A war of words has erupted on the web featuring self-described “secular liberal” Mark Pinsky and progressive evangelical Jim Wallis, on one side, and the consortium of scholars and columnists who write for Talk to Action on the other.
Pinsky believes that critics of Dominionism and the New Apostolic Reformation have created the false impression that most evangelicals are dangerous theocrats.
Next, Jim Wallis poured gasoline on the fire by claiming in a HuffPost piece, that “some liberal writers seem hell-bent on portraying religious people as intellectually-flawed right-wing crazies with dangerous plans for the country.”
Are Pinsky and Wallis making legitimate claims, or is something more sinister afoot?
Anyone familiar with the good folks at Talk to Action knows how carefully they distinguish Dominionism and mainstream evangelicalism. Rachel Tabachnick, the most high-profile critic of the New Apostolic Reformation, grew up Southern Baptist and is well acquainted with the wild diversity within evangelicalism. She is all about nuance. She is saying that Dominionism has a long history (see my piece on the evolution and meaning of the movement), that it is a minority movement within evangelicalism that is growing rapidly and, most importantly, gaining the support of prominent politicians like Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Rick Perry.
Pinsky and Wallis refuse to engage this argument, preferring to publicly cudgel a silly straw man into submission.
How do we explain this unseemly assault on the Talk to Action people?
Pinsky and Wallis are both ideological liberals strategically alligned with moderate evangelicals. Pinsky studies evangelicals; Wallis includes them in his various campaigns. Both men are trying to ingratiate themselves to mainstream evangelicalism by appearing to defend the faithful against their cultured despisers.
Wallis won’t like being characterized as a liberal Christian and, compared to the folks at Religious Dispatches, for instance, he looks pretty darn conservative. But that’s not the appropriate comparison. In the contemporary evangelical word, the circle of acceptable theological and ideological discourse is exceedingly small. Sure, there are a few moderate evangelicals out there (I consider myself one of them); but the breed is small and dwindling.
Jim Wallis uses his pulpit at the HuffPost to puff his conservative theological credentials:
I believe in one God, the centrality and Lordship of God’s son Jesus Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, the authority of the scriptures, the saving death of the crucified Christ and his bodily resurrection — not as a metaphor but a historical event. Yep, the whole nine yards.
I can sign off on all of that (depending on how you define phrases like “saving death”), but my theology wouldn’t pass muster in 95% of the evangelical world, and neither would Wallis’s. It ought to, but it doesn’t. And that’s part of the problem Tabachnick and company are concerned about.
The fate of the moderate scholars purged during the bloody fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention is an illustration of what has been taking place across America. Evangelical leaders have figured out that their best route to political relevance is a tight alignment with the conservative movement. Conservative Christians don’t control the Republican Party. That’s part of the problem. In order to maintain its place in the broader conservative constellation, evangelicals have been forced to embrace militarism, anti-immigrant nativism, consumerism, laissez-faire capitalism, corporatism, and a punitive take on criminal justice. It’s all part of the price of admission.
Nobody who takes the actual teachings of Jesus seriously (people like Jim Wallis, for example) can sign off on all this stuff. The intellectual contortions for which fundamentalism is infamous have little to do with preserving biblical authority and plenty to do with finding scriptural justification for a working ideology that flatly contradicts the mission and message of Jesus.
Jim Wallis knows all of this, but his public persona as a progressive evangelical makes it impossible to admit as much.
I’m glad Sojourners is keeping the teachings of Jesus alive on the fringes of the evangelical world, but that doesn’t justify ignoring the threat implicit within Dominionism or taking cheap shots at dedicated journalists who believe the public should understand that threat.
One final note; if you want to hear New Apostolic guru C. Peter Wagner defend his views in a jaw-dropping, what-the-hell conversation with Terry Gross, check out this recent edition of Fresh Air.