Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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Have US evangelicals reached the end of the road?

Thanks to Jeff Volkmer for pointing me to an article in The Christian Science Monitor from March this year titled  The coming evangelical collapse. The article gets close to going apocalyptic and rehearsing favoured conspiracy theories, but manages to get in enough social and theological reflection on the state of US evangelicalism to give food for thought.

I am not an American, so I am a little wary about discussing the socio-political context of religion in the US, especially when I was the first to shout ‘anti-American’ when I perceived Bishop Alan Wilson’s description of freedom of religion in the US as caricature.

There are two related things that the article does not touch on: the place of race in US evangelicalism and a change in the country’s First Believer. I have this nagging suspicion that when the article talks about evangelicals that it really means white evangelicals. After all, evangelicalism in the United States has been segregated along racial lines since the abolition of slavery. Even though segregationist attitudes have mostly disappeared, the conservative nature of church institutions continues to separate US evangelicalism into two racially distinct cultures. Even the signifier ‘evangelical’ is often only used in the US context to stand for ‘white evangelical’ (this is not the case elsewhere), whereas the ‘black evangelical movement’ is called ‘Black Church’; that is the white half is designated by religion, while the black half designated by race. Perhaps it is no wonder that a white American evangelical might see only half of the picture.

The second thing here is the election of Barack Obama. His election was widely seen as a defeat for the so-called ‘religious right’ (who are, no doubt, a more complex grouping than many consider them to be). However, Obama is a committed Christian and member of the Methodist Church (which is usually seen as evangelical, but is perhaps more mainstream Protestant in the modern US context). Obama is often described as ‘liberal’ by those on the political right, but his ‘liberalism’ is widely supported in the Black Church: just mention Civil Rights Movement. Of course, seeing as African Americans are more likely than their faded compatriots to be poor, imprisoned or the victim of crime, it is little surprise that the Black Church has deeper feeling for ‘social gospel’ in place of the tendency to the ‘prosperity gospel’ that often seems a heartbeat away from the religious lifestyle advocated in the White Church. Continue reading


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You cannot argue your way out of being racist

I am shocked but not surprised by the racist stupidity of Keith Bardwell, a justice of the peace in the US state of Louisiana, and his attempt to justify it.

The initial abuse of power was his denial of a marriage licence to Beth Humphrey and Terence McKay, a mixed race couple (she is identified as White, he is Black). Bardwell’s justification for this breach of human rights (Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifically says that ‘race’ should not be a limitation on the right to marry and found a family) is that he has witnessed that mixed-race relationships do not last and that mixed-race children have difficulty fitting in to either race community. But you have to ask yourself why this may be the case; isn’t it because of boneheads like Bardwell who see race before they see they person? Continue reading


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We all prefer socialism when camping

We have been sold a lie. We have become convinced that capitalism and free markets are the necessary trappings of post-modern liberty and democracy. Even with the serious failings on show in this recession, we are told that it is the naughty bankers and poor US people who should not have been allowed the homes for which they defaulted their loans. Communism is described as failed ideology, while capitalism is depicted as realised truth, and its evils, if mentioned at all, are all necessary. These things are lies.

In this last week, I have seen yet more pictures of US right-wingers comparing their new president to Hitler for his perceived ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’ — Obamunism! I have watched Michael Winterbottom’s flawed documentary representation of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, which has compelled me to read the book. Then I read an excerpt from Jerry Cohen’s Why Not Socialism? in the New Statesman.

The extreme reaction of the US right to a mildly progressive president (who happens to be black, which is clearly an issue for many)  is a demonstration to me that Klein is on the right track: we have been brainwashed into believing that neoliberalism is the default position for right-thinking nations, and all alternatives are crazy ideologies that would never work in the real world. Jerry Cohen died just over a month ago, but his rambling, discursive style refreshes the mind and takes us back to first principles.

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