The Gospel of Coercion

In a recent Christianity Today article: CT, Evangelical leadership rejected any form of compromise with the LGBTQ community regarding “any legal efforts to protect sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).” While Mormons were able to work out a compromise, leading Evangelicals were not. This not only does not bode well for sexual minorities but will also hurt Evangelicals in the long run.

In an election year where White Evangelicals were seen as self-serving, homophobic, Islamophobic, mysogenistic and isolationist, this could not possibly help their cause. The reticence to agree to afford basic rights to sexual minorities stems from the belief that

“SOGI policies attempt to impose, by force of law, a system of orthodoxy with respect to human sexuality: the belief that marriage is merely a union of consenting adults, regardless of biology, and that one can be male, female, none, or both, again, regardless of biology. SOGI laws impose this orthodoxy by punishing dissent, and by treating as irrational the beliefs that men and women are biologically rooted and made for each other in marriage.” (Heritage Foundation research fellow Ryan T. Anderson and Princeton University professor Robert P. George)

“The Colson Center’s statement shares their position:
We have seen in particular how these laws are used by the government in an attempt to compel citizens to sacrifice their deepest convictions on marriage and what it means to be male and female, people who serve everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, but who cannot promote messages, engage in expression, or participate in events that contradict their beliefs or their organization’s guiding values.”

The irony of this belief is that Christianity has a long history of attempting to “impose, by force of law, a system of orthodoxy on Americans. I just read through the section on Prohibition in America in Stephen Prothero’s “Why Liberals Win The Culture Wars” https://www.amazon.com/Liberals-Culture-Wars-Even-Elections/dp/0061571296 You would think Evangelical Christians would have learned by now, forcing compliance to conservative Evangelical beliefs is not how you spread the “Good News.”

To define the issue as “religious freedom” is misleading. The Religious Right has become so thoroughly enmeshed in Conservatism as a philosophy it becomes increasingly difficult to detect the “Christianity” in it. There are many other sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle agendas going on in the Evangelical mind. I know, I was for many years an Evangelical.

First off, there is a dogged determination among White Evangelicals to regain a mythical past when America was Great (meaning White and Protestant). It is hazy when exactly there was a time when it was “great” for everyone concerned. Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Blacks, women, Native Americans, Atheists, Asians, all have been targets at one time or another of conservative Christianity. So there is a fear that America is losing the “White edge” we’ve had in the past.

Secondly, and this is a biggie, Evangelical theology dehumanizes people. Evangelicals may talk about salvation by Grace, but in practice grace leaves via the back door when doctrinal certitude takes precedence. I see this over and over in the forums and on Facebook. Evangelicals talk about how we are all sinners, but have very little ability to walk in another’s shoes. It is what happens when dogma collides with love. Case in point, Beth Moore stated the following when speaking to a large gathering of 18 to 25-year-olds in Atlanta during the 2017 Passion Conference:

“You will watch a generation of Christians — OF CHRISTIANS — set the Bible aside in an attempt to become more like Jesus. And stunningly it will sound completely plausible. This will be perhaps the cleverest of all the devil’s schemes in your generation. Sacrifice TRUTH for LOVE’s sake. And you will rise or fall based upon whether you will sacrifice one for the other. Will you have the courage to live in the tension of both TRUTH and LOVE?” https://serendipitydodah.wordpress.com/2017/01/12/moms-of-lgbtq-kids-respond-to-beth-moore/

Did you catch that? Doctrine trumps love! You end up not seeing people or their pain, you withhold unconditional love and administer correction instead. If this sounds like legalism to you, guess what, it is. Oh, and guess who gets to decide how to interpret and administer those rules? Yep, right again! White Evangelicals like Beth Moore.

It boggles my mind that a Christian could even say that in light of the sacrifice Christ made, not because we deserved it, but because he loved us in spite of ourselves.

Thirdly, nativism and bigotry disguised as patriotism. Sticking an American eagle clutching an American flag on the window of your pickup truck and posting “Like” if you support our troops on Facebook does not make you patriotic. Supporting individual rights, supporting more freedoms rather than refusing them, allowing others to have a say in Democracy, these make you patriotic. The Religious Right has always, always historically been about removing the rights of others. Freedom among conservatives, including Evangelicals, is far narrower than the concept among Liberals.

Which brings me to my final point. Liberty in America faces a far greater danger from the Right than from the Left. It is far easier to imagine a populist rightist movement promoting a sort of Christian fascism taking control of government than the Atheistic communism that Billy Graham warned us about. The ease by which Evangelicals came to support Trump is frightening. Not only did it reveal the hypocrisy of much of the Religious Right, but completely destroyed the credibility of the claim that Liberals adhere to situational ethics and the “ends justifies the means” while Evangelicals hold to a higher standard. What a bunch of BS!

In conclusion, I would like to state that even though my post might seem a bit harsh or bleak, the future of Evangelicalism is a big unknown at this time. There are small glimmers of hope here and there. A new generation of millennials, that identify as Evangelical, are coming up that are much more inclusive and skeptical. It is my hope they won’t listen to the likes of Beth Moore or Jerry Falwell, Jr., but think for themselves with their hearts as well as their minds.

Suggested Reading:

“American Apocalypse” Matthew Avery Suttton
“God’s Own Party” Daniel K. Williams
“Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars” Stephen Prothero

Author: socalkdl

Like so many Evangelicals of late, I have grown weary of the so-called "Culture Wars." I can agree with Philip Yancey in his "Vanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News," that grace within the church seems to be a vanishing commodity. Although still connected to the Evangelical church I have often felt distant and removed from portions of its theology and interaction with a Post-Christian society. A few years ago I felt it necessary, for my own spiritual health, to step back and "deconstruct" my theological belief set. I had become too enmeshed in the Evangelical "bubble" to honestly and critically assess my conservative theological doctrines. What has followed in the past few years is my own journey of rediscovering the Bible, and, above all, rediscovering God. It has become a journey that still surprises and delights me. Not everything is new. The faith first delivered to me by the Evangelical church has been reaffirmed. The Good News is still the best deal out there. But there have been new discoveries as well. It is my hope that my posts encourage your own questions and reassessments. It is my conviction that, because we see through a mirror darkly, there are questions that are valid to ask, and that we should not be afraid to ask them. God bless you in your own spiritual journeys. Kirk Leavens

6 thoughts on “The Gospel of Coercion”

  1. Not long ago, I read from a blogger talking about a Jesus-centric faith; for many evangelicals, they’ve added so many things that no longer is Jesus the center. It’s not just Jesus, but it’s authority and submission or it’s the doctrines of grace / systematic theology / reformed theology, it’s marriage and parenthood or it’s the latest big new thing all on the same level, all of them absolutely essential. Obviously, Jesus becomes less important and less of a focus with all those other equally important things in the mix that are must-haves. It’s only when someone has a Jesus-centric faith that much of the competition drops away. Jesus, after all, laid down his own authority and he also submitted. Jesus’ teaching was simple parables and not a complex theological framework. Jesus wasn’t married and didn’t have kids, and so he didn’t say much on the subject. When the center of one’s faith is only Jesus and only he is in clear focus, a lot of the “ands” just disappear.

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    1. Thanks Jamie. Adding baggage is always a danger. But it seems to be a human trait. While doctrine and attempts at systemizing theology are pretty much inevitable, everything should always be filtered through Christ. A lot of errors can be eliminated that way.

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  2. Great thoughts here…I love talking about forced morality when covering the prohibition in my history classes. It is challenging, because we due have very culturally created concepts of morality that we collectively impose on society, but there are clearly cases where it doesn’t work well and shouldn’t take place

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    1. Thanks Noah. Prohibition is interesting. There is no doubt America had a drinking problem in period following the Civil War. Both conservatives and progressives saw it as a social evil. But, like today’s culture wars, there was underlying agendas. The saloons were run by immigrant Germans and the Irish Catholics were the customers. The Irish were depicted as drunkards with a sworn allegiance to the Pope. They were not “true” Americans, i.e., Protestant. By the 20’s, the saloon was seen as a place where morals slipped and racial and class boundaries collided, breaking Victorian standards of propriety. There was a great deal of xenophobia, class snobbery and nativism involved with prohibition.

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  3. “you end up not seeing people or their pain”

    In the days after the election, I shared an article by an African-American woman who has spent years speaking to the racism in American Christianity. She spoke of the new pain she feels after Trump’s win and how it stems heavily from the fact that Christians have embraced or at least ignored the rhetoric he stands for (whether in actuality or just in calculated perception). Someone I went to highschool with left a long comment that in my own pain at the time I couldn’t even finish reading. I left it there as a reminder to not let it stand. I need to take the time to go back and respond. In any event, it was blatantly clear to me in what I did read, that she actually had read the article and considered the woman’s pain of no consequence (if she considered it at all). Tore me up.

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    1. The wife and I were discussing something similar last night. Certain family members don’t understand why we did not vote, as Christians, for Trump. They only see their particular issues, primarily abortion, which invalidates or subordinates all other concerns. What is missing almost intirely from the conservative side, is empathy, the ability to see things from another’s perspective. I know this is the case for I was the same way before I became progressive. I quite literally couldn’t see the other point of view. On a side note, one of the benefits I now am experiencing is more connectivity with people other than Evangelicals. I am more at ease around nones than I was when I was in the “bubble.”

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