Beneath the evangelical power crust, a lot of stuff is bubbling
Carlos printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Dec 28, 2005 at 11:53:27 AM EST
The evangelical world is often portrayed as a monolithic force, but it is actually a very diverse and complex grouping of Christians who range politically all over the map. It is true that a majority of evangelicals voted for Bush in the last election, but it is important to be aware that a growing number of evangelicals are criticizing the Christian Right. Among these critics are Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren. Another emerging young voice is Donald Miller.
Donald Miller is not really a member of the Christian Left, but his general approach to Christianity is a refreshing and sharp challenge to the Christian Right. Miller's growing popularity among young people is a sign that young evangelicals are restless and not always in agreement with the voices of the older Christian Right leaders.

Below are quotes from two interviews and one article that will give a taste of how Miller responds to the Christian Right.

From The Door interview:

DOOR: Explain your summer living as a Navy Seal for Jesus.

MILLER: It's a part of my biography that I'm not exactly proud of but I was a fundamentalist at one point in my life, where I worked at a their camp in Colorado. It was miserable. We fasted, prayed, memorized a bunch of scripture, fasted, and did all of that to make ourselves great Christians in order to redeem ourselves rather than trusting in the grace and mercy of God. We thought we were in training for some sort of holy war. Of course we weren't going to be violent about anything, but we definitely looked at it that way in terms of being kind of militant Christians. [   ]

DOOR: What do you say to those who are turned off by Christianity because they equate Jesus as being a card-carrying member of the Republican Party and Pat Robertson's best friend?

MILLER: I would start by apologizing that these people have misrepresented Christ on numerous fronts.

From an interview in Christianity Today:

You've said that the church "uses love as a commodity." What do you mean?

We sometimes take a Darwinian approach with love--if we are against somebody's ideas, we starve them out. If we disagree with somebody's political ideas, or sexual identity, we just don't "pay" them. We refuse to "condone the behavior" by offering any love.

This approach has created a Christian culture that is completely unaware what the greater culture thinks of us. We don't interact with people who don't validate our ideas. There is nothing revolutionary here. This mindset is hardly a breath of fresh air to a world that uses the exact same kinds of techniques.

What's the alternative?

The opposite is biblical love, which loves even enemies, loves unconditionally, and loves liberally. Loving selectively is worldly; giving it freely is miraculous.

From an article in Willamette Week: [The first paragraph gives a feel for the unusual content of Miller's books, including "Blue Like Jazz", that has sold over 150,000 copies]

One passage of Blue Like Jazz recounts a scuffle with Portland cops at anti-Bush protests. Many of the conversations in his books take place over beers at the Horse Brass Pub. He describes watching penguins screw in wildlife documentaries as a spiritually enlightening experience. He recounts how, as an angsty Houston adolescent, he once renounced God while listening to the Smiths' song "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore" and vandalizing a carwash. His first book was about taking off from Texas in a VW bus and ending up in a hippie encampment in the Oregon woods with a bunch of guys who were, as he says now, "brushing their teeth with beer." [   ]

Miller was once an enthusiastic Young Republican who forged credentials just so he could hang out inside the 1992 GOP convention in Houston. Now he's a Green-turned-Democrat with a link to on his website. [   ]

Miller says the fate of his mom's Enron-based 401(k) played a role in his political conversion. "She's lost 95 percent of her retirement, she's working two jobs, and Bush is denying he's friends with Ken Lay," he says. "And I'm like, you really don't care about us, do you?" [    ]

Most people who love Don Miller seem to be more conventional Christians who feel cast adrift in the conservative megachurch world. "I think most of my readers are disenfranchised evangelicals," Miller says. "They've been going to church and voting Republican all their lives, but it's not working for them anymore."

"Beneath the evangelical power crust, a lot of stuff is bubbling," says Jess Bielman, the campus ministry director at Warner Pacific College, a tiny Bible school on Mount Tabor where many students read Miller. "Miller taps right into that. [   ]

From the outside, evangelical Christianity looks like a right-wing monolith right now: bolstering Bush, crushing gay marriage, waging abortion jihad, saving America's children from SpongeBob SquarePants.

Miller's success is evidence something else is afoot. Locally, the author is part of a loose network of evangelical thinkers who are trying, as another says, "to talk about faith without sounding like assholes." In Portland and nationally, a new breed of churches often labeled "emergent" is carving out an alternative to the suburban megachurch. [   ]

"What Miller says about Christian conservatives," says Michael Spencer, a Kentucky pastor and popular Christian blogger, "will just peel the hair off those of us who voted for Bush."

It is important for people to peel the hair off of their stereotypes of Christian evangelicals, and to see where there are potential allies.

To gain allies like a Miller, and others that are sure to follow, means for starters, having respect for thier beliefs, and not judging them by the views and behavior of others.

American society has always had evangelical Christians in it, and always will. It wouldn't be America without them.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Dec 28, 2005 at 01:58:55 PM EST

The problem with progressive Christians is they have neither the numbers nor the money to be taken seriously by anyone in power. There are a lot of them in the black church, but among whites, all the progressive Christians in the country probably wouldn't fill even one megachurch. I'm exaggerating, but not much. I sometimes read the magazine put out by Sojourners; a progressive Christian group. It started in the seventies, at the same time as the Christian right. Now the Christian right runs the country and no one even knows who Sojourners is. In fact, I doubt you could name one white liberal Christian in all American history with the popularity or political influence of James Dobson or Tim LaHaye.

by Dave on Thu Dec 29, 2005 at 02:47:25 AM EST
Carlos has several important points that you would do well to hear. Especially because you couldn't be more wrong.

Jim Wallis has become very well known around the U.S., and his book God's Politics has been on national best seller lists. Tony Campalo was an advisor to president Clinton and is one of the best known evangelicals in America.

Progressive Christians of many sorts are stirring around the country in ways I have not seen in 30 years. One can say that it all comes rather late; maybe could have and should have happened sooner; but that does alter that fact that is is happening on many fronts around the country.

Stick around. I am sure you will hear about lots more.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Dec 29, 2005 at 04:32:04 AM EST

I can only go by what I've observed as a church organist working regularly at both a Catholic and an Episcopal church, as well as filling in at several other churches. Mainstream churches seem to be losing members and short of cash while conservative churches teaching a self-righteous message combining the Gospel of prosperity and the Gospel of hate are growing bigger and bigger and have lots of cash to throw around. Also, many traditionally moderate or apolitical churches are becoming more conservative, perhaps merely attempting to stay competitive. And I live in the most liberal part of the country. I can only imagine how bad it is down south. I'm not encouraged reading articles by Joe Bageant, who lives in the Bible belt. Like I said, I hope you're right and I'm wrong, but I see relatively little evidence of it. I agree with you that there has been a marked increase of activity on the Christian left. Unfortunately, it seems to have been more than counterbalanced by an even greater increase of activity on the Christian right. There may be a movement starting, but probably begun to late to be very effective. I think our best hope is that the Christian right mishandles its opportunity. They're on the brink of power, but they have to play it right. If they move to fast, they could alienate the public. If they move to slow, they'll lose momentum and the movement will flounder.

by Dave on Sat Dec 31, 2005 at 01:15:08 AM EST

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