Monday, August 15, 2005


John Hinderaker criticizes the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Peace Not Walls resolution which condemns Israel's separation barrier. Hinderaker's piece is typical wingnuttery in that it entirely avoids the issue of Israel's almost four decades-long occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the illegal settlement enterprise which that occupation facilitates, and instead makes the issue the ELCA's lack of mention of Palestinian terror, which Hinderaker insists reveals the Lutheran Church's anti-Israel bias. Boring and by the numbers, really.

But this last sentence caught my attention:
The fact that the leadership of mainline Protestant churches is dominated by liberals who substitute their own political biases for Christian doctrine and principles is an important factor limiting the growth of those denominations in comparison to the newer, evangelical churches whose leadership is not dominated by political liberalism.

Hoo boy. Leaving aside the fact that Hinderaker does not come within a mile of demonstrating that the liberals who supposedly dominate mainline Protestant churches "substitute their own political biases for Christian doctrine," even granting this, Hinderaker's got to be smoking some extremely high grade reefer to imagine that conservative religioners don't do this, and do it more blatantly and to a much greater degree than liberals.

More significantly, Hinderaker is clearly suggesting that the growth and success of newer, more conservative evangelical congregations can be attributed to their more faithful adherence to Christian doctrine. This is stone nonsense. Having attended more than a few of these churches (don't ask) and read quite a bit of the literature they produce, I can report that their "doctrine" boils down to two basic elements: 1) God loves you and wants you to be happy (and sometimes rich), and 2) Vote Republican. There is really no doctrine to speak of, no tough theological questions grappled with, nothing that might cause the congregants to feel stupid. And this is all on purpose, as the practices of these churches have, to a very great extent, been developed according to, and their growth attributable to their adherence to, principles of marketing.

If anything, the success of these new evangelical churches is proof against their theological and spiritual rigor. Jesus himself warned his followers to expect persecution, to expect their friends and families to turn away from them, to expect the great masses to reject the spiritual revolution which Jesus was trying to bring about. He did not warn his followers to expect a big sing-along with a barbecue afterward. Nor, by the way, did he ever command his followers to take control of the machinery of government and rule in his name. Jesus's way was one of Poverty, Humility, and Service. Anyone who thinks he can reconcile the way of Jesus with a life of wealth, nationalism, and tax-cuts is quite simply full of shit. Or, to be more doctrinaire (isn't that what Hinderaker wants?), anti-Christ in its original meaning of "false Christ."

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