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Falwell VS Carter

May 24, 2007

Tim rightfully points out some of Falwell’s more egregious statements and actions. I have no real interest in defending the man per se, I just think that the human is always more complex and interestng than the image. I’ll maintain that there are some statements I agree with loosely in principle, if not the tone and execution of it’s delivery. Others are repellent, in particular the Clinton Chronicles stuff. Others are laughable.

I find a lot of gradation in the examples provided. I hope you do too. I just don’t get too worked up over it. Maybe if I had been raised in it I would. Maybe if weren’t my politics I’d take more offense. I should try that.

The thing is I just don’t buy your argument. It’s not that he preaches that his politics are the God’s politics. They’re the wrong politics. That’s it. No need to get fancy about it. For you “God’s Politics” is essentially the Democratic platform with a pro-life outlook. And you’re not alone:

“I was teaching a Sunday school class two weeks ago,” he recalls. “A girl, she was about 16 years old from Panama City [Fla.], asked me about the differences between Democrats and Republicans.

“I asked her, ‘Are you for peace, or do you want more war?’ Then I asked her, ‘Do you favor government helping the rich, or should it seek to help the poorest members of society? Do you want to preserve the environment, or do you want to destroy it? Do you believe this nation should engage in torture, or should we condemn it? Do you think each child today should start life responsible for $28,000 in [federal government] debt, or do you think we should be fiscally responsible?’

“I told her that if she answered all of those questions, that she believed in peace, aiding the poor and weak, saving the environment, opposing torture … then I told her, ‘You should be a Democrat.'”

This is Jimmy Carter speaking, no preacher, just an ex-President of the United States, further burnishing his image as a gentle and open-minded man of faith. Who will speak against him?

(Thanks Assistant Village Idiot)

(Post slightly edited for stupidity.)

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim C. permalink
    May 24, 2007 7:55 pm

    “The thing is I just don’t buy your argument. It’s not that he preaches that his politics are the God’s politics. They’re the wrong politics. That’s it. No need to get fancy about it. For you “God’s Politics” is essentially the Democratic platform with a pro-life outlook….”

    Hmmm. I really honestly don’t feel that way.
    My politics are my best approximation of what I see as wise and just now, but I do not claim I will think so next month or next year. Nor are those who hold other positions without question acting invalidly or unchristian.

    And I still think the offense of Fallwell was not simply from some of the crazy a-biblical or anti-biblical positions he took on say Aids as God’s divine punishment, or Tinky-Winki’s sexual orientation…but that he held so firmly that there was ONLY one valid Christian position and therefore Party for Christians.

    (Something I could get you various quotes showing that neither Wallis, nor Campollo nor Carter believes)

  2. May 25, 2007 8:46 am

    Thanks for the hat tip.
    This isn’t actually one of my most frequent topics to write about, but after 800 posts even the things one mentions occasionally start to collect. On Wallis, Campolo, and the Religious Left in general I have posted here: http://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com/2006/12/not-good-enough.html , http://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com/2006/11/why-jim-wallis-is-still-dangerous.html , and here: http://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com/2006/11/bsking-and-terri.html . The last link, additionally links to previous comments as well.
    I have not followed the discussion with Tim C, so I don’t know if the accusation against him is just. His second paragraph, above, is certainly a reasonable defense and explanation, so I will assume that he is indeed a reasonable person.
    I would like to make a distinction that applies in both directions politically: People say when you pin them down that they are not claiming that “this way is God’s way.” Folks recognise that this is spiritually arrogant, and when confronted with the question cold like that, will deny that they are insisting that this is God’s only possible way. They will hedge, set up false dichotomies, skillfully reframe the question back to the asker, etc. When you push a Falwell or a Robertson, a Wallis or a Campolo, they will of course say that they don’t believe that. Thus, you don’t have to send the quotes along – I believe they are legit.
    If you let people talk long enough, however, they will say what they really mean. The links above give ample evidence that Wallis and Carter do precisely mean that they believe their way is God’s way. Campolo much less so. I believe that Tony Campolo has Christianity as a religion, of which he believes that liberal politics is the natural outgrowth. Wallis, however, I must suspect of having liberalism as his actual religion, which he couches in Christian terminaolgy to deceive himself.
    Similar charges have been levelled against Falwell and others, I think with some justice. While he steps back from saying “my politics are God’s politics,” many of his comments would suggest that he comes durn close to thinking so.
    The religious left, which comes from an Arts & Humanities tribal background, often phrases things in ways that do not appear at first to be making such dramatic claims – they have a social grace and understatement that can throw one off. You often have to have been on the Religious Left, as I was for years, before you can pick up the full weight of how condemning they are of those who disagree with them. It has gotten easier over the years, as I think they have become angrier and less subtle.
    There are further distinctions which are worth entertaining when listening to figures from both the Religious Right and Religious Left. These are often more elusive and ambiguous, however, and our conclusions must be more tentative. None of us is ever entirely pure in motive – we should also not expect that because we have identified an ill motive in our opponents that we have found the “real” one, and claimed good motives are no operative.
    My experience is that the Religious Left overreads and overinterprets the statements of their opponents frequently, believing that they know the real truth underneath the seet words. “Falwell hates gays,” for example, usually boils down to much milder things that he has said, which folks claim “are the same thing.” When kicking the Religious Left, I try to be as content-driven as possible, pointing out the actual meaning of what is set and its clear derivatives. I try not to reach further unless I have a lot of evidence backing up at a particular spot, at which point I might risk more speculation.
    For example, I have concluded over time that Some on the religious left are defending their cultural tribal affiliation more than the faith. Not that they have no Christian faith, or that it has no influence, but that their cultural and social views have absorbed their faith more than the other way around. The tribe, as I suggested above, is called Arts & Humanites, and its values are often stronger in the heart than the faith itself.
    Similar accusations might be made against the Religious Right, and I don’t deny it. I think it is more of a fringe phenomenon on the right, however, while it is culturally central on the left, particularly among mainstream clergy, national boards, seminaries, and publishing houses.

  3. May 25, 2007 10:46 am

    Er… but what about this quote, which is quite recent?

    I do want to add, heartily so, that advocating any political party as the “party of God”. For that matter, advocating any political position (what we are to do in the world) is a troubling and complicated business. There are no perfect solutions to our troubles in this fallen world. It’s all triage.

    That said, I think you are honestly fooling youself if you think that Wallis or Carter in particular do not reject the Repulican party, if not conservative values, as explicitly unchristian. The stop short of naming the Democrats as God’s party- largely due to fear of being seen as a lefty Falwell- but that’s the underlying message. If you have to pick a party, pick Democrat.

    I would be interested in how you and others here disagree with the premises of Carter’s questions. They seem like a perfectly good formulation of your rationale for voting Democrat(ic).

    Usually I don’t like to hold up someone’s worst against someone else’s best. In this case however, Carter is one of your best (formerly mine as a young Christian) against one of “my” worst. And rest assured, although I cannot say I have negative feelings for the man, Falwell has had zero direct inflence on my politics or faith. The contrarian in me like to point out that he may have had positive indirect influence in terms of getting Christians out of their quietist ghetto into to the political realm, especially in terms of being agressively pro-life- a debt to which we both owe him. Call it a “generous orthodoxy” but their is probably much we could agree on theologically while disagreeing in the particulars of implementation and rhetoric.

  4. May 25, 2007 12:27 pm

    I like Tony Campolo. Me usually makes an effort to understand those who do not agree with him. However, I have heard him on more than one occasion bash the religious right for claiming to speak on God’s behalf, and then minutes later start speaking on God’s behalf with the views of the religious left.

    I don’t see a solution to this dilemma. We are all body parts. None of us are the complete body of Christ. I think most of us can tolerate conflicting viewpoints from brothers in Christ, but we get hyper-passionate when one group uses government to impose it’s will on the other group when we are the other group.

    Good to see AVI join the discussion with some great input.

  5. May 25, 2007 4:34 pm

    Sorry to disappoint you, Count. I’m not of Romanian descent. I have two adopted sons from Romania (Adrian Ionut is now John-Adrian and Dorel Cristian is now Christian Andrew – their Romanian surname had been Parcalab) who came here six years ago today, when they were 16 and 14. I have been to Romania 5 times, 1-2 weeks each. So I’m rather honorary as a Transilvanian.

    Yes, Carter and Wallis would say that the Republican Party is something opposite of Christian, I think, or less-than-Christian at best, and regard Democrats as “mostly Christian” in their values. Campolo would fare a bit better, but he still gets carried away with being so against the Religious Right that he loses sight of what he’s for.

    I consider margin vs. mainstream to be the heart of the Religious left-right argument. You can certainly find many on the Right who will make outrageous claims of how God’s views are close to their own. There may be places where such extreme views are mainstream – there are certainly entire congregations which would qualify for that criticism. But such extremity is generally a marginal phenomenon. Because views are along a continuum, both the supporters and the opponents will exaggerate the size of this group. Because 80% of evangelicals believe A, and a similar amount B, folks will reason that they believe C,D, E…L,M,N… when it is actually only about 20% out there.

    The Religious Left, OTOH, is firmly in control of the missions and seminary purse strings in our major denominations, and are often so eager to prove they are not right-wing that they explode left. They are generally socialist and pacifist in outlook, attributing those beliefs to their Christianity. I believe that is only partly true – usually less than half. For those interested, I develop that more completely at the links above.

  6. Tim C. permalink
    May 25, 2007 4:50 pm

    Links above are all “page not found…”

  7. May 25, 2007 10:36 pm

    AVI- I fixed the links above. Commas and periods too close. I knew you had been to Romania a lot, why I assumed you were Romanian too, I can’t remember. All I know is you always seem to be discussing stuff I’m interested in when I’m visit. For some reason I thought you had a post about visiting “the Grecu’s” too along time ago. Can’t find it now.

  8. Tim C. permalink
    May 27, 2007 6:13 pm

    Hi AV:

    Correct me if I missed something but in this post:

    http://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com/2006/12/not-good-enough.html

    It doesn’t show the “religious left” as claiming to be infallibly speaking for God…except when they rightly call that God’s mandates are for Christians to be peacemakers and help the poor… And it would be hard to deny those as key parts of Christ’s message. They (wallis, campolo, sider, sine) then do add their own views as to what is the most wise way to make peace and to help the poor. But I think they make a pretty clean distinction between one and the other.

    Similairly the UK Bishops in your link do not declare to be speaking directly for God, but are offering their view that the stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons to be immoral and contrary to Just War Theory, and argument that is a strong one.

    And shouldn’t that be how we as Christians work that out? Start with the clear mandates of Scripture and then state your views on how to best follow those mandates…and then hash out with other Christians as to what is best?

    This link…
    http://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com/2006/11/bsking-and-terri.html

    …seems to criticize Wallis for not better responding to critics, and for selectively over stressing some scripture and not stressing others… I’d say that for such a strong criticism of a another Christian I’d expect you to include some actual examples of him doing so in the posting…but either way it doesn’t seem to be talking about the subject at hand.

    And here http://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com/2006/11/why-jim-wallis-is-still-dangerous.html

    This seems to be the main offensive sentence:

    “When Jesus tells us he will regard the way we treat the hungry, the homeless, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner as if we were treating him that way, it likely means he wouldn’t think capital gains tax cuts for the wealthy and food stamp cuts for the poor represent the best domestic policy.”

    Isn’t Jim doing the same thing I just mentioned above: being clear about clear Jesus statements in Matt 21, and then offering his opinion (see his use of the key word “likely” not “definitely”) on how that plays out in today’s political contexts.

    And I’d think we’d both agree, there IS a morality behind choices in tax codes, so bringing a moral discussion into the tax discussion is entirely valid.

    I think if Falwell had just used the words like “likely” and “perhaps” and “maybe” in some of his pronouncements…and really believed that possibly his interpretation was not the only valid one and could be wrong…then that would have made a world of difference.

    Dave asked about what folks think about Carter’s statement:

    “I told her that if she answered all of those questions, that she believed in peace, aiding the poor and weak, saving the environment, opposing torture … then I told her, ‘You should be a Democrat.'”

    First, I do think Carter — in an oversimplified way you might choose talk to a 16 year old first trying to understand political parties beliefs — correctly states that valuing peacemaking, concern for the poor, concern for the environment, concern for human rights and fiscal responsibility ARE progressive values. And he’s right: a 16 year old who held those values would feel at home in the Democratic Party.

    I think the offense comes from the implication that Carter is saying that modern Republicans as a whole are indifferent to the poor, indifferent to the state of the environment, pro-torture, and are not fiscally irresponsible.

    Certainly this is not true of Republicans as a whole. But I can say, many Republicans and conservatives themselves feel the Party under the current Administration has lost it’s way on exactly those issues and is in need of reform.

    Fiscal Irresponsibility is the most obvious and least controversial one of the bunch. But look at the applause that the recent Republican candidates got on basically a hypothetical use of torture or at least “extended interrogation techniques” vs. the crickets that John McCain got when he denounced the use of torture. Or look at Christine Todd Whitman quiting Bush’s EPA in frustration… http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=3695
    And I have a hard time naming a major GOP candidate since Jack Kemp who put poverty relief as a top tier issue of their campaign.

    I would be the happiest person in the world to see the Republicans respond more seriously to these issues, even if they did so with “conservative” solutions to these problems. Great, the more possible solutions the better.

  9. June 12, 2007 6:34 am

    Sorry to have taken so long, and I may have missed you, Tim C. My fault.

    I have to disagree that these members of the religious left are not claiming to speak for God. They do it artfully, but it is foundational to their statements. To say that Jesus is for peacemaking, then sliding quickly into the false equivalence that peacemaking = not going to war, is to beg the question. They are saying, in effect, “you can fill in the details how you like – we wouldn’t dream of speaking for God – once you have signed on to our basic premise.” But it is the basic premise that is in question.

    Similarly, on poverty. Conservative policies have resulted in more people having jobs and fewer people being poor. That has to count for something. If Democrats are going to define “being concerned about the poor” as being something roughly equivalent to the governmental intervention and support programs they favor, then they are simply arguing in a circle.

    You seem to be drawing equivalences at a very basic level that I think should be questioned. What seems self-evident to you about the basics of helping the poor, making peace, etc I find to be a superficial understanding of the Gospel. Not that you yourself are superficial in your understanding of the Gospel – we all have places where we don’t think much about our assumptions and just carry on with things others in the faith have handed us. I’m always finding new things in myself that way. But the core idea of what constitutes justice, generosity, kindness, etc, seems to be drawn as much from the sort of marxism lite of 20th C intellectuals as from historical Christianity.

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