Mark Hall's Leap of Faith

Jon Perr

Timing, they say, is everything.  And lately, conservatives just don't seem to have any.

On the same day that Tom Delay urged his colleagues to spend "less time on our soapboxes and more time on our knees," outspoken anti-gay Republican and Spokane mayor Jim West admitted to relationships with men, among other extra-curricular activities. And in today's Oregonian, George Fox University professor Mark Hall tries to reach out across the ideological divide with a piece titled, "Evangelicals Share Mainstream Values, Not Extremism."

Unfortunately for Mr. Hall, his piece arrived at the conclusion of week which featured nothing if not extremism from his evangelical brethren and their fellow travellers.  On Friday, Pastor Chan Chandler of the East Waynesville North Carolina Baptist Church in North Carolina ejected nine members of his congregation because they did not vote for George Bush for President. 40 other congregants left his flock in protest.  Meanwhile in Kansas, a state school board emboldened by the Bush ascendancy sought to ignore a century of scientific consensus on Evolution and proselytize Creationism in the public schools.  And last Sunday, CBN mogul and 700 Club host Pat Robertson claimed that judges are a greater threat to the United States than Al Qaeda, stated that only Christians and Jews should be judges and in essence called Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg a communist.

And that's only last week.

On April 24th, James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Tony Perkins were joined in Louisville by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on "Justice Sunday" decrying the judicial filibuster as "an attack against people of faith." In the aftermath of the Terri Schiavo tragedy, judges were threatened, and even exiled from their own houses of worship for their legal decisions, decisions supported by the vast majority - read mainstream - Americans.

With the 2004 elections, the GOP essentially succeeded in turning evangelical churches into a tax-free arm of the Republican Party. Their reward - President Bush's $8 billion Faith-Based Initiative whichsanctions discrimination by its grant recipients while involving the federal government in the functions of religious groups.

Professor Hall courageously seeks to demonstrate the moderation of the millions of American evangelicals.  But his examples work against him.  The solid consensus against the unprincipled intervention in the Schiavo case and continued, consistent majority support for reproductive rights belie his claim of mainstream backing for evangelicals' overwhelmingly opposition to abortion and euthanasia. As for school vouchers, President Bush dropped this from his "No Child Left Behind" legislation almost immediately, given broad opposition by an American which views vouchers as a none-too-subtle mechanism for enabling private and religious institutions while defunding public schools.

In his piece, Hall rightly seeks both to restore civility to the public debate and help other Americans (myself included) shed unfair stereotypes regarding their evangelical countrymen:

Evangelicals are not a monolith, nor are the American people...Moving America's public discourse away from the politics of destruction to a serious conversation about the common good won't be easy. It's critical that leaders of both the right and the left resist labels and find areas of common ground. 

Unfortunately, recent events show that Mr. Hall's goodwill effort to find common ground was, so to speak, a leap of faith. He meant well.  But then again, the road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions.

  • LT (unverified)

    Moving America's public discourse away from the politics of destruction to a serious conversation about the common good won't be easy

    is a very interesting quote. It is time more Christians (esp. evangelicals) started talking about the common good.

    But does anyone else remember (as I do) the time that Bill Sizemore called "the common good" a socialist plot?

    There are many sincere religious people, and then there are the extremists. And those who said every Democrat was personally and individually responsible for some over the top remarks at private fundraisers by those like Whoopi Goldberg should realize that the flip side of that is all evangelicals should go on the record about choice remarks by other evangelicals, if they want to be taken seriously.

  • LT (unverified)

    There is a Washington Post story which hurts Mark Hall's point, because a Texas minister makes a snide remark stereotyping all churchgoers.

    This is the quote: While Christian right leaders such as Scarborough employ the usual Washington special-interest tactics -- collaring lawmakers, issuing press releases, appearing on political talk shows -- their real power rests in their unique access to millions of voters "who happen to go to church," as Scarborough puts it. "It's straight to the heart of people from men and women they trust," he said.

    All over this country there are clergy, church musicians, Sunday School teachers, church board members, etc who don't "just happen to go to church" but are active.

    And as has been seen on many issues, they are not all on the same side of any political issue.

    Hall may be a good hearted person. But unless he speaks (as Bush did by saying he thought the opposition to his nominees was about judicial philosophy and not about someone's patriotism defined by their religious faith), there is no reason that evangelicals who are not of the Rev. Wallis variety are going to get the benefit of the doubt.

  • Suzii (unverified)

    Hey, LT, are you talking about the Rev. Jim Wallis, and if so, do you mean "there is no reason that evangelicals who are of the Rev. Wallis variety"? And didn't Hall speak out in The O today, and is there any reason to assume he's not planning to continue?

    I'm confused.

  • Finrod (unverified)

    I'm bemused.

    What is the motivation for Professor Hall's article?

    Is Jon right that he wants "to reach out across the ideological divide"? If so, he spends way too much time justifying their stance on the other side.

    I read weasal-like redefinitions of extremist positions to sound more moderate. I read lectures to maintain a civil tone with those who refuse to admit there is anything to discuss. It is just too good an irony to hear people professing to have the immutable truth from God trying to justify their position as NOT extremist!

    It is an object lesson on the mind-set with which one deals in discourse with self-righteous people that can justify support of obvious gangster-types that will support their agenda and swell their coffers in return for the positive PR.

  • LT (unverified)

    There are many good people who are active in their churches and whose views are more moderate than the very vocal "people of faith are evangelicals" types.

    Had a really interesting conversation this weekend with a church musician who is the granddaughter of a Methodist minister. When asked how many services she plays on the average week, the answer was "often 4".

    That's often 2 churches (one where she is music director), a private school, a military facility.

    To eliminate anyone's confusion, what I meant to say was that such a person is as much a "person of faith" as any evangelical who appears on television. If Mark Hall wants to make his point, he should make clear whether such a church musician is a "person of faith" if they disagree with some of the statements of famous evangelicals.

    I'd like to see that answer on the public record somewhere. I am not sure some of those vocal evangelicals would consider a church musician from a Methodist, Congregationalist, Episcopal, or other mainline church "a person of faith" if they used their own interpretation of Scripture rather than accepting what a broadcast evangelical preacher tells them to believe.

  • Finrod (unverified)

    My last piece may have sounded as if I lumped all people who are observant of their faith as self-righteous dupes, which was not my intention. Re-reading Prof. Hall's article ticked me off, as he is one of the "vocal evangelicals" leading religious people off the cliff.

    Quote:"... evangelicals place a high value on family." [along with all mammals] "We believe the right of parents to raise their children should be respected and supported by the state." [along with all members of any human society] "Many evangelicals would extend this principle to enabling all parents to provide for their children an education that reflects their world views. So we often support the extension of voucher programs... to elementary and secondary students." [out there with totalitarian regimes which install political correctness officers in the classroom!]

    So evangelicals should be fearful that their 'world views' cannot survive the light of public education, and should be able to carve out an enclave within the school system in which to isolate their children. That is a disservice to the religion in which they purport to believe and to the ideal of a democratic society which depends on realistic education of its citizens about the world in which they live.

    These are the actions of extremists in furtherance of an antisocial agenda. People who believe in a powerful and loving God would feel no need to live in paranoid fear of His world.

  • Gregor (unverified)

    There is a false sense of the sublime among many of these religious zealots. I say this because, if they were truly as blissfuly happy as they report to be, wouldn't the rest of us want some of that? Honestly, the delusional nature of their convictions holds no appeal at all.

  • Clark Kent (unverified)

    "...More than two dozen Jewish and Christian progressive faith leaders [including Jim Wallis; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches and a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania; and others] ended a two-day strategy session in Washington, D.C., assessing an election aftermath in which voters citing ‘moral values’ often backed President Bush..."

    Here is what they decided, according to The Christian Century Magazine.


connect with blueoregon