Who’s afraid of the big, bad ‘them’?


It is interesting to see how differently Baptists can react to the growing religious and political pluralism in our midst. Some do so with such fear.
In his April 24 editorial (“Dare to be the ‘bad guys’ of the future”) in The Christian Index, newspaper of the Georgia Baptist Convention, editor Gerald Harris paints a fearful picture of America — with public education, secular government and tolerant attitudes making life hard on good ol’ evangelical Christians.
“Be prepared to endure the slings and arrows of those who are tolerant of everything but manifestly intolerant of Bible-believing, Christ-loving, soul-winning Christians,” he warns.
Leaning on Josh McDowell for support, Harris concludes that evangelical Christians are the “good guys” who are becoming “the bad guys in the United States.”
This bunker mentality produces an “us vs. them” perspective that makes life into an ongoing battle against those who are different.
If evangelicals are deemed “the good guys,” then what does that make my Jewish neighbor, my Roman Catholic coworker or my nonreligious in-law?
Is tolerance of others really worse than designating those who do not share one’s narrow faith commitments and corresponding political perspectives as “bad guys?”
Harris, like others who share this reaction to pluralism, gives the false notion that American evangelicals are powerless victims who get picked on by bullies. With our constitutional guarantees of religious liberty this is an affront to those in the world who genuinely suffer for their faith convictions.
Though evangelical Christians dominate the airwaves and fill political positions from local school boards to the Oval Office, the fear does not wane.
Harris warns: “[W]e may be only one presidential election away” from having a leader who won’t call the nation to prayer during a national tragedy. (Apparently, the president is to be our spiritual leader — a pastoral, as well as political, role.)
However, the biggest problem with “us” (good guys) vs. “them” (bad guys) is that it creates only two options for how to relate to those who are different: Convert them (so they become like us) or conquer them (so they won’t pick on us).
Designating oneself and those just like oneself as “the good guys” — and marinating that arrogance in a fear of those who are different — can only lead to the devaluation of others. They can only be seen as either a threat or a target.
Such an attitude seems amazingly at odds with how Jesus related to the wide variety of people he encountered. He seemed more concerned with offering grace, mercy and healing than dividing people into two groups and handing out white and black hats.

6 Comments

  1. Amen Johnny. That thinking is part of the SBC/GBC fundamentalists [is that redundant?] mind set. Fear is how that gained and now maintain control.
    John Dean in his book “Conservatives without a conscience” [playing off the title of Goldwater’s famous book] contends that authoritarian conservatives [read in our setting fundamentalists] fall into three categories: good, bad or evil. The fear that Harris is promulgating, if accepted by good people will push them down the road to becoming bad and perhaps eventually evil people.
    The Bible teaches: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” I John 4: 17 TNIV and “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again . . “ Romans 8:15 TNIV
    Come think of Dean’s three categories apply to Christians who self-identify as moderates or liberals or adherents to any religion. You blog is excellent. It reminds me that I can easily slip down the slope from good to bad to evil if I succumb to fear. Thanks

  2. Thanks, Bob. At best, individuals within many groups can be good — and then not all the time.
    For example, some of the most loving, selfless and humble people I’ve ever known are Baptists. Likewise, I’ve known others who are unloving, selfish and arrogant.
    And to ascribe goodness to oneself or one’s group seems to give license to do bad things.

  3. JD,

    Your only legitimate point is the exaggerated claim of persecution by the political religious right. There can be no doubt that the media and academia on the left despise fundamentalism in all its forms, especially its politically active one.

    To hear the right wing pundits whine about this is quite amusing. Did they expect to jump in the political boxing arena, start swinging but not get punched back? Rather than crying, they should be thanking God they live in a country where the most the leftists can do is ridicule you or maybe deprive you of academic promotions.

    That notwithstanding, your disdain for the “us versus them” mentality once again gloriously displays your hatred and/or ignorance of the authentic message of Christ and the Holy Bible. I’m glad you continue to make these critiques because they keep the up and coming generation informed of how destitute of respect for the message of the Scriptures the Baptist left really is. You say,

    “If evangelicals are deemed ‘the good guys,’ then what does that make my Jewish neighbor, my Roman Catholic coworker or my nonreligious in-law?”

    While we certainly can’t deem such a broad and theologically diverse segment of the religious landscape as “evangelicals” to be categorically the “good guys”, there can be no doubt that the groups you set in contrast to them are the bad guys, if one takes Christ seriously.

    So what would Jesus say to your Jewish neighbor?

    “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me.”

    Your Roman Catholic co-worker?

    “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

    Your non-religious in-law?

    “He that believeth not shall be damned.”

    And on and and we could go. But you say

    “He seemed more concerned with offering grace, mercy and healing than dividing people into two groups and handing out white and black hats.”

    You have erected a false dichotomy to validate your anti-Scriptural philosophy and paint those who accept the exclusive view (which is the true Christian view) as the real bad guys. Of courss Jesus was concerned with offering grace, mercy and healing. But He most certainly did divide people into two groups – those who believe on Him and those who don’t, the children of God and the children of the wicked one.

    I could multiply Jesus’ words to prove this point, but these few will suffice:

    “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.

    So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

    Mark Osgatharp
    Wynne, Arkansas

  4. Mark- Thanks for the sermon. But I didn’t label anybody as the bad guy. I’ll leave judgment up to God and the self-ordained few like youself who have it all figured out.

  5. Mark
    thanks for validating my point.
    bob

  6. JP and WSprings Bob:
    I hope both of you can find the time to google up William Placher on Mark Lilla in Christian Century, and take a look at bl.com on the discussion about Chris Hedges.
    Also interesting piece in Huffington Post today, reviving Stephen Carter’s early 90’s Culture of Disbelief notions.
    I say all this not to be an elitist, cause there is no substance to such a thought.
    A Little practical execution of your blog’s sentiment would be some implementation against Floyd Brown and his 527 in the North Carolina Primay, even though Jeremiah Wright has made such a thicket even denser today and over the weekend.
    On another note, I got a good report on your presentation yesterday at FBC Americus. Proud of you and the good Baptist Christian witness there, and the inspiration you provide good folks like Bob of Warm Springs.
    sfox

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