Western Chauvinism

I’m about to use the term “big tent” a lot.

I don’t know if that’s a common term that people still use so I’ll explain it, please forgive the over explaining nature of this description. But everything I’m about to write depends on knowing what I mean by that praise.

The idea is that within a social or political movement you have to construct a space for movement.

The metaphor of the tent being that you’ve created a specific space under a tent.

The smaller your tent, the smaller and less diverse the group that fits under it.

A bigger tent just means you’ve created more room for your intended group, making it more diverse and potentially more influential as a result.

I see a lot of people talk about “White Supremacy” and I think we’re making a mistake to think that way.

A great into to the topic is the Proud Boys.

They self described as Western Chauvinists. This is actually a perfect way to understand how they are creating a bigger tent.

The general design of the ideology is nested. It starts with:

(Western Chauvinism)

that then has other ideologies nested within it.

Next we find:

(Western (nationalism) Chauvinism)

Often then we move to:

((Christian) Nationalism)

Then to:

(((Eurocentric) Christian) Nationalism)

In this case the “Euro” is about the specific cultural aspects of European society and history, including religion and colonialism and imperialism and so on.

This attracts many racist ideologies for sure:

((((White) Eurocentric) Christian) Nationalism)

But the movement in the US has been widening the tent to move past those racist ideologies. This is very notable in many Evangelical circles.

As a result you’ll find any number of variations nested within the movement of Western Chauvinism

In the minds of many Americans it doesn’t go much deeper than:

((Christian) Nationalism)

leaving behind the Eurocentrism for a much more generic western-centric ideology. Again, particularly attractive to Evangelicals of any ethnicity.

In many Evangelical circles the focus on Western or European culture is too broad and they have a much more specific:

(((USA-centric) Christian) Nationalism).

In both these cases the ancestral component is much weaker or less influential. This entices more people from every ethnicity.

The development of Evangelical ideologies that American exists in some kind of covenantal relationship with God similar to historical Israel are particularly strong and have made pervasive inroads into Latin, Asian, and African groups (both African immigrant communities and historical communities of the descendants of American slaves). In many cases those groups are the fastest demographics of the American Evangelicals.

But you’ll also find the same big tent outreach with the religious elements. In some cases you can replace the religious affiliation:

(((Eurocentric) Pagan) Nationalism)

Or

(((Eurocentric) Areligious) Nationalism)

This attempt at big tent proselytizing has been quite successful for a number of reasons.

The result of the expansion of Evangelicalism across every ethnic demographic.

The result of appeals to some construct of traditional masculinity.

The result of red-scaring tactics in communities with pervasive issues trusting government institutions.

They’ve even started spreading the ideology outside the US in parts of Africa and Latin American.

“White Supremacy” is not the right term.

The tent is getting bigger.

You can find evidence here.

And here.

And here.

Ignoring the expansion of the tent is dangerous.

Barack Obama frequently gets criticized for his criticisms of those he generally tends to agree with.

I imagine that’s the general reaction I’ll get.

But he does it for the same reason I am.

Being precise with our language matters

Losing Control

This is great but at the same time has a specific flaw that skews it slightly. Those three denominational categories of Evangelical, Mainline, and Fundamentalist are real enough. But at no point did they actually settle in such neatly defined camps with solid lines separating them.

The overlapping both across and within denominations, congregations, and American Protestantism as a whole has been constant and is still in flux.

It’s more like a polar triangle with each of the three poles representing the Evan, Main, and Fund. The leadership, theologians, and public figures being closest to the poles and congregants gravitating towards the poles, with many closer to the center than to the actual poles. My analysis of what Phil is getting at here is that there needs to be more acceptable space between the poles. I would even say that it’s easy to identify the historical moment that has slowly erased the acceptability of occupying space between the poles: the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

I would argue that it makes the issue of what people mean when they call themselves Evangelical in a modern context pretty simple. People who call themselves Evangelicals believe or have beliefs derived from the Chicago statement and to some degree its 2 subsequent summits.

The thing that makes it messy is that it is increasingly clear that affirming the statement’s content is forging an identity. This identity is trans-denominational, cultural, and political. You’ll find people affirming the core tenets of the statement from Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Regardless of how they developed this belief in the context of their own tradition the influence of and convergence with the statement is pervasive. I would also argue that religion is inherently political and that much more so in regard to the statement which has stark implications on how individuals engage with the society around them.

There is no way to separate politics from American religion whether it’s segregation or teaching evolution or selling alcohol on a Sunday. Those issues are all a woven fabric of social, political, and religious beliefs. It is in no way a shock that American Evangelicalism has emerged from its incubation as a theological movement within American Protestantism in general and transformed into a socio-cultural political identity. That transformation is not something that the intellectual and theological leaders can control at this point and I would say they lost control of it long before they realized they did.

I really like Phil and I do love his take here. As helpful as it is though, don’t be blinded by the simplicity.

Life is never as simple as we want it to be

To get some context on my claims go here to read about Billy Graham’s personal relationship with LBJ (hard to deny the inherent politics of friendship with a sitting POTUS)

Go here for some context about Graham’s intentionally moderate position on segregation & civil rights. It’s true that he was adamant about integrating his events but did not engage in direct protests regarding integration, which again shows a concern for the political implications of personal positions vs personal actions.

Definitely significant issues when it comes to the most influential Evangelical who would go on to be a spiritual advisor to every POTUS including Barack Obama. This longstanding relationship with political figures shows that Evangelicalism was imbedded in American politics well before the shift in the 70s that Phil discusses.

All that is Right & Beautiful

There is a house I walk by frequently that is owned by Calvin University.

Calvin is one of the major higher learning institutions owned and supported by the Christian Reformed Church in North America or CRC.

CRC is a major Evangelical and Calvinist denomination in the USA with influence and missions abroad. The CRC could even be used as an archetypal example of American Evangelical Protestantism in many respects.

As such the student body and academic structure of Calvin University is usually assumed to tilt strongly toward the American political right.

The university has even produced several high profile political figures on the right like Betsy DeVos, Bill Huizenga, and Dave Agema.

Yet, as I made one of my frequent passes by the house owned by this school I’ve noticed a curious thing.

In the window I notice a Black Lives Matter sticker.

The decal is one of the standard emblems of BLM with the raised first AKA the forceful salute.

Now I’ve watched any number of figures on the right lambast BLM with any number of accusations.

I’ve heard BLM called socialist, communist, anarchist, satanist, or feminist. And any number of extrapolations or combinations.

So what is that decal doing in the window of a house owned by an Evangelical institution?

The house is called Nizhoni House. Nizhoni being a Navajo word for beautiful and in this case used as a broader sense of “good”, lining up with the mission of the house. That mission is the University’s attempt to show commitment to the neighborhood as they try to spread the Good News amongst its residents.

And it should be noted that Calvin University also has strong ties to Calvin Seminary which is an educational institution for producing professionals trained in theological, scholarly, and leadership for the CRC.

(And to be fair, Evangelicals in general)

But this hasn’t cleared anything up yet. Why would the students living in this house, presumably on a path to some form of Evangelical leadership, have a BLM decal up?

Aren’t Evangelicals the very ones condemning BLM?

Aren’t Evangelicals the very ones denouncing communism? feminism? anarchism?

Here though is where you can find the divide, if you look hard enough.

Evangelicalism in the US is multifaceted to be sure but there is an element that is nearly universal: the centrality of the Bible.

The Bible is the authority.

The Truth with a capital “T” is found in the Bible and the Bible only.

All other authority is insignificant.

But at the institutional level, the academic and scholarly and expert theological level, there is far more nuisance to the concept of Biblical authority than the oversimplifications I’ve written out above.

You can dive deep into the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy to see what I mean. And that’s just a start. You can then move on to other statements like the Nashville Statement from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

These are complex and intricate statements that are meant to define the correct belief for Evangelicals in America and their international networks of Evangelical mission churches.

If you take the time to dig you’ll come across the Resolution On Racial Reconciliation from The Southern Baptist Convention.

And more pertinent to this house I walk by, the CRC Office of Race Relations.

Because the leadership of these a Evangelical bodies DOES acknowledge the reality of racism and the need for reconciliation. They have for several decades.

But their congregants do not.

Why not?

Because Evangelicals have been told NOT to trust authorities. NOT to listen to experts and academics. They’ve been ignorant of the fact that those tenets they’ve been following were developed by experts.

Experts in theology, exegesis, hermeneutics, and so on.

And slowly but surely a chasm has developed between the congregants and their institutions of leadership.

They’ve been told (by academics) that they shouldn’t trust academics.

They’ve been told (by experts) not to trust experts.

And now the experts have lost control. Those who imagined themselves to be leaders have lost any semblance of broader authority.

Their attempts to purge any reliance on scholarly analysis worked too well and when they try to exert influence on changes in ethnic reconciliation it is not working.

It’s the same with several other topics.

Immigration.

QAnon.

Identity Politics.

Religious Freedom.

That’s why the BLM decal in that window seems befuddling. The CRC leaders in training at their University recognize and believe in the need for racial reconciliation. But their congregants don’t care what they think.

Their congregants are forging their own socio-political culture and identity that despised expertise and study through higher learning institutions.

This is their reckoning; the reckoning of authority condemning authority without emphasizing that their authority should be the exception.

Those pundits denouncing BLM are the academics working on theology and religious scholarship. They are political figures, people with power on the mind. Not trained to lead as experts.

And therefore much more effective at leading their congregants.

Populist figures rather than institutional leaders.

Expectations

It’s never good when we expect a person to accomplish something that they never set out to accomplish

Them judge them by their inability to complete the unattempted task

It’s deliberately misleading to say that someone failed at a task they never undertook

My brother is writing a novel, so I shouldn’t expect that book to be a detailed factual history

My cousin writes music, so I shouldn’t expect those songs to be methodical genealogies

Even when there is some overlap, when a person tries to use another subject to better accomplish their task

The original task is still the standard we should judge by

A piece of fiction about a historical event is still fiction

A song about genealogy is still a song

I should hold these works to the standard of what they were trying to achieve:

An entertaining tale

An engrossing tune

Meant to make us think and stimulate us in specific ways

The same for the Bible

The Bible is meant to make us think and stimulate us in specific ways

It’s books were composed intentionally

It’s authors had specific goals in mind

To expect the Bible to accomplish tasks it’s authors never set out to accomplish sets it up for failure

When the Bible fails at such tasks, it hasn’t really failed at all

We have chosen to read it incorrectly

We have expected it to do something it was never meant to do

Not just by its human authors, but by God as well

If you believe in God

And you believe that God delivered the Bible to us deliberately

In it’s current form

Then approach the Bible with the assumption that we are meant to read it as it is delivered

If God wanted the Bible to be something other than a collection of books written by different authors over long periods of time

Then it wouldn’t be what it is today

The Bible is a library meant to help you know God better

The Bible does what a library does: illuminate truth by viewing the world from multiple perspectives

That is the task it is meant to accomplish

There is plenty of room for nuance here. For me, I may try to accomplish a specific task but it’s clear that I should have approached it from a different angle. In that case I failed to accomplish something that I wasn’t trying to accomplish, but probably should have. Many more examples I’m sure but I still stick by the purpose of this post; it’s important to approach the Bible for what it is trying to do.

Not what we wish it to do.

Also, just a side note, the picture of books that I used in this post is the Nag Hammadi Library. Which is not part of the Bible. But come on, those leathery tomes are cool looking 😎

The Theory and the Revelation

There is one sure way to completely shut down an argument: show the person you’re trying to sway that you haven’t done the background research to know what you’re talking about.

In the realm of religion and science there are 2 perfect examples

Evolution
&
Revelation

The Book of Revelation is the last book of the Christian Bible. It can go by a number of different names:

The Revelation to John
The Apocalypse of John
The Revelation
Revelation

I’ve even seen a long form of it spelled out as The Apocalypse of St John the Apostle

But it’s never called “Revelations”.

And anytime a person who’s trying to argue with a Christian adds an S onto Revelation there is a good chance that the Christian checks out.

The thought being:

This person isn’t taking this argument seriously enough to go do the tiny amount of research necessary to even argue with me.

Why would I listen to them, then?

The same in arguments about science.

The book The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin can also go several names:

On the Origin of Species
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life

But it is never called “The Origin of the Species”

That’s not the name of the book and the same thing happens when people call it that in an argument.

The opponent checks out and doesn’t take the rest of the conversation seriously.

If you want to convince someone of your argument or even get them to take it seriously you have to understand the terms and sources they use. At least casually, so they’ll respect your thoughts on the subject.

In both these cases I’ve even seen works published with the wrong title. That shows that even editors of texts meant to be taken seriously haven’t done their due diligence to know the title of the book in question.

But these are just good examples

There are many more

The point is, before trying to persuade others you have to spend the time to know what others believe.

In all productive conversations I’ve ever had, it’s only when I try to see the world through beliefs that are not my own that I can approach someone to try to change their mind.

The Evangelical Ethnicity

(Links in Blue)

Usually ethnicity is used as an overly complicated term that is very difficult to pin down

So I’m going to make it simple;
Ethnicity is a combination of ancestry and culture.

How that plays out looks different from group to group

but there it is.

And that’s what Evangelicalism has become.

It’s not a denominational distinction,

as in

“That’s an Evangelical Church over there, and that one over there is not!”

Evangelicalism has become a way of identifying yourself as part of a broader cultural identity

(The Last Temptation)

Identity centered on a culture of Biblical Literalism, Appeal to Tradition, Hostility to Science, and Political Conservativism

(👆Just to name a few)

There are Evangelical Catholics now, Evangelical United Methodists, PC(USA) Evangelicals. Doesn’t matter the denomination, the culture is everywhere, including the Mainline Churches!

…but now an ugly serpent is slowly uncoiling itself, slithering from the base of Evangelicalism.

Till now it’s been hidden.

It’s always been there, but for years it’s been lurking in the background.

Now it’s come into the light.

It’s the other aspect of ethnicity:

Ancestry

For decades the Evangelical identity has been growing in influence and exposure, coming to define Christianity in the public square

And the whole time it’s leadership has maintained that ancestry isn’t a component!

We’re not racist!
Everyone’s welcome!
We’re all brothers in Christ!

I guess it’s possible those leaders meant it.

(Demanding Change)

But their congregants did NOT all believe it

Ancestry is clearly woven into the Evangelical identity.
Intimately
Irrevocably

The cries are clear:
We’re losing “our country”!
We have to take “our country” back!

It’s not subtle; the “our” part is ancestry.

(Taking “Our Religion” back too)

Call it race if you want (a ridiculously unscientific fiction)

But it’s been revealed as a cornerstone of Evangelical identity.

Some that have come from the “Evangelical Denominations” have now realized they can’t call themselves Evangelical anymore.

(Just listen to The Liturgists podcast)

(The Liturgists)

These former Evangelicals are the few who actually believed that ancestry wasn’t a part of the identity.

Now they see it and it’s undeniable.

(I could no longer ignore)

It shouldn’t surprise them.

Some stay. Trying to battle this rise in ancestry as central to the identity

(Trying to Fight)

Not surprisingly the most vocal opponents are the leaders who recognize the change in demographics (and don’t want to lose their new base)

(Fighting for the groups that we need to take “Our Country” back from)

Still

The truth plain; Evangelicalism is in the process of fully transforming into Evangelical Ethnic Identity

And the contingent that has conjured that identity around European Ancestry

is LOUD