Moderation’s Subtle Allure

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Mark Galli

The on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand beast reared its head again, this time in Mark Galli’s December 12th analysis of Alabama’s recent US Senate race. Galli displays the centrist’s bent toward false equivalency, which only enables extremists. I explored the subtle culpability of the moderate evangelical in a HuffPost article. Galli unwittingly gives us a case study.

Galli, the editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, the hub for thoughtful evangelicals since its founding in 1956, wrote his piece before Democrat Doug Jones was declared the upset winner. His verdict: Christianity is “the biggest loser in the Alabama election.”

To which many would say “Amen” – until they read further. He saw the election through a left-right grid and claimed egg splatters all faces. In fact, some criticism of Republican candidate Roy Moore — and President Donald Trump — comes from evangelical conservatives.

Nice Start

Galli began nimbly enough:

No matter the outcome of today’s special election in Alabama for a coveted US Senate seat, there is already one loser: Christian faith. When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.

So far so good. Galli is one with those ringing the alarm: “Woe to back-to-the-Bible advocates with double-standard morals.” Supporting a credibly-accused pedophile mars a Christian witness already tarnished by white evangelical enthusiasm for a volatile, serial-lying, race-baiting, wife-dumping, adulterous, anti-immigrant president. Few would imagine the mid-20th-century leaders of the evangelical resurgence – Carl Henry, Harold Ockenga, and Billy Graham – championing such a patently immoral leader or a dubious Senate candidate.

Galli seems to press this point:

The race between Republican candidate Roy Moore and Democratic candidate Doug Jones has only put an exclamation point on a problem that has been festering for a year and a half—ever since a core of strident conservative Christians began to cheer for Donald Trump without qualification and a chorus of other believers decried that support as immoral. The Christian leaders who have excused, ignored, or justified his unscrupulous behavior and his indecent rhetoric have only given credence to their critics who accuse them of hypocrisy.

We’re All Sinners

But, suddenly, he stumbles into false equivalency’s quicksand. Everyone’s guilty: “Meanwhile the easy willingness of moderate and progressive Christians to cast aspersions on their conservative brothers and sisters has made many wonder about our claim that Jesus Christ can bring diverse people together as no other can.”

Thus his six-paragraph salvo criticizing non-conservatives. He claims:

From moderate and liberal brothers and sisters, conservatives have received swift and decisive condemnation. They call these conservatives idolaters for seeking after political power. They call them homophobes for wanting Christian bakers to legally follow their conscience. They call them racists and Islamophobes for wanting secure borders. These moderates and liberal evangelicals are so disturbed by the political beliefs of their brothers and sisters that many say they don’t even want to be associated with them anymore; they seem to view these brothers and sisters in Christ as tax collectors and sinners.

Galli names no names, which seems gentlemanly but actually leaves us in the lurch. Which “moderates and liberal evangelicals” are hurling the insults? I’d agree if he mentioned Rachel Held Evans and John Pavlovitz, whose blogs radiate spite in the name of open-mindedness. I wouldn’t if he singled-out John Piper, Beth Moore, and Russell Moore – all solid, theologically conservative evangelicals critical of their movement’s Trump-ward drift. By naming no one, Galli names everyone. All Trump-Moore critics are potentially guilty. That sidesteps an argument’s merits — which, again in this instance, evade easy left-right categories.

He continues: We must seek to understand brothers and sisters with whom we disagree – and a vote for a candidate is not a measuring rod of spiritual maturity. That’s true, but general verities miss the story beneath the story, which Galli cites later: Self-identified evangelicals once extolled high personal ethics for politicians. Last year’s PRRI study discovered a sea change:

No group has shifted their position more dramatically than white evangelical Protestants. More than seven in ten (72%) white evangelical Protestants say an elected official can behave ethically even if they have committed transgressions in their personal life—a 42-point jump from 2011, when only 30 % of white evangelical Protestants said the same.

Couple the PRRI statistics with others showing actual heresy among self-identified evangelicals, and we can’t help but see the underlying ailment beneath the political symptom: Historical evangelicalism in America has been mugged. It lays on the street, bruised and beaten, its pale skin clammy and its blood dripping into the pavement’s cracks. Like it or not, today’s mugger lives with the Alt-Right. That doesn’t mean the Left is nice or even good. It merely means we’ve located the culprit’s lodgings at this juncture.

Galli eventually probes “Hypocrisy on the Right” and offers much food for thought. I’m with him in his final paragraph:

The way forward is unclear. For to love one’s neighbor in a democratic society means that Christians must participate in the public square to seek the common good. We cannot forsake our political duty, and that duty will lead believers in different directions. It’s just that when we do engage in politics, we so often end up doing and saying things that make us sound and act like we don’t care about the very values we champion. Perhaps the first step is for Christians Left and Right, when they stand up to champion a cause, to stop saying “Thus says the Lord” and “Lord, I thank you that you have not made me like these other Christians,” but frame their politics with, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”

True, that.  But moderates – myself included – must join those begging for mercy. We’ve refused risk and have stood still, mired in false equivalence and frozen in fear of conflict. Perhaps we’ve even hidden behind subtle snobbery: Everyone’s wrong, so a pox on all houses.

All must hear humility’s call, including evangelical centrists and moderates who’ve idolized calmness. We can begin by removing that deafening, left-right filter that blocks us from hearing genuine concerns.

 

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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern

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