Richard Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, announced earlier this week that he will retire next year [link]. The linked article, from the Washington Post blog On Faith, by Adelle Banks, suggests that his departure has something to do with the loss of his radio show, resulting from some comments he made regarding the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, and that it may also have something to do with the ascension of Fred Luter to the presidency of the Convention.
Maybe; the Convention is more complicated than simple racial identity political issues, regardless of the racial demographic crisis Al Mohler has been describing at great length on his podcast, etc.
I frankly don’t care; I’m glad to see the back of Land. I listened to two of his podcasts, For Faith and Family and Richard Land Live! for a couple of years each, and I always got the impression that he was more concerned with repeating Republican talking points to Southern Baptist than he was anything else. I stopped listening to Land in 2009 after he suggested that the profitability of insurance companies was necessary to the continued viability of the health care industry in the United States.
But the bigger problem from my perspective was Land’s selling of the Iraq War in 2002; he is the last living signatory of the Land Letter [link], an endorsement by five evangelical leaders (Land, Colson, Bill Bright, D. James Kennedy, and Carl Herbster) on the basis of Just War Theory.
I would really encourage careful readers to follow the link from the page above to the text of the letter and decide for themselves how well it has aged, and whether it deserves critical reappraisal and, dare I say it, repentance. Hint: I’d opt for repentance, and I am inclined to consider an open and honest dialog on the latter Bush Administration a good place to start any further discussion of evangelical leaders and their involvement in contemporary politics.
In other words, if you’re an evangelical opinion leader I don’t care what you have to say until you’ve reassessed the Bush years. They were a disaster, and since we believe in openness, honesty, and repentance, we owe it to ourselves to start the discussion there.
I appreciate Land retiring, of course, since it effectively puts the punctuation on his career, full stop, while he’s still alive. I try to avoid speaking ill of the dead (see e.g. this week’s non-discussion of Gore Vidal), and I consider it something like providence to have a chance to take a long hard look at Land’s shall we say corpus all at once.
Here’s a quick grab bag of topics, each of which probably merits a post in and of itself, but will probably present itself again in due time.
A couple of weeks ago Brian D. linked [link] to half of David Sessions’s list of “The Ten Worst Christian Media Hacks” [1-5, 6-10], for which I am grateful. These two articles are well-written and for the most part his ten hacks are well-chosen. Here’s the description from the article:
The following are the top 10 Christian commentators you’re most likely to waste your time reading. Chances are high, perusing any random piece of their work, that you’ll find worn-out political banalities, repetitive tropes, or a general absence of anything that might enrich a reader’s mind. In a couple of cases, they’re egoists and opportunists. You’ll immediately notice that many of them are conservatives…
If I were picking a list of top ten baddies in Christian media I’d probably pick a different organizing principle for my list; I’d be more interested in people who seem totally devoted to selling out conservative Christians for political purposes, to confusing political conservatism with Christian orthodoxy, etc. At the risk of trading empty Enlightenment values for ambiguous theological concepts, I’m more concerned about people selling out the gospel than in their failing to enrich readers’ minds. Nevertheless, Sessions makes a good case for his rogues’ gallery:
- Dinesh D’Souza
- Joseph Farah
- Frank Schaeffer
- L. Brent Bozell III
- David Limbaugh
- Albert Mohler
- Michael Novak
- Chuck Colson
- Jim Wallis
- Michael Gerson
I’m not familiar with a couple of these names, but I can’t disagree with the ones I know. I’d probably substitute Richard Land for Albert Mohler (seriously: who is more guilty of selling out the Southern Baptist Convention to the Republican Party and getting nothing in return than Richard Land?) and I’d rank Colson ahead of D’Souza. Perhaps I’ve grown tone-deaf in my dotage, but it sounds to me like everything Colson does has the intent or the effect of either lumping Evangelicals into a Catholic voting bloc, pressing Enlightenment values onto Evangelical thinking, or both.
I just finished reading D’Souza’s 1984 or so book on Jerry Falwell; as best I can tell he was attempting to work in the opposite direction and the result is a readable mess. More about that later.
Anyway, I recommend the two Sessions articles; it’s never too late to become a careful consumer of media product, and one may as well start with what one already sort of understands.
Robert Jeffress is in the news again, this time with his “Grinch Alert:” a list of retailers who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” more or less. I’m not sure I could do better than the analysis offered by David Head [link], with a couple of disclaimers. I agree with Head that shows of political or economic force are not the best expressions of Christianity in action; I’d probably encourage fellow Christians to just downsize their Christmas spending instead. To my ears the whole “War on Christmas” refrain has more to do with flexing middle-class buying muscle for the sake of an imagined social or political past than with Christianity per se. Christmas itself is such a vulgar thing I’m ashamed to have it associated with Christianity, so I’m inclined to say good-bye and good riddance to the whole thing, so I don’t understand why it’s something worth fighting a war over.
Perhaps I’m wrong; all I’d need to change my mind would be a reference in the New Testament showing that the early Church celebrated Christmas.
Finally, Chris Hedges has written another book (Death of the Liberal Class [link]) and put in an appearance on Alternative Radio [link] over the weekend (Yes, I’m an occasional NPR listener; about which more later). Sadly, while AR congratulates itself on its spotless Socialist values it doesn’t make its content available for free, so you’re going to have to take my word for what Hedges said unless and until you’re willing to drop $5 for the mp3.
Hedges is an acknowledged theological liberal (he counts among his avowed influences Paul Tillich and William Sloane Coffin) with a Masters of Divinity from Harvard University and writes from a perspective that seems stubbornly pre-Eighties: he really thinks e.g. the Berrigan brothers and the World Council of Churches should have continued to set the tone for Christian engagement on political issues. As a result he tends to mix helpful observations of what’s wrong with the Christian right with unhelpful critique of same tending to scorn and spite.
This time around Hedges points out that there’s no common ground between Christianity and corporatism [def], and there’s a great deal that conservative Christianity has failed to do by taking on the corporation as its model of incarnation, along with its values, etc. Unfortunately Hedges considers Marx to still be the last word on capitalism, so the result makes for occasionally painful and tedious listening.
I have to admit that while I can’t agree with Hedges moment to moment and point to point, I have to agree that something has gone seriously wrong inside the conservative corporate Church. I’m troubled that I have to listen to someone from so far Left to hear this disquiet examined and expressed.
Finally, it’s worth noting that both Hedges and Sessions are affiliated with The Daily Beast. I have no idea what it means that they both work for former New Yorker editor Tina Brown.
I spent a chunk of my weekend at the Discern Conference at Calvary Santa Fe. Here’s the schedule:
Friday September 10
3PM: Robert Sungenis (Catholic) and James White (Reformed) debate Predestination
7PM: Robert Sungenis and James White debate The Assumption of Mary
Saturday September 11
9AM: Ron Rhodes: Assessing Alternative Gospels, Christs, and Christianities
10:30AM: Richard Fisher: The Most Dangerous Trend in the Church Today
11:45AM: Ron Rhodes: Does the Existence of Evil Really Disprove the Existence of God?
2:30PM: Richard Mayhue: Hell — Never, Forever, A While?
4PM: James White: The New Perspective on Paul
6:30PM: Richard Fisher: Hermeneutics
8PM: Richard Mayhue: Have We Missed It? (The Rapture)
Sunday September 12
9AM: James White: The Security of the Believer
11AM: Richard Fisher: Avoiding Worldliness
I’ve italicized the sessions I attended; I had commitments elsewhere that made it impossible for me to attend several sessions.
Admission Friday and Sunday was free; Saturday was $10, and there was nobody taking money at the checkin table after the first couple of talks. CDs of the debates were available for $5 by Saturday morning; according to the conference program free audio downloads will be available shortly. I will add links if possible once they are available.
Ten dollars for seven talks (plus two free talks and two free debates) is a good deal. I don’t know how the conference was funded; I’m guessing from the titles of people who attend Calvary Santa Fe. Less than a hundred people turned out (including conference volunteers), and the church provided coffee and snacks at breaks on Saturday, so I can’t imagine that the conference broke even.
I wish I had more time to devote to church conferences, and more conferences available within easy driving distance. I really should have taken advantage of the recent world view conference in Albuquerque, which featured among other speakers Os Guinness, Chuck Colson, Michael Novak, and former New Mexico Congressman Bill Redmond [link], all for only $25.
When I was a kid the churches we attended had regular week-long revival meetings, and on rare occasion a “prophecy conference” or a “Bible conference,” and Discern 2010 is most in the mold of the latter; it featured a rotating cast of speakers (unlike a typical revival) and was devoted to apologetics, more or less. I guess it’s worth pointing out that most of the talks at this conference were devoted to arguments against error/heresy/differences of opinion within Christianity, rather than on behalf of Christianity vs. other beliefs.
As I understood various speakers’ comments they were assigned their topics by Calvary executive pastor Paul Scozzafava; by and large the topics were things the speakers had written articles or books on before, so we usually heard talks that had been given in whole or in part elsewhere before. The exceptions being the two debates, of course, and White’s talk on New Perspective on Paul.
Most speakers at a conference like this lie somewhere on a continuum between professor and preacher, and their talks generally resemble to varying degrees lectures or sermons, where the lectures present truth claims, proceed as more or less linear arguments, and attempt to convince the listener of the truth of a conclusion, and the sermons are meant to be persuasive, rely more heavily on illustrations and appeals to emotion/authority/shared prejudice, and tend to be less linear. There seems to be a more or less generational divide among the speakers here, with retired pastor Fisher giving a sermon, occasional adjunct professor White giving a lecture, and the other two falling somewhere in between.
The relationship between modern politically aware evangelicals, supposed ideal leaders like Rushdoony, and political leaders like Jerry Falwell, Chuck Colson, Phyllis Schlafly, et al is complicated, at least as complicated as the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Rushdoony view of the future involves seizing the reins of power, overthrowing structures of government, and founding a new revised American government on a foundation of Old Testament Law. There are several other views, some of which I’ll cover in later posts.
The small handful of people I know who talk about situating government on a foundation of Old Testament law talk about the United States in the image of the Old Testament nation-states of Israel and Judah, more or less during the time of the prophets, when good kings and bad kings followed each other in succession, prophets advised good kings and resisted bad kings, God judged the nation in part according to the righteousness (lawfulness) of the king, and the nation-state gradually declined because of persistent national unrighteousness until God destroyed it using some foreign army as an intermediary.
This view usually surfaces in the form of references to particular issues, like this: “We need to stop [abortion, gay marriage, Obamacare] because we don’t want God to destroy America.” On rare occasions it surfaces in the form of claims that so-and-so will be a modern version of a “righteous king” who will lead America back to the true path (e.g. “George W. Bush/Sarah Palin is God’s man/woman for the job”), but there’s mostly a lull in that sort of talk right now. I expect more of it after the midterm election later this year, probably peaking during the primary season in 2012.
This is strictly speaking not a fundamentalist reading of the Old Testament; there are several problems. Fundamentalists as Dispensationalists read God’s treatment of Israel as a historical one-off, to be revisited and concluded in the Revelation, and therefore not as a giant metaphor, nor as a pattern for God’s treatment of other countries. There are also problems with picking aspects of the story and not others: there’s no “American Moses” to receive the Law from God; there’s no American tribe to be the “people of God;” and the various Old Testament prophets mention a whole host of sins, not all of which rate mention: treatment of the land, treatment of marginal people, purity of national religion, etc. The Reconstructionist narrative at present deals with only some of these problems: as best I can tell only the “America is a Christian Nation” and “The Founding Fathers were all/mostly Christians” is part of this story nowadays, with the Founding Fathers as an aggregate American Moses. The idea of the United States as a successor empire to Great Britain and unified around an ethnic identity has fallen out of favor, and taken the “certain white Americans as people of God” narrative with it.
Fundamentalists and their evangelical children often reach similar but different political stances, but do so by different paths. I’ll have to deal with those in another post.