Evangelicaldom -- Sightings

Over the past several decades Evangelicalism has become increasingly politicized. In many ways it has been co-opted by conservative political operatives, who promise political domination but simply want troops. Recently we've seen numerous moral failures -- Mark Sanford and John Ensign -- among the right-wing politicians who claim to be acting in God's name. Liberal churches once held powerful places in society, but we fell to the sidelines.

Martin Marty, always the astute observer, comments on the current state of politicized "evangelicaldom" in Monday's Sightings post.


Sightings -- 10/5/09


-- Martin E. Marty

Take one day, say Friday, October 2, in the life of what we should start calling “Evangelicaldom.” One-fourth to one-third of Americans consider themselves “Evangelicals.” Many are exemplary citizens and, let us say, exemplary Christians. Somewhere along the way millions among them, however, sought what they would call “earthly power,” and won enough of it to dream of and work for “Evangelicaldom.” That “-dom” signals “domain,” as in old “Christendom” and modern “Islamdom.” In it, any hints of traditional “otherworldliness” were forgotten, and the once least-worldly sector among us came to be among the most driven by commerce, markets, media, and politics.

Regular readers know that Sightings does not target or heap on evangelicals. But several media sightings on October 2 prompted and merit response. The main story in the New York Times had to do with one of the several fallen born-again “Christian Right” valiants of the season, Senator John Ensign, adulterer and now alleged criminal in use of funds and power. Atop a full-page story is a picture of the Senator and the cuckolded husband of Ensign’s mistress, autographed by Ensign to his “friend and brother, in Christ.” The sinning senator issued the standard more-or-less apology with the more-and-more frequent substitute for reference to “sin:” He made a “mistake.” Enough.

The same day the Los Angeles Times published Neal Gabler’s absolutely pessimistic but relatively accurate assessment of the way the absolutist style of religious fundamentalism has found its place among the shouting populists who, while not necessarily always bannering “in Christ” – most of the signs at the shout-out rallies are quite secular – are always sure that they have no need for civility and thus for politics. Gabler: “Those who oppose the religification of politics may think all they have to do is change tactics, but they are sadly, tragically mistaken. They can never win, because for the political fundamentalists, this isn’t political jousting, this is Armageddon. With stakes like that, they will not lose, and there is nothing democrats – small ‘d’ and capital ‘D’ – can do about it.” For the sake of the future, any kind of future, they have to try.

Fortunately for civil readers’ sanity, there was a relatively calm assessment in David Brooks’ same-day New York Times column in which he notices and reports on the political limits of those who goad and inspire the religified political troops, people named Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, and O’Reilly. They boast hugely huge audiences. But, as Brooks chronicles, they have not converted those in their seething niche into real electoral dominance of the sort Evangelicaldom once had hoped it could produce.

Fortunately for Christian readers’ sanity, there is also a cover story in the October issue of Christianity Today, a magazine which represents evangelicalism when it was evangelical. Its headline: “Evangelicals desperately need moral and spiritual renewal – on that everyone agrees. But what do we do about it?” Editor Mark Galli at length concentrates on evangelicals’ spiritual sins – not "mistakes" – in an analysis of the sort Catholics, Mainline Protestants, the Orthodox and others need to and often do make.

Until evangelicals can find ways to make clear to themselves, politicians, media, and publics that they are distancing themselves from the Armageddonist absolutism of the “religified Right,” they are more likely to look like and will be in danger of becoming like “the children of the world” against whom their spiritual forefathers creatively and courageously railed as they offered alternatives, not carbon copies.





Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.

This month in the Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum, Marlene Tromp examines the ways in which narratives of communion and "the flesh," which she engages through feminist food studies and traces especially through a discussion of nineteenth-century Spiritualist mediumship, contribute to a better understanding of gender roles (and their disruption) in Victorian Spirtualism. Formal responses by Gail Turley Houston (University of New Mexico) and Daniel Sack (University of Chicago) are forthcoming.

Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


Gary said…
I'm facinated with the continuous obsession that some have with the "Religious Right". Since I am someone who most people would consider part of that crowd, I have a hard time believing that anyone would consider the "Religious Right" to be a genuine force in American politics.

I see very little in the political realm, or in society, that they could consider as accomplishments. Abortion is as legal and often practiced as ever. Homosexuals are on the march and winning victories. The nation is behaving in increasingly immoral ways. The Democrats control the White House and have majorities in Congress. The courts continue to produce liberal decisions. So just what has the "Religious Right" accomplished? Not much in my book. And yet, their theological and political opponents seem obsessed with them. Interesting.
Anonymous said…
Some people are naturally nostalgic and see the world in black and white terms.
It’s when they impose their will on others that more liberal minded people become obsessed with preserving freedom. This isn’t a irrational reaction Gary. If the “far right” had their way, we would be ruled under a fascist regime. By the way, Obama is not a freedom loving liberal in my book. The latest evidence (and there’s been a lot lately) is his refusal to meet with the Dali Lama. Even Daddy Bush met with him. Obama is now bowing to the Chinese. What a chump. David Mc
Gary said…
David Mc,

What do you want to have the freedom to do that the Religious Right would deny?
Anonymous said…
Love my enemy?

Oh, I'd like to grow and consume my own God given seed bearing herbs, but Obama turned his back on that too. David Mc

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