While I don’t mean to just pick on the evangelical blogs, I cannot help myself on this one. So, please indulge me. In another post over at Pen and Parchment, another, umm, winning post leads off with this salvo:
Have you noticed it? Do you feel small? Do you feel inadequate to have opinions anymore? Do you feel a heavy hand upon your head? Do you feel demeaned, disenfranchised, demoted?
That is what it is beginning to feel like to be an Evangelical.
The post proceeds to then decry the “new elitism that is sweeping Christianity” in the form of all things characterized by words such as “emergent, post-colonialism, post-conservative, post-modern, post-fundamental, post-Christian, and the like.”
Now, I’m all for lambasting the emerging church. Hell, one of the most central things about being a hip, cool, cutting-edge Protestant Christian these days entails making fun of the emergent church. Today its far, far cooler to point out the goofiness of the whole emergent thing that to actually be part of it. But I digress. The author of the post in question, however, clearly isn’t trying to be cool. Rather he has a persecution complex.
Indeed, it seems that, in fact, being an evangelical is the hardest, most courageous thing possible in a country where the, ahem, President is a rabid evangelical (among being rabid about other things), and where there has never in history been a president who did not claim the label of “born-again Christian” (yeah, even Kennedy). But, no seriously, it’s hard to be an evangelical. You have to endure the persecution of not having your religion publicly taught by the government, of trying to figure out where to gas up your SUV, and oh, there’s the agony of biting one’s nails over the constant fear that maybe, just maybe, Hilary Clinton will get the nomination. Being an evangelical is hard. Seriously. It is. Yeah.
In contrast to the rather pedantic pontifications of these sorts of blogs, I really don’t see how it takes any courage whatsoever to be an evangelical in the United States today. You can be an evangelical and style yourself as whatever kind of person you want, lead whatever kind of life you want, spend money however you want, vote for whomever you want, and well, pretty much do anything however you want. One can legitimately claim to be an evangelical and create themselves in any way they wish. Evangelicalism is, by and large, a specter, not a substance; it is an echo, not an identity. Its infinitely plastic nature allows those who would claim that label to pretty much say and be whatever they want and feel totally justified in their evangelicalness. And yet it is touted as some noble vocation, some persecuted minority who is under some sort of massive repression. Maybe I’m beating my head against a wall here, but I still have to pause and wonder sometimes how a religious movement that has influence at all the highest levels of government, whose very ethos defines the whole American project can somehow come to see themselves as a persecuted minority.
What I think is most interesting is the way in which I think evangelicals actually know that this whole persecution complex they have is nothing more than a construct. Deep down I think they know that thier identity’s are self-constructions, that they are more American than Christian, and that they aren’t satisfied with the shallowness that attends so much of evangelical life. And this sort of deep-seated insecurity produces the kind of reflexive combativeness that is seen in the post quoted above. Suddenly it becomes absolutely necessary to slap down anything that might be a threat to the fragilely constructed edifice of evangelical identity. Even something as fragmentary, faddish, and, well, evangelical as the emergent church!