Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelicalâ€™s Lament, by Randall Balmer - Oct 11
This work is by a self-confessed "jilted lover" of evangelicalism. It reflects the pain of such a relationship. Balmer is a professor of American religious history at Columbia University. In this book he tackles what he sees as inconsistency in the way the Right handles the issue of homosexuality versus divorce, what he calls a selective literalism. He argues that Baptists have shifted from being strident anti-establishment and for religious pluralism (under Roger Williams) to now wanting to establish the Christian faith. He sees the Christian school movement and the pursuit of vouchers as destructive of public schools. He sees the ID movement as creationism in new cloths as it exploits American uncertainty in science. He sees the treatment of evangelicals on the environment as a combination of closing one’s eyes to reality about our resources and global warming. Finally he calls for people to take the country back, a standard refrain in books that go after the religious right. He even baits critics ahead of time by saying how they will challenge his evangelical credentials or move to character attacks rather than engage his arguments. He knows he is stepping on many evangelical toes. His key desire is to have religious engagement take place at a moral level versus the pursuit of legislative remedies. So he contends that abortion is best handled by changing the moral climate through education and public service campaigns, like those that discourage smoking, drugs, alcohol, or spousal abuse. What makes a book like this hard to evaluate is the double standard applied to the topics by some on both sides. On the one hand, those in the public square who question the religious right say they are following the American way as they advocate political positions that want to keep religion out of the public square. At one level, there is a point to this, as our country is a pluralistic country, so any efforts by the religious right to dictate what is to be established while ruling out non-Christian options reflects disrespect for how our country is set up. But most people on the right I know are not arguing for this approach (If they are, then they should be challenged. The USA was never designed to be a theocracy of any kind or any kind of formal religious state). However, if one moves into a moral realm at all (even making arguments from forms of appeal to natural law), then the charge of injecting religion into the discussion is raised and the right is said to be unfair and violating the Constitution in raising such issues. But many on the Right are simply asking if it is best for society to seek to be sensitive to its moral well being and legislate itself accordingly. Granted this is a contentious area, as the next question is whose morality will operate or apply, However this is the very process of engaging in democracy in a republic and seeking to persuade society about what is or is not in its best long term moral and cultrual interests. Granted also the line between religion and morality is often a tight one, but that does not mean that discussing public morality and issues tied to them is not in the interest of society. In fact, Balmer is correct on aspects of several of the points he makes. There is a “different” approach to homosexuality versus divorce as a legislative level. There is however another level of the discussion he does not raise. Balmer ignores the fact hat the church has spent much energy on the family and defending its integrity in the church, so much so that other important issues of the church often take a back seat. The church is concerned that the impact of broken homes, which a societal climate lax on divorce helps to create, will not replicate itself if we simply affirm the possibility of same sex unions and the volatility that comes in such relationships, something that can be verified by research. Balmer is right about the risk to public school education that vouchers pose. They may well not be the best option. Whatever happens here, we cannot abandon our public school system, for most of our kids will be educated in these schools, so the long term welfare of our kids as a whole is at stake (And I speak as an evangelical and a parent who put three kinds through the public schools and was heavily involved in the local PTA). Issues associated with he environment and exercising responsibility towards the resources God and his creation have given to us are an ever rising concern that cannot be left to mere market forces to deal with. What I find hard is why some discussions are less than fairly represented. I know ID people who simply want us to acknowledge that neither science or any other discipline cannot prove or disprove whether there is a creator in a scientific way. So why not make it clear that people have held to either option even as one discusses science. This is not promotion of religion, if the option for a Creator is not defined in any specific or personal terms. What frustrates many about the way our system works is that the application of views in the schools is decidedly one sided. In Europe, options, religious or otherwise, are noted. But one cannot even do that in our culturally warring charged environment. As a dominating theory evolution should be taught in our schools. All of us s need to know it, but is it so sacrosanct as an explanation that critiquing it is out of bounds? It is the sense of a double standard in such discussions that has some on the right expressing frustration. Obviously our society reveals that debate in this area goes on, so let us allow our children to know about it and understand it, not rule it out of bounds for discussion. If an option is not “real science” as some claim, then let the debate show that and makes its case, not rule it out of bounds before the case on each side is even raised. Where is a balance in that? Well, I hope I have engaged Balmer as a fellow evangelical family member who disagrees with aspects of his view in a way that engages his argument. It is an important discussion and Balmer raises many good questions and concerns, even if there are some who would give other answers for other reasons.