In an amazingly honest op-ed last week, evangelical WORLD Magazine editor Marvin Olasky addressed the publication’s handling of the controversy surrounding David Barton’s discredited writings. Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies was recently pulled from the shelves by publisher Thomas Nelson after its rampant historical inaccuracies received widespread attention.
Historians have been calling attention to Barton’s shoddy, misleading work for years but have largely been ignored or dismissed as biased by conservative media. Outlets such as WORLD have only acknowledged these critiques because conservative Christian scholars have finally started echoing Barton’s longtime critics in the scholarly community.
Olasky’s op-ed addresses this inconsistency but does not apologize for it!
Left-wing historians for years have criticized Barton. We haven’t spotlighted those criticisms because we know the biases behind them. It’s different when Christian conservatives point out inaccuracies. The Bible tells us that “iron sharpens iron,” and that’s our goal in reporting this controversy.
To be clear, Olasky is admitting that he summarily dismissed legitimate criticisms of Barton’s work for ideological reasons, yet he defends that decision by maintaining the attack on these scholars as the “biased” ones.
Olasky’s preference for judging scholarly qualifications by ideology instead of accuracy is also evident in his continuing faith in Barton’s credibility.
David Barton should not be, nor does he want to be, defended as if he were inerrant: If his history writing does include some inaccuracies, I trust he’ll make corrections.
What Olasky fails to acknowledge here is that we’re not just dealing with minor blemishes; almost the entirety of Barton’s body of work is based on a sloppy, willfull distortion of history to suit his partisan political ends.
It’s certainly possible for a religious magazine with an ideological point of view to meet standards of journalistic integrity. But Olasky’s oblivious editorial misses the mark.
In the New York Times this week, Stanford anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann theorizes how different faith experiences affect how evangelicals conceive of politics and offers some advice to progressives looking to connect with to these religious voters:
When secular liberals vote, they think about the outcome of a political choice. They think about consequences. Secular liberals want to create the social conditions that allow everyday people, behaving the way ordinary people behave, to have fewer bad outcomes.
When evangelicals vote, they think more immediately about what kind of person they are trying to become — what humans could and should be, rather than who they are. From this perspective, the problem with government is that it steps in when people fall short. Rick Santorum won praise by saying (as he did during the Values Voters Summit in 2010), “Go into the neighborhoods in America where there is a lack of virtue and what will you find? Two things. You will find no families, no mothers and fathers living together in marriage. And you will find government everywhere: police, social service agencies. Why? Because without faith, family and virtue, government takes over.” This perspective emphasizes developing individual virtue from within — not changing social conditions from without.
If Democrats want to reach more evangelical voters, they should use a political language that evangelicals can hear. They should talk about the kind of people we are aiming to be and about the transformational journey that any choice will take us on. They should talk about how we can grow in compassion and care. They could talk about the way their policy interventions will allow those who receive them to become better people and how those of us who support them will better ourselves as we reach out in love. They could describe health care reform as a response to suffering, not as a solution to an economic problem.
Sojourners is launching its new “Voting for Us” campaign highlighting the way that Christians (particularly young Christians) are concerned about a broad array of issues that go beyond traditional stereotypes about “values voters.”
The exit polls in Alabama and Mississippi revealed that Rick Santorum’s strong appeal to social conservatives transcends regional differences, as does Mitt Romney’s reliance on rich voters.
In Mississippi, Santorum won a narrow plurality of evangelicals (35%, compared to Gingrich’s 32% and Romney’s 29%). It broke down almost identically in Alabama, where Santorum, Gingrich and Romney respectively winning 35%, 32% and 27% of evangelicals.
However, Santorum won voters who said candidates’ religious beliefs “matter a great deal” by 15 percentage points in Mississippi and 16 percentage points in Alabama. He also earned support from a whopping 65% of Mississippi voters and 61% of Alabama voters who said “strong moral character” was the most important candidate quality. And once again, Santorum was the runaway favorite among voters who believe abortion should always be illegal.
Once again, Romney’s strongest support came from the wealthy, winning among voters who make over $100k/yr in both Alabama in Mississippi, but coming in third among voters who make less than $50k/yr.
Given that 80% of primary voters in Mississippi and 75% of primary voters in Alabama are evangelical, and that only one quarter of voters in these states had six-figure incomes, Santorum’s victories should hardly have come as a surprise.
There’s been a bit of a brouhaha in the evangelical world about Saddleback Church’s outreach to Muslims and whether or not Rick Warren, Saddleback’s nationally prominent pastor, is watering down evangelical theology to build these partnerships.
An Orange County Register story precipitated the controversy, covering Warren’s friendship with a Muslim neighbor and his church’s initiative to combat misunderstanding and division among Christians and Muslims. According to the article, Warren proposed “a set of theological principles that includes acknowledging that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.”
Terry Mattingly, religious columnist and GetReligion.org writer, explained the controversy in this week’s column:
The Saddleback leader also denied that King’s Way efforts to build a “bridge” of understanding and tolerance represents a change in his Southern Baptist congregation’s commitment to evangelism.
… Contacted by email, Warren insisted that public discussions of an official King’s Way doctrinal statement — as opposed to a program by that name that promotes interfaith understanding — caught him by surprise.
While some evangelicals are criticizing Warren for building bridges with Muslims rather than proselytizing to them, Larry Ross, well-known evangelical communications consultant and Saddleback spokesperson, wrote a spirited defense of Warren:
Neither the Christmas dinner nor the broader Saddleback local outreach represents a ministry partnership between church and mosque, but rather an opportunity to foster individual relationships. Though both communities agreed to not proselytize or force their respective faiths on each other, Christians are continuously called to evangelism, which means sharing the Good News of Jesus, through both word and deed. That stems from the Great Commandment, the Great Commission and our commitment to love.
If sharing a meal or service project with Muslim neighbors to learn about each other’s faith represents a bridge too far, then interfaith outreach is rendered essentially impossible.