June 10, 2021


Taking Evangelical Christians Beyond the Partisan Divide (MAGGIE PHILLIPS, JUNE 10, 2021, Tablet Magazine)

In Romans 12:2, Paul urges his readers, "Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect." It's a message intended for a community of early Christians in a specific time and place who were confronting a set of issues unique to them. However, it has resonated through the ages for believers in Jesus Christ the world over.

Its plea for detachment from the grubbiness of secular life has been taken up again by David French: senior editor of The Dispatch, Harvard-educated lawyer and First Amendment advocate, one-time almost third party presidential candidate, and believing evangelical Christian. In late 2019, he started the faith-focused Sunday edition of his three-times-weekly Dispatch newsletter The French Press, which typically covers (among other topics) politics and law.

Despite its bright play on words, French says The French Press has an "urgent mission" to "get people to shed partisan identity as part of their religious identity." He calls this political identity "the partisan mind," and he is the voice of one calling in the wilderness, urging increased understanding between various interest groups, together with the disentanglement of what is "good, pleasing, and perfect" from the temporal pettiness of politics--regardless of who sits behind the Resolute desk. [...]

French asserts that what he calls the evangelical "siege mentality" prevents many from appreciating the strength and reach of their own institutions, even as, he says, they tell him that "the left controls every major institution."

To which French replies: "It doesn't control the Southern Baptist Convention. And I guarantee you, the Southern Baptist Convention--on a day-to-day basis--reaches far more people with a far more sustained, prolonged moral instruction than many of the most potent institutions on the secular left. And that's just one denomination."

At the same time, many secular Americans or non-evangelicals tend to view this bloc as a monolith, when in fact there's just as much internecine conflict as any political or religious group in the country.

On the one hand, French is hopeful that non-evangelicals will find this cultural fractiousness relatable, a sort of, "evangelicals--they're just like us!" realization. On the other hand, evangelical-skeptic readers may take comfort from his honest portrayal of the flaws and shortcomings within the world of white evangelicalism, in which he says there are emerging signs of change. Among them, he describes "discontent with the extreme devotion to Trump," as well as a discontentment "with reflexive dismissals of racial critiques of the church."

French says this inchoate, roots-level discontentment among his fellow evangelicals has yet to coalesce around a single denomination or movement (although he cites Russell Moore and Beth Moore--no relation, and lately of the Southern Baptist Convention--as popular, high-visibility critics of evangelicalism in the immediate post-Trump era). That isn't to say, however, that an identifiable movement of religious conservatives dissatisfied with the status quo hasn't emerged.

It has--in opposition to David French.

For some of his fellow conservatives, as well as Christians of various denominations, French isn't the voice calling in the wilderness, but the call coming from inside the house. His denunciation of Trump's character, together with his preference for persuasion and 20th-century conservative, small-government solutions, and his commitment to First Amendment neutrality, have earned him detractors. Perhaps most notably, he's attracted critics like New York Post op-ed editor Sohrab Amari, who favors a gloves-off approach to the culture war, and promotes a social conservatism ready to counter by virtually any means necessary what he perceives to be existential threats to a way of life. In the most malign critiques, to those in and around the Ahmari camp, "French-ism" actively enables the destruction of the nuclear family and the wisdom of centuries of tradition.

Nearly two years after his high-profile college campus debates with Ahmari about the future of social conservatism, French forges on through the virtual Nineveh of American political and religious discourse, steadfastly proclaiming his message of reconciliation through understanding. With regard to the tone of The French Press, its author says he finds transparency is key. His goal is to describe issues within white evangelicalism as dispassionately as possible, drawing upon lifelong experience both as an insider and insights gleaned from his career as a religious liberty lawyer. But he'll also tell readers why, in his opinion, satanic pregnancies as a concept are problematic.

Posted by at June 10, 2021 7:54 AM