Monday, January 14, 2008

Liberal former Lutheran bishop Chilstrom wants it both ways

I often get a kick out of members of the "religious left" who attack people on the "religious right" for somehow politicizing and co-opting Christianity. After making such a charge they usually turn around and do the exact same thing they accuse conservative Christians of doing -- asserting that their faith leads them to arrive at certain policies and positions.

An excellent case in point was the recent Star Tribune opinion column by Herbert W. Chilstrom, formerly, very liberal bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America entitled, "What being evangelical means to me" with the subheading "By taking on a political agenda, some have sullied and secularized what once was a revered term." In a rather disjointed piece the bishop takes to task conservative Christians for co-opting and perverting the term "evangelical" for political purposes.

Chilstrom says in part,

So why am I so emphatic in saying that I am not an "Evangelical Christian"? It's because I now find myself living in a culture where some folks who call themselves "Evangelical Christians" are putting a very different twist on that old and revered term. They have sullied and secularized it by tacking on a political agenda. They tend to identify themselves not simply by what they believe, but by the stance they take on controversial issues. The majority of them are anti-abortion, pro-death penalty, anti-gay rights, pro-preemptive war, anti-immigration, pro-home schooling, anti-Palestinian rights, pro-Republican party, anti-Democratic party, pro-literal reading of the Bible, anti-higher taxes, and so on.

As I look over the list of things these "Evangelical Christians" espouse, I find that in some areas I agree with them. In most, I strongly disagree.

He's upset, it seems to me, because his understanding of evangelical is now associated with the a wide variety of policy positions he disagrees with, strongly disagrees with, in most instances. These religious conservatives have "sullied and secularized it by tacking on a political agenda" according to Chilstrom.

Thus while attacking conservative evangelicals for somehow politicizing "evangelicalism", Chilstrom immediately turns around and states that he's on the exact oppose side of most of these issues. (I can guess what they are.) He goes on to say who his favorite president is - a southern Baptist aka Jimmy Carter and states what criteria he'll use for selecting the next president on foreign affairs: "In the presidential contest, does the candidate have the potential to become a respected statesperson in the community of nations? And will this person be likely to seek to resolve international conflict by dialogue and political negotiation, using military force only as a last resort?"

It appears to be a little bit hypocritical when the former bishop does just what he accuses conservative evangelicals of doing -- identifying his view of evangelical with particular political and policy positions.

To top it off he says that his view of evangelical Christian is rooted in reason and by implication the evangelicalism of those pesky conservatives isn't. "So when one applies all of this to our common life in the public square, what is the difference between being an evangelical Christian and an 'Evangelical Christian'? In my opinion, it lies in the emphasis evangelical Christians put on the use of reason in relationship to their faith..."

Again, a jab at conservative evangelicals.

Frankly, I'd love to see more debate and discussion on the role of faith in politics and the public square. I think it's an extraordinarily important and useful discussion. Unfortunately, former bishop Chilstrom and many of his fellow travelers on the religious left would rather name call and attack than engage in real dialogue.

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