Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Prayer Breakfast Kerfuffle is about Fundamentalism

Ed Kilgore digs into the intra-Christian conflict behind the controversy over President Obama's prayer breakfast remarks on Talking Points Memo.

But beyond the context of Christian-Islamic rivalry and comparative assessments of religious violence, Obama was also quietly but forcefully continuing an intra-Christian argument over clarity of God’s Will and whether those who assert they know it in detail are exhibiting faithful obedience or arrogant self-righteousness.

For Obama, as for many liberal Protestants, the “fear of God” connotes not only tolerance of other believers (and nonbelievers), but separation of church and state, which he treats as a practical application of the Golden Rule. And that, more than the specific challenge of how to speak about Islamic terrorists, enrages many conservative Christians, both “traditionalist” Catholics and evangelical Protestants.

In this respect Obama is, consciously or unconsciously, standing in for liberal Americans—or to some extent, though the overlap is not total, “mainline” Protestants or “modern” Catholics—who do not subscribe to biblical inerrancy, spiritual exclusivity, or the sense that Christians are a besieged or even persecuted community marked by conservative cultural commitments that separate them from a wicked world. Such Christians are quite a large group, even though they are often ignored by secular observers who buy the idea that the only “authentic” Christians (or “Christian music,” or “Christian films”) are conservative. More than 26 million belong to the “mainline” Protestant denominations, and more than 60 percent of American Catholics favor some or a great deal of adjustment to tradition in accordance with “modern needs” (57 percent oppose church teachings on same-sex marriage, to cite one example of the “moral relativism” that involves). And after decades of hearing that liberal Christianity is dying, there’s actually fresh evidence that among millennials the much-discussed trend towards unbelief disguises an even sharper trend towards “moderate” positions among the majority that are believers.

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