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.
I recently started listening to Albert Mohler Jr.’s weekday podcast The Briefing [link]. I picked it up because James White recommended it, and he recommends so little that anyone else does I thought I’d give it a listen just on his recommendation.
I’m kind of luke on Mohler generally; I’m already on the record for saying that I agree that the modern American evangelical church is sick but disagree that Calvinism (or Lutheranism, or Reformed Theology generally) is the solution, and I have kind of a wait and see attitude regarding the leadership of any of the new Calvinists within Evangelicalism. By the same token I’m so sick and tired of Richard Land that I’m glad to hear anybody within the Southern Baptist Convention talking about cultural and political issues from a Southern Baptist perspective. It should be a time of great disenchantment, and I’ve been waiting for someone to start doing the heavy lifting of disenchanting.
Mohler works from a fairly narrow palate of themes and a broad spectrum of sources. I’m glad to hear someone cite more than just a handful of mainstream media outlets who doesn’t behave as if Fox News, OneNewsNow and WND.com constitute a well-balanced news diet.
Mohler talks a lot about “worldviews,” a word that only conservative Christians use heavily, and after a few dozen episodes I’m still not sure what he means when he says it. I’m accustomed to it meaning “things we/they believe instead of thinking” or “things we believe because they fit other things we believe, not because we’ve evaluated their truth claims specifically.” It is usually taken as shorthand for the great gulf fixed between us and “them:” unbelievers, liberals, Socialists, etc. and which cannot be crossed but can only be identified. I hope he means more than this, but I’m not sure.
Mohler talks a lot about a “Genesis 3″ perspective, by which I think he means a world that is already Fallen and cannot be fixed.
And finally he talks a lot about “America as a post-Christian nation,” which after listening to him for a while I have to believe he means as a term of nostalgia, suggesting that America was once a Christian nation and can only be understood as such. And here’s where I have to part company with Mohler. So far as I can tell America was never a Christian nation; it was always a post-Christian nation. So far as I can tell the Christian phase, if there was one, was long over by 1776, and it left no trace in any of the country’s founding documents. And it troubles me greatly to hear revisionists like David Barton taken seriously in various Christian media outlets (I’m thinking of Janet Parshall here, but I’m confident there are others).
I want to come back to this later, but I want to stake out a position first. Let’s not kid ourselves: America was never a Christian nation. I love being a Christian and I’m grateful to be an American, but I always want to remind folks that those aren’t the same thing.
I am not a big fan of Robert Jeffress; I don’t know a lot about him, but he came to my attention during the fundraising campaign for his downtown Dallas campus a couple of years ago. At the time I thought he was a pretty good example of what’s wrong with the Southern Baptist Convention: he’s a strong personality, has a board that apparently agrees with him on everything, doesn’t mind saying or doing controversial things that have nothing to do with the Gospel, etc. If I had a “big-name conservative pastor dead pool,” a list of guys I expect to blow up or break down within the next five years, I suspect Jeffress would be on it.
I’d rather be wrong, of course. As always I’d much rather learn I’ve misunderstood someone, or see someone who is being reckless have a change of heart and learn to moderate their behavior, or whatever. And some recent posts by Tom Rich at his FBC Jax Watchdog blog [e.g. link] suggest that perhaps Jeffress isn’t just another loose cannon in the pulpit.
Still, I am inclined to see Jeffress’s recent “Mormonism is a cult” comments much the same way a lot of secular commentators have seen them: as just an uncomfortable religious/political favor done by a high-profile pastor for the high-profile governor of his state. In this case, a favor done by Jeffress for Texas governor Rick Perry.
I was interested to see that National Public Radio went to Richard Land for comment on the Jeffress flap [link], and I would love to hear Land’s unedited comments. Land is right: “cult” is a term with a bunch of meanings, and Mormonism’s relationship with little-oh orthodox Christianity is complicated. And I’m not surprised to see Land here lumping where Jeffress is splitting: despite Land’s apparent position as someone who advocates on behalf of a religious group with political organizations, I would argue that what he really does is sell Republican Party decisions to Southern Baptists. So the Jeffress flap puts Land in a difficult position, since Land will be stuck selling Romney to Southern Baptists if and when Romney is the Republican nominee.
It would take a lot for me to vote for Romney; I tend to see second-generation political figures who switch their position on abortion midlife (or midcareer) as not being solidly pro-life and not likely to do much to deliver on pro-life campaign promises, and as a former Massachusetts governor I just don’t see Romney as being all that conservative. I won’t say I’d vote for Obama over Romney necessarily, but I’m going to take some convincing to vote for Romney.
I tend to see Romney as being in that Bush Sr/Dole/McCain mold, an establishment Republican that evangelical opinion leaders sell at their peril. I’d be willing to guess that in his heart of hearts Richard Land wishes he had a better candidate to sell. Or at least that Robert Jeffress would shut up.
A few weeks ago Mark Hemingway from the Weekly Standard put in an appearance on Issues Etc. with Todd Wilken to comment on the GOP frontrunners and said they were former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, with current Minnesota Congressional representative Michele Bachmann having a very slim chance of clinching the nomination.
There’s not much good news here, unless you take comfort in the absence of say former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, and real estate developer Donald Trump from this list. In other words, the news isn’t good but it could be much worse.
Since then, of course, Texas governor Rick Perry has announced his candidacy, and so far as I can tell nobody is talking about Tim Pawlenty any more.
A few weeks ago I juggled my podcast listening and picked up a couple of Moody Radio products, including In the Market with Janet Parshall. I think it would be fair to say Parshall participated fully in the Rick Perry rollout, devoting both hours of her show, I think, two days in a row. Careful readers will note that Parshall is the wife of Craig Parshall, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB). Given the NRB’s past involvement in the manufacture of consent among conservative evangelical voters, I can’t help but suggest that the Parshalls might be considered a “power couple” within evangelical circles at the moment. Anyway, I tend to think that it is significant that Parshall devoted so much uncritical coverage to Perry on her show.
For the record, I’m baffled that opinion leaders in evangelical circles are seriously suggesting we might want to vote for another Texas governor so soon. I am so disappointed with the presidency of George W. Bush that whenever I’m dealing with a religious opinion leader (I’m thinking of Richard Land here, but not just him) I’m inclined to ask whether they endorsed Bush in 2000 or 2004, and whether they’ve reconsidered in the interim, before taking their endorsement in 2012 seriously. Yes, the last four years under Obama have been rough, but they haven’t been so rough as to make me forget the Bush Administration.
Finally, it appears that the Lutherans at Issues Etc. have decided to forgive Michele Bachmann for having bolted for an evangelical megachurch as part of her bid to become the first Lutheran President. I don’t much blame them; I suspect Bachmann will get the Tiger Woods treatment from both evangelicals and Lutherans: on her good days she’ll be one of “us,” on her bad days one of “them.”
I am personally dreading having to pick between Romney and Obama. Somebody please find me someone I can vote for.
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.
Here’s a fascinating appearance by Larry Schweikart, University of Dayton professor and author of three books, on the Richard Land Live! radio show, December 2008 [link][mp3]. Schweikart is pushing his book 48 Liberal Lies about American History (That You Probably Learned in School) [Amazon].
Schweikart’s attention-getter here is that one can discern the quality of a history textbook by seeing how it treats Ronald Reagan, but to my ears his discussion of how he surveyed history books by counting pictures and taking these to be representative of editorial choices, was much more interesting [see also]. I’m not sure I agree that his conclusion that pictures of the Ku Klux Klan represent a pessimistic outlook on the part of the authors is entirely warranted. Other interesting points include
- His claim that Lee Harvey Oswald’s Communism is well-established, and characterizations of Oswald as a Marine are evidence of some sort of bias. I’m under the impression that Oswald was definitely a Marine and at best probably a Communist.
- His analysis of the Japanese atomic bombing decision; this all seems to turn on the size and accuracy of troop casualty predictions, and whether 50,000 (or 100,000) Allied casualties was large or small.
- His discussion of the guilt or innocence of the Rosenbergs. I’m under the impression that modern views of the Rosenbergs are more nuanced: that Julius was guilty, Ethel not so much, and that they got harsher treatment than other Cold War spies because they were Jewish [link].
But it’s the discussion of Senator Joe McCarthy and the Red Scare that really makes this episode noteworthy; it starts at about 23:30 in the mp3. Land and Schweikart apparently agree that McCarthy was correct that Communists ran rampant in the government in the early Fifties, the fear of Communism that characterized the Red Scare was a “grounded fear,” and Schweikart says in his book that McCarthy was the victim of press bias, particularly on the part of Edward R. Murrow.
I realize that modern depictions of the Red Scare are generally seen through a Hollywood filter, particularly by people who were on a blacklist or were friends or colleagues of someone who was on a blacklist, but I am always surprised when I find someone whose interpretation of the Red Scare is this far to the right.
For the record, I’m of the opinion that if McCarthy had been correct in every detail someone would have taken up his crusade after his censure; if that happened I’m not aware of it.
I had never heard of Doug Wead until a few days ago, when I heard Russ Baker, the author of Family of Secrets, suggest that Wead was the man who pitched to George W. Bush what became his literal come-to-Jesus story, complete with Alcoholics Anonymous overtones. Baker did not clarify whether Wead also suggested the Billy-Graham-on-a-beach part of the story. I’ve long been fascinated with the way politicians appear to promise so much to evangelical Christians, deliver so little, and still get their support election after election, so I found the story interesting even though I have no way of knowing whether it’s true or not.
A little digging online and I found this article from Wead’s on blog, from 2008, on how to court the evangelical vote and how Mike Huckabee blew it.
When seeking to establish a base among evangelical voters, presidential contender, Governor Mike Huckabee, made a big mistake. It is one that many presidential wannabes have made before him. He went over the heads of the evangelical leaders of influence and talked directly to the people. It works well with most constituencies, Catholics, Labor, Jews, Hispanics, Women but it never works with Blacks and it never works with evangelicals either. It cost Mike Huckabee the presidential primary in South Carolina and it will probably cost him the nomination.
I recommend the entire article; it makes for unpleasant reading, but it’s helpful for understanding e.g. why voting instructions go from politicians through Richard Land to Southern Baptist voters and not the other way around.
Oh yeah: Mike Huckabee. For Huckabee to become a viable candidate he needs to get past Sarah Palin among evangelicals and past Newt Gingrich (and Sarah Palin again) among Fox News viewers. And he has to rid himself of the stink of failure from his loss to McCain and Romney in 2008. And he has to explain to law and order non-evangelical voters why they should trust him as head of the Executive Branch after he pardoned Maurice Clemmons, who went on to shoot four police officers in Washington state. The phrase “Huckabee’s Willie Horton” doesn’t just alliterate; it’s just too good to pass up.
Intrade has Huckabee at about 7% chance of winning the 2012 nomination. That strikes me as a bit high.