"Jesus Is Not a Republican"

Randall Balmer is upset, and rightfully so. He has spoken twice at Wheaton College, once in 1972 and again in 2002, and now this past month he has written an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education reflecting on his relationship with evangelicalism in America. He and I are partners, along with many others, in an attempt to show evangelicals that they are scandalizing the scandal of the cross by subverting the truth and essence of Christianity. It is time the church in America opens its eyes. I urge people to take the time to read this. Hopefully Wheaton will ask him to return.

Comments

An interesting article. I hope that the evangelical political elite will begin to engage with its points.

I am just making my way through God's Politics by Jim Wallis. This has been an enlightening experience on the state of American politics (as well as recent documentries on Patrick Henry College - scary or what?).

We don't have the same issues between state and religion in the UK - although as so much popular American theology comes to us in the form of books and radio it is making a small impact.

So for the moment I lend out my various seasons of the West Wing!

Simon
Douglas_Coombs said…
While Jesus isn't Republican, he certainly isn't Democrat either. Unfortunately, Ballmer sounds like someone interested in conducting a smear job funded by the Democrat Party than someone truly interested in engaging the issues near and dear to the heart of Christians on the right. Rather than saying we need to oppose both abortion and torture, he says we need to oppose the torture of a few hundred people and leave it legal to kill millions of fetuses every year. After all, torture is really evil, but abortion is actually "a matter properly left to a woman and her conscience." What's the matter with crying out against both crimes? Both torture and abortion are flat out wrong. For a Christian to be for legal abortion and against legal torture is just as bad than being for legal torture and against legal abortion. Balmer has no leg to stand on. On top of that he claims the right isn't even really serious about outlawing abortion. Does he actually think Bush's supremem court appointments are in the pattern of Ginsberg on this issue? What about Bush's stance on federal funding of stem cell research and the numerous laws that have come up trying to chip away at the legal right to abortion through all 9 months without impugnity? The disengenuous nature of many of those like Balmer on the religious left and their unwillingness to engage in meaningful dialog on things that matter to conservative Christians leaves me with the same bad impression that certain hypocritical leaders on the right leave me with. Neither of them wants to follow the gospel all the way, only as far as their political establishment will let them.

By the way, I called my senators to encourage them to support S403, which would prevent people from transporting minors across state lines to bypass a given state's parental notification laws. Only one Democrat has signed up as cosponsor of the bill: Ben Nelson of Nebraska. The rest are so sold out to NARAL and the like they wouldn't dare support a pro-life measure, even if it has the support of the vast majority of Americans. There isn't a state in the union that would shoot down a parental notification law if the vote was left to the people via an initiative process.

Call it Pat Casey's revenge. Call it whatever you want. Until the Democrats take pro-lifers seriously and give them a real voice in the party on such issues, they will NEVER take the Christian vote.

Doug
they will NEVER take the Christian vote.

This religious block voting is so alien to my British ears! I find it worrying.

Christianity should not be partisan. Policies on both side of the political spectrum reflect elements of gospel values. We need Christians in all parties in order to maintain issues of justice and equality no matter what government is in power.
D.W. Congdon said…
Simon, I find that worrying as well.

Doug, I wholeheartedly agree with you on abortion. But -- and this is a serious "but" -- you would simply perpetuate the pernicious habit among the Religious Right of writing off a critic over one issue by labeling Ballmer an ideological liberal. I agree that abortion should be opposed as much as torture, but his critiques of the Right cannot be reduced to "a smear job." You sound like "the minions of the religious right [who] will seek to discredit me rather than engage the substance of my arguments."

You do Ballmer a great disservice by smearing him as someone who does not seem "interested in engaging the issues near and dear to the heart of Christians on the right." You do him a disservice because you think that unless he and others show a violent reaction against abortion, everything else they say will fall on deaf ears. That is the real shame in your comment, that you would close yourself off to such critiques simply because your political buttons were not being pushed. How typical of the Religious Right ...

I sincerely hope you are a more self-critical and considerate thinker than that. Just because I or Ballmer or others argue strenuously against what the Religious Right stands for does not mean we are "funded by the Democrat Party." What it might mean is that we are doing the hard thinking that those on the right have given up in favor of political grenade tossing. It might mean that I stand between the parties, unwilling to commit to either one in order to avoid the ideological traps common to both sides. But do not take critiques of the Right as a sign that I am bound to the Left. That is the kind of dualistic thinking which gets people, especially Christians, into serious trouble.
Shane said…
Of course Jesus would not have been a democrat. But I don't know any democrats who think he would have been. The reverse is not the case among evangelical republicans.

I remember seeing freshmen at Wheaton absolutely astounded that Republican values might conflict with the moral vision of the NT. (And some of the Wheaton seniors still hadn't gotten the lesson--in fact, I would argue that the Republican values had overtaken the Christian ones in some cases, to wit, the Wheaton senior who called for a preemptive attack against Iran two and half years ago).

It seems to me that liberal christians have exactly the opposite problem. Conservative Christians tend to identify religion and politics (theo-fascists). Liberal Christians tend to so strongly dissociate the two that religion is relegated to the merely private, the merely subjective. This move should be opposed as well, but it is a completely different problem that requires a different solution.

I have not read his book yet, but it seems to me that Balmer has avoided both of those extremes.
Douglas_Coombs said…
Shane,

Thanks for your reasoned response. I'm not so certain that Ballmer hasn't avoided the same extreme that he criticizes the right for. That was the point of my earlier post. If you have evidence to the contrary, I would love to read it.

That said, in the article David originally linked to, Ballmer criticizes only the Republicans and never the Democrats. He also does so in religious terms saying that they are going to have to answer to God for what they have done. To quote Ballmer, "The Bible I read tells of freedom for captives and deliverance from oppression. It teaches that those who refuse to act with justice or who neglect the plight of those less fortunate have some explaining to do."

It was not the fact tha Ballmer criticized the right that upset me. If they trample the rights of the poor, I agree that they will have to answer to God and NEVER suggested otherwise. It was Ballmer's totally one sided take on things that got my ire up. He didn't just criticize those on the right for things they have done that are wrong, he ***excused*** the left on what I consider to be one of the greatest civil rights violations of all-time. The yearly murder of millions of unborn human beings is tragic and inexcusable. It is certainly not a matter of choice simply to be left to in individual conscience as Ballmer suggests.

Ballmer can't have it both ways. If the alliance with the Republicans is an unholy alliance (and I won't deny that it is if Christians can't criticize Bush or withhold support when he is wrong), then it is also an unholy alliance to be blind to the faults of the Democrats.

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David,

Your insults and the tone of your prior comment are disappointing to me. Next time you get upset, try reading through my post one more time to see if you might possible be misreading me.

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Lost Message,

There isn't just a religious voting block in America, there is a non-religous voting block. People who don't attend church at all lean very heavily Democrat. Many of these people are also very antagonistic towards Christians. I wish it weren't so, but it is. Here is a bumper sticker that was sold on the website of the WA State Democrat Party. I call it religous bigotry. They call it free expression. I can't find it anymore, but I found the party spokesperson's insincere apology that never admitted any actual wrongdoing almost humorous.
http://deltamikecharlie.blogspot.com/2005/12/if-democrats-arent-anti-christian-then.html

Regarding my comment about voting patterns and the Democrats taking the Christian vote, for whatever reason, the yearly legal murdering of millions of human beings just matters more to religious people than the non-religoius. For some reason the majority of them take it far more seriously than the restructuring of social security or the unauthorized wiretapping of a few Americans suspected of being terrorists. While the war in Iraq has caused many to question an alliance with the Republicans, most don't see too many options on the other side. *Most* don't see the Democrats as really caring more for the poor and the weak. Call it cynicism, but most people think 80% of the politicians in both parties care far more about feathering their own nest than helping the downtrodden.

Doug
D.W. Congdon said…
Doug, I reread both your comment and mine, and I see nothing that I would change. You said: "Ballmer sounds like someone interested in conducting a smear job funded by the Democrat Party than someone truly interested in engaging the issues"; "Balmer has no leg to stand on"; "disengenuous nature of many of those like Balmer"; "unwillingness to engage in meaningful dialog"; "they will NEVER take the Christian vote."

I think I was quite right to call you out on your own political blinders.
D.W. Congdon said…
Doug,

You perpetuate some very pernicious falsehoods by characterizing "non-religious" people as primarily Democratic, as if "religious" people do not see the Democratic Party as a valid option. You should be more clear. What you mean is that the conservative evangelical-fundamentalist contingent of America do not see the Democratic Party as an option, because they view abortion as the criteria for whether one is on the "right" side or not. As if abortion is so much greater of an issue that it trumps international war, the ignoring of the poor and elderly, the massive exploitation of the environment for the sake of profit, and the entrenchment of a quasi-Constantinian ideology of the state that corresponds with a highly idealized perspective on the United States as the "greatest nation on earth."

There is a great upswell among younger Christians in pursuit of a progressive political-religious position, one that remains faithful to Christianity while arguing for a left-leaning politics. The Progressive Politics Blog Convention just finished, with people all over the world coming together to dialogue about these issues.
Shane said…
Doug,

This is what i don't see:
"
He didn't just criticize those on the right for things they have done that are wrong, he ***excused*** the left on what I consider to be one of the greatest civil rights violations of all-time."

Where do you see Ballmer doing this? I can't find any evidence for this in the things I've read, but of course, I haven't read the whole book. Maybe you have read it and I haven't.
Douglas_Coombs said…
Shane,

Ballmer's article has at least two sections in which he frames abortion as a private matter which should be between a women and her doctor with no regard for the dignity of the fetus she is carrying. From my perspective, Ballmer is trying not only to convince people that there are issues outside of abortion that Christians should be concerned about (that would be a point well taken), but that abortion is really a matter of privacy and not of a right to life. Two of Ballmer's quotes from the article are given below.

"On judicial matters, the religious right demands appointees who would diminish individual rights to privacy with regard to abortion."

and

"The other complication is legal and constitutional. Especially at a time when the government's surveillance activities are already intruding on the privacy and the civil liberties of Americans, we should consider carefully the wisdom of allowing the government to determine a matter properly left to a woman and her conscience."

The above is why I think Ballmer is talking out of both sides of his mouth when he says hypocrites on the right are sell-outs in one breath and abortion is really a privacy issue in the next breath. Can't he see the hypocrisy in his own stance?

Doug
D.W. Congdon said…
Doug,

You're preaching to the choir here. Shane and I are both against abortion, but strangely enough I feel the need to defend Ballmer's position.

You may disagree, but I am convinced that there is no reason to be against abortion apart from the moral-spiritual framework provided by Christianity (and other religions that affirm the sanctity of life). We may argue and fight for a more just society that does protect life, but this is a moral issue -- similar to the moral rejection of capital punishment, which also depends on a Christian framework.

That said, Ballmer is criticizing a trend among the Religious Right which is very different. Whereas "liberals" (whatever that means) support individual rights with their own political ideology, the Religious Right supports their ideology and identifies the Christian religion with this ideological position. I may have problems with the minimization of abortion, but surely it is not more insidious than the association of Christianity with a political platform that runs counter to most of the gospel.

Furthermore, if you wish to criticize Ballmer for hypocrisy, you absolutely must agree that the Religious Right are far greater hypocrites for viciously attacking those who are "pro-choice" while often neglecting and sometimes rejecting other pro-life positions, e.g., healthcare, S.S., war, international relief, etc. Ballmer may have a blindspot, but the Religious Right are utterly blind. It is simply not sufficient -- not even morally acceptable -- to value the life of babies over the lives of children, teenagers, adults, and the elderly. That simply does not balance out.
Shane said…
I think David's last comment gets to the heart of the issue. It is the identification of religion and political ideology that is troublesome about the religious right.

I remember a political scientist telling me during the last presidential election, in dead earnest, "Tell me how often someone goes to church and I'll tell you who they are voting for." And, for all practical intents and purposes, he was right.

I don't see this problem among liberal christians, as I said above.

Thanks to Doug for pointing out the second passage in which Ballmer really does seem to be stating that abortion ought to be protected by a right to privacy. I would want to read more context, of course, simply because this may be him stating a concern as opposed to actually proposing his own position. Nevertheless, that is a different discussion.

At any rate, abortion politics have become a tool with which the Republican party has captured vast swaths of the church's allegiance (catholics as well as evangelicals). I welcome anybody who can loosen the nets a little bit, even if I disagree strenously that abortion ought to be authorized by a woman's right to privacy about her medical decisions.
David Wilkerson said…
This thread is probably dead so I'll be brief(turns out I wasn't). In my experience of leading a class on Wallis' book God' Politics (which sounds exactly like Balmer's), I can say that differences between party's are often just different visions of federalism, not differences of end goals. To say the religious right (meaning most evangelicals) embrace some anti-christian ideology against elderly or the poor or the environment is silly.

For instance Wallis was jailed over the end of welfare. That program supposedly helped the poor in some Christian way. The right saw it as waste and spiritually demoralizing. Unemployment has since declined and the problems of the poor are not much better or worse. Those like Wallis and Ballmer simply want the government acting in a Christian manner as they define it. But this doesn't guarantee the accomplishment of those goals. Often measures like prescription drug coverage are questionable in their benefits. On issues of the environment there are some moral policy issues but not as many clear ones as we suspect. Uses of certain pieces of land or what level of arsenic mercury or lead is tolerable is a question of economics not always a moral crusade. On issues of war, the distance is not great between parties and the issues for Christians are not clear. International aid has seen a growing consensus. Both parties are in the pocket of business and its desires (for good and bad).

Our federal government is insolvent and unresponsive and rarely engages us. National politics are not relevant for the most part as a measure of someone's religion because they are largely symbolic anyway. Look at local politics. What is the religious right and left doing there? I think you will find us all barely engaged in helping address any issue. We've all been ruined by waiting for Washington like solutions. So much easier to just hate each other through the TV screen hooked to Washington.

As Christians I think we need to be concerned with the practices within our church displayed to the world and not what policies Washington should endorse in our name. As it is we have straw men caricatures of each other based on policy differences largely. Here Wallis and I imagine Ballmer offer thin eccelesiology, so they come off like just a sort of social gospel proof texting "back at ya". Many reviews of Wallis noted the pattern he shares with the religious right of just taking texts to endorse his chosen politics. We don't need the "Religious Left" equivalent of the right. This is the church marching to the world's drummer.

Our class slowly concluded that for us Christians, these national matters of "what works" for the country must take a back seat to discussions about what our witness must consist of now to our communities. We must embody our politics together now. Our tasks are more clear. What or how Washington should act is less clear or relevant, but our clarity can be a witness. This sort of message brought about surprising consensus because it was a sort of practical local politics which was hard to be too ideological about. And faithfulness not effectiveness(a worldly criteria) was the only criteria.

Final note, it is a fact that actual regular Church attendance (not general religiosity) has started to correlate highly with voting Republican. That is not a distortion. But what does it mean? Not going to church didn't make you equally as strongly Democrat, so one has to be careful of the inference of saying secular=Democrat. Stats are confusing and logical fallacies are easy to fall into.


Most of us have been on the "right" as Christians. In our shame it is too easy to just swing "left" to redeem ourselves. But we simply can't if we thereby alienate our own siblings whom we need to live and show the faith. A cautious detachment from national politics is helpful. The religious right needs that message more than the religious left of course.

David
Douglas_Coombs said…
David said, "Not going to church didn't make you equally as strongly Democrat, so one has to be careful of the inference of saying secular=Democrat."

Not according to this USA today article (and several other articles that I have read). From what I have read, the religion gap goes both ways. More secular people tend strongly toward the democrat party while more religious people tend strongly toward the Republican party. The absence of religious people is especially noticeable in Democrartic leadership in the area I'm from (hence the anti-Christian bumper sticker referred to earlier which the biggoted Democratic party leadership in Seattle put out).

Doug
http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2004-06-02-religion-gap_x.htm
Douglas_Coombs said…
"Thanks... for pointing out the second passage in which Ballmer really does seem to be stating that abortion ought to be protected by a right to privacy. *I would want to read more context, of course, simply because this may be him stating a concern as opposed to actually proposing his own position*"

Shane,

This is easily checked. Just do a word search in the article Congdon originally referrenced. The first quote is about 9 paragraphs into the article and the second quote is about 9 paragraphs up from the end. I would welcome your feedback as to whether you think Ballmer is actually staking out his own opinion. It seems pretty obvious to me that he is.

If you really find the "identification of religion and political ideology... troublesome about the religious right." then why accept it when it come from the religious left? The entire gist of Ballmer's article in the Chronicle of Higher Education seems to be that it is the left which more fully embraces Christian principles. This is born out in the identification of Bible ideas with several Democrat policies as opposed to Republican policies. Never does the comparison go the other way with Republicans actually getting an issue right for once. Instead, a defense is made of Democrat policy on abortion, and other life issues such as euthenasia, fetal stem cell research and the like are never even touched upon. Given Ballmer's position on abortion, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that he probably takes the NARAL/ACLU position down the line.

Doug