Timothy Dalrymple, “If You’re Selling Scorn for Conservative Christians, the Market is Hot” (June 11, 2012)
Dalrymple is concerned that young, progressive evangelicals have fallen into the pattern of publicly blaming older, conservative Evangelicals for giving Christianity a bad name and driving people away from the church due to their moral positions and the manner in which they speak to those issues. These younger progressive Evangelicals want to distance themselves from older, conservative Christians (likely considered Fundamentalist), and apologize to the broader culture for their embarrassing older relative. The essence of this was stated by Dalrymple in a post “What if the Culture War Never Happened” (May 31, 2012).
Some of his progressive friends asked for examples, which he did not want to do, but led to this post. The essence of what he intends to say is this:
To be fair, this happens on both sides. But recently I’ve seen a lot of young, progressive evangelicals denouncing and caricaturing their conservative brethren for their “culture war” concerns. But by accepting the caricatures coming mostly from secular critics, legitimating and perpetuating them, they themselves — acting out of concern for the damage done to the church and its witness — are doing great harm to the church and its witness. If we truly care for the public witness of the church, then we (liberal and conservative) need to stop slandering and caricaturing the other half of the church. Don’t throw your Christian brothers and sisters under the bus. Even if you disagree with them, you can provide a coherent, charitable explanation for what “those other evangelicals” believe.
Dalrymple listed two examples. The first comes from Missiongathering Christian Church in San Diego. In response to the May 8, 2012 passing of Amendment 1 in North Carolina (65.05% to 38.95%) that limits the types of domestic unions considered valid, viz. husband and wife in marriage, Missiongathering purchased ad space on a billboard alongside Billy Graham Parkway, Charlotte, NC, and included the following words: “Missiongathering Christian Church IS SORRY for the narrow-minded, judgmental, deceptive, manipulative actions of THOSE WHO DENIED RIGHTS AND EQUALITY TO SO MANY IN THE NAME OF GOD.”
After explaining some possible reasons why they made these statements and what they communicated, Dalrymple concludes,
Their intentions are honorable, but undermined by an incoherent strategy and by their deep-seated scorn for conservative Christians. They’re trying to encourage love — by being hateful (and no, I don’t think that’s too strong a word). They’re trying to encourage tolerance — but judging everyone who disagrees with them. They’re trying to improve the witness of the church — by legitimating the stereotype that the conservative half of the church is bigoted and deceitful. They hold themselves out as a better alternative — by throwing more conservative Christians under the bus.
The second example listed by Dalrymple is the post written by Rachel Held Evans, “How to Win a Culture War and Lose a Generation,” which I commented on earlier. I will not rehearse that here, and neither will I include what Dalrymple included in his post. Suffice it to say, I am in general agreement with Dalrymple.
It is interesting to me that on many of these moral and cultural issues, the young progressive Christians/Evangelicals have more in common with young, progressive unbelievers than they do with older, conservative believers/Evangelicals. It is important to nuance this a bit, as this is not just a generational matter. There are older progressives who respond in a similar manner, and not all young people are progressives. And I could nuance it even more than this, but I made my point. My conclusion is that something is not quite right with this response.
Dalrymple agrees. Here is his conclusion:
Evans and the Missiongathering church believe that Christians who oppose marriage equality for gays in the name of God are doing a disservice to the God they claim to serve and harming the witness of the church. I get it. But this is not the right way to respond.
This is selling anger, not offering enlightenment. Anger is not always wrong, but it’s always a dangerous substance to deal with. In its anger, posts and billboards like these lose the capacity to understand believers who disagree. They rush to judge our elders and dispense with humility or nuance. Instead of saying, “No, most conservative Christians are not hateful or deceptive. Here is where they’re coming from, “but I stand with you” — they say “I am with you” because “I scorn them too.”
Does it happen on both sides? Absolutely. I cannot stand the glib, bigoted “ain’t no homos gonna make it to heaven” video that’s circulating. But one would never know, from a post like Evans’, that there are loving and thoughtful and self-sacrificial people on the conservative side of the argument who are genuinely trying to do the right thing for all people.
There is a growing genre — call it Progressive Christian Scorn Literature — about the scorn progressive Christians have for conservative evangelicals. It seems to be celebrated on the Left as a kind of righteous comeuppance for the Christian Right, and it wins the applause of the Left for the Christian Left. But it’s wrong and it needs to be called out. It’s neither winsome, nor loving, nor constructive, nor right. It will not improve our witness because it’s soaked through with bitterness and rancor. I hope that people of good heart and mind, like Evans, leave it behind.
We cannot get beyond the culture wars by simply joining one side and lobbing bombs against the other. We cannot improve the reputation of the church by throwing half of it under the bus.