Repost: “Those Evangelicals” Are Ruining Everything

My last repost before the project is done….I think…maybe…hopefully…

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The original post is over here.

My last post was on assuming the worst about “Those Evangelicals” and the liturgy. This week, I thought Those Evangelicals deserved their own post. But first, I should explain what I mean by Those Evangelicals.

Who are Those Evangelicals?

No matter your theology or politics, everybody can have Those Evangelicals.

If you’re a conservative, Those Evangelicals are the people who read Rachel Held Evans and vote Bernie Sanders and use words like “social justice” and “fair trade coffee.”

If you’re a liberal, Those Evangelicals listen to James Dobson and vote Ted Cruz and use words like “sanctity of marriage” and “American exceptionalism.”

And if you’re like me and like pretending you’re a moderate, you could have Those Evangelicals on both sides of you.

There are characteristics that apply to Those Evangelicals. All of them:

  1. Disagree with us on “core issues.” This sounds important and serious, and sometimes it is. Some of the arguments we have are on fundamental matters of Christianity.

Other issues aren’t as “core” as we think. Sometimes they’re just our group’s pet issue of the moment. Because we see the issue defended so often on our newsfeeds, we assume it’s more fundamental than it is.

But either way, the result is the same. We feel that the church in our time must take strong action toward our core issue. Everything depends on it. And Those Evangelicals just don’t get it.

  1. Disagree for the worst reasons. Of course, the only way Those Evangelicals could disagree with us is some deficiency in their character. Liberals assume the “only explanation” for conservatives clinging to their antiquated views is blind adherence to a vanished past, and bigotry toward those who are different. Conservatives assume the “only explanation” for liberals jumping from traditional Christian teachings is a gravelling desire to appease the world, and a terror at being viewed as irrelevant by today’s culture.

The thought that people could disagree for principled reasons never occurs to us.

  1. Must be wrong about everything. Eventually it goes beyond the core issues–we’ll reflexively disagree with everything Those Evangelicals say. No matter how innocuous the statement is, or how little context we have, whenever one of Those Evangelicals says something, we will get offended and disagree.

For me, there’s one author who’s popular with my evangelical friends of. . . a certain political bend. For reasons I can’t quite explain, she drives me crazy. Every time I even glance at one of her re-tweets on Twitter, my heart rate goes up and I start composing diatribes against her in my head1.

  1. Make us feel self-righteous. This is the most fundamental reason of all–every time we disagree with Those Evangelicals, we feel smarter. And holier.

This last factor is what makes Those Evangelicals so fun–and dangerous. When I’m with a group of friends who agree with me, we all crack jokes about Those Evangelicals and how ridiculous they are. Then we laugh and pat each other on the back and congratulate ourselves on our own rightness.

As fun as that is, focusing on Those Evangelicals is bad for us. As you can probably guess, there are several reasons for this, too:

  • It creates a bubble. It’s easy to see why. If our opponents are ruining Christianity with their bad reasoning and poor character, why should we have anything to do with them?

It’s amazing how easy it is to create a bubble of people who agree with us on everything. We can block the newsfeeds of any of Those Evangelicals on Facebook. We can only follow people on Twitter who already agree with us on everything. We can only read the news sites that confirm our worldview. And, as it turns out, everyone we follow has the EXACT same view of Those Evangelicals as us!

Eventually, we get to the point where we’re never challenged, and can’t imagine how anyone could come to a different opinion unless they’re an idiot or a terrible person. You know, like Those Evangelicals.

  • It depersonalizes the other side. If we get to the point where we don’t actually know any of Those Evangelicals, and we don’t bother learning their ideas, then Those Evangelicals stop being people. Instead, they’re more like internet goblins–heartless, disembodied monsters who troll the waves of social media to destroy everything you hold dear. Luckily, you and people like you are here to save the day.
  • It leads to pride. This is the end result of bashing Those Evangelicals. There’s intellectual pride. Congratulating ourselves on our own wisdom for seeing through the errors of Those Evangelicals. There’s also moral pride. Because, of course, the fact that we hold the correct opinions and Those Evangelicals hold the wrong opinions doesn’t just mean we’re smarter–it means we’re better people. We have the moral courage to Take a Stand for Truth when the degenerates around us fall away. If only everyone could be more like us, the world would be a better place….

The solution to this thinking is simple, but it’s also difficult–getting to know Those Evangelicals. Going out to dinner with them. Reading a book they recommend. Disagreeing in a civil way, trying to understand their point of view.

None of this means that we should abandon all of our theological and political convictions. It also doesn’t mean that we should sweep all our differences to the side and pretend we agree on everything. But it does mean that we should view the other side with charity. This goes beyond simply understanding their arguments–it means getting to know them as people.

If all of Those Evangelicals are internet goblins without souls or minds, it’s easy to stand in prideful judgment. But if Those Evangelicals include people we actually know and like, the pride and judgment are harder to come by.

Does anybody have good advice for getting to know people from the “Other Side”? I suppose you could also guess who that writer is who drives me nuts. But you should know I plan on denying everybody suggested…

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1  I’d say who this author is, but that’s better suited for my other blog: “A Million Writers who Bug Me.”

Repost (and Some News): Why I Like My Grandma’s Church

I have good news and bad news. First the bad news: I won’t be able to update the blog for a few weeks. That means you’ll be getting a series of “best of” posts. But the reason I can’t update the blog is (cue good news) I’m working on a secret new project. I think you’ll like it. I won’t give too much away, but it involves evangelicalism, robots, and Tasmanian tigers. And don’t worry–I’ll let you all know as soon as it’s ready….

So now, here’s “best of” post number one:

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Check out the original post here, or just keep reading.

As any cynic knows, the easiest targets are previous generations. It’s simple for millennials to be cynical toward people who are older than us:

  • They’ve already had a shot at running the world. That means all remaining problems must be the result of them screwing up.
  • They have different views of morality and propriety. This obviously means they’re prudish, bigoted, narrow-minded, and generally wicked.
  • They’re, well, old. So we can point to hilarious examples of why they’re silly–look at those old people with their sagging skin and high pants and McDonalds coffee! They can’t even use Facebook right!

When cynics look further into the past, things get even easier. We can make whatever sarcastic joke we want. It could be unfair, and even untrue (Victorians were afraid of sex! Puritans hated fun! The Middle Ages were full of ignorant superstition!). It still sticks.

This is all part of a millennial conviction that because we’re young, we’re both smarter and purer than all previous generations. That sounds cool and edgy. But it’s nothing new. It’s a rite of passage for every generation. Whenever young people reach a certain age, they believe that–by crushing all who preceded them– they have reached the pinnacle of wisdom. By the brilliance of their newness, they’ll (finally) fix the mistakes that old people made by the dullness of their oldness.

An example of this thinking was a slogan bouncing around my Twitter feed a while back. It was for some new downtown church, and said:

“We’re not your Grandma’s church.”

The cynic in me nodded approval. It brought images of decrepit scowls and wrinkled faces curved in frowns, disapproving of the young people because we dared to question their sacred cows. It also patted my millennial conceit that every generation that came before mine was stupid.

But the more I thought, the less I liked it. You see, I’ve actually been to my Grandma Pat’s church.

She goes to an evangelical church in the retirement suburb of Sun City, Arizona. The congregation is entirely old people. Until his death this past year, Grandpa Sid sang in their choir—an avalanche of snowy hair reaching rows above the pastor. And judging from my last visit, Grandma Pat is best friends with every parishioner.

There’s plenty of fodder for hip millennials. The church is fervently pro-America and pro-Israel. Their musical tastes seem frozen in 1972. And a couple parishioners made comments about immigration that made me cringe. That new downtown church probably had this kind of stuff in mind.

But that ignores the bigger picture. Like how the congregation is still bringing their octogenarian neighbors to Jesus. Or how the parishioners cope with death and serious illness with calm resilience and confidence in the promises of God. Or how they showered my Grandma with attention and support after my Grandpa died.

I don’t know how that new church ended up, but they’d be lucky to be my Grandma’s church.

It’s easy for generations to develop a clan attitude–our group is right about everything, and every other group is wrong! For young people, it’s the belief that all old people are narrow-minded bigots. Generational change is a sign of progress–out with the old, and in with the new. For old people, it’s the belief that all young people are selfish, lazy bums 1. Generational change is a sign of decay–things were so different in my day!

Both attitudes are wrong. They’re also self-destructive. Whether you’re eighty or eighteen, before you make a snide remark about some other generation, keep these things in mind:

  • All young people will be old some day. And all old people used to be young.
  • Don’t assume a couple moral blind spots makes a whole generation worthless. Every generation has them–including yours. Be honest, but also be charitable.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to ranting about how much better music was in my day. Just kidding. But it really was…

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1  That’s right, old people–I’m not letting you off the hook!

Photo courtesy of Grace Bible Church

Twitter Cranks and Evangelical Identity

So I’ve been doing something new and exciting—for me anyway. I’ve started buying some Twitter ads for this blog (it’s going well, thanks for asking). As you can imagine, exposing my tweets to a large number of strangers has done some . . . interesting things to my mentions. Random rude people just come with the territory, but there’s one particular type of comment that I’ve been getting that has gotten my attention:

Lots of people think I’m a Trump supporter.

Obviously, the people making these comments have spent no time on my site. Even a quick glance will show a half dozen posts criticizing Trump.

Which means the comments were prompted solely by the tweet. And what does the tweet say? Absolutely nothing about Trump, or even politics. After thinking about it, I’ve concluded that people assume I’m a Trump supporter because my tweet was not explicitly anti-evangelical.

And that’s got me worried.

Continue reading “Twitter Cranks and Evangelical Identity”

Conservatives Have Weasel Words, Too

A couple weeks ago, I argued that “toxic” was a weasel word that progressive Christians use too much. On my Facebook page,1 a reader2 pointed out that conservative Christians have their own weasel words. One in particular caught my attention: liberal. I think that’s spot-on. And yes, I have several specific points about why conservative Christians shouldn’t use it so much:

Continue reading “Conservatives Have Weasel Words, Too”

Let’s Quit with the “Toxic” Talk

There’s a term that gets thrown around a lot that drives me crazy, both for rational and irrational reasons. That term is “toxic.”

It seems especially popular with Christians on the Left1 for describing things they dislike on the Right. Traditional sexuality is toxic. The concept of hell is toxic. Complementarianism is toxic. Missions culture is toxic. Etc., etc., etc.

I don’t want to get into the substance of those controversies. In fact, I agree with some of those critiques. Instead, I’m just giving reasons why we should stop labelling any beliefs we don’t like as toxic.

Continue reading “Let’s Quit with the “Toxic” Talk”

Why Couldn’t 90’s Kids Watch Cool TV?

If you were raised evangelical in the 90’s, there were lots of tv shows you weren’t allowed to watch for hilarious reasons.1 If you don’t believe me, watch this John Crist video right now.

While it’s fun to laugh at our parents for what my dad calls “Christian political correctness,” we should sympathize with them. They were trying to protect their kids from a multi-headed hydra of influences they knew almost nothing about. Also, there’s a distinct possibility that we’ll do the same thing with our kids.

Maybe.

Continue reading “Why Couldn’t 90’s Kids Watch Cool TV?”

Evangelicals Have a Trolley Problem

Evangelical support for Donald Trump has made me think about the Trolley Problem. You haven’t heard of the trolley problem? No worries–you were just too busy with your social life to pay attention to your Philosophy 101 course in college. The Trolley Problem is a popular ethics hypothetical. It’s ridiculously easy to find background info about it. Here it is in brief:

A runaway trolley is careening down a track toward five innocent workers. You’re standing to the side and unable to warn the workers. But you’re next to a switch that will divert the trolley onto another track. But this track has one innocent worker on it. Is it more ethical to (1) pull the switch and divert the trolley, thereby killing the one worker, or (2) do nothing, and allow the trolley to kill the five workers?

The Trolley Problem is interesting because your answer reveals your deeper assumptions. Is your driving consideration the consequence of your choice? Then you likely said you’d kill the one person to save the five. But if your driving consideration is the process of your choice, you’d likely refuse to kill a person by pulling the switch.

Things get even more interesting when we tinker with the factors.1 Let’s say you said you would pull the switch to divert the trolley:

What if the one person on the other track was a close family member? Would you change your answer? Why?

Continue reading “Evangelicals Have a Trolley Problem”

“Evangelical Apocalypse:” Rejecting Both Naivete and Cynicism

This week, Ross Douthat had an article that hit close to home. In fact, he pretty much summed the purpose of this blog. You should read the whole thing: here it is.

For those of you who didn’t follow the link (for shame!) the article is about how Trump’s presidency has been an apocalypse for American evangelicalism. An “apocalypse” in the original Greek meaning is “an unveiling, an uncovering, an exposure of truths that had heretofore been hidden.”

Unless you’ve spent the past three years dwelling in the wilderness and surviving off honey and locusts, you know it’s been a particular apocalypse for evangelicals. It’s easy to assume that this apocalypse will reveal two sides–the good side and the bad side–and that the good side will win. As Douthat explains:

I’d like to tell a simple story that describes the Patterson scandal [link added by me] as an inflection point — after which Moore’s kind of Baptist will inevitably increase while Jeffress’s kind diminishes, as the “judgment” that Mohler describes leads to a general reckoning with the pull of sexism and racism within conservative-leaning churches.

But to assume that’s necessarily going to happen is to fall into the same inevitablist trap that ensnares both arc-of-history progressives and providentialist Trump supporters. Instead it’s wiser to regard an era of exposure like this one as a test, which can be passed but also failed.

I agree. We shouldn’t sit back in a triumphalist assumption that “those evangelicals” will inevitably lose and history will vindicate us.

But the opposite is also true. It’s easy to look at the struggles in the current apocalypse and get discouraged. It can even lead us to apathy and (wait for it) cynicism. But that shouldn’t be our response. As Douthat explained when he accidentally wrote the tagline for this blog:

So the question posed by this age of revelation is simple: Now that you know something new and troubling and even terrible about your leaders or your institutions, what will you do with this knowledge?

That’s what this blog is (hopefully) about. Finding a way to move forward from the disappointment and frustration. But doing so in a way that isn’t naive or cynical. Instead, it’s a way that is clear-eyed and gospel-centered.

The apocalypse should be a call to self-reflection and to prayer. And hopefully, it can lead to renewal.

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Photo by Formula None

Shea Serrano, Trump Supporters, and Double Fundamentalism

We evangelicals like to draw a distinction between ourselves (the normal people) and the fundamentalists (the crazy khaki pants people). Obviously, definitions are complicated, and often sloppy, but a key aspect of fundamentalists is their tendency to isolate themselves from non-fundamentalists. A good summary comes from a slogan that my grandparents heard back when they were young:

Don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t go with those who do.

To paraphrase slightly, fundamentalists: (1) don’t smoke or drink, and (2) don’t socialize with people who smoke or drink.

Double fundamentalists take it a step further. Their rules are: (1) don’t smoke or drink, (2) don’t socialize with people who smoke or drink, AND (3) don’t socialize with people who socialize with people who smoke or drink.

To make things more concrete, say we have three people: Anne, Bob, and Carol. None of them smoke or drink, but Anne socializes with people who do. Bob, a fundamentalist, could still socialize with Anne. Carol, a double fundamentalist, could not.

Based on my (too) extensive use of Twitter, I’ve noticed a troubling pattern emerging. I’m thinking of one writer in particular: Shea Serrano from the Ringer. For reasons that will soon become clear, I want to emphasize that I like most of his writing a lot.

Continue reading “Shea Serrano, Trump Supporters, and Double Fundamentalism”

A Few More Imagination Redeemed Reflections

In my last post, I shared some initial takeaways on this year’s Your Imagination Redeemed conference. For this post, I’ll share . . . MORE takeaways from the conference! Here they are:

4. Know Your Goal as an Artist

I was the moderator for a panel on the Christian music and the Christian radio industry. The panelists were musicians whose work doesn’t fit the Christian radio formula. But none of them seemed frustrated by that for one simple reason: their goals weren’t to be on Christian radio.

Instead, they focused on creating music that would actually have an effect on people. As one of the panelists (Hi, Teressa!) explained, she realized her goal at an Andrew Peterson concert. She realized how many of the folks in the audience were welling up at his songs. Her goal was to have a career like that–create music that connected to people on that deep level. Getting on the big radio stations was an afterthought.

Continue reading “A Few More Imagination Redeemed Reflections”