Evangelicals Are Too Political & Other Popular Myths
Rethinking perceptions vs. reality after the defeat of DOMA.

Since the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California's Proposition 8 last week, it seems everyone with a keyboard has been analyzing the implications of the decisions. What does it mean for the gay rights movement? What does it mean for social conservatives? What does it mean for churches and religious liberty? Understandably many saw last week's rulings as a significant victory for the LGBTQ community, and a seismic defeat for politically-organized evangelicals.

Critics outside the church say it is time for evangelicals to admit defeat and lay down their culture war weapons. Voices inside the church, like John Dickerson, echo this call. Last week in The Washington Post Dickerson wrote, "The repeal of DOMA proves that political involvement–useful as it may have once been—cannot stop the change of culture." And, "The fall of DOMA demonstrates the end of investing too much into political involvement."

On the surface I agree with Dickerson and others who warn evangelicals of the perils of social engineering through politics. I have issued such warnings myself. But as I've absorbed media reporting in the wake of the SCOTUS rulings from both Christians and non-Christians, I've grown increasingly confused by the assumption surrounding evangelical political activism. Have evangelicals really been "investing too much into political involvement"? And has evangelical political engagement really come at the expense of engaging other streams of the culture? Finally, does the perception of evangelicals as rabidly political fit with reality?

Let me begin with anecdotes–admittedly the weakest of arguments. One would assume from media reporting that evangelicals are obsessed with two things: politics and homosexuality. In my 30 years of involvement with evangelical churches, parachurch ministries, and mission organizations, I cannot recall hearing a single sermon about homosexuality. In addition, my role with Christianity Today connects me with evangelical congregation all over the country. Politics and gay marriage may arise in my private conversations with pastors, but I've never heard them engaged in a worship service. That does not mean these topics are never broached in a church setting, but they reside very, very far from the spotlight. And what about this past Sunday after the "culture shaking" ruling by the Supreme Court? Nothing. I did not hear a sermon, a comment, a prayer, or even a conversation in the church foyer about it. And this silence isn't limited to LGBTQ issues. In three decades I've not heard what I would classify as a political or partisan sermon.

July 02, 2013

Displaying 1–10 of 25 comments

Kate

July 16, 2013  9:13pm

Well, you must run in different evangelical circles than I have for the past few decades. The churches I've encountered, most of them fairly mainstream and not "way out there", have had all kinds of veiled and not-so-much veiled political references. And even when they were somewhat avoidant of politics from the pulpit (although only barely so) the individual conversations in the vestibule, over coffee, at luncheons and during social time of small groups was borderline vitriolic at times. I was uncomfortable and explained to people on several occasions that this was causing me not to want to bring any friends in so they could hear the gospel since all they would have heard was hateful speech. No one seemed all that concerned even though this is a large church that prides itself on evangelism outreach. My husband was aggressively verbally attacked in front of our daughters (ages 5 and 7 at the time) in the church parking lot by a very belligerent man spewing all kinds of hate at him (IN FRONT OF MY YOUNG CHILDREN) because our van had the audacity to quietly display a "Christians for Kerry" bumper sticker. The Sunday before this our car was plastered with nasty, nasty notes that my elderly mother quickly took off before my 7 y.o. (who could read) saw what was in them – nasty hate speech. Wanna know what we were doing at the time? We'd just finished playing a whole lot of music for a large women's retreat, I had taught a breakout session and that Sunday was teaching a different adult Sunday School class. All without recompense or even a "thank you" for most of it. When we brought all this to the pastoral staff, their first reaction was denial and minimizing ("must have been a visitor", yea, right) and then a nasty, scathing sermon two weeks later directly leveled, not at the nasty hater (whom they finally figured out after he attacked someone "important") but directly at us. This was by far the nastiest encounters we'd had, however they were not the only ones. Take a look at some of the things 'good Christians' post on Facebook – makes me sad that Christ is made to look like a hater when he's not. I'd be more interested in hearing a few scathing sermons or commentaries on greed, corruption, exploitation, economic justice etc. (kind of like the things Jesus and the prophets talked about) instead of the Republican agenda wrapped up like it's the Gospel. Mr. Jethani, I am pleased that you have been spared much of what many of the rest of us have encountered, but brother is it out there and it's not simply a perception problem. The main problem as I see it is too many evangelicals and fundamentalists are busy preaching the right wing agenda instead of the Gospel of Jesus. These things do not always match up – guess which one often wins out? I do not mind being identified as a follower of Christ even though I don't measure up to our leader as well as I would like. I have long ago given up wanting to be associated with the word "evangelical" since the church (small "c") sold itself out to politics. (Wanna really annoy folks? Tell them Jesus was a liberal, or at the very least, that God is an independent, not a Republican or Democrat.)

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sheerahkahn

July 16, 2013  2:25am

"Spiritual Abuse blogs such as The Wartburg Watch have been keeping an eye upon these guys for some time." I have to admit that I stopped studying the whole Church involvement in Government back at the end of 2004. I was too depressed, angry, and frustrated...particularly at the Church. It was a dark time for me, and so for my own...peace of mind...I make an effort not to wade back into that cess pit of following that mess because I know myself well enough that I'll just walk away, again. ________________________________________________________ "Sheer, if it really..." to "...for you to at least take it seriously." I have read your post, and the only charge I cannot argue against is exasperation...that is accurate, and the most difficult for me to conceal. So, that being said, my only other comment on your post is that I take everyone in the Church seriously...which, upon thinking about it...contributes to my exasperation.

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pastor v

July 15, 2013  4:07pm

Sheer, if it really was just me, your point would be well taken. But it's not. It's also Skye and Dockanz on this thread. And it's come up on other threads you've participated in. At some point, is it not possible that perhaps it DOES have at least something to do with you, with your intents, with what you wrote? Is it not possible that maybe you are, in some comments, arrogant, condescending, and rude? I mean, just because you don't perceive something in yourself, doesn't mean it's not true! We all have blind spots. Just because I can't see my face doesn't mean there are no stains on it. That's why we have mirrors, so that something outside of ourselves can point out these blind spots! As the body of Christ, we are mirrors to each other! And yes, I understand that, on my part, my own comments can come across as defensive. Maybe they are! Although, I don't know why I would have cause to be defensive. Your first comments were directed at Skye and Dockanz, not me. And like I said, I agree with much of what you wrote, as far as content is concerned. So, I don't know why I would be defensive. I've been following this site for many years, now, and I've seen your comments regularly. I like a lot of what you write. I think you make many valuable contributions to these conversations. But Bro, believe me, there is a level of arrogance, of condescension, of exasperation at those whom you seem to think "below you" intellectually, that is also present in a lot of what you write, and which unfortunately can take away from your valuable comments. I'm sure this isn't your "intent." But it's there. Others beside me have seen it and called you out on it. Perhaps it would be good for you to at least take it seriously.

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Headless Unicorn Guy

July 15, 2013  3:56pm

Politics and gay marriage may arise in my private conversations with pastors, but I've never heard them engaged in a worship service. That does not mean these topics are never broached in a church setting, but they reside very, very far from the spotlight. And/or Evangelical Pastors with worship services and Evangelical Political Activist types form two separate groups with limited overlap.

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Headless Unicorn Guy

July 15, 2013  3:53pm

This ideology was, at the time known as Christian Reconstructionism which eventually became known as Dominionism in the 90's, and the last time I checked was called Kingdom Now. Who knows what it's called now...I don't. I think it's back to Reconstructionism. Or "Take Back America". These days it's associated with the "Young, Restless, and TRULY Reformed" Hyper-Calvinists, more Calvinist than Calvin. It's all tied up with Complementarianism (i.e. Male Supremacist) and Theocracy forcing Godliness(TM) through the sword of the State (like Calvin in Geneva or the Ayatollahs of Iran). Spiritual Abuse blogs such as The Wartburg Watch have been keeping an eye upon these guys for some time. As for what it's called, I call it "The Handmaid's Tale For Real" or "The Handmaid's Tale as How-To Manual". For it reduces the Gospel to Power and Power alone (just like Predestination reduces God to Omnipotent Power). At which point, all the tropes of Power Struggle come into play.

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Headless Unicorn Guy

July 15, 2013  3:46pm

I've grown increasingly confused by the assumption surrounding evangelical political activism. Have evangelicals really been "investing too much into political involvement"? And has evangelical political engagement really come at the expense of engaging other streams of the culture? Finally, does the perception of evangelicals as rabidly political fit with reality? Could this be because those evangelicals who ARE primarily political are such "loud crazies" they obscure those who are not? TV Tropes calls this "the Vocal Minority Effect" and I've seen it in action in various types of fandom. The no-life fanboys end up defining the public face of the fandom because (a) they are LOUDER and more spectacular, and (b) because they don't have jobs or lives to take time away from their Cause. The Cause IS their entire life. And there is only so much you can do to distance yourself from the Loud Crazies.

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Rjd

July 14, 2013  7:03pm

If evangelicals aren't political then why did Karl Rove conspire to get anti-gay initiatives on the ballots in swing states in 2004? So much for your anecdote. As someone who has watched their political activism around marriage equality screw with my life for 25 years I say my life experience beats your vague delusions.

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StallChaser

July 13, 2013  6:34pm

The real problem with religion and politics is when people use religion alone as a way to make political decisions. When a group of people takes one side of an issue for entirely religious reasons, it's rightfully seen as an imposition of their religious views on anyone that doesn't agree. In the case of same sex marriage, I have yet to see a single rational reason for opposing it – they're always overtly religious and/or completely lack any sense in how the real world operates. It doesn't matter how politically active they are, but how often they abandon rationality when they vote.

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Marg Herder

July 12, 2013  2:05am

The fact that Mr. Jethani "did not hear a sermon, a comment, a prayer, or even a conversation in the church foyer" about the DOMA decision speaks volumes to those of us with ears to hear. Among evangelicals who have been advocating for LGBTQ justice and equality for years and years (like the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women's Caucus, eewc.com) there was no silence, instead there was the sound of people crying for joy, and much rejoicing. Proudly proclaiming that his church was silent about DOMA makes an entirely different point than he intended.

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sheerahkahn

July 10, 2013  8:10pm

"But just because arrogance, condescension, and rudeness are acceptable ways to accomplish those goals in the scientific community does not make them acceptable among the people of God." I disagree with your assessment of my post, but okay...your perception is that I was arrogant, rude, and condescending because as I reread my post I was honest, transparent, and sourced my viewpoint so that it can be cross-referenced. "But may I suggest that you not constantly speak to people who DON'T work in the field of science as if we were morons?" When I compare this quote to what I posted my perception is that you are being defensive. I don't why that is...but there it is between you and I...and I am clueless as to how to change that other than to explain how I write: My intent/purpose was not to "impose" an air of superiority, rather, indicating the employment of the methodology of sourcing my information, and if necessary, explanation that leaves no room for doubt as to what I am writing/intending that allows you, or anyone else to check on me as to me being factual or being nonsensical (i.e. making things up). However, if you have a perception of being treated like a moron then that is you, and nothing to do with me, my intention, or what I wrote.

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