Political and social positions commonly held by Evangelical Christians in the United States do not match with Biblical teaching, according to an upcoming book by noted liberal author and pastor Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.
Wilson-Hartgrove is a prolific author known for The Third Reconstruction, Strangers at My Door, and God’s Economy. The progressive pastor was previously featured on this blog in an article referencing how some liberal Christians believe that Christianity itself is a tool of “white Christian privilege.” This theme appears several times in his new book, Revolution of Values: Reclaiming Public Faith for the Common Good, set for December release.
Wilson-Hartgrove cites examples past and present, wherein those he identifies as evangelical Christians support incorrect principles or institutions. He begins with historical examples, and then moves on to modern examples such as immigration, discrimination, feminism, environmentalism, and militarism.
The historical examples Wilson-Hartgrove chooses to include are strawmen at best: slavery and Jim Crow laws. No modern evangelical would defend these practices. However, Wilson-Hartgrove argues that it is with these institutions that the evangelical tradition of using the Bible to defend the indefensible began.
The author spends the majority of the book detailing various modern examples of how evangelical Christians seemingly do not live up to their Christian beliefs. The first modern example he chooses is immigration and border policy. Wilson-Hartgrove asserts that politically conservative Christians’ support for immigration law enforcement and strong border controls is a fundamental violation of Biblical commands to love neighbors and welcome strangers.
While he addresses some of the typical objections to his interpretation of the Bible in the book, he fails to understand the gravity of these points. The most important of these is the objection raised by Professor James Hoffmeier, who pointed out that the Hebrew word translated “stranger,” in those verses, always refers to someone who has permission to live there, and therefore cannot apply to an illegal immigrant. Though this is brought up in the book, Wilson-Hartgrove never addresses it beyond simply mentioning it.
Pivoting to discuss racial and ethnic discrimination, Wilson-Hartgrove discusses what he sees as discrimination against minorities by police officers. Though all Christians should soundly condemn racial and ethnic discrimination, Wilson-Hartgrove’s attempt to tie instances of discrimination to prominent evangelicals is tenuous. He invokes the names of prominent evangelical leaders, such as Jerry Falwell Sr. and Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham, but never satisfactorily ties them to discriminatory policies.
While he alleges that Falwell’s Liberty University is discriminatory in its admissions, Wilson-Hartgrove offers little evidence of this beyond attempting to discount Liberty University’s many African-American students as mere tokenism. Furthermore, Wilson-Hartgrove’s stated evidence for Franklin Graham’s support of discriminatory policies is a Facebook post in which Graham says, in part, “Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience. If a police officer tells you to stop, you stop.” Advocating respect for authority and obedience to police officers is not and should never be construed as a racist position. Wilson-Hartgrove’s attempts to tie prominent evangelical leaders to discriminatory policies fall flat and so does his allegation that evangelical Christians implicitly support racial or ethnic discrimination.
Wilson-Hartgrove then moves on to environmental issues and decries evangelical Christians for their resistance to Darwinian evolution and climate change. He berates Christians for not accepting these two pillars of modern Liberal thought, but fails to grasp why many Christians are so loath to agree to them. In the modern way it is taught in schools, Darwinian evolution is a rejection of God’s role in the creation of the world. It is important to note that many prominent Christians, including recent popes, allow for a narrative of evolution which includes God’s work in creating the world and the creatures in it. However, this is not the version currently affirmed in secular society. Climate change requires more unpacking than evolution.
In his book, Wilson-Hartgrove challenges politically conservative Christians for not fully agreeing with human-caused climate change. But, like many of his peers, Wilson-Hartgrove does not understand many of the fundamental problems with the ideology of climate change. Firstly, there is a major conflict of interest on the part of climate scientists. This is because they must find evidence of climate change in order to remain employed as climate scientists, and thus, climate scientists in the United States have an important incentive to find evidence for climate change. Secondly, some reports have already confirmed that climate scientists are not being completely candid in the gathering and reporting of data. It is not difficult to understand why many Christians are skeptical about climate change while many on the political Left are preoccupied with it.
The final issue that Wilson-Hartgrove brings up is the United States’ military. He writes that in the first half of the 20th century most evangelical Christians considered participation in the military sinful. During the Vietnam War, these positions reversed. Mainstream Protestantism broadly condemned the war and the soldiers fighting in it, while evangelicals supported the war as an effort to halt the spread of communism. This began a trend in which evangelicals became much more broadly supportive of the troops, while mainline Protestants increasingly distanced themselves from the military. The religious views of the troops and their chaplains followed suit. Additionally, this caused a confluence of Christianity with the military tradition in the wake of the Vietnam War as the shattered and demoralized soldiers began to rebuild their warrior tradition.
Wilson-Hartgrove holds views typical of mainline Protestantism in his fundamental discomfort with the application of military force. He even goes so far as to say, “The very existence of the just-war tradition suggests that war-making presents a real moral problem to people who follow the teachings of Jesus.” However, this quote misses the other side of the coin. The existence of a just war tradition in Christianity implies that while not all wars are justified, some wars are. (As an aside, Just War Theory has been covered extensively in Providence magazine, co-published by IRD.) Wilson-Hartgrove cites early church fathers, such as Tertullian, as support for his idea that all military service is morally wrong, while he ignores other important Church fathers, such as Augustine of Hippo, who believed that one could both serve in the Roman army and be a Christian. Wilson-Hartgrove’s critique of American militarism relies upon either willful ignorance of historic Christian doctrine, beyond romanticizing the early church, or a fundamental dislike for the military and military force used when necessary. Upon reading his latest book, I am led to believe it is the latter.
In all, Revolution of Values espouses liberal ideological tenets. Its only distinguishing feature is that it purports to do so from a Christian perspective while also attacking Christians who disagree with political progressives. By the end, the most serious critique one can make of Wilson-Hartgrove’s upcoming book is that it is intended for an audience of liberal Christians and is expected to reinforce already held beliefs. It leaves unaddressed solid reasons for conservative Christians’ views.Google+