Faking it?

by Richard on September 26, 2005

I admit it. I almost blew a gasket when I read this over at Locusts & Honey: Learning from the Street Prophets

Steyn observed that Leftist efforts to co-opt the Christian faith seem artificial and pretended, despite the uphill battles that some liberal Christians are fighting to make their political activity a reflection of their sincere Christian faith.* Or to be more blunt: they’re faking it, and we know it. (emphasis mine)

I was about half way through composing the email response when it occurred to me that I was probably mis-reading it, and John wasn’t really suggesting that Richard, Beth and Dean were ‘faking it’. So I calmed down and binned the email. It justs shows that we all need to be careful what we write and not be too hasty in our responses to others. Every preacher knows that there are often gaps between what is said and what is heard, and this was one such occasion. I hope.

But there are still things that need to be said. The first is about this “uphill battle” that apparently I’m facing. John is quite wrong about this. The battle is not to make my ‘political activity’ a reflection of sincere faith. I have no difficulty whatsoever in reconciling my political commitments to my faith. Quite the reverse. I’d say that my politics flows from my faith and my understanding of the gospel. The uphill battle comes in conversation with those of a more conservative political persuasion, usually but not exclusively citizens of the USA, who continue to deny the validity of the faith of those who differ from them politically. Every time I’ve had this out with one of my US friends they have agreed with me that, of course, it is possible for Christians to be in places on the political spectrum other than the Republican Right. But their agreement has always something of the patronising about it, rather like when I hear Baptists say that there are some genuine Christians within the Roman Catholic Church. And it never stops them continuing to use “liberal” and “Christian” as terms which exist in opposition to one another. That battle is uphill, and quite frankly I’m growing ttired of it.

The fact is that what many American Christians dismiss as “liberal” or, worse still, “socialist” has deep roots within the Christian faith. It is, for example, no coincidence that the local units of some trade unions are called “chapels”. My own father was a shop steward of his union and he was able to remember when his meetings were begun with prayer. The progressive voices of Christians have almost always been opposed by the more conservative, but history is on the side of the progressives. Who would argue for the reintroduction of slavery, racial segregation or limited suffrage?

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

1

DH 09.26.05 at 5:04 pm

“Who would argue for the reintroduction of slavery, racial segregation or limited suffrage?”

I know no Conservative Christians who would support this and if they did I would question their Faith.

Remember it was the liberal progressive Sountern Democrats who perpitrated and proposed doing away with the Civil Rights bill of 1964. In fact the current Minority Whip of the Senate (Democrat Sen. Byrd of West VA) was a member of the KKK. Remember it was conservative Abraham Lincoln who signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

I have a problem with “progressives” saying that “conservatives” want to do the quote I referenced at the top of my post.

2

Bene D 09.26.05 at 5:06 pm

Wow.
That uphill battle…having just got knocked down the hill by a US blogger who genuinely believes as John does, I find myself deeply discouraged.
If we are perceived as ‘the other’ or ‘liberal’ or ‘foreign’ we are not only cut out of the dialogue, we are cut down to size.
I don’t know if conversation is possible for anything more than polite little bursts. I’d hoped so, but I don’t know anymore.
American evangelicalism is unique and uniquely at everyone’s throats. I thought it might die down a bit when the war in Iraq started, I was very wrong. The desperation of the politics is stunning.

A friend got to hear Stanley Hauerwas speak in Canada last week and says this:

“He called right wing evangelicalism an idolatrous and truncated religion made in an effort to make sense of America’s moral and civil religion. He predicted the demise of the Protestant church and identified pluralism and tolerance as language of power and control.”

People are not happy in American right land these days.
Since we are ‘the other’ simply because we aren’t activist US Republicans, and therefore a threat, how are we to respond?

3

DH 09.26.05 at 5:07 pm

I also could mention how the first minorities (first asian, first african american, first espanic, (even woman-Elizabeth Dole) etc.) in the cabinet (Executive branch) began under Republican administrations not Democratic administrations.

4

DH 09.26.05 at 5:09 pm

If you know Hauerwas he attacks both the righ and the left. He sure is right it is the pluralism and tolerance in the extreme that will be the demise of the protestant church.

5

Bene D 09.26.05 at 5:24 pm

One more question.

Why is it that I or you, or Messy Christian or Ganns, or Dave, or (insert any none US blogger here) have to be the expert on US politics, religious celebrities, culture and religions and have to take the anger.
Not one US pundit activist Republican that has directed their anger at me in the past three years knows squat about the rest of the world

I have to use the lowest common denominator - (pop culture or a religious celebrity) to be able to say hi. After that, it’s pretty much downhill.

I’ve watched pundit christian Republicans behave very badly at other countries blogs. And they haven’t a clue that they are. They really don’t.

What is that about?
And even if we others can quote chapter and verse on US history, philosophy, government, economics, religions etc. etc. it’s not good enough. We are the other.

It must be difficult to be in the US right now, especially if believers don’t toe the Republican party line.
It really must.

6

Malc 09.26.05 at 5:46 pm

in all fairness, I have often struggled more to see how someone can be Republican Right and Christian, than someone who isn’t from the Right and is Christian….

7

Bene D 09.26.05 at 5:50 pm

If John pops over…

John, who are believers in other countries to you?
Who are we?

Why is Richard an example in a US post?

8

John 09.26.05 at 5:50 pm

To clarify, I am not saying that Joel Thomas, Richard Hall, Dean Snyder, Beth Quick, etc. are insincere in their faith. I am saying the exact opposite.

Nor I do doubt that Richard has little trouble expressing his faith through his politics.

What I am saying is that the American Left, by and large, is secular. It is either non-Christian or anti-Christian, as the Kos comment thread shows.

By the way, DH, the old Southern senators who opposed integration may have been Democratic, but they were in no way shape or form liberal. They were conservative.

9

John 09.26.05 at 5:51 pm

Quite right, Bene! Richard is not US-based. It was an error to include him.

10

Richard 09.26.05 at 6:46 pm

Just to be clear, I was in no way suggesting that conservatives want to do any of those things I suggested at the end of my post. It would be unthinkable. But it *was* conservatives (whatever party label they may have carried) that opposed the ending of those things. Nice to agree with you about something, John! ;)

I’d like to challenge the notion that “liberals” in America (and i still hate the word!) are inherrently anti- or non- Christian. Could i dare to suggest that the growing influence of the right might have squeezed out more progressive voices by demanding compliance to a particular political programme? Isn’t that at least as likely as the proposition that there is something undeniably secular about the left?

11

Bene D 09.26.05 at 7:18 pm

Thanks John, putting bloggers in geographical context makes a bit more sense. I’m interested in your response to Richard’s last question.

Here is what I am hearing you say - You cannot be liberal and be a follower of Jesus Christ in the US - Christians can’t be Democrats, or Democrats can’t be Christian.

“…What I am saying is that the American Left, by and large, is secular. It is either non-Christian or anti-Christian…”

12

DH 09.26.05 at 7:45 pm

John, I’m sorry but that is not the case.

Why is Sen Byrd a Democrat and who supported the KKK currently a Democrat? If you were correct than he would be a Republican. I think if you read the history books without the media bias that, Republican=against civil rights, you will see that it was the Republican party who supported Civil Rights just as much as Democrats. Republicans party of Lincoln, etc. If it weren’t for bi-partisanship in 1964 the Civil Rights Act would have never passed. The fact remains the Republicans did the right thing as well as those Democrats who didn’t support the Southern Democrats.

I’ll mention this again: “I also could mention how the first minorities (first asian, first african american, first espanic, (even woman-Elizabeth Dole) etc.) in the cabinet (Executive branch) began under Republican administrations not Democratic administrations.”

I dislike people saying that Republicans are not as a whole for civil rights in general. Bene this has nothing to do with international vs. US but a right and wrong type issue.

13

DH 09.26.05 at 8:06 pm

I’m sorry Richard, I’m just pointing out that there were Conservatives for Civil Rights. To say that conservatives didn’t I feel is a misnomer for the reasons I mentioned.

14

John 09.26.05 at 8:10 pm

First up: DH’s comment.

Democrats have not always been liberal and Republicans have not even been conservative, as much as the modern definitions of those political concepts can be traced back with any clarity.

The Democratic Party dominated the South from the 1830s well into the 1970s. It was this conservative party which wanted to conserve the institution of slavery. It was opposed by a liberal party, the Republicans, wanted to eliminate this institution.

Time passed. Slavery was officially over, but black Americans were still held down as second-class citizens by Democratic Party of the ‘Solid’ South, which wanted to conserve the old order of things. They were occasionally opposed by the Republican party, which wanted to liberalize the status of black Americans.

The parties changed places over race relations starting in the 1960s. When the Southern establishment realized that the Democratic Party, headed by liberals such as Lyndon Johnson, wished to desegregate and establish equal rights, it switched over to the Republican party, led by men such as Goldwater and Nixon, who promised to conserve the old order of racial segregation and inequality. A fine example of this switch was Strom Thurmond, who ran for President in 1948 explicitly as a segregationist, and then switched to the Republican Party in 1964. The rest of the South followed suit.

Sen. Byrd, an old Southern Democrat, is an exception to the rule. He never switched.

I don’t think that he has any ideology at all, but is merely a crank.

Certainly the modern conservative movement is not racist. But this was not always so.

15

John 09.26.05 at 8:23 pm

I’m not saying that the Left is inherently secular. In fact, I explicitly said so in my post.

But I do think that the current Left is mostly secular. Check out these statistics as proof.

Also, consider anecdotal evidence. After the last Presidential election, it was the Left that mockingly referred to Bush voters as Jesusland. The papers and blogosphere were filled with derisive sniping at those stupid Christians who voted for Bush and led the country into another four years of disaster.

Read the Kos comment thread again. These people are not friendly to Christians.

I’d link to a bunch of commentaries from the time period, but I’m running short of time. Maybe later.

16

DH 09.26.05 at 8:49 pm

Actually if you have read Goldwater and Nixon they didn’t either support or reject the Civil Rights. Early on in 1960 they did as you said but later changed.

The fact remains the civil Rights Bill of 1964 which became law was BIPARTISAN and it took Democrats AND conservaitves to support this to become law. The fact remains the Bill needed conservatives for it to be passed. I have major problems with what you are projecting.

Actually if you want to go further you will see it was the Whig party and the Republicans that came together. The Whigs didn’t become Democrats. They became Republicans. The Whigs were conservative (economically) but many of them wanted the status quo. In fact the Democrats with Andrew Jackson (liberal not conservative) that wanted to keep slavery. I know there has been some changes but the changes are not as dramatic as they appear. :)

17

Richard 09.26.05 at 10:37 pm

John said: “I’m not saying that the Left is inherently secular. In fact, I explicitly said so in my post.
But I do think that the current Left is mostly secular.”

Fair enough. But the current *everybody* is mostly secular. Even in the US, where church-going rates are relatively high, is there any essential diffence in behaviour between those claiming Christian faith as compared with those who ave none? What I’m trying to suggest is that it is possible that those of a left-leaning inclination might have been effectively pushed out of the church. — in other words, that it isn’t that “lefties” are secular but they have (in the US) been obliged to become so.

Incidentally, I do find it laughable that Democrats can be called lefties. From this end of the world they look like one-nation Tories. To the left of the neo-cons, to be sure. But almost everyone is!

Incidentally, I’d like to pick up Malc’s comment which is very relevant:
“I have often struggled more to see how someone can be Republican Right and Christian”
It’s a fair point, and it’s a perspective that I’ve shared. In my 20’s, I couldn’t see how anyone could vote for Mrs Thatcher and call themselves a Christian. I think what the comment shows is that we all, left and right, tend to take our own perspective as normative. “I am Christian. Therefore Christians will think and believe as I do.”

I accept your point, John, about some of the commenters at Daily Kos. What I don’t accept is that they are necessarily representative of the left. Any more than I would take the gracious and helpful way that you’ve pursued this conversation as representative of the right. But I thank you for it.

18

John 09.27.05 at 12:13 am

Fair enough. But the current *everybody* is mostly secular. Even in the US, where church-going rates are relatively high, is there any essential diffence in behaviour between those claiming Christian faith as compared with those who ave none? What I’m trying to suggest is that it is possible that those of a left-leaning inclination might have been effectively pushed out of the church. — in other words, that it isn’t that “lefties” are secular but they have (in the US) been obliged to become so.

It would be rather hard to measure Christian affilation against Christian behavior. It’s doable — divorce rates and whatnot. But I haven’t seen it done in a reliable manner. If one can extrapolate from personal experience, it seems to me that evangelicals at least try to be better people.

I don’t see how Lefties could feel pushed out of the church. There are numerous liberal denominations, such as the UCC, the Disciples of Christ, the Episcopal Church, and the ELCA. But certainly there are denominations where a liberal would not feel welcomed, such as a variety of Pentecostal groups.

Incidentally, I do find it laughable that Democrats can be called lefties. From this end of the world they look like one-nation Tories. To the left of the neo-cons, to be sure. But almost everyone is!

Ironically, I find that Bush is only a conservative if one makes great mental gymnastics. After all, he created an entirely new federal entitlement — perscription drugs — which is hardly the act of a person who wants to restrict the powers of government. And he spends money like it’s water.

I guess it’s a matter of perspective.

“I have often struggled more to see how someone can be Republican Right and Christian”
It’s a fair point, and it’s a perspective that I’ve shared. In my 20’s, I couldn’t see how anyone could vote for Mrs Thatcher and call themselves a Christian. I think what the comment shows is that we all, left and right, tend to take our own perspective as normative. “I am Christian. Therefore Christians will think and believe as I do.”

I’ve been asked how I can be a libertarian and a Christian at the same time — mostly by people who don’t distinguish between libertarianism and libertinism.

Being in the minority in both contexts — as a libertarian among Christians and as a Christian among libertarians — has helped me accept people who think differently than I do politically as faithful, devout Christians.

19

John 09.27.05 at 12:15 am

I have said something in my comment which may unintentionally give offense. In my first paragraph of text, I do not mean to apply that non-evangelicals are not trying to be morally impacted. Rather, my personal experience is that the evangelicals that I know take personal holiness seriously.

20

DH 09.27.05 at 2:24 pm

How can people think that Christian can’t be a Republican Right?

What is so un-Christian about M. Thatcher?

21

Richard 09.27.05 at 5:00 pm

Your bewilderment precisely illustrates my point, DH, for that’s exactly how those of us who don’t share a conservative political viewpoint feel when we hear that we can’t possibly be Christians.

I wouldn’t any longer say that the republican right can’t be Christian, (but I do still think they’re very wrong!)
But to answer your question, it would go something like: because their look-after-yourself-first devil-take-the-hindmost greed-is-good economics is the very opposite of all that Jesus taught.
The same would apply to MT.

22

DH 09.27.05 at 7:18 pm

I’m not bewildered. I have never said they can’t be Christians. So you totally misunderstood what I’m saying. What is Christian about saying the opposite of what Rom 1 says is okay or indirectly say some action are okay by not having laws that say they are wrong? Also, the Bible does say “you don’t work you don’t eat.”. Are you saying that this is wrong or should be emphesized to a point (notice I say to the point because the extreme is not caring which I don’t support)? We do have responsibilities to take care of ourselves AND our fellow man (humankind). Do we need to do so much more for the poor and hurting? absolutely Also another thing, even Jesus supports investing by using the example of the talents. (yes I know it can apply to talents in terms of our abilities but that doesn’t change the fact that in Christ’s time a talent was money and that the parable is multi-faceted) Is investing “good economics? sure Is it greed? not in all cases for greed is the “going to seed” (pun intended) of something good because no where in the Bible does it say certain things within Economics as being wrong unless it is pursued in an overextreme way to the detrimate of others directly not indirectly.

So is concept of investing go against what Jesus taught in light of the parable of the talents?

Something to “sink your teeth on” (pun intended as this is the action to determine how real gold “talent” was in Christ’s time :) )

23

John 09.27.05 at 7:30 pm

But to answer your question, it would go something like: because their look-after-yourself-first devil-take-the-hindmost greed-is-good economics is the very opposite of all that Jesus taught.

The liberal view of “Jesus as Robin Hood” is equally bizarre.

24

DH 09.27.05 at 9:14 pm

Amen John I think this analysis pretty much sums up what I said earlier about this “progressive culture” suffering the symptoms of A.D.D.:

“A.D.D. looking too much at the short term, impulsive, inability to look at the big picture.

25

Richard 09.27.05 at 9:50 pm

You’ve never heard me present Jesus as anything like a Robin Hood figure, John, and I don’t know that it’s a view that would be supported by anyone whose received a modicum of theological education in the last 20 or so years. So I believe that’s what the debaters call a straw man. DH asked me how it is “that Christian can’t be a Republican Right”. He says he wasn’t bewildered, but he still *sounds* a wee bit bewildered to me.
DH - the answer to all those questions you raise in your first paragraph is “interpretation”. Ultimately, that’s what we differ about. For example, you raise the parable of the Talents (which is a very interesting parable about which I must write sometime) as supporting the concept of investment. It’s a fair point. But alongside that you have to set Jesus’ words about not storing up treasure on earth, which also pretty straightforwardly refers to investment. I’m always interested that I’ve never heard an advocate of scriptural inerrancy tell me I’ve got to take thse words literally!

Incidentally, I’m fascinated that you’re presenting Christian conservatism as somehow counter-cultural. On *some* “moral” issues it may be so, but in terms of the big picture of economics and politics? It’s the culture that voted in Bush and Blair.

26

DH 09.27.05 at 10:56 pm

Innerancy also has to do with context. It is called literally in context. Also “stoing up” refers to placing riches over Christ if you look at the original Greek. If you look at the “enitre” passage and Scripture in light of Scripture. (This and many more things are lined up within the Chicago Statement on Innerrancy). Also I could bring up the Malachi verse regarding storehouses as well referring to the blessings after we give to God.

How can you say I’m bewildered? I was pointing out by rhetorical questions how the views I’m hearing from you don’t seem consistent.

For Richard, belief in pure socialism IS Robin Hood.

27

Richard 09.27.05 at 11:45 pm

>> “How can you say I’m bewildered?”
Because I took ‘How can people think that Christian can’t be a Republican Right?’ to be a genuine question, not a rhetorical one.

I absolutely agree about the importance of context. Couldn’t agree more. But when i say, for example, that I read Gen 1 in its context as a ‘myth of origins’, I jumped all over. That’s because we don’t agree about the context! And we’d have the same conversation about many parts of the Bible. Your suggestion about the meaning of Matt 6:19-21 might be convenient to your purpose, but if you can provide any evidence at all that that’s what the text means I’d like to hear it. (I can see how that might indeed be the correct interpretation if those verses are taken in the context of the whole NT. But from that passage? I don’t think so. (And fwiw, I did look it up in Greek) Given how much Jesus appears to have said about the dangers of wealth, this is one text which has a very plain meaning. But it doesn’t suit any of us very well (including me, to be fair).

Let’s not get into an argument about what ‘pure socialism’ might be! (But I’m quite sure it has nothing whatsoevr to do with Robin Hood)

28

DH 09.28.05 at 3:39 pm

You get “jumoed over” because the Bible is never myth. To say it is myth undermines the foundation of Scripture. We should also never take just one scripture and look at it alone we must always look at Scripture in light of Scripture. I personally feel the Matt 6:19-21 is straight forward and is a multi-faceted meaning. A talent in Jesus’s day was money and it was invested. A talent as well is our own abillities that God has given us well. It makes sense that it isn’t one or the other. While Jesus brings out the dangers of wealth he never once said that being wealthy is wrong as it seems to be implied.

On Robin Hood: Here is a logic deal: Robin Hood took from the rich and gave to the poor, Pure socialism takes from the rich and gives to the poor by the nature that all people make the same exact income. Therefore Robin Hood is pure Socialism.

My definition of stealing is the forcible taking of something that isn’t theirs. So we can replace the “taking” with stealing and get the same understanding.

So therefore to say that pure socialism isn’t robin hood is illogical.

29

Richard 09.28.05 at 4:14 pm

On the contrary, DH, recognizing that scripture contains myth — “a story with a purpose” — affirms the scripture in my view. It’s about recognising the genre.

Socialism, pure or otherwise, has to do with the ownership and control of the means of production and exchange. Nothing to do with Robin Hood except in a fevered imagination. Jesus didn’t say that to be wealthy was wrong. But he did say it was dangerous. “How hard it will be for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Shocking stuff, but needing to be taken seriously.

Funnily enough, I don’t remember “talents” being mentioned in Matt 6…

30

John 09.28.05 at 4:38 pm

It isn’t a strawman at all, Richard. The liberal viewpoint appears to be that government should take money away from the wealthy and give it to the poor. This isn’t charity — it’s stealing. There is nothing moral about mugging for the poor, and I don’t recall Jesus engaging in this activity or supporting it. In fact — he never advocated any legislative change at all. Instead, he told people to give their wealth to the poor and downtrodden. Jesus never said to give someone else’s wealth to the needy.

Hence my “Jesus as Robin Hood” reference. There is nothing virtuous about stealing from the rich to give to the poor, and Jesus never supported this approach to poverty issues.

31

DH 09.28.05 at 7:08 pm

Amen, John. What did you think of my logic lesson? Not only is it nota strawman but it is also illogical to think that pure socialism isn’t robin hood. :)

32

Joel Thomas 09.28.05 at 7:55 pm

Once people start bringing in terms like “theft” and “extortion” then dialogue from my way becomes very diffcult.

For one thing, Biblically speaking, to fail to pay a worker a living wage is the greatest theft of all, an immorality of immense proportions that I think angers Jesus far more than the money changers working of out sacred place.

33

DH 09.28.05 at 9:36 pm

How is that greater than forcibly taking income like pure socialism does? What makes you think it isn’t theft or extortion based on John and I’s logical concept of the connection to Robin Hood.

To also, say that people who live under pure socialism who had their money forcibly taken away as being “money changers” I feel is extremely unfair and unwarrented.

When people use pure socialism in an even slightly postivie light than dialogue from my way becomes very difficult.

34

Richard 09.28.05 at 10:40 pm

What is this ‘pure soci alism’ you’ve introduced into the conversation, DH? I’ve never heard even the most militant Trot use the term, I don’t think.
And what does it have to do with my suggestion that what many US pundits dismiss as soc ialism (like Britain’s NHS, for example) do in fact have their origins in an understanding of the Christian gospel which is perfectly respectable outside of the USA.

I’m not asking you to agree with universal health care, social welfare, or any such thing. All I’m asking is that you acknowledge, however grudgingly, that some of us support these things because our faith in God compells us to.

35

John 09.29.05 at 3:06 am

I understand your point, Joel.

I use the terms ‘theft’ and ’stealing’ not to impute a nefarious nature to our dear Richard, but to confront people with the fact that immoral actions do not automatically become moral simply because the government performs them.

36

John 09.29.05 at 3:08 am

I’m not asking you to agree with universal health care, social welfare, or any such thing. All I’m asking is that you acknowledge, however grudgingly, that some of us support these things because our faith in God compells us to.

I’m completely on board with the idea that you’re acting in good faith. I disagree with the means, but I think that we have the same objective.

37

DH 09.29.05 at 4:23 pm

I too agree with John on both replies. I think forcibly taking from the rich and giving to the poor is not Christian or founded on the Christian Gospel. In Acts they willingly not forcibly did what you promote. This is where John and I seperate from you. I don’t feel that our Faith in God mandates us forcibly doing something that God in Acts had the people do willingly. Does that make sense? I think that is the “means” that John is saying.

The good thing is that all three of us agree with the objectives of our responsibility to the poor. To me that is the most important.

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