March 2, 2017

No, Evangelicals Are NOT “The American Taliban”

One writer on Medium – a website for (mostly progressive) opinion writing – recently compared Evangelicals to “The American Taliban” and equated saying “I’ll pray for you” with the “religious extremism” of Islamists. He further compared Evangelicals spreading the Gospel to ISIS attempting “to establish a global muslim [sic] caliphate.”

Granted the author of this post is a self-described “Multi Media Creator,” not a public policy analyst. But other commentators more eminently qualified have employed equally bombastic terminology to describe conservative Evangelicals.

Journalist and Princeton University Professor Chris Hedges wrote a book called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, published in 2007. As the title implies, he details the rise of “Christian fascism” in the United States. He argued in a column in October 2013 that at the center of this movement are “Dominionists” bent on recapturing “Christian” America:

They are no different from the vanguard described by Lenin or the Islamic terrorists who shaved off their beards, adopted Western dress and watched pay-for-view pornography in their hotel rooms the night before hijacking a plane for a suicide attack. The elect alone, like the Grand Inquisitor, are sanctioned to know the truth. And in the pursuit of their truth they have no moral constraints.

These authors both target conservative Evangelicals with overly simplistic comparisons and false moral equivalences. While fair to level some amount of criticism at American Christians, I question whether using such hyperbole moves the discussion in a positive direction.

Will any Evangelicals be motivated to engage in meaningful self-reflection after being compared to the Taliban, ISIS, Islamic terrorists, fascists, or Marxist revolutionaries? Probably not. Nobody responds well to name-calling, no matter their political or religious affiliation. If anything, it risks alienating the group in question even further.

Such strong language may foster a smug sense of moral superiority among secular audiences or left-wing Christians eager to accept these arguments and vilify the so-called Religious Right. These theories may play into furthering identity politics, but it will do little to build bridges between social groups or counteract polarization in American culture.

And it’s not just pundits who apparently think this way. This type of divisive commentary may reflect broader trends within American society. Columnist and religion writer Jonathan Merritt reported as much in The Atlantic in March 2016. Various statistics show conservative Christians are increasingly viewed as “extremists” for affirming the basic tenets of their faith.

“If most Americans would apply the same descriptor to ISIS militiamen and soup kitchen volunteers who believe it is their duty to convert non-believers, something is amiss,” Merritt notes.

More recent data back up these troubling findings. In statistics released on February 15, Pew Research Center demonstrated that feelings toward all religious groups except for Evangelical Christians improved in America over the last three years. Pew also found that younger Americans viewed Evangelicals relatively less favorably. Religiously unaffiliated Americans gave their lowest favorability rating to Evangelicals.

No wonder Evangelicals most frequently chose the words “misunderstood,” “persecuted,” and “marginalized” to describe how they felt in contemporary society in a survey conducted by the Barna Group.

But Evangelicals must not use these sentiments as an excuse to retreat. Jesus Christ warned his followers that being misunderstood and persecuted would be the norm rather than the exception. Yet He still commissioned them to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Although it may be tempting to despair, Evangelicals should not view these trends as a reason to withdraw from society. Rather, opposition should spur true Christians to rise to the challenge of demonstrating a social witness that is simultaneously clear, winsome, and orthodox.

6 Responses to No, Evangelicals Are NOT “The American Taliban”

  1. Tim Rymel says:

    JC Weatherby’s blog, The American Taliban, was not written to dissuade overzealous Christians. As he said, “[These extremists] alone understand ‘truth,’ that everyone else is ‘ungodly’ and in need of ‘redemption,’ as they see it; by being ‘born again,’ and baptized, and accepting their world view. This self-righteous arrogant presumption is at the root of all religious extremism.”

    While any self-respecting Evangelical Christian would take pause, with self-reflection, asking why the world sees him or her this way, reasoning with extremists is impossible. When the religious right began inserting their Christian theology into politics, Barry Goldwater said, “But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise.”

    I, too, was an evangelical minister for 25 years. Born and raised in it. But science and facts defy fundamentalist theology. Either God is wrong, or Biblical interpretation is used to unjustly condemn and discriminate against multitudes of people who just act like human beings.

    We don’t need “true Christians” to rise up. Every religious person believes they hold “the truth.” That’s the problem! We need people to practice humility by asking more questions and speaking less “truth.”

  2. Aaron Walton says:

    Actually the Evangelical movement has far more in common with the terrorists of Islam than you are willing to admi. Think of all the homosexual hate crimes have been committed by Evangelicals. Look at Dylan Roof the racist Evangelical who killed so many black people. In fact, you fail to realize that most acts of terrorism in the US since 9/11 were commited by Evangelicals you just use other terms than terrorism. You call them mass shootings and ignore them. Look at Westboro Baptist Church, look at abortion clinic bombers and look at the Evangelical groups that promote killing gays and punishing them, which is something ISIL actually encourages. Religion doesn’t breed love it breeds hate because it’s followers twist the rules of their beliefs to fit the mold of what they want. Christians, just like Muslims, pick and choose out of their holy book. Christians are against gays because it says its a sin, but in the same book it is also a sin to eat pork and shellfish and to wear mixed fabrics, be around a woman on her menstrual cycle and tons of other things that Chistians do which are condemned just as much as homosexuality. The common defense is well in the New Testament Jesus changes things. The problem comes with the fact it’s Paul not Jesus who condemns homosexuality. Just like its Paul not Jesus who says it’s ok to eat “God’s” forbidden foods like pork and shellfish and many other things.

  3. Shannon says:

    80% of American Evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, a walking disaster of a president who’s about as Christian in his behavior as a Vegas strip club. Wait, scratch that, I know a great many strip clubs which display greater compassion than this President.

    You continued to support President Bush after he lied the nation into a war which cost the lives of 5,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis, because he promised to do something about all those nasty gays getting married. That’s a body count the Taliban would be envious of.

    When Obama brought in the Affordable Care Act, you did everything you did to quash it, because getting rid of Obama was more important to you than saving lives.

    You shoot abortion doctors, bash gays and muslims, and promote discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

    The name is a perfect fit. The American Taliban is exactly what you are.

  4. Beyo says:

    Yes they are, like it or not

  5. David Lee says:

    I am a Christan. And I am saying Evangelical Christians are terrorists. Their wish to use political power to impose their view of what Christian life should be, on other people in America, is no different than what ISIS was trying to accomplish. Evangelical Christian betrays Jesus’ teachings. Evangelical Christians are evil.

  6. Mike S says:

    Faith is believing something with no evidence. If you care about whether something is really true, you do not suspend critical thinking to accept ideas not supported by evidence. That being said, I support Evangelical’s right to believe whatever they want. My problem is when they try to force their beliefs on others in their mistaken, arrogant belief that they hold some truth that is evading everyone else! They claim they are being discriminated against when it is in fact they who want to discriminate against anyone who does not agree with their worldview by taking over our democratic republic! The “Greatest Generation” fought similar methods in 1941! I fear that 2020 is the last chance for sane minds to preserve democracy and separation of church and state in the United States! Freedom and liberty as guaranteed in the constitution seem to be under fire again and I sincerely hope we can prevail against this attempt to corrupt our great experiment in democracy!

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