• First published in 2004 as Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion (BNOR).

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B Contra Bartholomeum

A few weeks ago I blogged on Fort Lauderdale mayor Jim Naugle’s religious ally the Koinonia Worship Center, members of which shared a stage with him while dressed in military fatigues:

Spaulding notes that Koinonia has a web presence on My Space. An audio message there uses a lot of the “spiritual warfare” language typical of the conservative Christian “men’s movement” (see this essay by Jeff Sharlet for an overview), but aimed specifically at African-Americans (there are a number of US churches that cater to the needs of black Americans; Barack Obama is associated with one, to the outrage of conservatives).

This paragraph has brought down the wrath of “Christian educator” and Townhall blogger Collin B:

Spiritual warfare metaphors have been around about two millennia now. Maybe he will read his Bible. Someday.

Actually, I was plodding through Ezekiel just a few weeks ago – and not only do I read the Bible, I have an audio version on my mp3 player (and read by an American evangelical, as it happens). So why does Mr B think I was unaware of the basis for “spiritual warfare” rhetoric? Apparently because I noted that it was an identifying feature of this particular group – which explains the military fatigues. How that suggests Biblical illiteracy on my part is beyond me; perhaps my analysis was too subtle, and I have been casting pearls before swine. Moving on:

…He says that the criticism of Obama is about being a part of a church that ministers to blacks. NO. The complaint, the basis for it, about Obama is that, several years ago, he make calculated statements that Dems needed to make use of churches as campaign tools. He is a user.

Actually, YES. The righteous Mr B apparently (and this the most charitable explanation) didn’t bother to follow the link I provided. Here’s Tucker Carlson, whose attack was representative:

So Barack Obama is a member of a church called Trinity United Church of Christ. It’s a predominantly black church in Chicago, that espouses something called the “Black Value System,” which includes calls for congregants to be “soldiers for black freedom” and a, quote, “disavowal of the pursuit of middleclassness.” Now, it would seem to me, Tom, not to make a broad sweeping statement here, but a racially exclusive theology, a theology that ministers to one group of people, based on race, kind of contradicts the basic tenets of Christianity, and is worth talking about. Wouldn’t you say?

My point was that while this church was the focus of conservative outrage, there are plenty of other churches, such as Koinoina, which also focus on black Americans and their particular socio-economic circumstances. The reason I made the aside was because this shows the ignorance and opportunism of those who attacked Obama through his church [UPDATE 2008: please note I wrote this before Wirght’s more disreputable statements and associations came to light] . As to whether Obama is “a user” of evangelicals or not, I have no idea – although I would suggest that a fair few Republican politicians are.

My nemesis continues:

He says that African-Americans are the target of this Florida ministry. He’s right. So why is that wrong in his mind? So how is this racist?

When I research a topic, I usually figure that my readers are intelligent enough to draw their own conclusions without superfluous commentary from me. Being human, I sometimes can’t resist adding a bit of opinion, but I am under no illusions that anyone comes here because they want to know what I think about things. However, this does sometimes mean dimmer readers will simply make wild assumptions about why I’m noting something. Of course, I nowhere suggested, or even hinted, that Koinoina was racist, and I don’t believe that it is. I mentioned its particular emphasis on African-Americans because that gives a fuller picture.

He’s not done yet, though:

We’re not allowed to stand against the politics of the homosexual activists and the deconstruction of “family.” Those are “liberal” activities. We’re not allowed to go public — just keep it all within the four walls.

Again, nowhere did I suggest that Koinoina’s activities ought to be curtailed. What Mr B means is that criticism of particular evangelical activities amounts to attempts at religious suppression. This probably works for his target audience at Townhall, but for this rest of us it’s just foolish. As for Koinoina’s appearance with Jim Naugle, I’ll leave it to the church’s congregation and the mayor’s electorate to decide whether the stunt reflects well on either of them.

Though the creation of an evangelical enemy, Mr. Bartholomew has set up the evangelical vs. black and evangelical vs. homosexual conflicts… evangelicals are to him bad Americans.

Doubtless, Mr B draws this inference because another version of my post also appeared on the website Talk to Action, which critiques and brings to public attention many of the activities and positions of the religious right. So, just in case there is any genuine doubt: I do not hate evangelicals (although please don’t ask me to endure very much “Praise and Worship” music). I believe that evangelicalism is fascinating, but that despite being one of the most significant religious trends out there, its global significance has been largely overlooked. One of the purposes of this blog is to try and redress that, by highlighting particular developments and alliances within the movement. Some aspects of current evangelicalism are positive, but others I think are harmful – hence my association with Talk to Action. That does not mean, though, that the investigations of a critical outsider are motivated by bad faith or malice, which appears to be the inference here.

Mr B concludes:

The use of Ephesians 6 is apparently not to be allowed in a pluralistic society. It might offend the Marxists.

Apparently in some circles in America you can still cry “Communist!” when faced with critics and get taken seriously. But again for the record, I prefer Max Weber over Marx. And Mr B is free to use Ephesians 6 as an inspiration for his involvement in public affairs if he so wishes.

Finally, I don’t believe that Mr B indulges in gross misrepresentation and absurd hyperbole because he is an evangelical. The things I find negative in evangelicalism derive from attitudes of mind which one can find in any movement – religious or secular, left or right. Mr B would doubtless be a silly and counter-productive advocate for whichever cause he decided to associate himself with.

UPDATE: Mr B responds. Briefly, he believes that I lack intellectual integrity because I “engage in petty name-calling rather than discuss[ing] the subject dispassionately”. On the other hand, it is quite OK for him to describe my “representative views” as being “Marxist”, but it is dishonest of me to have accused him of using the “Communist” label against people he disagrees with. He also complains that I identify evangelicalism with the religious right; actually, I do try to keep in mind the distinction, but I also think it’s obvious that there’s a considerable overlap.

Further, he is perplexed as to why I called him a Townhall blogger, although he thinks it must be a “slure” [sic]. In fact, anyone can set up a Townhall blog, in the same way as my blog was established when Salon offered the same service – and consequently I’m also sometimes mistaken for someone either paid or endorsed by Salon. One difference, though, is that Mr B’s blog carries a large by-line which states “A Blog of Townhall.com“.

Readers can judge for themselves how adequately this refutes my posting above. It remains only for me to wish those under Mr B’s instruction as a “Christian educator” the best of luck; they will certainly need it.

One Response

  1. You have a critic;^)
    Blog on!

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