Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pastor Jeffress and the Church's "Diminishing Minority"

Robert Jeffress, who makes his living as the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, has an extraordinarily obtuse column in the Washington Post today. The blinders are most apparent in this paragraph:

"Yet evangelicals need to remember that we are a diminishing minority in America. If we care about winning elections with candidates who will push back against abortion and immorality, then we have to be willing to compromise on some secondary issues to form a winning coalition with other Republicans."

So, to be clear, Mr. Jeffress is acknowledging the decline of the Church ("diminishing minority in America"), yet he wishes to focus his concerns on garnering "a winning coalition with other Republicans."

There can be little doubt, as Mr. Jeffress suggests, that this would be good for the Republican Party, which during better days has ridden evangelical foot soldiers to political victory. However, the minister never bothers to ask about the impact of this on the church, which has raised hostility toward itself for reasons that frequently have had nothing to do with the Church's commission. The reduction of evangelicals to the place of a voting block has not helped their cause, and when the public at large hears about a bully pulpit, they now think of it as more bully than pulpit.

While Mr. Jeffress, and others, are right that the church should take stands on issues such as abortion and gay marriage, it is questionable whether subordinating the church to the Republican Party has really been the right way to go in that regard. In addition, the positions that the religious right have taken on matters such as the separation of church and state, not to mention the propriety of voting for a Mormon, have frequently manifested historical and theological ignorance, as well as a failure to develop a philosophy of the goals and limits of public policy engagement (note Mr. Jeffress vague assertion about wanting candidates that push back on "immorality," a rather broad goal that would require a very un-conservative expansion of government authority).

The public knows very well what evangelical leaders think about the Republican Party. Unfortunately, they have little idea what those leaders think about justification by faith. The Church will be better off when that is reversed.