This one is going to get bigger. I talked to Aaron Weaver, the blogger who broke the story, yesterday, and he's already found another case. Stay tuned, kids.
This one is going to get bigger. I talked to Aaron Weaver, the blogger who broke the story, yesterday, and he's already found another case. Stay tuned, kids.
I started my writing career in the most bizarre of ways. I first sold a biker story to a now defunct biker magazine. I've never been on a Harley, but I do like boobs, and the story's ironic twist (kind of a pornified O. Henry conceit) centered on boobs and a snake tattoo. Yeah, glad that's off my chest... That was 1990. A year later, I sold a story about a homeless guy who organized a street church service to David C. Cook publishing because they thought it was non-fiction. Yes, it's often better to be lucky than good. I then struggled for years trying to get something else published. It was incredibly frustrating. This was due in large part to my penchant for preaching; I've always struggled with fiction because I tend to be more concrete than abstract, a fact that will surprise some of you, I'm sure.
I was also a Christian at the time, but had grown up on Mad and Cracked, so satire was one of my primary languages. I finally discovered The Door in the late 90s. Thanks in large part to Harry Potter and Left Behind, I was able to convince the editors that a piece called Harry Potter gets Left Behind was a brilliant idea. I wrote a dozen or so pieces for them before they folded.That was right about the time I started writing regularly for the Oklahoma Gazette. Journalism is a joyless form, necessarily so. I've been at it for nearly 10 years now, and I've often felt my brain lurch when I try to shift writing styles. This blog has helped keep me from becoming completely entrenched, but I do find the journalism world frustrating and rewarding in almost equal parts.
This week is about frustration and resignation. I've written a few pieces over the years for the Gazette's satirical column Chicken Fried News. These are actual news stories with snark and satire added as commentary. I've had fun with churches giving away Harleys for Easter, SBC issues, and a host of other insanities. This last week was one of the best I've written. I just read the edited version that went to print. I never do this! Never. I shouldn't have, but I had to this time to be sure I wanted to link it on fb. They are non-byline pieces, and on many, the whole writing and editing staff contribute so that what is left is often better than when it started. Occasionally, it's worse.
Religion is hard to write about, especially satirically if you don't want to alienate everyone. Anyone can write satire that mocks believers, but the task, and it's one which The Door got right, is to satirize for the sake of redemption. In religious satire, as in blowjobs, the appropriate amount of teeth is crucial. I'm posting the piece as it appeared in the Gazette, followed by the original. You tell me what you think. I'm used to being edited. Any writer who thinks he is above editing is a beginner or an asshole. However, I don't like being defanged, and I think this is exactly what happened. Note: The reference to Mary Fallin is about a recent Lost Ogle story about our governor spending thousands in tax dollars to get her hot tub and pool temperatures correct.
In a move that’s sure to confuse almost everyone, the Oklahoma House last week approved a measure creating an official state motto. Authored by Rep. Danny Morgan, House Concurrent Resolution 1024 would make “Oklahoma — In God We Trust!” the official state motto. Morgan told The Christian Post that research and review of the Oklahoma Constitution revealed that the state has no motto. As to the “Labor Omnia Vincit” (Labor Conquers All) on the state seal, Morgan explained that was only in the Constitution as a description of the seal.
Although the U.S. and Florida both use the phrase, The Christian Post reported that the exclamation point and the state name makes the new motto totally legal. Morgan, a Democrat who is former mayor of Prague — home of the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague — said no church or religious group had supported or endorsed the proposal. Presumably, the measure has the endorsement of God. At least we trust that’s the case.
In a move that is sure to confuse almost everyone, the Oklahoma House of Representatives approved HCR 1024 in March. The resolution, authored by Rep. Danny Morgan (D-Prague), would make “Oklahoma -- In God We Trust!” the official state motto.
Morgan gave The Christian Post an interview after the fact, wherein he informed the online publication that research and review of the Oklahoma Constitution revealed that Oklahoma has no motto. As to the “Labor Omnia Vincit” (Labor Conquers All) on the state seal, Morgan explained that was only in the constitution as a description of the seal. Clearly, then, it would seem the seal’s designers were only looking for a cool Latin phrase as opposed to an actual motto.
Although the United States and Florida both use the phrase, the Christian Post reported that our use of an exclamation point and the state name makes the new motto totally legal. That’s sure to be a relief to some, but what of all the gods that will be lining up to be the object of our trust?
Morgan, the former mayor of Prague, home of the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague, said no church or religious group had supported or endorsed the proposal. No word on whether that list includes the infant Jesus of Prague himself.
The truly good news is that now that God is getting a shout out from Oklahomans, it’s possible our governor can get her pool fixed gratis. We hear that Jesus guy is awesome around water.
The news was supposed to be shocking. Nearly 40% of Americans think there has been too much discussion of religion in this year's campaign. It seems they've already forgotten the last campaign wherein Sarah "I've got more Jesus than You" Palin was prayed over by an African evangelist famous for running a witch out of town. President Obama was damn near forced to say the Sinner's Prayer on national television to prove he's a Christian (and still most Republicans in the South think he's a Muslim...sigh). The President's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, was vilified by a bunch of uber-religious crackers for saying "God damn America," in a sermon not one of them listened to. Listen to it in context and see if you disagree with him. (If you do, you don't know dick about that Bible you're supposed to be reading.) Mike "I've got almost as much Jesus as Sarah" Huckabee made absurd statements about Mormonism and "Islamofascism." That Mormon guy who's running and likely winning the nomination this time ran last time, and all the questions about Joseph Smith, golden plates, and Jesus and Lucifer being brothers popped up. In short, there was plenty of religion last time.
This one does seem a little wearying in the number of religion related stories, though, but I have an explanation of sorts, I think. Members of the press are adamant that evangelicals have made a comeback when the rest of the country thought they were politically dead. (And just who the hell thought that? The press. They're constantly amazed that religious people are religious.) Allegedly, the story is that evangelicals are helping shape this election cycle by showing up to champion their favorite evangelical, Rick Santorum. Except he's a Catholic, and he sounds much more like a fundamentalist than an evangelical, but the press, most of whom couldn't define evangelical to save their jobs, aren't much into nuance, nor do they understand the complexity of an actual confession of faith. Did the guy say Jesus? Yup. Evangelical. Never mind that evangelicals can't even decide who is in and who is out. It's a word that is almost as useless as Catholic now.
The press seems mystified that Catholics aren't supporting Santorum. It's as if they haven't noticed that Catholics, with the exception of South and Central American immigrants, have always been more moderate than conservative. You absolutely need a qualifier before even using the word Catholic. Latin American Catholic means something far different than Massachusetts cracker Catholic. The first group isn't going to support Santorum because of his ridiculous views on immigration. Newt is the only one making sense on this issue, but the other two buffoons are trying so hard to woo the hard Right they're essentially handing Obama the election. Alienate Latinos and women and then try to get elected. Who the fuck wrote your strategy? Steve Schmidt? Are either of them planning on pulling a woman out of his hat at the last second? Be sure to pick one for whom glossolalia is a tertiary or quaternary language, right after English, domestic policy, and foreign policy. The cracker Catholics aren't supporting Santorum because he's not one of them. He doesn't even sound like them. Catholics aren't typically social or theological conservatives. The press seems to listen to the Catholic hierarchy and assume the parishioners believe the same things. Clearly, they do not.
Evangelicals, really fundamentalists, are supporting Santorum, though, and that has the press in a lemming-like fugue as they churn out story after story about how evangelicals are shaping this election. It's total bullshit. The amorphous group known as evangelicals (and we'll pretend for a second that we can even define that concept) isn't politically dead, but they sure as shit can't get anyone elected either. It's a little pathetic, honestly. Their man Santorum stands zero chance of winning the nomination, not to mention the election. Here's the truth: neither Republican candidate can beat Obama right now, so if Romney gets the nomination and loses, evangelicals have managed to back a candidate that will lose badly to the loser. What this election cycle has shown is that white fundamentalists in the South are more deeply entrenched in allegedly traditional cultural assumptions than we'd thought possible, a position that will continue to alienate them from the larger culture. Religious leaders like Richard Land, Al Mohler, Tony Perkins, and their ilk reveal a staggering degree of ignorance when they want to make contraception an issue, as if evangelicals and Catholics are united in their hatred of contraception. This election doesn't even require satire, as it's satirical at its core. The press just needs to notice.
Genuine evangelicals are all over the map in terms of cultural assumptions; many even support Obama. There is no monolithic voting block. It's time the press learned the difference between fundamentalists and evangelicals. It's also time they learned the difference between a Southern conservative and a Southern racist. And it wouldn't hurt if they'd ask a few questions of the "Christians" who show up in these stories to deduce whether they are in fact practicing Christians or people who simply believe a few important doctrines about Christianity. Religion isn't really shaping this election. It ought to be. Romney's faith is fair game. Jeremiah Wright's name will likely come up again, and it'll only be fair for Obama's team to start churning out the questions about Mormonism's more bizarre teachings and Romney's adherence to those doctrines.
The Black Robe Regiment is growing in Oklahoma! When I first did a story on the group in summer 2009, there were only a few in the metro. Now, according to a story in the Oklahoman, the group has seven members. Seven. Truthfully, there are probably more, but I'm too lazy to look them up on the national database. If you've never heard of this group, it's probably because you don't attend a fundamentalist Baptist church, frequent Christian nation message boards, give a shit about Glen Beck and David Barton, or identify yourself as one of the other fringees who think every conservative is attempting to create a theocracy.
The group believes they are resurrecting a practice of speaking about politics from the pulpit as pastors did in the lead-up to the Revolutionary War. The group is silly. Not Dr. Seuss silly—that shit is redemptive—but "this ought to be satire but it's real" silly. More on the Oklahoman article and the utterly awful reporting in a moment. For now, here's what Paul Blair, current candidate for state senate from Edmond, Okla., and senior pastor of Fairview Baptist Church, said in my article:
"...a great revival that began in the pulpits was responsible for the birth of this nation, (and) I believe that another revival is necessary for America to continue as a free country, governed by 'We the people,' where we have personal liberty and personal responsibility."
Huh? The revival led to the American Revolution and the founding of this country? See, I thought it was the thinking and writing of Locke, Paine, Jefferson, the Philosophes, and others who weren't, um, speaking from pulpits. It's the kind of revisionist history that sees God's activity behind every event, so that the actual causes of the Revolution become only proximate causes subsequent to God's will as ultimate cause. This is, of course, a Biblical position that goes all the way back to "go into the land and kill everything," but it's not terribly heartening in the context of a national political debate. It's not difficult to see how patriot pastors can read providential tea leaves to confer the imprimatur of God's will on the causes they most support. How then would we tell them God says otherwise? Who would be right? How could we know?
Speaking of patriot pastors, Carla Hinton, the "journalist" who wrote the Oklahoman piece, has always been a really bad reporter. Really bad. We go way back. We once had a discussion via email about how a lack of any cynical impulse makes her inadequate as a reporter. You can't report on anything, most especially religion and politics, if you believe everyone is telling you the truth. That seems axiomatic to the reporting job. Hinton sees herself as some sort of PR person for good religion, but in doing the job that way, she consistently misses the real story. For example, note the use of "biblical patriotism" in the lede. What the hell is biblical patriotism? Where does the concept patriotism occur in the Bible? Is the message of the gospel the promise of a moral nation on this earth, or the promise of a kingdom and city which cannot be shaken—surely metaphors for a nation of justice in "the world to come," not a Proverbial promise of shit running properly now as long as we "choose blessing and not cursing."
Alas, this isn't the worst of it. The group is responsible for the silliest ideas. First, how many preachers wore black robes in the 18th century? Wanna guess? Yeah, most. Ever see the pictures of Spurgeon in his black robe? Was he too a patriot pastor from his pulpit at Metropolitan Tabernacle in London? What of John Wesley in his black robe? Was he too a patriot pastor in the fields and mines of England, or when he worked with the Moravians? How little they knew of the real significance of their clerical garb! Clearly these pastors are so ensconced in a low church tradition that they see black robes as somehow more historically important than the minister's who actually wore them as part of an ecclesiastical tradition, irrespective of their being Tory or Whig.
Here's the silliest idea, though. They believe that they are somehow qualified to speak to these issues, and that their congregants want them to speak to these issues. They believe the first even as they listen to Glen Beck and David Barton twist history and distort the truth. They believe the second even though they've experienced the reality of losing congregants over pastoral hubris. They see this not as hubris, of course, but as the consequences of faithfulness. It's clearly hubris.
Scot McKnight asked John Fea, a real historian, to write on his blog back in September '10. I'll let you read it, but this quote, with which I'll close, stood out:
Historians concerned with the integrity of the past and the integrity of their work must also note that John Adams rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. They should mention that George Washington deliberately avoided taking communion. They must also tell the whole truth about the so-called “Black Regiment.” Most of these clergymen were blatantly anti-Catholic. Others blurred Biblical teachings on freedom (from sin) with political teachings on freedom (from George III). These Christian America pundits tell just one side of the story because the so-called “rest of the story” does not suit their political needs in the present.
I'm waiting for the moment Bill Clinton's MTV moment is repeated during the Romney campaign. Remember the townhall type Q&A Clinton had with a young MTV audience. One young pothead finally asked: boxers or briefs? It was a watershed moment in U.S. politics, primarily because Clinton took the opportunity not to be a self-important twat, and in enjoying the moment, he endeared himself to millions of young people around the country.
I suspect Romney's moment will be a bit different, and you just know the subject of magical underwear has to come up; it just has to. Writing for Martin Marty's Sightings column, Terryl Givens, a lit and religion professor at Richmond, observed:
In the century since the Chicago fair, Mormons have been lauded for their choirs and their football. They are largely respected as good, decent, family-centered people, who are welcome to sing for presidents and dance with the stars—and everyone agrees to avoid theological questions.
The theological questions will come up, though, right? I recently did a story for the Oklahoma Gazette wherein I asked some Oklahomans about the issue. Congressman James Lankford did a soft shoe around the question, as is wise for a U.S. Congressman of the same party as the candidates. Lankford is also Southern Baptist. I asked the Reverend to respond to the same questions I put to Lankford. He was more forthcoming when I asked if Romney's faith would have an impact.
Normally, I would knee-jerk and offer a hearty, “Yes!” But, Former Representative Istook, a Mormon, seemed to avoid the potential polarizations that Romney seems to be generating among religiously Christian voters around the Country. This leads me to wonder if Romney’s politics will take center stage in Oklahoma or will it be his chosen religious identification? I may lean to the former in light of our past with Istook. Conservatism really seems to be the central issue for Oklahoma voters.
Excursus: I'm forced to agree. Santorum will win in Oklahoma on Tuesday. Mark it down. Independents can't vote in an Oklahoma primary, so someone like me who would normally choose Romney over Santorum's relentless pandering to the far right is precluded from having an impact. That means Santorum wins in this the most conservative state.
As to the question of a nationwide response to Mormonism's more esoteric elements, the Reverend replied:
Some will be distracted. There is little doubt some of the elements more familiar to initiates will draw a range of responses from laughter to scorn. I think this has already happened on a small scale. Others may not find the peculiarities any more problematic than any other religious expressions. It is hard to say. Likely one’s personal experience and interactions with Mormons will play a large role in national public discourse.
Again, I suspect he is correct. I would have no problem voting for a moderate Mormon, irrespective of the beliefs in sacred underwear and an unknown planet called Kolob. Every faith believes weird shit. Talking snake, anyone? Sun standing still? Angels? Demons? And on and on. Givens is right that the LDS leadership has brought some of this confusion upon themselves by refusing to have a public discussion. He writes:
But this is only true because in acquiescing to the compromise, Mormons have largely left others to frame the theological discussion. In opting to emphasize Mormon culture over Mormon theology, Mormons have too often left the media and ministers free to select the most esoteric and idiosyncratic for ridicule.
It's an odd time for a Mormon moment. At the end of January, Reuters reported that Mormons are leaving the church at a brisk rate, especially in the U.S. (As with Christianity, LDS growth is solid in the Southern Hemisphere, which is to say in barely industrialized nations.) Elder Marlin Jensen told Reuters that the rate of defection has increased in the last 5 to 10 years, but declined to provide actual numbers. This is partly due to the ability of young (and old) Mormons to get online and read for themselves what critics and scholars say about some of the church's more dubious claims.
Excursus: This is the same movement that Santorum criticizes without understanding the historical context. In a bizarre move, he accuses Obama of attempting to have more students enrolled in college so that the numbers of the "indoctrinated" will increase. He even cited a figure (without attribution) of 62 percent of students with faith commitments losing those commitments in college. That doesn't make college an "indoctrination mill." College is often the first time students are challenged to think beyond the stock answers provided by overprotective parents and youth pastors. High school teachers are not free to deconstruct faith claims—college professors are, inasmuch as the deconstruction serves the purpose of critical thinking. Access to the Internet and college courses will always provide an opportunity for members of a faith community to defect. Faith communities that practice honesty about the difficult questions instead of protectionism or strawman arguments will likely see less defections. Those that can't contextualize their theology will always find a revolving back door spinning with redline efficiency. And Santorum seemed unaware of recent studies that show religious belief is stable across decades in this country. Those kids that leave the faith in college return when they have kids of their own, almost every time.
Charles Kimball is the director of the religious studies program at the University of Oklahoma. In discussing how conservative Christians will respond to Romney in particular and Mormons in general, he too cited the differentiating factor of actually knowing a Mormon. People who know them, tend to respect them, especially when their ethics are the focus. He does see trouble ahead with the theological claims, though.
Generally speaking, it's much easier to process different or odd beliefs when the tradition is very distant from one's own. If the traditions both incorporate the teachings of Jesus, then different becomes harder to accept.
Since Mormons and Christians draw on the same lexicon to describe messiah, salvation, savior, etc., differences are parsed as heresies, not exotic beliefs in "fake" gods. Kimball said he expects Romney to continue to do what he's been doing, which is respond with some variation of "I'm not running for the bishop of an LDS ward; I'm running for POTUS." Realistically, I think Christians with some notable exceptions are able to put aside theological squabbling for the sake of their poorly defined "conservative values." Romney could have benefited from that compromise, but he's taken a more moderate approach on some issues (immigration not being one of them). That will hurt him among conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, but likely not among Republicans overall and Independents who lean conservative. If he loses the nomination, it won't be because he's a Mormon, just as Santorum won't lose because he's a Catholic. As Mormon moments go, this is a good one for the LDS church, but I suspect no one is going to question Romney about his faith, not in any formal setting, and if there are Romney/Obama debates, President Obama is unlikely to say, "Kolob? Really?"
Oklahoma City received national attention via huffpost recently because of the City Council's vote to include sexual orientation as a category in the city's nondiscrimination policy. Clifton Adcock penned a local version for the Gazette, which, happily, contains photos of this post's cast of characters. This fight has been going on for quite some time, with Ed Shadid, one of the new councilmen, finally authoring a proposal that passed 7-2. The chambers filled up that night, mainly with area churchpeople, members of the LGBT community, and the usual suspects: ACLU, Cimarron Alliance, etc.
Representing the Lord Jesus Christ (much to His embarrassment) were two of the city's most outspoken pastors: Paul Blair and Tom Vineyard. First Blair (photos by Mark Hancock for the Oklahoma Gazette):
Blair is on the far left of the photo. Please note the well-coiffed young men arrayed to his left. That they are standing and applauding means Pastor Vineyard or Councilman Kelly (one of the nay votes) had just said something spiritual or inspiring or ridiculous. I'll let you judge very soon. Blair played football at Oklahoma State and then for the Chicago Bears. As near as I can tell, it's his single qualification for being in ministry, except the ability to read (if not interpret accurately) the Bible. Too harsh? Listen to Blair's rationale for being opposed to granting LGBT persons employment protections:
"What are you going to do when you pass these kind of policies, and all of a sudden, you’ve got Jim in accounting that decides he wishes to wear a miniskirt to work one day? Well, are you going to discriminate against him and send him home?” he said. “What are you going to do when Officer Jones decides he wishes to take a shower in the women’s locker room because he’s feeling like a woman that day?"
Poor Clifton. The problem with being a journalist is you're not allowed to use "What the fuck are you talking about?" as a follow-up question. Would that it were allowed; the world would be a better place and politicians and pastors might actually think about the bullshit that comes from their mouths. Blair pastors Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond, a suburb to the north of Oklahoma City, and he is the national director for Reclaiming America for Christ, the grassroots theocrats inspired by the late, fake Presbyterian D. James Kennedy.
The man above is not Karl Rove's nephew, but he could totally rock the costume for Halloween. Except Windsor Hills Baptist Church does not observe Halloween. Nope, like a Jack Chick tract come to life, Windsor Hills Baptist Church eschews the devil's holiday, spins conspiracy theories, supports Israel without qualification, and gives away guns at their summer youth camp. It is one of two large Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches in the Oklahoma City metro area. (The other is Southwest Baptist, and you can find them in Bricktown on a regular basis, black pinafores, white shirts, black slacks, posters about abortion and judgment, shitty music and sidewalk prayer abounding.) Tom Vineyard, Rove's nephew, is the son of founder Jim Vineyard, who is now listed as pastor emeritus. The son took over from his father in 2007, and very little (nothing) has changed.
Not to be outdone in histrionics or ridiculous assertions, Vineyard exceeded Blair in amazing absurdities:
from huffpost: As NewsOK is reporting, Pastor Tom Vineyard of Windsor Hills Baptist Church cited "a New York judge" in saying more than half of murders in large cities are committed by gay people. He went on to note, "Many homosexuals openly admit that they are pedophiles because they cannot actually reproduce. They resort to recruiting children. ... Folks, you're making a decision that will bring down God's judgment on your city if you vote in favor of this." Vineyard is also reported to have received the longest standing ovation of the day after his remarks.
Clifton also reported: "He read a list of statistics about rates of sexually transmitted diseases, intestinal parasites, murder and pedophilia among homosexuals." Intestinal parasites? Oh dear. All gay people are less attractive Dexters with the shits and an unhealthy attraction to children? Shouldn't a fundamental commitment to truth-telling be a qualification for ministry? Silly question, I know, but this is amazing stuff. To lie, obfuscate, bully, and grandstand to get your dubious agenda passed is shameful. Pretty sure demagoguery is too tame a word to describe men who sell out the truth as they pretend to labor for the truth.
The more likely possibility is that these two actually believe much of what they're saying because, well, not to be uncharitable, but because they're not smart enough to know bullshit when they hear it. It's possible that they are so invested in a particular set of "facts" being the case, they are closed to the possibility that the things can't be true. They practice a willful ignorance that allows Jesus to be Lord of a tiny kingdom of douchebags and bigots. Probably not what the revolutionary rabbi had in mind when he went to the cross. One nail for white folks, one nail for the KJV, and one nail for the status quo. Maranatha, Lord Jesus. What's that? You're busy. Fuck. I understand.
The normally solid Religion News Service, for which I have occasionally freelanced in recent years, has a piece on Dominionism that was picked up by Huff Post, and that, as they say in prognostication and prophecy, is a bad sign. Titled 5 Facts About Dominionism, the piece is written by Daniel Burke, who, according to what I can tell, writes about religion more frequently than most. With a resumé like his, it's a wonder a story goes this far wrong, but I suspect that has to do with the obscurity of the topic, not the talent of the writer. In all fairness, I'm a huge Huff Post fan, but they do tend to skew slightly (completely) left in the area of politics, and in a season where religion can mean anything from burning a living woman on a funeral pyre to feeding homeless people (thanks, Leighton, for pointing out the absurdity of the word as a category marker), mixing the two can often serve the best interests of the obscurantists and conspiracy theorists.
The piece runs into trouble almost immediately by telling readers they'll be offered five "facts" to help them decide for themselves. Um, with all the gentleness I can muster, I should point out that the public is occasionally disqualified from "deciding for themselves" if what they want is accuracy. One cannot decide for herself about evolution, medicine, differential equations, or obscure theological concepts after reading five ostensible facts about those fields in a short news piece. The idea is silly at best and pandering at worst.
As to the facts, even the first is wrong, sort of. Burke writes: "'Dominionism' generally describes the belief that Christians are biblically mandated to control all earthly institutions until the second coming of Jesus." Well, not exactly. I suppose there are five or six Christians, including the lunatic Gary North and his now deceased father-in-law R.J. Rushdoony, who would define it thus, but to borrow an idea from Jon Stewart, if all their followers gathered in one place at one time, the fire marshall would say, "Yeah, that's fine." I read Rushdoony, North, Schlossberg, Colson, and others in the 80s and 90s. I even briefly embraced the idea that the Church needed to "influence" certain areas of culture. It never occurred to me that we were to "control" all earthly institutions, and how long is that list? Sanitation? Bakeries? Girl Scout Troops? Breweries? Whore houses? (Nope, that one would definitely be gone in Rushdoony-land.) There are even some in the Dominionist camp called preterists who don't believe there will not be a Second Coming. Oversimplifying often leads to simply being wrong.
Burke then cites "experts" who categorize Dominionists into two main camps: Reconstructionists and New Apostolic Reformation. The first group is clearly Dominionists. It includes Rushdoony and North. Schlossberg, especially in his best known work, Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture, is closer to Edmund Burke in temperament than he is to Rushdoony, which is to say he's an old school conservative, not a Reconstructionist. This is not to say his later works in the Turning Point series weren't slightly deranged. They clearly were, and adding Marvin Olasky to the mix didn't help his credibility. For a while, he was to be the new Francis Schaeffer, like we need another one. More on the second group below.
Back to the experts. Who are the experts who categorize these groups? Journalists? Professors? If he interviewed Noll or Marsden, I might trust the response, but I have no idea who these alleged experts are. How does one get to be an expert on Dominionism, and if they are experts, why include C. Peter Wagner and the NAR in the same breath as Rushdoony? The two are so markedly different that their only similarities are Jesus, the Bible, and prayer, a list that makes all Christians dominionists, it seems. Again, in fairness, Wagner does have a book with a super scary title, Dominion!: How Kingdom Action Can Change the World, but to understand Wagner's dominion requires much more subtlety than lumping him in with people who have genuinely scary ideas.
For a brief period in 1999, I toyed with the idea of attending Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena so that I could study with Wagner and others on the Fuller faculty. I wanted a graduate degree in theology, so it seemed best to avoid ORU and go to a legitimate school where the Charismatic movement was taken seriously and studied in a scholarly manner. Yes, I was a little bit naive in those days, clearly. I liked much of what Wagner was doing because he practiced dominionism the way all amillenialists practiced dominionism: Jesus rules the world today, not in some future millenial kingdom, by means of His Body, the Church, and prayer is the principal means by which change happens, followed by good works, and a discernible lack of douchiness. I know, scary shit, right? Unbelievers, take heart, those scary Jesus warriors are just praying for you, and we all have evidence of how well that doesn't work, eh?
Burke lists a couple more in the movements, most notably Mike Bickle at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City. Yes, IHOP, like the pancake joint, and whereas the original IHOP can at least bring about change in terms of your waistline, the NAR's IHOP promises to do very little but irritate theologians churchwide as they pray against "demonic principalities" in the world. They even have a "war room" where these powers and principalities are tracked, but relax, their "battle is not against flesh and blood..."
One thing Burke and his experts get right is that no one who matters in evangelical Chrisitainity is a Dominionist. No one. There are similarities between Dominionism and evangelicalism, but they are the "family resemblance" variety, not the "we believe the same things" variety. The difficulty will be to keep journalists and talking heads from exercising shallow variations of political and theological pareidolia, that psychological reflex to find patterns where none exist or which simply resemble a known quantity. That has already happened when the increasingly insane and apparently electable Rick Perry makes statements that sound "dominiony." Certain segments of press and public already hear him as a right wing jesus loon, so it's easy to hear him as a Dominionist. That he invited NAR representatives to his prayer meeting/ego masturbation event in Texas troubles me not at all in terms of its import for American politics (except the whole separation issue). Prayer has never changed anything, not that anyone can prove, anyway, so it's unlikely a bunch of guys praying demons away is going to affect anything other than the public's perception of Perry as an increasingly bizarre candidate.
What do Martin Luther King, Jr., George W. Bush, and Captain America have in common? (I really wanted to start with "these three guys walk into a bar," but it doesn't work.) According to a Harris Poll conducted as part of a launch campaign for a new Bible—yeah, we need yet another special version—63% of Americans incorrectly attributed a Bible verse to one of the three. Shocking, right? Much will be made of this in some corners, corners laden with lamentations of creeping Biblical illiteracy, the dumbing down of America, and the increase in immorality. Some will say that it's a tragedy that Americans can't recognize their Founding Document (they're insane, but they'll say it). It's a hurricane in a hookah pipe though, I swear. I'm actually going to side with my illiterate countrymen on this one because they were tricked.
Before I get to the real rant, here's the trickery. 2572 adult Americans responded to an online poll in which they were asked to identify the origin of this quote:
We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don't know what to do, we never give up.See, I'd have guessed Jim Valvano from his "Never Give Up" speech. It's because the language comes from the world famous Contemporary English Version, and all five people who have read it recognized the source. The rest of us would have no idea what to make of such impotent language when compared to this:
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair...That's the KJV, and it's the language poets and playwrights have used for centuries. It's the way most of us heard it growing up. Forgive me for never having been moved to tears by "never give up," except by Jimmy V, but he was dying of cancer for shit's sake. Include the whole verse in the KJV or NKJV, and I'm betting the numbers go up considerably.
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.I'm guessing close to 100% would have gotten that one. But, if you're trying to sell Bibles, especially Bibles written in magically understandable shit prose, you need to market your product.
The American Bible Society decided to commission the Harris Poll as part of a campaign to commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11 with the release of the Freedom Bible. Fuck me in the face. Nothing like using the remembrance of a tragedy to sell a Bible with painfully anemic language, thereby increasing the tragedy. (There will be more of this as the day approaches...) To make matters worse, the marketing material equivocates on the meaning of freedom. What kind of freedom is meant? Read the web site and let me know because I'm a little lost. I was looking for a picture of Mel Gibson as William Wallace or as that badass dad from The Patriot, but what I got was a magical bird tree and a cityscape. Are those doves? Is that NYC sans WTC? Which tampon box artist did they hire to do that cover?
Lest you're concerned that the release of the Bible is poorly timed, the press release offers a bullet list of important factoids to justify their decision, the best of which is this:
Despite living in a predominantly Christian nation, 82 percent of Americans who have dealt with trauma rely most on sources other than the Bible to cope, including 6 percent of whom say they do not rely on anything.Where to even start? 1. Not a Christian nation. Not even predominantly Christian. There are no Christian nations and no unicorns. Sorry to break it to you. 2. They rely on friends, clergy, family, counselors instead of the Bible? Shocking. I mean, why wouldn't they find comfort in this: "And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword." So strange. 3. The six percent are liars.
I really don't care if people read their Bibles or not. It would help some of my students when we read Randall Kenan and Alice Walker and Shakespeare, but they're not necessarily crippled by not having read it. A little honesty in press releases would be nice, though, especially from the theist camp.
This may be the most interesting presidential campaign ever for Republicans, not just because they have a wingnut or two, but because the faith race appears to be a dead heat right now, with only Ron Paul (not really a Republican) and Jon Huntsman (a nominal Mormon—if such a thing exists) sounding somewhat sane about which metaphysical metanarrative they prefer. Expect to see entirely too much written about Dominionism, but be aware that most of what's written will be overly simple, inflammatory, misrepresented, or just plain wrong. There will be plenty of guilt by association fallacies as we saw with Obama and Jeremiah Wright, particularly where the name Francis Schaeffer is concerned. Already God has told three candidates to run, a "fact" that doesn't trouble me since it's conceivable within the logic and grammar of evangelicalism that God could ask a candidate to run knowing full well the candidate will lose.
Bill Keller of the NYT has put together a questionnaire for candidates, and promises the NYT will run the answers if received. Pretty sure the answers are not going to be proffered, but if they are, I'm equally sure they will not be politically damaging enough to matter. I'm going to answer the questions first as concisely as possible. Over the next few posts, we'll work through them, plus the individualized questions Keller wrote for particular candidates.
1. Is it fair to question presidential candidates about details of their faith?
Unequivocally, yes. Faith may be personal, but its implications aren't, especially when running for important offices.
2. Is it fair to question candidates about controversial remarks made by their pastors, mentors, close associates or thinkers whose books they recommend?
Yes, with the understanding that people who sit in pews will often disagree vehemently with their pastors, priests, imams, rabbis, etc., yet remain in the community for friendship, support, and a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with concordant theological positions. For the books they recommend, I'd simply like to ask which parts they agreed with and which parts they disagreed with and why. Just because someone recommends Mein Kampf doesn't mean she intends it as a philosophical inspiration.
3. (a) Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a “Christian nation” or “Judeo-Christian nation?” (b) What does that mean in practice?
No. It means nothing in practice because it means nothing in reality. There is no such thing as a Christian or Judeo-Christian nation. If they believe this, they should probably be treated with wary contempt.
4. If you encounter a conflict between your faith and the Constitution and laws of the United States, how would you resolve it? Has that happened, in your experience?
Constitution wins. Period. It happens every day with gay marriage. It ought to be legal, Leviticus and Saint Paul be damned.
5. (a) Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? (b) What about an atheist?
No. No. Nor a Christian, Jew, Wiccan, or Buddhist so long as number 4 is clearly understood.
6. Are Mormons Christians, in your view? Should the fact that Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons influence how we think of them as candidates?
No. They are not within the historically orthodox community of Christians. Get over it. If I call myself a Mormon and worship Mary and Shiva, am I still a Mormon? This self-identification thing is getting out of hand. The Church has not historically referred to itself as Christian. Rather, they are the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. As to part 2 of the question, no, it shouldn't so long as they understand number 4.
7. What do you think of the evangelical Christian movement known as Dominionism and the idea that Christians, and only Christians, should hold dominion over the secular institutions of the earth?
I think it's widely misunderstood and not nearly as important as the press and liberal opponents of certain candidates want it to seem. Dominionism is a broad term that can describe Christians from various traditions, all but about 100 of whom have no intention of "ruling the world." The movement and the corresponding silliness with the "7 Mountains" talk have never had a large influence on evangelicalism. Its proponents are rightly referred to as fundamentalists, and their numbers are far smaller than people realize. The final clause of the question reveals one of the primary misunderstandings of the overall movement. I was involved with the movement myself for a period of time in the 1990s and read only one book and met exactly zero people who understood Dominionism the way you describe it here.
8. (a) What is your attitude toward the theory of evolution? (b) Do you believe it should be taught in public schools?
It's the most accurate and comprehensive explanatory model in biology and other critical science fields. It should be taught in public schools. Period. Creationism or ID should not. Period.
9. Do you believe it is proper for teachers to lead students in prayer in public schools?
What kind of Christian are you? Believe it or not, how you answer the Adam and Eve question is now considered by some to be an issue of your evangelical-ness. This will come as no surprise to those of you who are familiar with fundamentalist declarations emerging from allegedly evangelical mouths, but for those of you who don't think Adam and Eve had children who promptly incested it up to create the next generation, well, you might be surprised to find yourself outside the camp.
The normally accurate NPR ran a story that in the words of one friend is further proof that the MSM doesn't understand religious categories. Clearly, Ms. Hagerty, the author, also fails to understand international boundaries. That's not all she gets wrong, though, beginning with which Genesis account Americans believe. According to the story, 4 in 10 Americans believe the Genesis 2 account of creation. As someone who teaches mythology and comparative religion, and who has taught Bible, I assure you 4 in 10 Americans don't know the difference between the two creation accounts in the Bible. (Four in ten Christians don't know the difference because 8 in 10 Christians haven't even bothered to read the entire Bible.) The Americans I talk to believe a conflated version of both, and this is made worse by "apologists" insisting against all good linguistic sense that Gen. 2 actually expands upon Gen. 1. Horseshit. They're competing narratives.
Here comes the evangelical mishmash, though, as Hagerty intends to explain the importance of the primordial couple: "It's a central tenet for much of conservative Christianity, from evangelicals to confessional churches such as the Christian Reformed Church."
First, if you're going to start with a "who it's important to" angle, maybe start with fundamentalists, because it's damned important to them, and not with evangelicals. Second, since when are all evangelicals "conservative," and what does conservative mean here? And if you're going to end with "confessional churches," why do you pick CRC? Pretty sure Lutheran and Presbyterian are better known, but that's a nitpick. Since when are evangelicals and confessing Christians on opposite ends of a continuum? Can't Reformed, Lutheran, and Southern Baptist be evangelical? Are the terms mutually exclusive? (Yes, friends, I'm counting the SBC as a confessional church. As long as they disfellowship churches for going against the Baptist Faith & Message, they're confessional. Get over it.)
Time to make it worse:
But now some conservative scholars are saying publicly that they can no longer believe the Genesis account. Asked how likely it is that we all descended from Adam and Eve, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, replies: "That would be against all the genomic evidence that we've assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all."
What kind of scholars? Oh, biologists. Shit, I thought you meant Bible scholars. Ok, so a Canadian biologist is publicly questioning the existence of a real Adam and Eve, and this is news for American evangelicals? Everyone knows Canadians aren't really saved, not in the American fundangelical sense. And what does it mean that he's conservative? I think Canadian conservatives are different than American evangelical conservatives? Did Ms. Hagerty not know about the border between the U.S. and Canada? It makes a theological as well as a political difference, honest.
Hagerty does toss in one American "evangelical," but he taught at Calvin College, so does that make him confessional? John Schneider, professor of theology, said: " There was no historical Adam and Eve, no serpent, no apple, no fall that toppled man from a state of innocence." I think most people know that. Really, I do. Anyone who thinks about it, anyway. I know some Christian traditions are committed to it, but it's an untenable position, and not just because of the incest. But wait, scary science always brings out the Defenders of "Truth."
The world famous apologist Fazale Rana (who the fuck is he? she?) has an opinion:
"From my viewpoint, a historical Adam and Eve is absolutely central to the truth claims of the Christian faith," says Fazale Rana, vice president of Reasons To Believe, an evangelical think tank that questions evolution.
A cursory examination of the website for Reasons to Believe will quickly inform you that we're not dealing with evangelicals here. Nope. Fundamentalists for sure. I'll just say it: creationist equals fundamentalist. Sorry. It's true. But there is a name we know...
Al Mohler! Fuck yeah! What's he going to say this time? "Without Adam, the work of Christ makes no sense whatsoever in Paul's description of the Gospel, which is the classic description of the Gospel we have in the New Testament," Mohler says.
Sigh. Without Homer Simpson, our understanding of how delicious donuts can be makes no sense. A metaphor, allegory, or analogy is still theologically useful, even without an historical referent. Why is that so damn difficult to grasp? And since when is Paul's description of the Gospel the "classic" description? What the hell does that even mean? Is James's not classic enough? Peter is out too? And if Paul's description is classic, did you mean Paul's or the Pauline school's? This is ridiculous oversimplification from someone who ought to know better.
The last three paragraphs are worth quoting in their entirety:
"This stuff is unavoidable," says Dan Harlow at Calvin College. "Evangelicals have to either face up to it or they have to stick their head in the sand. And if they do that, they will lose whatever intellectual currency or respectability they have."
"If so, that's simply the price we'll have to pay," says Southern Baptist seminary's Albert Mohler. "The moment you say 'We have to abandon this theology in order to have the respect of the world,' you end up with neither biblical orthodoxy nor the respect of the world."
Mohler and others say if other Protestants want to accommodate science, fine. But they shouldn't be surprised if their faith unravels.
It's not the respect of the world, you twit. It's believing things that are congruous with what science and math and history tell us about the world. If you're ignoring science and truth simply to keep alive a very narrow version of a faith, you're a fool. Christians everywhere, including the sciences, have found ways to integrate their faith with what science tells us about the world. Sorry, I'm not kicking biologists out of colleges so we can keep the primordial incestuous family alive. It's just...well, I was going to say silly, but this seems more egregious than that.