Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Baptists vs. Beck (kinda-sorta): Brother Al Mohler

Brother Al Mohler, a few years ago

I mentioned in my previous post on Glenn Beck's attack on the Christian concept of "social justice" that Brother Al Mohler, the most prominent theologian of the SBC and hardline Christianist, addresses at length at his blog in Glenn Beck, Social Justice, and the Limits of Public Discourse 03/15/10.

Brother Al's approach is more mealy-mouthed and focused on a different type of fundamentalist criticism of Beck's Mormon heathenism than Richard Land's response discussed in the previous post. He frames the issue the way Baptist ministers and David Brooks are inclined to favor, in the tolerant voice of an observer looking down upon the dirty conflict:

Some of those outraged by Beck's statements immediately insisted that social justice is the very heart of the Gospel, while others insisted with equal force that Beck had offered a courageous call for Christians to flee liberal churches that had abandoned the Gospel.

As anyone familiar with incendiary public debates should have expected, though the truth is a bit harder to determine.
Brother Al also notes, in passing, that Glenn Beck is "a convert to Mormonism." After citing a few verses of Scripture referring to justice, he even says that Beck's statement was "nonsense" and "reckless" and unfair. Then he proceeds to endorse Beck's indictment of them thar librul Christians:

A closer look at his statements reveals a political context. He made a specific reference to Rev. Jeremiah Wright and to other priests or preachers who would use "social justice" and "economic justice" as "code words." Is there anything to this?

Of course there is. Regrettably, there is no shortage of preachers who have traded the Gospel for a platform of political and economic change, most often packaged as a call for social justice.
He then gives an historical explanation of his position, which I won't try to elaborate here. But to understand how he's approaching it, it's helpful to know that Christian fundamentalism as we know it is historically a relatively recent phenomenon, emerging among American Protestants in the decades of 1870-1910. It consisted of two strands of Protestantism which merged into an identifiable movement. One strand was "dispensationalism", which is roughly the ideas around the End Times that are incorporated into the apocalyse-porn Left Behind novels. It's pretty much what we also mean by "Christian Zionism".

The other strand was the notion of Biblical "inerrancy", which in the lingo meant that Scriptures were the directly inspired Word of God, with a tiny bit of wiggle room provided by the qualification that this was so in the original "autographs" of the Biblical books, meaning the very first original versions, none of which of course are extant. In practice, this literalist interpretation of the Bible meant understanding Christianity in terms of conservative Protestant beliefs, using the Bible for pulling "proof-texts" more than for trying to understand entire books in their context. And when it comes to End Times speculation, incorporating some wildly fanciful and imaginative interpretations into their supposedly literalist readings of the Bible. This meant that all contemporary scholarly research on the Bible was highly suspect, being based as it was largely on the approaches of German Biblical scholars using what they saw as the historical-critical method. That approached was denounced by fundis, who tended to call it Higher Criticism or Liberalism or liberal theology or simply "German", all used as terms of reproach.

Within the fundamentalist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were two distinct approaches to political involvement and social activism among fundamentalists. Although fundamentalism at that time was not so exclusively linked to political conservatism as it is now, the different approaches had to do with how much emphasis fundis should put on political-social activism. One trend emphasized trying to impose godly ways through the law, as in their jihad against the teaching of evolution in public schools which produced the famous Scopes Monkey Trial. The other trend emphasized evangelism (proselytizing), arguing that if everyone would become Christians ("get saved"), that social and political problems would take care of themselves.

For those familiar with the controversy, Brother Al's criticism of Beck reads like a statement of the concentrate-on-evangelism option. But in fact, his version turns out to be an even more emphatic agreement with Beck than Richard Land's:

The last century has seen many churches and denominations embrace the social gospel in some form, trading the Gospel of Christ for a liberal vision of social change, revolution, economic liberation, and, yes, social justice. Liberal Protestantism has largely embraced this agenda as its central message.

The urgency for any faithful Christian is this -- flee any church that for any reason or in any form has abandoned the Gospel of Christ for any other gospel.
This is classic conservative mealy-mouthing. With this column, Brother Al can say that he strongly condemned Beck's comment when talking to godless secular and heathen liberal reporters. But to true believers in the Gospel Of Low Taxes For The Wealthy, it's clear that Brother Al is very much agreeing with Beck's attack on anything that resembles the evil liberal version of "social justice".

It may not be the kind of lukewarmness that the Book of Revelations speaks about, which makes Jesus spew the lukewarm churches out of his mouth. But Richard Land's and Brother Al's brand of mealy-mouthed hardline conservatism does kind of make me wanted to spew.

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