Tag Archives: progressive evangelicals

Conservative Ecumenism and Dominionist Politics

In the May 2015 issue of the Atlantic, Ross Douthat asked “will Pope Francis break the Church?” By this he meant, will the current Pope’s activities push conservative out of Roman Catholicism or cause deep controversy. Douthat asked many important questions, but his analysis breaks down within the North American context. Though very informative on papal politics and it’s relation to progressivism, Douthat misses that, within this context, conservativism often leads to denominational de-evolution. A proper amount of progressive utopianism is needed to keep any religion alive.

A common talking point of more conservative minded individuals is that the “creeping liberalism” of mainline Protestant denominations is a source of evangelical revival and mainline diminishment; thereforethe remedy to the decline of membership within mainline protestant denominations is for them to increase their political conservativism, for example regarding issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and homosexuality.There is some truth to this, mainline denominations are indeed losing large portions of their membership to conservative evangelical churches, but it does beg deeper examination. This analysis forgets to include the opposite variable into the equation. Namely, the influence of political conservativism on denominations.

Why is it relatively easy for many conservative non-denominationalists to change their home church in the blink of an eye? Many denominations have lost their doctrinal specifics in favor of appealing to the evangelical subculture, canonizing the Benham Brothers and Tim Tebow as examples of true Christian character and upholding the Duggar family as the ideal Christian household. Effectively, when many individuals leave their old mainline denomination for an overwhelmingly Republican evangelical congregation they have already been de-denominationalized. The novel doctrines of their old faith have already been put onto the backburners and conservative political culture has already been made the vehicle by which faith is expressed.

Consider the Holiness-Wesleyan tradition. Despite having a history well entrenched into the Midwestern landscape, the Methodist context of the Holiness-Wesleyan tradition is slowly eroding. A 2012 study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate that revealed that Holiness-Wesleyans have some of the lowest retention rates in the entire country rang alarms at my mother’s church; to the point that the pastor preached about it on Sunday. He was concerned that other Christian faiths, according to the study, were more successful in sustaining their existence, so he chastised the entire congregation for not reciting the Nicene Creed enough during services.

From personal experience, one of the leading causes of this are that many are de-denominationalized by their own denomination’s culture; then they jump ship and join evangelical churches dominated by conservative politics. Functionally speaking, there is already little difference between the two; most Wesleyans treat novel doctrines such as Entire Sanctification with a passing glance and there is no hope of reconstructing the Methodist-Episcopal approach to faith. In aesthetic, theology, and daily life, the shared culture of the Religious Right allows individuals to chuck the Holiness-Wesleyan tradition and other Christian traditions for the seemingly more ecumenical evangelical churches that attract members from multiple denominational backgrounds, including that of the Catholic Church. When denominational specifics are disregarded, often the Religious Right replace what is missing.

We must realize that the North American Religious Right serves as an ecumenical movement between conservatives within numerous denominations. The very notion of traditionalist Roman Catholics getting along with Southern Baptists or historically black denominations with socially conservative leanings co-operating with denominations with a history of white supremacy is living proof of this. The success of individuals such as Jerry Farwell and Paul Weyrich is that they surpassed previous denominational feuds to create a new voting bloc, one centered on getting social conservatives into public offices. Weyrich, a Byzantine Catholic, Republican strategist, and founder of ALEC, was successful in helping the Republican Party appeal social conservatives across denominational lines and thereby creating a new identity; one that put the culture war in the middle of the conservative identity. To quote his 1990 speech to the University Club of DC, “our agenda will effectively polarize the political debate and expose the left-wing agenda as the product of a fringe element hostile to our culture and our civilization.”

Of course, Farwell and Weyrich drew upon many sources to construct their worldview. They merely mainlined already existing notions within Christian dominionism. Christian dominionism is the belief that God desires Christians rise to power in civil systems so that the nations will be governed by biblical law. The people who adhere to its ideas are particular groups of conservative, politically active Christians who believed in having dominion, which meant a takeover, in the social civic and governmental spheres.  It starts off with emphasis of being Christians first and then live out the political implications of that. The most influential form of dominionism is Christian reconstructionism.

Christian reconstructionism arose out of conservative Presbyterianism (Reformed and Orthodox), to proposes that contemporary application of the laws of Old Testament Israel, or “Biblical Law,” is the basis for reconstructing society toward the Kingdom of God on earth. Dominionism, specifically reconstructionism, started out as a view being primarily held by small group of theologically conservative scholars and pastors, at the level of being of a sub culture. It also supports the idea of theocracy and social hierarchies. Its potent ideas about having dominion over social, civil and governmental spheres, having the Bible being the governing text for all aspects of life, and constructing a revisionist Christian and world history that explaining that history is predestined from creation until kingdom of God in on earth became very attractive to far right Christians that need a framework for their worldviews. Being a decentralized, covert movement of ideas led to a creation of networks and coalitions of churches across various denominations that are influenced by dominionism and its framework as well as various networks of Christian think tanks such as the Christian Coalition, and Operation Rescue.

What makes dominionism powerful and attractive to those Christians who are the on right was it gave some form of internal logic and narrative to how can their politics be a means to manifest Kingdom of God on Earth. It can also gave of a type of rationale and framework to justify the belief that they can control the principalities and powers to stop whatever is considered ‘evil’ or ‘ungodly’ if they are in the position of political and social leadership on their terms without examining the inherent merit of their politics. For instance, Frances Schaffer and his theological work advocated on how to do social action informed by a Christian worldview when the issue of Roe vs. Wade came about. His theological work from the 60s to the 80s was deeply influenced by Christian dominionism. His work sparked a renewed interest in political activism among various conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists. In spite of Schaffer’sintelligence and cultural engagement,  some of his work plays on the reinforcing the problematic dichotomy between the secular and the religious, the implicit assumption of some political views being more “Christian” than others by default without examining the merits, and very limited understanding of sociopolitical and economic thought and theory. Through Christian dominionism, the Christian right got the intellectual and theological framework to mobilize. It also indirectly catalyzes other Christians from other denominations who are distraught the changes within their denominations to participate in the culture wars.

 

Despite how sincere we may be, ecumenism is a two edged sword. Many join politically conservative evangelical churches precisely because they view it as a means of getting around denominational in-fighting. Douthat is right that Pope Francis is a test to the Roman Catholic Church as a whole, but let’s not forget that conservativism in the States has been breaking mainline denominations ever since the rise of the Religious Right due to its ecumenical character, cutting across worlds by creating a common conservative political discourse.

 

 

Xeres Villanueva wears many different hats between a budding entrepreneur, a comrade and a social activist for various social justice issues. She worked with InsideOut Community Arts as a mentor, an art education organization dedicated to empower middle school students. She was involved with various groups, past and present, such as Asian Pacific American Student Organization, Gay Christian Network, St. Monica Catholic Community Gay and Lesbian Outreach, Food Not Bombs and Stop the Traffik. Xeres is currently a part of network of social justice thinkers and practitioners called Asian American Pacific Islanders Christians for Social Justice and Jesus for Revolutionaries.
She also wrote an Oral Oratory speech “Living Miracle”, which won the 2005 Spirit of Hope Award. She takes delight in reading, cooking, and watching live music performances.

POLITICS Editor Nathan Lewis Lawrence is a biracial graduate student, world traveler, and jujitsu enthusiast from Lancaster, Ohio. He received his bachelor’s degree in Security studies from Tiffin University in Tiffin, Ohio and received a M.A. in Peace and Conflict studies at the Department of International Relations at Hacettepe University. Currently, he attends the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. Check out his personal blog Taming Cynicism.

Photo description: The image is of two flags, the American flag, red/white/blue and the Christian Nation/Dominionist flag, white with a blue square, and a red cross inside of it. Photo found on Flickr. 

in the mail: John Goldingay's Israel's Gospel and Israel's Faith

A few months ago I was gifted by InterVarsity with a copy of John Goldingay’s Israel’s Gospel. Today, I also received the second volume of his Old Testament theology trilogy, Israel’s Faith. I have heard nothing but good things about Goldingay’s work, especially as it relates to open theism. I also like what I saw bibliography wise, as Goldingay, an evangelical, is dialoguing with Black and Womanist biblical scholars.

Baptists are the Reavers: my thoughts on #protfuture

Image from fireflyfans.net

A while back, I reviewed a book on science fiction and social theory. Surprisingly, this little book had a lot to teach me about how we view eschatology. Essentially, our views of the futures are often times shaped by notions of exclusion. Which ever tribe (usually tribe, in the case of First Nations persons) we see as not being able to make it is based usually on historical circumstances, like for instance, genocide and war to continue on with my example.

Recently, I watched the conversation held at BIOLA University on The Future of Protestantism sponsored by First Things magazine. Dr. Peter Leithart, who originally wrote the provocative essay The End of Protestantism re-introduced us to his idea of Reformational Catholicism, going back to the Reformers and their Catholic view of theology, the sacraments, honoring the Church Fathers. Protestantism is a movement and a theology that doth protest too much, a project that was found to be susceptible to tribalism, nationalism and anti-intellectualism.

The responses offered by Evangelical Wesleyan theologian Fred Sanders and Reformational theologian Carl Trueman were concise and highly critical of Leithart’s project. What I found interesting is that there was this over-arching theme fretting that the culture wars, for a particular band of Christians, had been lost. I will leave you to read up and believe why that was the case, and the cultural biases behind that belief.

What I want to talk about is the BoogeyMen, who are the Reavers to this Brave New World called the Conservative Evangelical Protestantism of the Future. First Things and this conversation are running a first-class Firefly spaceship, and they are trying to avoid the cannibals we call The Baptists. The notion of a Reformational Catholicism precludes any adherence to traditional Free Church ecclessiology. Autonomous, local congregations are derided as “cults of personality.” Word-Centered worship services being replaced by the Table-Centered/Eucharist traditions. I think that in and of itself is something that cannot be called being faithful to the Reformation, or the Old and New Testaments.

I also found it odd that both parties were willing to give our Catholic sisters and brothers grace, but aren’t willing to extend it to mainline Protestantism. This I find absolutely hypocritical. Forget about the leadership and direction of mainline Protestant denominations; there are many persons with conservative, evangelical beliefs in these churches. The Unity that #ProtFuture is in search for is a political hegemony, one where Conservativism is the same as preaching the Gospel. I’ll reserve my comments concerning the cultural hegemony of where the conversation went, and where it usually goes, but suffice to say that it takes a similar approach to “Third-World Pentecostalism” as “progressive” emergent church leaders.  Maybe rather than asking how can we teach the new Christian majority, Charismatics from Global South to accept how we see things, how about asking, “what can these Christians teach us about the faith?”

I like that this discussion started an important conversation.  It’s a conversation that Dietrich Bonhoeffer commented on, that American Protestantism is a Protestantism without reformation.  This is primarily due to the particular cultural milieu the U.S. finds itself in, the national culture wars among other things. I guess what I envision as a possible future of Protestant Christianity is a commitment to  A) the Theology of the Cross that Martin Luther first built the movement on with the 95 theses,  B) The Three Baptisms of the Radical Reformation– Immersed in Water, Immersed by the Holy Spirit, Immersed in Bodily Existence within the World (baptism of blood), and lastly  C) Word-Centered woship services where the Word is preached through sermons and prayers by the priesthood of all believers, women and men alike; where the Bible is the norming norm where we affirm and interpret the creeds and historic Christian writings and statements in light of the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, and where the story of God and humanity is seen as begotten by YHWH at the Exodus in the election of Israel, and begins anew with its inclusion of the Gentiles, and rightfully towards its TELOS in the Death and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.   

The Future of Protestantism conversation has helped me gain a little clarity in what I see as my hopes for the future of Christianity.  I am known to joke on occasion that here in Texas, everyone is a Baptist.  We wear our faith on our sleeve, we go to retail centers bragging about our congregations, and we’re just deeply stubborn to protest anything.  From the fifth grade students in a classroom, to your grocery shopper contending for what he believes is the right price of an item, we are all Baptists, even the Catholics.  I kinda think that’s what the future of Christianity could look like.  Not as a religion that hijacks notions of marginality and de-historicizes the real experience of exiles and refuges, but as a pure and undefiled religion that reveals the Holiness of God in the creative dis-location of our very bodies to be present-with the least of these, the Reavers of the world, a Church free to serve God and set the prisoners free.