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July 26, 2011


Kevin Powell

I think she's right when she uses the term "sexist" to describe some evangelical attitudes toward women and marriage, mainly because many evangelicals give authority to that passage than to other texts that would place women on a more equal footing. I think they misread Eph 5.22, which (I think) is about mutual submission rather than about dominating power.

Same goes with the religious intolerance charge. Evangelicals choose some texts as being authoritative over others to put themselves at the head of God's table. For example, Matt 28 always seems to trump Matt 25 in that conversion is seen as greater than service.

But you're right about her failing to identify a general decline in all churches. Megachurches aside (who typically "grow" through transfer growth rather than conversion growth, and have a high turnover rate) all churches are on the same sinking ship.

I heard Diana Butler Bass speak a few months ago and she identified the SBC and LCMS as among the fastest declining churches in the US.

Churches are declining for a vast array of socio-cultural, economic, and political reasons. It would have been nice for her article to go deeper and offer some actual data.



I think it's a lot harder to separate exclusivism from intolerance than you make it out to be. It's true that plenty of exclusivist Christians are kind to non-believers. A very few are even willing to admit that they should get to build their houses of worship wherever they choose and not be forced to use references to the birth of Christ in discussing historical dates. (I had a long discussion with a very conservative sunday school teacher in college who was horrified regarding the switch in academic writing from B.C. to B.C.E. Finally, bereft of argument, she admitted that she just liked having her god referenced in the calendar. Not sure if that was enough to convince her that the switch was a good idea, though.) However, what they are not willing to do, almost universally, is actually give careful consideration to the non-believers reasons for non-belief. This fact is evident just from looking at the vocabulary. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists are all 'non-believers' not 'other-believers' or just 'Muslims', 'Hindus', 'Buddhists'. What someone believes and why she believes it is unimportant if she does not believe what I believe. That failure to treat others as rational beings on a par with oneself is, I think, fairly categorized as intolerant. (Worse than intolerant, really, but given that it's also a nearly universal failure of human psychology, I'll not get too judgmental on the subject.)


On the other hand, from a tactical perspective, there's a big difference between working in a conceptual framework that isn't optimal for communication, and actively participating in shenanigans like this. It's possible to believe really goofball things, even dangerous things, and not actively ruin other people's lives over it.

I get that it's not always helpful to make a hard distinction between enablers and perpetrators, and it may depend on how broadly you want to define "intolerance." I also get that someone who doesn't share your core priorities is not likely to be a political ally on many issues. I just think "Those who are not for us are against us" was silly when Jesus said it, and it's silly now. Actual political landscapes are more complicated than that.

Edit: testing the comment edit feature to see if there are any flags made to the comment.

Edit 2: No mention in the page that the post was edited. Hmm...the possibilities...

dr dobson

Sorry, but I'm still laughing at the notion, much less the outright printing of her three points of contention and the words, "Presbyterian Church" in the same article. By my experience, which is somewhat profound and directly with east coast Prebyterian churches of both ilks (PCA and PCUSA), the Prebyterians (denominationally-speaking, not theologically-speaking) are completely sexist, completely intolerant (in any and every sense of that word) and the reddest of red on the subject of politics (do any of us remember James Kennedy?).

I suppose if I were a member of that denomination, I would remain eternally grateful that I was born with a penis instead of a vagina; but if I did wear a vagina, I should also be thankful that the likes of Pastor Carol are in the midst of that den of male-dominated conservatism otherwise disguised as the Prebyterian Church. Kudos to her, I suppose. I would be intrigued to find out if she has any deacons or elders in her church who don't stand up to pee.

In sum, the PCA and the PCUSA are simply the Church of Christ with two different, albeit required, kinds of organs.

Trevor Palen


"That failure to treat others as rational beings on a par with oneself is, I think, fairly categorized as intolerant."

I don't know that the typical EV conflates belief with rationality. "Believer" is synonymous with "Christian" in EV circles.

I question whether any person(A) can share in cordial debate with a person(B) of differing opinion on any subject and, if at the end of the conversation disagreement is not resolved, walk away not thinking to some degree "They just don't get it." Obviously, this is in a context where Person A genuinely and strongly thinks they are correct. I would think it's instinctual human reaction, not so much intolerance.

Trevor Palen

Oh, and Greg, I caught the Eminem reference this time...(It helps I just listened to that album front to back earlier this week)

Greg Horton

Cheek, as rare as this is, I'm going with Trevor here contra you. I don't like the idea of defining disagreement with intolerance, even disagreement of the irreconcilable kind. When Todd and I sit down for lunch, we agree on a very few things: we love our daughters and wives, love our jobs and lives, so the commonality is primarily one of similar places in life, and only secondarily one of a previously shared metaphysic and career. When we leave, he still thinks I'm wrong, and I'm still thinking he's probably wrong. What we do is talk around the subject in ways that are beneficial to each other, approaching the metaphysical elephant in the room obliquely, rather than directly. I am not intolerant of him, nor is he intolerant of me; we simply think the other is wrong about a very crucial issue. Granted, we are both better at this sort of parsing than many evangelicals, but that I think you're at least partly deluded about a metaphysical assumption does not mean I don't tolerate you or your beliefs. I'm not treating him as irrational because I think he's wrong; I understand why he believes he's right, and I suspect many evangelicals understand why I think I'm right. They think I'm wrong, but they can usually tolerate my unbelief even while they are befuddled that I don't get it. It's a choice to compartmentalize conversations, cordoning some topics off as impossible to resolve.


So perhaps I'm assuming a working definition of 'exclusivist' here that is stronger than what you have in mind: something like "a member of a specific religion who takes his own religion to be the exclusive path to the divine (I admit it's a bit cheap to use tired metaphors in a technical definition, but I'm too lazy to be more precise at the moment. Perhaps I will be if it comes up later on.) with the strong implication that anyone who fails to follow the specific path laid out by his religion (whether it be through the right kind of works, beliefs, sacraments, etc.) is to be finally cut off from the divine (damned, annihilated, re-born as a fruit fly, expunged from the mind of g-d, etc.). Furthermore, the typical Christian exclusivist* (from my experience) believes that everyone who confronts the Truth of the Gospel is capable for recognizing that Truth and therefore fails as a rational spiritual agent, fails in fact in the primary task for which her rational agency was created, should she fail to accept the Truth as such.

*This obviously does not include most reformed Christians. However, since special revelation seems a paradigm case of intellectual intolerance, I don't think this poses a problem for my position.

Given that understanding of exclusivism, disagreement over fundamentals is not just simple disagreement but a special case of disagreement in which the mind of the other is so corrupt (or some analogue to corruption depending on the particular theology) as to be incapable of seeing the truth. This is not two people sharing evidence but coming away with different conclusions. This is one person saying I know you're wrong about this, so wrong in fact that I don't even need to examine your evidence. Granted it is a much weaker variety of intolerance than one that goes on to insist that the other should therefore not be allowed to practice his chosen religion or lifestyle, but it is a pretty short step from the one to the other. For evidence take a look at how few people care much about recent attempts to perpetrate the latter injustice against Muslims in this supposed land of the free.


Annie was using my computer sometime recently, and so my post accidently links to her blog. She's not me, though I wouldn't be embarrassed to be taken for her.

Greg Horton

Cheek, the definition is fine as it goes, but even when I was an exclusivist, I learned to talk about non-believers who were "good" with that loophole from Romans wherein Paul discusses the Gentiles. I believed Jesus was the exclusive means to salvation, but I didn't eliminate the possibility that grace extended to other methods.


Yeah, looking back at that, I don't think I really like the argument I presented above. I suppose what it boils down to for me is the bizarre self-privileging that is necessary to be an exclusivist about religious claims. Given that all religious beliefs are unverifiable or at the least disputable, it is quite strange to encounter a person with beliefs of the same kind as one's own but with very different content, hear that person's story and find out that his belief acquisition made a process largely similar to one's own, be unable to refute that person's beliefs, and then hold firmly to the conviction that that person's beliefs must be false simply because they conflict with one's own. In any domain other than religious belief, we'd expect an epistemic agent presented with such a conflict to at least downgrade his credence in the proper functioning of his own reason on the point if not to completely suspend belief. In the religious case, it seems the only reason in favor of holding firm to exclusivism is a privileging of one's own epistemic processes and attitudes that is unjustified unless the rationality of the other is downgraded. Intolerance may not be an ideal descriptor, but if it is tolerance, then it seems to be a condescending tolerance, similar, say, to imperialist attitudes towards native cultures.

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