Stephen Colbert on Joel Hunter and “American Orthodox”

Last night (Monday), Stephen Colbert opened his show with a topic I have been meaning to mention on this blog ever since my pastor brought it to my attention. The story concerns the Christian Coalition’s newly elected executive director, Joel Hunter, who immediately caused an uproar within the Coalition for wanting to take the organization in a new direction. What was this controversial new direction? According to a press release given with his appointment, he said, “I look forward to expanding our mission to concern itself with the care of creation, helping society's marginalized, human rights/religious issues and compassion issues.

According to the Associated Baptist Press article, “But that goal did not sit well with some rank-and-file supporters. Representatives of several statewide Christian Coalition groups that have separated themselves from the national body in recent years cited Hunter's comments as emblematic of their tensions with the national organization.” Consequently, just weeks after his appointment, Hunter has been forced to step down.

Colbert offered up an incisive and timely critique of the Religious Right—in his usual, subversive way—in the evening’s WØRD: “American Orthodox” (unfortunately, thanks to Viacom, I cannot link to a copy of this video clip on YouTube). The segment was brilliant, as always. At the end, he went straight for the jugular. He said that the Christian Coalition (and the Religious Right in general) finds its strength from working on the issues of reproductive rights and gay marriage. But since Jesus never said anything about these issues, the Coalition can have Jesus say whatever they want him to.

I could not agree with him more. The Coalition should be ashamed of themselves for rejecting a man who stands for exactly the kinds of issues that Jesus himself stood for—the poor, the needy, and the marginalized. Isn’t this exactly what we have come to expect? If you say you are fighting against global warming, you get sacked. But if you say you are fighting against the homosexual agenda, you are welcomed as a hero for our times. How pathetic.

Update: Here’s the Colbert clip from YouTube:


Anonymous said…
That is one hilarious clip.

But it is a tragic situation. I left a congregation last year because it was aligning itself with a "renewing" organization whose main agenda item was to fight against same-sex marriage and homosexual ordination. Following my most recent attempt to explain to one of their organizers that for me the chief issue was participation in the marginalization of actual people, I was offered a book and a video explaining why gay marriage is wrong.

I'm afraid that a really shocking number of Christians have forgotten (or were never taught) what it actually means to be a Christian. I heard Martin Marty say recently that rather than "liberal" and "conservative" a more important categorization of Christians is "mean" and "non-mean" of which both liberals and conservatives have both types. This may be the real crisis of our time.
David Wilkerson said…
"The Coalition should be ashamed of themselves for rejecting a man who stands for exactly the kinds of issues that Jesus himself stood for"

Of course Hunter stands for the same issues they do on almost every issue and vice versa. This was an issue of priorities of the CC. If they should adopt Hunter's direction, they would dilute their influence on issues like abortion and homosexual marriage which they alone care about and publicly campaign for. In the opinion of the CC, the democratic party and compassionate conservatives not to mention countless private charities and even their own churches already exist to help the poor and care for the environment, with varieties of approaches (public and private).

The CC agrees with Hunter on care for the poor and stewardship of the earth. And let's be clear, even Hunter's ideas would have been very pro-growth/private sector/low tax versions of social policy that the CC and Republicans generally endorse. And Hunter would have still gone on Larry King as the face of evangleicals against homosexuality and abortion. So this was just a matter of balance or proportion.

He was largely concerned with packaging and marketing the IMAGE of the CC not substantive federal policies. (Like looking "non-mean" to appeal to those with Andy's concerns.) He is pastor of a non-denominational mega church and is a master of this.

Joel Hunter was my practical theology instructor at Reformed in Orlando. Completely vacuous course. I do recall him revealing that he insisted on receiving a rather large 6 figure salary like anyone else in charge of a huge staff and multi-thousand member organization. However he then lived in a humble apartment and gave the majority of his income to various people and causes. He came off like an ethical used car salesman.

All of this inside baseball stuff is irrelevant to the lack of embodied politics in our congregations. Washington-centered media-driven issue politics will simply kill the church. We will all pick the "right" side or "wrong" side. Being browbeat by Colbert or Dobson into conformity is pointless to those who are to be spiritually discerning the path we walk spiritually, together. Being the spiritual body of Christ will simply get left behind or rather is getting left behind. Enlightened evangelicals often just trade one mode of liberal politics for another to correc this. And of course we try to get Christ's sanction for it if possible. WWJD in reverse. Not so sophisticated.

I know you claim not to be enmeshed in party politics and the general media conversation. But the burning moral issues of the day seem to get the same attention Colbert gives them. The same disdain for missteps on the right? The same zeal for issues of the left? Wouldn't a focus on discernment in the church be more helpful instead of minding the culture war and public policy?
I really think the solution lies elsewhere than positioning ourselves with respect to national issues.

Anonymous said…
Of course, it should not be a case of either-or. Protection of the unborn and valuing the normative basis of male-female marital and sexual relationships is important, and surely would be for that first century Jew we call the Christ (as is well-verified, the Jews stood apart from the pagan culture on both sexual and life issues). Of course, conservative Protestants have not done a very good job of balancing such concerns with likewise critical issues of poverty and social justice (though I need not detail the immense amount of charity work evangelicals do both in America and elsewhere); but, at least, the evangelicals have not capitulated to the culture on abortion and sex, even doing wonderful work through the numerous Crisis Pregnancy Centers. As a Catholic, I am certainly thankful that my Church has done rather well in promoting a "culture of life" that encompasses both abortion prevention and care for the poor -- and both, in often unrecognized ways, relate to a proper "theology of the body."
Anonymous said…
Although I differ from Kevin Davis here on the sexuality issues, my own conclusions likewise stem from a healthy theology of the body.

However, I think even the apparently moderate and reasonable tactic of asserting that 'sexuality' issues need to stand alongside poverty issues as equally important is flawed. No this is not an either/or situation, but neither is there really a parity here. One does not need to abandon their convictions on issues of sexuality, but they clearly take a back seat (a WAY back seat) in scripture to issues of social justice and concern for the poor. For any organization, which calls itself Christian to elevate concerns about sexuality over concerns about the health and welfare of half the world's population that lives in poverty is basically an unhealthy psychological fixation that distorts the gospel.
David W,

You are probably right about Hunter, but that isn't the point. The point is that CC is still concerned about being the face of Christians against abortion and homosexuality. Hunter may have still towed the usual line, but he still seemed to be moving in a much better direction. Listen, I'll be honest, I want to see the CC disappear into nonexistence, but if it is going to exist, then I would like it to be doing the same work that other people are doing -- which is the right work for Christians. I would rather have every single Christian organization caring about those issues. The fact of the matter is that the CC reaches a certain audience, and if they could be brought on board with issues of social justice, the world would be much better for it.

The bigger concern for me is that you have simply swung the pendulum too far. You are rightfully upset that Christians are so concerned with other parts of the world and often seem to neglect their own neighborhood. Local politics and local community efforts are essential and should be the primary focus of any community. BUT this does not mean we should put on blinders and ignore national/global issues.

You seem to be a one-note guy: "Ignore all national political issues and focus on your local community." Hey, sounds great. But Christians need to be responsible on national and global levels as well as the local. Does that mean Washington comes before your local city council? No, it doesn't, but neither does it mean attention should not be paid to Washington. I think you need to quite a bit more considerate of the wider social matrix within which we live. Local politics has its place within a larger context, and we are responsible to both the local and the global.

So just because I care about what happens in Washington and Geneva and elsewhere does not mean that I have a "Washington-centered media-driven issue politics." That's simply unsubstantiated nonsense, the kind which could only come from one who feels so strongly about something that he or she has essentially shut off parts of the world that still matter to other people. Just because I thoroughly enjoy Stephen Colbert does not make me a pawn of the media. And just because I discuss national politics and the ills of the Republican machine does not make me Washington-centered. It could just make me a conscientious Christian.

Listen, my blog is not meant to deal with "embodied politics" and your kind of local community initiatives. My blog is primarily aimed at theological dialogue for the church catholic. I discuss American evangelicalism frequently because I grew up in that environment, and I discuss issues of war and national policy only when I feel Christians ought to be aware of what is going on in the world. So just because I do not spend the energy discussing what you would like me to discuss does not make me an enemy to your cause. I would appreciate it if you would stop trying to fit me into your box. Rather than criticize me for not discussing what you think I should discuss, it would be far more helpful if you met me on my terms -- as a post-evangelical Christian grappling with issues of theology, politics, and culture.