The world according to John Wilson?

John Wilson, editor of Books & Culture, has written another unnecessarily harsh and unfair review of a book, this time the politically charged new book by Charles Marsh, Wayward Christian Soldiers: Freeing the Gospel from Political Captivity, in which Marsh states: “The partisan captivity of the gospel in the United States is the gravest theological crisis of the Christian faith in our time.” I happen to think Marsh is quite right, but Wilson does not. Why? Simply because it does not conform to the world that he himself sees around him:
For myself, only very intermittently does the world Marsh describes correspond to the world I know. Neither at the church where Wendy and I worship—Faith Evangelical Covenant in Wheaton, where partisan politics is strictly off limits—nor in the evangelical circles I'm familiar with across the country do I see anything resembling the pervasive “political captivity” of the gospel that Marsh indicts. I do see evidence of the distortions he identifies in the pronouncements of some prominent evangelical figures, but—in my experience—the influence of such attitudes is far less dramatic than he suggests.
I suspect Wilson is just blind to the ways the evangelical world he inhabits is thoroughly bound to partisan politics. But for now I will accept that his world is miraculously free of such problems. His partisan-free existence aside, Wilson cannot then conclude that Marsh’s argument is simply wrong or misguided. At the very least, charity demands that he evaluate Marsh’s arguments on their own terms first before dismissing them as irrelevant to the world we actually live in. For that matter, Wilson apparently has never visited the town of Portland, Oregon where I grew up, and where partisan evangelicalism runs rampant—though curbed recently due to a new generation fed up with their parents’ attitudes toward politics. If Wilson wants more evidence for a different kind of world than the one he (apparently) knows, then he can just read yesterday’s New York Times, in which there is a fascinating story about evangelicals evaluating the current field of G.O.P. candidates. In the story, we read:

Mr. Giuliani’s candidacy was similarly a nonstarter with him, he said, because of the former New York City mayor’s support for abortion rights.

“Abortion is still number one with me and every social conservative I know,” Mr. Pawlewski said.

But Michael Canady, a board member for the Iowa Christian Alliance, said he was at least open to voting for Mr. Giuliani, arguing his strong stance on terrorism could trump other concerns.

“He’s definitely more liberal on the social issues than most evangelicals like,” he said, but he added that he considered Mr. Giuliani “a leader and somebody who could be strong on defense.”

With many Christian conservatives intent on preventing a Democrat from being elected, perhaps the biggest quandary for many is whether electability should be paramount, or whether to stick to a candidate who most shares their faith and worldview. ...

Most of the 40 evangelicals interviewed for this article, however, said they were not interested in throwing away their vote, saying Mr. Giuliani would be preferable to any Democrat.

There is a lot about this article worth pondering, but at the very least it gives a glimpse into the deep partisanship of conservative evangelicalism. Like many Christians I know from my home town, it is more important to keep a Democrat out of office than to elect the best candidate. For such people, preventing the death of unborn children is infinitely more important than the deaths of born men, women, and children around the world—often at the hands of American soldiers. Personally, I would not just call this partisanship; I would call it idolatry.


Anonymous said…
One can't help but wonder what world Mr. Wilson lives in. Hello?!
Anonymous said…
I could not agree more with your assessment of the situation. Forming opinions and voting along partisan lines (both left and right, Christian and otherwise), solely because it's easier then having to think for yourself is not helpful to this country or Christianity. People become so blinded by ideologies that they can not see beyond their own point of view. In order to change that mentality people must be open to new ideas and realizing that there might be a better way. At times it 's hard for me to see beyond my political upbringing. I would say the political climate at home growing up was conservative, not extreme but not in the middle either. I'm making an assumption here but I think most Americans don't see (voting or apathy) beyond what they were brought up in. It's easier to go though a day not giving a damn or taking the time to think for yourself. (You could say the same for some Christians too.) When it comes to this next election year I'm going to carefully weigh the candidates and make my decision based on who is going to do the best job. Not based on one idea (abortion, global warming, etc.) but on the them as a whole. Whether it's a Mormon or a women or a New York mayor or an African American. We need to protect our America as well as our religion.

This is where my agreement ends though. At the end of your analysis you say "For such people, preventing the death of unborn children is infinitely more important than the deaths of born men, women, and children around the world—often at the hands of American soldiers." The first part I would agree with but where you blame American soldiers for the deaths of born peoples I take some pause. You have talked about on this blog that we as Christians need to value all life not just unborn, even those who in our minds deserve death (Saddam Husein, Osama Bin Laden). I'm still with you on this as well, but if you are going to condemn American soldiers then you need to extend that criticism to everyone. The sanctity of life does not fall solely on the shoulders of the American troops but everyone. We should all be outraged by the taking of a life whether it's here or around the world. By our hands or by someone in another country.
I don't think we have any disagreement. My point was simply that it seems very hypocritical for Christians to say that they are pro-life when they have no problem with sending their sons and daughters to kill people overseas. Making abortion the issue that trumps all other issues is the point at which I cry foul. I'm not blaming American soldiers; I'm blaming the Christians who should (on the basis of their faith in the Prince of Peace) know better than to give the American military a blank check to do whatever they want, but will mount crusades against a politician who is pro-choice. Christians should be outraged at abortion and war. Rejecting only one and not the other is both partisanship and idolatry, in my opinion.
Anonymous said…
Dave, it's strange but I read that same exact article in the New York Times yesterday before I saw you at church. It's all the way in on the 10th page, but it caught my eye. Iowa is a notoriously Republican state, but I would aggree that it does represent the larger partisanship of evangelical culture.
The article made me both angry and and somewhat pleased.
If conservative evangelicals become apathetic to voting because they don't like the republican candidates they have to choose from, then that increases the likelyhood of getting a good progressive candidate in office. Perhaps that is partisanship on my part, but so be it. At least I won't pretend that my political beliefs sit "off limits" up on a shelf.
Anonymous said…
I agree. Clearly American soldiers in Iraq who kill terrorists should be considered at least as guilty abortion doctors. Not to see this is to be guilty of being an idol worshipper. Brilliant!
Anonymous said…
Anonymous, you seem to see the issues of abortion and the war in Iraq as both very cut and dried. I see both as very messy, and I think "good Christians" can have differing views on both issues. I don't see liberals questioning whether a conservative can be a real Christian, but I've had many conservatives tell me that they don't think I'm a real Christian since I support abortion rights.

And I agree that the partisan divide goes beyond the "moral" issues of homosexuality and abortion (it's too bad the God of the OT didn't have a good Republican understanding of the value of human life when he ordered the slaughter of all those Canaanite women and children, huh?). I know many Evangelicals who equate their Second Amendment rights (guns) with their faith, and couldn't accept anyone as a real Christian who would want to take away their God-given right to a gun. I would say the same, perhaps even stronger, about property rights. Our country has repeatedly sent fighting men overseas to protect the property rights of American companies and shareholders. I would say that is more the point of this thread.
Anonymous said…
Thank you, Mark. Being a consistently pro-life, seamless garment kind of moderate Christian, myself, I think we need point out the inconsistencies and hypocrysies of the right-wing, pro-life fanatics. They actually want to outlaw partial-birth abortion and then without an sense of embarrassment send their kids off to kill innocent Iraqis. This is obviously hypocrical and immoral. They obviously don't understand that God is neither a Republican or a Democrat. (Don't get me wrong, I'm personally opposed to partial birth abortion, I just don't want to impose my personal, private morality on the rest of society.) give Peace a chance!