Welcome to Extremist-ville

foil hatA reasonable follow up question to my recent post on Rush Limbaugh and Jesus is: why the obvious lean towards being willing to be mistaken for right-wing nut jobs? Why not speak more even-handedly about being associated with left-wing nut jobs too?

Well in principle, that is of course true. We should be willing to stand with Jesus whatever the threat. If I stand up and say biblical principles require that nations have very lax immigration laws, and that we should grant amnesty to all illegal immigrants with no criminal records, I suppose there might be a few conservatives who give me a squinty look. If I suggest that our military has been grossly entangled in economic charades and treated other nations so unjustly and shed so much innocent blood that Christians ought to stay away and get out, I might get a few nationalistic shrieks and boos. What if I endorsed various plans to gradually reduce government spending, taxing, welfare, etc. while continuing benefits for the most at-risk demographics? I’m just an annoying luke warm moderate at the end of the day and not a real threat to anybody. I will receive no hate mail, no bomb threats. Yawn.

Another way to make this point is the fact that, Rahm Emanuel notwithstanding, there are no liberal retards. There are no left-wing nut jobs. There are only right-wing extremists. Now I know that there actually *are* some on the left, but they don’t get tarred and feathered in the media. They don’t get strung up and chased out of town with laughter nipping at their heels. Al Gore shouldn’t be given the time of day. Al Sharpton shouldn’t be anything but a loon. But instead they get time on CNN with people asking them serious questions. On the other hand, Sarah Palin is a complete goon. Ron Paul is a crazy old fart. If Kirk Cameron mentions that homosexuality is a sin, he gets trounced. If an ESPN correspondent is cornered on the air with the same question and politely shares his belief, he gets the red-faced, mouth agape, finger pointing chatter of the media monkeys. Anybody that has a real independent, vaguely biblically informed worldview is a complete nutcase buffoon. But now a guy with the last name Weiner comes along, whom heaven has laughed at previously for having an obsession with the member for which he was named, and now he’s running for mayor of New York City. Heh.

This is because there are no liberal clowns. You can be as inane as Anthony Weiner and have the name to go with it and still mount a campaign to run for mayor of New York City and be taken seriously.

All of this is to say that all the gravity, all the pressure is pushing the other way. Since we really aren’t partisan, we can just as easily say that Mark Sanford should have been laughed back to his South Carolina mansion for his adulterous stupidity. But you can tell which “right wing” guys are absolutely no threat to the liberal project because they get a pass. Why wasn’t he dismantled? Because he plays along. He has his pet issues, but he’s no real threat to the powers.

The other thing that I think we need to understand is the fact that so long as we are biblical when it comes to abortion and sexual morality, we are right wing morons to the establishment. It doesn’t matter if we don’t own guns, are highly suspicious about foreign entanglements, are cool with amnesty for illegal immigrants, and despise big business crapitalism. If we believe that life begins at conception and that sex is only to be enjoyed under the blessing of God in the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman, we are viewed as intellectual idiots.

What I’m seeing though (in some of our intellectual/reformed circles) is a slow moving tendency to down play the abortion and sexuality issues (without completely denying them) while running other issues up the flagpole (immigration, foreign business practices, war, etc). Of course I think Christians should stand for biblical morality on all these issues regardless of whether any party’s platform agrees. But thinking Christians also have to notice which way the current is pulling and lean against it. My post is obviously meant to lean toward the right. That’s not because right wing positions are all biblical. But because I’ve become convinced that it’s easier to fight right wing idolatries than left wing idolatries.

I’d rather duke it out over foreign policy and economics with people who are committed to basic Christian morals than join forces over labor laws in Indonesia with somebody who murders babies. As my dear baptist grandmother would say, that’s bassackwards.

Though my “let’s play fair” instincts have made me reluctant, I’ve become convinced that it takes more and more of an intellectual/moral backbone to stand for biblical positions on abortion and sexuality. Other positions held by the right may be unbiblical but are often at least held honestly. You have a much greater chance of talking to a person who unfortunately has a wrong headed view of the US military than you do when talking to a card carrying liberal robot. There are still going to be problems on the right, you’re still going to have people following in the crowd, giving thoughtless “correct answers”, but they have to put up with a lot more hatred to be there over time and the logic of their positions is likely to be far more biblical.

Now if you’ve got an awesome orphans and widows ministry, a sex trade rescue operation, or some kind of foreign aid ministry and you’re outspoken about biblical sexual morality and the life of the unborn, then more power to you. And Christians must be faithful in bringing grace to our hurting world in these ways. But as Louie Giglio found out, you’ll still get disinvited to the parties even if you’ve tried to avoid the hot button issues. That’s not good enough. And in the end, I think it’s a waste of time and effort and sends mixed signals to younger Christians. We must obey all that Jesus says. We must love our neighbors, care for the poor, preach the gospel, clothe the naked, be faithful to one wife, visit the prisoners, train up our children in the Lord, and feed our enemies. But lots of people want to “just do ministry” and not be political, but I’m afraid what that really means is that they don’t really want to take up their cross and follow Jesus. They don’t really want to be crucified for His sake, and they are out in waves that are carrying them down the beach far from where they began. And one day, they will wake up and not recognize the land around them, even though they were quoting Bible verses and going to church the whole time.

We need anchors, and the best anchors are heavy doses of biblical truth, especially the stuff that might actually get you in trouble. Nobody cares if you like helping orphans, but if you believe in spanking your children, headship and submission in a Christian marriage of one man and one woman, door to door evangelism, and think it should be illegal to flush little babies down the toilet, well my friend, welcome to extremist-ville. You’re a right-wing nut job. You are *that* guy. Now figure out how to be faithful to Jesus there.

  1. Matthew N. Petersen May 29

    “Now I know that there actually *are* some on the left, but they don’t get tarred and feathered in the media.”

    You evidently have never listened to Rush Limbaugh, or watched Fox News.

    “But now a guy with the last name Weiner comes along whom heaven has laughed at previously for having an obsession with the member for which he was named, and now he’s running for mayor of New York City. Heh.”

    Yeah, the right would never do anything like THAT. Colbert-Busch trounced in South Carolina.

    “The other thing that I think we need to understand is the fact that so long as we are biblical when it comes to abortion and sexual morality, we are right wing morons to the establishment.”

    Yeah. Of course. (Though you should admit that there really are lots of right-wing morons. Perhaps if you think we should lean right, you should oppose them more, since they are in your camp.)

    But you only tell half the story: As long as we are biblical when it comes to loving the neighbor, not lying about the environment, not worshiping America, not exploiting the poor and helpless, loving peace, not being stumps for individualist Capitalism, etc. we will come off as left wing morons to the right wing establishment.

    • Matthew Peterson, I don’t think Pastor Sumpter is trying to deny that liberals can get some bad conservative press. He makes that pretty clear. But, do you really fear getting labeled “progressive”? Do your worst nightmares consist of someone mislabeling you as one of those liberals? I submit, no. Pastor Sumpter is absolutely right. The media has been incredibly successful at stigmatizing conservatives. I have to admit that there’s been times in my political journey when I’ve shunned being dismissed as a conservative and have tried to cultivate a more “progressive” vibe.

      Also, as far as I can tell he tells the whole story. He says, “I’d rather duke it out over foreign policy and economics with people who are committed to basic Christian morals than join forces over labor laws in Indonesia with somebody who murders babies. As my dear baptist grandmother would say, that’s bassackwards.” He is clearly considering the biblical response to the other issues you mentioned, which supposedly gets you dismissed by the right wing establishment (not really a thing, by the way) as one of those “left wing morons.” However, he considers those issues to be subservient to murdering the unborn. Which is right on. So, my props go to Pastor Sumpter.

      Proverbs 26:4
      Proverbs 26:5

      • Matthew N. Petersen May 29

        Rob,

        Obviously, I do not.

        But it’s no secret that the Christ Church/Trinity Reformed community by and large does. Not, of course, of being *labeled* liberal, but of sounding like those evil liberals. Take, for instance, global warming, or gun control. Obama gives a speech that says nothing at all, and everyone at Christ Church starts freaking out because he’s coming to get our guns –even though he explicitly denied he was. When pressed, the answer is that he’s Liberal, and of course that’s his agenda. Likewise for global warming. How many people pass on articles from Fox News against Global Warming, without spending the 30 seconds of due diligence to realize that the article is actually a *lie*. And when I’ve called people on it, *not once* have they retracted the piece, and indeed, people say things like “[Global Warming] is an attempt to consolidate power and resources in order to impose an ideal on a society.”

        If those two instances aren’t examples of judging a view–and people who hold the view–based on the fear of sounding like a liberal, nothing is.

        We see the same sort of thing regarding the recent bond levy. People don’t just oppose it, they say that they would spend as much money as they have to in taxes to oppose it. How exactly is that charitable to the neighbor? (And I wonder, what if I had been in Moscow and publicly supported it?) And when (about three) people find the quote unreasonable, an elder at Christ Church finds it “curious” that people would find that stringent of an objection to the levy controversial. Again, if that isn’t unthinking, unlistening, opposition simply to the idea of liberalism, nothing is.

        That is to say: Yes, there are real evils on the left, and yes, we should work hard to not be ashamed by tarring tactics. And yes, exhortations against that are good. Huffpo’s jumping on Murdock, and attempt to shame Republicans who hold to a similar view is a good example of poor tactics from the left. And it is tempting to cave under that pressure. And we ought not. Horray for that part of the post.

        But: First, those exact same tactics are used on the right. And rather than associating ourselves with the tactic some of the time, we should avoid the tactic altogether. We should be willing to sound liberal when the liberals are right, and conservative when the conservatives are right. Boo for the post not addressing both sides.

        Second: We should *listen* to both, and we should not attack people who reach a different conclusion from us–as for instance, declaring from the pulpit that Obamacare must be resisted is. Boo for the post not addressing the *real* problem *at Christ Church and at Trinity Reformed* of refusing to listen to liberals, but instead stroking the community tendency.

        • Matthew N. Petersen May 31

          Reading over this the first section may sound like I’m ratting on people. That’s not the point, the point is that fear of sounding liberal is something that really does happen. It may be the case that nationally liberals can’t be extreme (though it’s also possible that only conservatives take radicals seriously.) But LOCALLY, at Christ Church and Trinity, only (and all) liberals can be extreme.

      • Matthew N. Petersen May 29

        I guess it’s also partly: There’s a difference between saying “I need to lean right to stand against X and Y” and saying “You need to lean right to stand against X and Y”. Sure, if he wants to lean right, fine. But it seems that as pastor, his authority extends to “Do not be conformed to the world, left or right.” For instance, some of my friends, strong Christians, would stand against several of the things in his last paragraph. Perhaps they are wrong, but the point is, they decided that the Scriptures do not require those things, and indeed, are against them. They may be mistaken, but it is very much overly simplistic to act as if they are just looking to be conformed to the world. They are looking to *not* be conformed to the world when it says wrong things.

  2. Jess R. Monnette May 29

    Great stuff Toby! Thanks!

  3. Justin Donathan May 29

    Really appreciate this article as well as the previous one you linked. I really wish you’d use a different word than “retard”/”retarded” though. Mentally Retarded is a technical term for a generalized mental disorder. To use it, or a derogatory variation of it, “retard,” to refer to people who are foolish or just stupid seems unkind to me. People who are close to mentally retarded folks flinch when they hear the medical description of their loved one used as an epithet or a slur for fools.

    • Dropped a few of them just for you, Justin. I left the first one though because Rahm Emanuel actually said it. I think the slur is a valid use of language, but I also grant that it can be rhetorically lazy. Cheers.

  4. Matthew N. Petersen May 29

    One more quick comment:

    “Nobody cares if you like helping orphans…”

    Well…if you were *political* about helping orphans, I think lots of people would care. I mean, suppose someone thought the best way to help orphans in Moscow was to support the recent bond levy. Or what if you thought that the most practicible way to medically help orphans in the US was to pass something like Obamacare.

    You don’t think there would be any blow-back against that? That you wouldn’t be labeled a stupid liberal?

    Indeed, you don’t think that labeling would be a poor cover for refusing to listen–that is, for refusing to think someone better than yourself?

    I’m all for being mistaken for a conservative when the liberals are wrong. But we need to be willing to be mistaken for a liberal when the conseervatives are wrong. Perhaps more importantly, we need to listen to the liberals, and hear them when they have good points.

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