    It may depend on how the folks answering the poll understood the question re "Creationism." My guess might be that a majority of Americans understanding Creation in the broader sense would describe themselves as "creationists." As I would.A much smaller number might adhere to the more narrow defines of God creating the world in 6 literal, 24 hour days per Genesis.
    I can understand how a state mandated vaccination program of pre-adolescent girls for a sexually transmitted disease would be distasteful to parents.My distaste is more for the state mandated part of the issue.

  • Comment number 27.

    Paul #17

    I'm curious. What is it you like about the presentations, mode of presentation aside, if you see what I mean.

  • Comment number 28.

    Paul James;

    "Strange that Josef prohibits a method of fertilisation previously favoured by God Himself."

    And what, pray, are you chatting about now Mr James?

  • Comment number 29.

    mscracker

    I get your point. Some may have self-identified as Creationists but not all would believe Adam and Eve looked after dinosaurs. Creationists in the sense that God created everything.

    Harris also discusses the human papillomavirus (HPV). This is the most common sexually transmitted disease in America, he writes, infecting over HALF of the American population and causing 5,000 women to die each year from cervical cancer.

    As Marie pointed out, Harris' book came out in 2006. Do girls not get this shot? I think it makes sense to have this one. These "virginity pledges" he also writes about do not seem to be effective.

  • Comment number 30.

    @ 29. newlach,
    The HPV vaccine had a lot of press when it first came out & since then I haven't heard a great deal.I don't personally know what the vaccination figures might be & as I understand it, the vaccine is effective against some but not all HPV viruses.Supposedly it does target those most associated with cervical cancer.More recently I've heard support-& interest no doubt from the manufacturers -of marketing it to boys as well.
    I have some skepticism re. pharmaceutical companies in general but have nothing per say against vaccines. I just think the issue should be looked at logically without state mandates, drug company marketing hype, nor overreaction from church groups.A vaccine like this is really morally neutral, at least from my view as a parent.

  • Comment number 31.

    @18.Theophane,
    This is an older NY Times article so I apologize if I've used it before, but there's some interesting discussion on embryonic stem cell use from a scientist who began the research back in 1998. I like his quote:

    “If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you
    at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough,”
    Dr.James A. Thomson.


    "Man Who Helped Start Stem Cell War May End It "


    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/22/science/22stem.html?_r=1

  • Comment number 32.

    @29.newlach:

    "These "virginity pledges" he also writes about do not seem to be effective."
    **
    Well, neither are sobriety pledges at times but the intentions are good.

  • Comment number 33.

    mscracker;

    I've seen the quote before; thanks for the article. The really odd thing is that, despite the realisation by that time, in 2007, that embryonic stem cell research was a dead-end medically and scientifically (they cause tumours), adult stem cells offering the only prospect of useful medical applications, in the very next year, for solely ideological reasons, President Obama followed Britain's seedy example and relaxed all the restrictions on embryonic stem cell research which President Bush had put in place. It seems to have something to do with ideological consistency. As a society we've already decided that a foetus is sub human and not worthy of life unless the mother decides to call it a baby. Killing them is not really killing a human being - so let's pursue a totally arid line of scientific enquiry that involves killing embryos, because after all there's nothing wrong with it.

  • Comment number 34.

    @33.Theophane,
    The pro-life folk I know are deeply disturbed by Pres. Obama's actions & are hoping for better things after the next election.I think the tide will turn, but it may take a very long time.

  • Comment number 35.

    Further to #33; there surely is no clearer example than in the attitude towards the unborn, of where "...mankind is groping in the darkness, unable to distinguish good from evil", as Pope Benedict put it in his sermon for this year's Easter Vigil.

    In our society, many people actually think that womb raiding is an act of charity.

  • Comment number 36.

    mscracker, 34;

    "...it may take a very long time."

    That's true, but i believe there are people who are alive today who will see the final victory of good and humanity over the evil of abortion, just as Wilberforce and his associates lived to see the abolition of slavery.

  • Comment number 37.

    Our Lady of Guadalupe - please pray for us!

  • Comment number 38.

    Peter re Q
    I like the idea of good works for their own sake without proselytising or the expectation of future rewards, you know, just like regular atheists!

  • Comment number 39.

    just as Wilberforce and his associates lived to see the abolition of slavery.


    Something that Jesus never got round to condemning, IIRC.

    And those human rights that we owe to faith in a god, they didn't get around to protecting the slaves, jews, alleged witches, cathars and any number of heretics and believers in wrong gods down the centuries, when faith in a god was pretty much de rigeur.
  • Comment number 40.

    grokesx

    "Something that Jesus never got round to condemning, IIRC."

    Here's what I'd say. I'd say he 'planted a time bomb' under the very idea of slavery (amongst other things), and then left us to figure out how not to seek power over people.

  • Comment number 41.

    Andrew (@ 15) -

    If they think the church's message is defeating poverty, extending rights to illegal immigrants and taking a stand against human trafficking, well that obscures the church's message just as well as party-political alliances.


    I am not quite sure what "the church's message" is supposed to be, if the so called "social gospel" is considered peripheral, or not a priority.

    I am reminded of the following from Isaiah, chapter 58:

    “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’

    “If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail."


    I am well aware that spiritual needs are just as important as physical needs (if not more so), but certainly a "gospel" that underemphasises the physical needs of the poor is not a gospel at all. James 2: 14-16:

    What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?


    The tendency of some Christians to call basic compassion for the needy "liberalism" or even "socialism", is just a travesty of everything the love of God means.
  • Comment number 42.

    Here's what I'd say. I'd say he 'planted a time bomb' under the very idea of slavery (amongst other things), and then left us to figure out how not to seek power over people.


    Not a conspicuously successful policy,as it turned out. But then again, he was just a man, it's not like he was the son of God or anything crazy like that ;)
  • Comment number 43.

    grokesx

    "Not a conspicuously successful policy..."

    Nor imperceptible either...


    "it's not like he was the son of God or anything crazy like that ;)"

    Pity, really; if he were the Son of God he could have saved himself, and as it turns out, he couldn't even do that... ;-)


    Paul

    "re Q
    I like the idea of good works for their own sake without proselytising or the expectation of future rewards, you know, just like regular atheists!"


    Well, yes, interesting enough, but a couple of things:

    Have a more careful read about what they say regarding Christianity and culture, and then get back to me with what you think, I certainly don't read it as 'Christianity lite'; and, this whole, 'big stick to be good' thing, is a bit of a tired old caricature; it's a bit like I was saying to grokesx, the whole business of human virtue and character and behaviour and recognition is sitting on a bit of a time bomb - for those with feet to wash...

  • Comment number 44.

    grokesx, no.39;

    "Something [slavery] that Jesus never got round to condemning, IIRC."

    Not perhaps in so many words, but arguably no one either formulated nor pressed home the 'Golden Rule' more effectively than Jesus:

    "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." [Mt 7:12]

    And also relevant to this question, i would suggest:

    "But Jesus called them to Him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’"
    [Mt 20:25-28]

    Maybe you can provide a better formulation for the condemnation of slavery from among the serried ranks of distinguished secular self-help 'DIY' manuals.

    Taking a brief look at slavery, it occurs to me that there's a parallel with IVF and embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). It seems that Europeans travelled to West Africa and slaves were available in the markets there. They were a cheap source of labour, so the trans-Atlantic slave trade developed out of that situation. The drive to pursue ESCR, perhaps, derived from the availability of embyos, who (and i do mean 'who') were a 'by-product' of IVF. IVF scientists would quite naturally have had pangs of conscience, like those experienced by Dr.James A. Thomson (“If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough”, see mscracker, #31). These embryos, like the slaves in West Africa, were available. As a salve to their consciences, i wouldn't be surprised if there were IVF scientists who have been particularly keen to see these 'surplus' embryos put to some 'good use', though realistically it is exploitation. Because sadly, there is no 'good use', when it is coercive, of living human beings. It is a new manifestation of the same old impulse to 'lord it over' others, and make them slaves. We still have not learnt this fundamental lesson.

    I'm not going into the cases of other peoples who have suffered at the hands of Christians, because Christians have sometimes committed crimes, but you can't pretend to know that things would have turned out better without Christianity. Even leaving aside the theology of the Salvation which Christ won for us by His death and Resurrection, i'm inclined to believe that history without Christianity would have been not merely worse, but dramatically, terrifyingly worse.

  • Comment number 45.

    Not perhaps in so many words, but arguably no one either formulated nor pressed home the 'Golden Rule' more effectively than Jesus:

    "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." [Mt 7:12]


    I wouldn't get into an argument about effectively pressing home the message - I think all the religionistas and the moral philosophers and the secular ethicists andthe politicians have been equally rubbish at that, but the formulation o the Golden Rule is pretty much the same everywhere:

    Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself." – Confucius[

    Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss." –Laozi

    Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing - Thales

    What you do not want to happen to you, do not do it yourself either. " – Sextus

    What thou avoidest suffering thyself seek not to impose on others." – Epictetus

    One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires.
    —in the Mahabharata

    One should seek for others the happiness one desires for himself - Buddha

    That's just a selection predating Jesus.
    but you can't pretend to know that things would have turned out better without Christianity.

    Of course I can't and I have never claimed to. You, on the other hand made a specific claim that human rights only exist because of faith in God, which flies in the face of reality.
    i'm inclined to believe that history without Christianity would have been not merely worse, but dramatically, terrifyingly worse.

    Of course you would, but who cares? Like you say, there is no way of knowing, so you are just projecting your own feelings, beliefs and maybe prejudices onto history to make yourself feel better about your particular brand of tribalism.
  • Comment number 46.

    Evangelical "principles" have always been rather more plastic than evangelicals would care to admit, and they only have two gears -- boorish and insidious. To protray American evangelicals as thoughful and compromising at the moment is wide of the mark. They are simply in disarray and have no-one to fall in behind, so they get in a huddle and bash out ideas about how to regroup and carry on pushing the envelope. Give them the merest hint that they are ascendant and watch them switch back to boorishness.

  • Comment number 47.

    "To protray American evangelicals as thoughful and compromising at the moment is wide of the mark."

    What, every single one? All of them? The entire movement? The whole jolly lot? Each one without exception?

    Golly!

    I think the word you are looking for is 'shrill'! ;-)


    BTW About Farce/Face, I've been meaning to ask, what is it you are 'about facing' from?

  • Comment number 48.

    "What, every single one? All of them?" I think we can generalise to an extent in this case, yes.

    I wasn't really about-facing from anything. I just plucked that screen name from the air...

  • Comment number 49.

    Christlike Christianity in the US would be a good idea. An idea in my opinion will never catch on there.

  • Comment number 50.

    AF

    "I just plucked that screen name from the air..."

    Och, that's a pity. I wish I hadn't asked now... an 'AboutFarce' created by my own imagination was much more interesting! :-)


    "I think we can generalise to an extent in this case, yes."

    Generalise to an extent? You mean like being imprecise to an unspecified degree about everyone?

    OK then :-)

  • Comment number 51.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 52.

    Perhaps Peter, you should take it up with William: "I was amongst hundreds of mostly evangelical Christians -- pastors, thinkers and activists -- and an emerging transformation in evangelical identity was very evident."

  • Comment number 53.

    AboutFarce

    "Perhaps Peter, you should take it up with William..."

    Perhaps, but it was your broad brush approach (or perhaps you were firing paint from a blunderbuss) which interested me. I'm more than happy to stick the boot into the evangelical world - sometimes I am one, sometimes I was one, sometimes I hope I'm not one, but your lack of finesse in describing them hints at prejudice, and I don't see where that gets us.

  • Comment number 54.

    Andrew

    What did you say? You should be less boorish and more insidious.

  • Comment number 55.

    I am prejudiced, and you know that. But that doesn't stop political evangelicals being a distinct, identifiable group, and I don't think my prejudice is getting an airing by referring to them as such. William does it in this blog entry, sociologists who study them do it, and I don't think identifying this rather powerful group by its commonalities, whatever of the finer distinctions within it, is necessarily prejudice. And I would incline more to the view that as a group they are perhaps more rudderless at the moment than inward looking or reflective. All this blog entry says is that they are trying to figure out how to get a toe-hold again, after having had some time in the sun in the past decade. And I don't see that there's anything so outrageous in saying they are mightily adaptable in their so-called principles for a bunch who would have you believe that those principles are as rigid as wrought iron.

    From what I've seen, as someone who has taken a fair bit of interest in them, bellicosity or perniciousness are their two modes.

  • Comment number 56.

    Peter

    Nothing boorish or insidious. Honest. As you'll know, British evangelicals aren't American evangelicals. That is true, isn't it?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ev1Vsnf6LGs

    The fundamentalist in me is spinning in his grave (a figure of speech).

    Actually, I have no idea why the comment was removed. It was a follow up comment on the church. I suppose I could alter it but, meh.

  • Comment number 57.

    About Farce

    Thanks for the comment; now we've something we can discuss, and once Andrew's Fundamentalist has stopped spinning perhaps he'll join us.

    But it's going to have to wait until tomorrow, it's getting late and I want to fit in my bible reading and meditation before I go to bed, you know, just incase Jesus returns tonight. ;-)



    Andrew

    "As you'll know, British evangelicals aren't American evangelicals."

    Actually, I'm not sure, should we ask Carl Trueman? But Americans definitely aren't British, I believe they sorted that out a few years ago.

  • Comment number 58.

    About Farce

    We touched on this evangelical/political issue before, briefly, and if I remember correctly, I suggested to you that unless you took into account the theological aspects of such movements any critique would be limited. I know you disagree but I think your unwillingness to do this is partly responsible for your comments on this thread.

    (Political) evangelicals may be a distinct, identifiable group in relation to the rest of society, and they may well share a number of defining features (beyond boorish and insidious!), they wouldn’t be ‘evangelical’ otherwise, but as someone who has not only taken an interest in them, but has been saturated in the sub-culture for most of my life, you’re going to have to take my word for it that evangelicals are positively kaleidoscopic, and I don’t just mean that in the ‘changable’ sense.

    For example, on another thread William contrasts two personalities who would probably sit beneath the evangelical umbrella and a political evangelical umbrella at that; but ask them to describe their evangelicalism, or their politics, or their mode of communication, or the way in which they might engage with the wider culture and you are going to get very different answers.

    There are evangelicals who will support gay rights for example, others who won’t; evangelicals who oppose violence, those who can justify it; evangelicals who are happy to link state and church and those who insist they must be separate; there are evangelicals who argue for political and social action (and even when they agree on this they will differ in their understanding of the reasons for it), and evangelicals who think only in ‘spiritual’ terms; I could go on. But maybe you have something particular in mind when you use the words boorish and insidious and it would be interesting to know if you have. I suspect that it might have something to do with the evangelical focus on ‘conversion’, or ‘cause’, or ‘mission’, taking the view that there is always a hidden agenda in any evangelical method, and if that is the case, fair enough. Evangelicals have a tendency to be single minded with regard to the communication of their message (somewhere along the line Jesus and sin will come into the picture, albeit with differing emphasis), and evangelicals have a habit of not being able to follow their professed creed of ‘service for others’ - but none of this necessarily equates to “adaptable in their so-called principles for a bunch who would have you believe that those principals are as rigid as wrought iron.”

    In my view there are a number of things happening in the evangelical world - yes, part of it has to do with lack of direction, but it’s too simplistic to say that it’s simply about a bit of self-administered plastic surgery in an attempt get a toe-hold again. Perhaps some do what power, I’ve already expressed concerns in this regard (see #16); perhaps this is political and religious maneuvering; but it could also be the case that there are those who take the view that the (evangelical) church can do some good for, and in, society, some who take the view that respectful agreement, disagreement, debate or persuasion are better than belligerent condemnation of everyone unlike them. Perhaps there are those who think that all our society can work together for each another’s benefit, even if we don’t agree in everything; perhaps.

    Of course you may be thoroughly opposed to any ‘good’ that the church might do for the simple reason that you think it ‘bad’ - perhaps Christianity is your enemy in this regard, I don’t know - what I do know is that if this ever is the case, if Christianity ever encounters its enemy then it ought to know what to do, and perhaps if it doesn’t, it isn’t truly evangelical, for it isn’t truly Christian. And perhaps knowing what to do in such an event is the one principle evangelicals need to be adapted to.

  • Comment number 59.

    Peter

    Actually, I'm not sure, should we ask Carl Trueman?

    Funny you should mention Dr. Trueman. His view that evangelicalism has become a kind of hold all for who knows what seems to me to be accurate.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmLpLocn4Js&feature=relmfu

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mU-aOyHFlQI

    I see he has a new book coming out soon on creedal Christianity. That's not the full answer but it's a good part of it. And it's at least one of the reasons my dead spinning fundamentalist won't stop.

  • Comment number 60.

    Andrew

    Thanks for the links. And he raises another raft of differences, contradictions and concerns about evangelicalism I haven't even begun to discuss with About Farce. Evangelicalism isn't the homogeneous group some think it is, and what it is in particular that bothers AF about political faith groups, evangelical or otherwise, interests me.

    When is an evangelical not an evangelical? When he's an evangelical!

    And yes, a common creed would be a start.

  • Comment number 61.

    Am I really being asked to believe that W&T has only just discovered that the US has a strong evangelical tradition, in contrast to the fundamentalist one?

    I am thinking of US evangelical groups such as Billy Graham, Christianity Today, World Vision, Habitat for Humanity...etc etc

    None of those groups are fundamentalist nor theocratic in outlook - nor new!

    Are we *really* saying that US evangelicals are only now beginning to get involved in tackling poverty, helping immigrants and fighting human trafficking?

    I dont really find that a credible suggestion.

    Is that really what Will is saying here?

  • Comment number 62.

    Did I mention Chuck Colson and Prison Fellowship?

  • Comment number 63.

    ref:- 50. At 13:40 15th Apr 2012, peterm2 wrote:
    AF

    "I just plucked that screen name from the air..."

    Och, that's a pity. I wish I hadn't asked now... an 'AboutFarce' created by my own imagination was much more interesting! :-)

    Is Peterm 1 also on BBC blogs, if not pray tell me/us where we might find peterm 1

  • Comment number 64.

    Peter #58,

    To that I'd just reiterate #55 and point to the complete inutility of wading into the mire of the theological debates these people have between themselves, which appear to become irrelevant anyway when, in taking part in positive political action, they tend to act in concert and in rather predictable ways (which points, I think, to the utility of drawing out their commonalities and giving them a name).

    This has long been recognised: "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State." -- Thomas Jefferson.

    It is their actions that interest me, not their drawing room discussions, which are bound to be unoriginal. Well you might say it's unfair to generalise, but I'd reply that it would be foolish not to, when in the main, throughout their history, without fail, they have worn nice smiles and can be ever so charming and appealing when they are on the back foot (for example, when their numbers appear to be falling or their red-button issues are absent from wider politics), but when they are galvanised and in the ascendant, they become positively horrendous, begrudging, meddlesome liberty munchers and woe betide.

  • Comment number 65.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 66.

    Another article from "First Things" I saw online & wanted to share:

    In Defense of Religious Freedom
    A Statement by Evangelicals and Catholics Together.


    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/02/in-defense-of-religious-freedom

  • Comment number 67.

    Re. 65: Sorry, I must have tried to post something copyrighted again....

  • Comment number 68.

    About Farce

    We could be speaking at cross purposes.

    How do you define 'evangelical'?

  • Comment number 69.

    Gerry

    Why would you assume that the '2' is numerical?

  • Comment number 70.

    Peter

    It has something to do with the M2 doesn't it?

  • Comment number 71.

    Andrew


    Emmmmmmmm2? Emmmmmmmm nope!

    I've almost forgotten what it had to do with, but it was something about having trouble with my original login, not being able to use that login again cos it got locked out and then having to continue a conversation or point or something and it was a way of saying (probably a really silly way of saying, but then the internet has a way of sucking you into illusions of meaning and importance) 'this comment is Peter too'.

    Actually, when I think about it now, just plucking some mad name or other out of thin air is a better idea.

    Serious question. How would you define 'evangelical'. About Farce got me thinking about this and I had a whole reply typed out to him and then I gave up and just posted #68, but I was going to say that when I use the word 'evangelical' about me (and I try not to), I mean something like

    http://www.anglicansonline.org/basics/nicene.html"...

    the rest is negotiable, or irrelevant, or something.

  • Comment number 72.

    Peter

    Usernames can't be duplicated but you can have whatever display name you like.

    Serious question. How would you define 'evangelical'

    An older way of defining evangelical was by the formal and material principles of the Reformation; the sufficiency of scripture and justification by faith alone. If that's what an evangelical is then I'm an evangelical. Why should this define what an evangelical is? Well, I suppose every Christian tradition wants to claim 'evangelical' in one sense or another and the Reformation was, at the very least, the assertion of what the good news is and how we can know it. It is similar, in a way, to the Roman Catholic appropriation of 'catholic'. Neither ‘evangelical’ nor ‘catholic’ are distinctive to both traditions, and both traditions claim both words but mean something different by them. It's just that the labels have stuck. There is also a sense in which it is polemical. To claim that the sufficiency of scripture and justification by faith alone are necessary conditions of the evangel is a polemical assertion against the Tridentine Church of Rome.

    Another way of thinking about it is as a synonym for 'born again Christian'. This has quite a lot of baggage and I don't want to unpack it all. Here, I think, the central claim is that a definitive conversion experience is the entry point into the Christian life. And with it comes an effusive, exuberant kind of piety. If this is what an evangelical is then I don't think I am an evangelical. In fact, I'm opposed to those kind of claims. A lot of what you have referred to as the evangelical sub-culture finds its origins in these ideas.

    Another way to look at it is through ecclesiology. Typically we hear about different Christian groups; Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglican, evangelical. Except for evangelical these are communions. It's easy to answer what a Roman Catholic is, what an Anglican is despite the fact that both Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism are extremely diverse. One of the reasons it's so hard to find a suitable definition of 'evangelical' is because it is Christianity distinct from the institutional church. That's not necessarily a bad thing but it highlights a difference in how the adjectives are being used.

    There's a few others I could think of but I've gone on long enough.

    If I had the choice I don't think I would identify as an evangelical; it either says not enough or what it does say is at best ambiguous. This leaves the hard question of what am I? The shortest answer I can give to this is, a Reformed Protestant. And even this is not without ambiguity.

  • Comment number 73.

    Andrew

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    I'm pretty much with you on this.

    I've definitely moved away from what you describe in paragraph 2 if for no other reason that 'definitive conversion experiences' are difficult to pin down - frail as summer's flower they flourish, blows the wind and they are gone, and 'exuberant piety' difficult to maintain. There's more to it than that, though, as you will know.

    Your short answer is good too, although I'm not sure I like the local political implications of 'Protestant', but there's little I can do about that.

    Oh, and from recollection there wasn't the option of different display names when I signed up or if the was I missed it; and it seems pointless changing again now.


    About Farce

    I shall assume that you either don't have or don't wish to give a definition. Fair enough, it's hardly the making of an evening; but I thought you might have had something to say beyond an indiscriminate 'boorish'.

  • Comment number 74.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 75.

    Re. no. 74. If i'm not very much mistaken, the mods have been issued stringent new copyright guidelines. Hope to come back to this in due course.

  • Comment number 76.

    @75. Theophane,
    I keep posting things with copyrights & then the posts are removed.Perhaps you could just give us a hint of some searchwords to google? I tried to post a very good article about Evangelicals in the US without seeing the copyright info.But, if you search through "First Things" online it's there.The whole premise of the article was that the Evangelical movement in America was never really "conservative" as in "keeping the status quo conservative" in the first place.

  • Comment number 77.

    grokesx, #45;

    "You, on the other hand made a specific claim that human rights only exist because of faith in God, which flies in the face of reality."

    I didn't make this claim, but it is the thrust of what Pope Benedict was saying in his critically acclaimed (even in that well-known servant of Vatican interests the Guardian) address to the Bundestag last September. Andrew Brown's article in said organ, from September 28th, is under the heading 'Pope Benedict's challenge to positivism in the Bundestag', and contains a link to the complete text, in case you were sufficiently interested (you may already have seen this mscracker).

  • Comment number 78.

    Peter

    Your short answer is good too, although I'm not sure I like the local political implications of 'Protestant', but there's little I can do about that.

    That is unfortunate, yes. But there is something with that word that I think is worth saving. And as I hinted at before it takes evangelical with it and puts it in a context that is meaningful. Not for nothing am I a schismatic.

    Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei ;)

  • Comment number 79.

    @77. Theophane,
    The documents our nation was founded upon state that our rights & freedoms are given to us by our Creator & are therefore inalienable.
    I still haven't had a full explanation how,without belief in a Creator, we shouldn't by default revert to tooth & claw/survival of the fittest.(Even with that belief we seem to revert fairly often.)

  • Comment number 80.

    I didn't make this claim,

    I'm not sure if distinction between quoting approvingly and making the claim is worth mentioning, but hey ho.
    in case you were sufficiently interested


    Nope. Funnily enough there are people who don't fawn over the every word of some bloke in a dress and red shoes.
 

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