Is that holy-grail moment finally here? Maybe the zeig-heil Charlottsville torch bearers jolted long-timid moderate evangelicals from their a-political caves.
Sample the quotes. The National Association of Evangelicals mourned the “senseless violence” and condemned “white supremacy and all groups, such as the KKK and Neo-Nazis.” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Moehler wrote from Berlin, “We must see claims of racial superiority – and mainly that means claims of white superiority – as heresy.” Tim Keller said on the Gospel Coalition’s web site: “Christians should look at the energized and emboldened white nationalism movement, and its fascist slogans, and condemn it – full stop.” Ed Stetzer of Christianity Today declared: “Silence on matters of hatred and bigotry is antithetical to the gospel.” Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore tweeted: “The so-called Alt-Right white supremacist ideologies are anti-Christ and satanic to the core. We should say so.”
Moderates were already protesting after Trump’s fire-and-fury atomic taunts. Christianity Today’s Marc Gali asserted: “ … we stand in that stream of Christians who find no justification for the use of nuclear weapons.”
Someone block that cave. Don’t let the moderates beat a path back.
Dashed Hopes Through The Years
Many have vested their hopes in those conscientious and gentle souls through the decades. We’ve heard they diligently recycle their tinfoil and sponsor World Vision children and hold prayer meetings in their suburban living rooms. Articles and books told us they’d soon rise up in a kind-hearted revolution. It was just round the next bend.
But the rebellion never came. The moderates, once evangelicalism’s backbone through such leaders as Harold Ockenga, Carl Henry, and Billy Graham, forever counseled patience, love, and understanding as James Dobson, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson grabbed the microphone in the early 1980s. They smoothed ruffled feathers and silenced any meaningful response in the names of “unity” and “peace.” They remained quiet while other bullies joined the fray: Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas; Franklin Graham; Jerry Falwell, Jr.
The result: The bullies interpreted the silence as weakness. They exploited it, tagging anyone raising objections as “liberal” (dread the word) and imposing a political orthodoxy over Christianity’s time-honored creeds. Polls now show that huge percentages of self-identified white evangelicals embrace sex outside marriage, believe Christ was a created being, and barely darken a church door – but that’s okay as long as we embrace anti-science conspiracy theories and vote for a serial-lying, thrice-married, wife-dumping, misogynist, casino-owning Putin fan for president.
Perhaps the moderates will finally grasp the sad truth: They enabled evangelicalism’s hijacking.
When Nice Is Not Enough
Here’s the problem: Evangelical moderates are friendly folks. Really. They’ll mow your lawn, fix your car, and bake you a cake. They’ll even baby-sit your kids for free. But they loathe quarrels. They think of peace as the mere absence of conflict. They douse any clash with a slew of Bible proof texts on gentleness and kindness and mutual understanding, then top it off with a checklist: Mind your motivations; always issue “I-statements;” never forget humility; and be the first to back down and apologize. Sure, stand up for truth and justice and goodness -- tomorrow. Or the next day. Or next year – after you win your humility award. Forget about John the Baptist’s brood-of-viper insults and how Jesus intentionally offended religious leaders. Flip past Acts 4 -- where Peter and John refused to obey the Sanhedrin – and gloss over Evangelicalism’s assertive forebears: Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Charles Finney and all those abolitionist radicals.
We see the flight-from-fight ethos, stark and clear, on Dale Pyne’s July 15 blog post. Pyne is the CEO of Peacemaker Ministries, which seeks to stem the attack-dog tide in churches by incorporating Alternative Dispute Resolution’s consensual conflict-resolution methods from our courts. Peacemaker people are salt-of-the-Earth types and offer beneficial training, but I sensed a missing something even as I gobbled up their literature and role-played in their workshops. Pyne unwittingly flushed out the something in his post, entitled, “When Difficult People Interrupt the Peace.” He cited Genesis 26:12-33: Isaac, the most mild-mannered of Israel’s three patriarchs, repeatedly retreats before the demands of a well-armed Philistine king and his belligerent citizenry.
“When someone interrupts our peace,” says Pyne, “often our first impulse is to respond in kind. Yet, when encountered with such adversity, (Isaac) didn’t demand his rights. He laid them down. Although this came at a great personal price, God honored his quiet perseverance.”
How ever-so moderate. Pyne files the usual disclaimers (sometimes, we must be bold), but the bulk of Peacemaker allusions and illustrations propel us toward silent perseverance. He misses the story’s point in the process: God faithfully honors his patriarchal covenant by pouring wealth on Isaac. This is no blueprint for conflict resolution, especially when we remember other biblical VIPs like Moses, Elijah, Amos, Jeremiah, Peter and John, Paul and Silas, and Jesus himself. They assertively sought to transform unjust circumstances.
Life Beyond The Cave
Martin Luther King saw only inertia when he assailed another kind of moderate in his Letter From A Birmingham Prison: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with the goal you seek, but I cannot agree your methods of direct action.’”
King followed a more holistically biblical path toward conflict transformation: “The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.” His Birmingham campaign, featuring non-violent demonstrators subjecting themselves to attack dogs and water cannon, forced “the conscience of the community over its injustice.” In the words of Daniel Buttry, “sometimes conflict resolution must begin by heightening the conflict” through non-violent methods.
Read through the Gospels. Jesus did just that.
No Way Out
Block the entrance to that stifling cave, please. There’s no retreat this time. The bullies are at it again, blindly rallying to President Trump even in his KKK sympathy. “There is an effort to do whatever is necessary to take this president down,” said Jeffress. Jerry Falwell Junior said he was “proud” of Trump. And, of course, there’s Franklin Graham, missing the point yet again: “Shame on the politicians who are trying to push blame on @POTUS Trump for what happened in #Charlottesville, VA.”
The moment for mild-mannered Isaac has long since passed. It’s now time for the assertive Messiah, who chased the money-changers out of the Temple and declared: “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of thieves” (see Matthew 21:12-17).