If you’re tired of thinking about CT, evangelicals, and fundamentalists, read no further. But if you’re interested, it’s fascinating to look at the Christianity Today / Christian Post conflict in evangelical-fundamentalist terms.
A few days after Christianity Today issued a statement declaring Donald Trump unfit for office, the Christian Post (CP) declared war on Christianity Today (CT), labeling CT “elitist” for it’s opposition to Trump. The piece in the CP was written by Richard Land, CP’s founder. If you’re not familiar with that name, Richard Land was, for many years, the head of the Southern Baptist’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee, which is, essentially, the SBC’s political lobbying/policy arm.
Land was a vocal culture warrior throughout the 1990s and 2000s,
leading boycotts against Disney and others in various campaigns. Land exhibited a number of the fundamentalist traits we laid out in the CT v Trump podcast… propensity to declaring war (#1), “us vs them” mentality (#3), and, which ultimately brought him down, “echoes of racism” (#6). The SBC decided to move on from Land after 1) repeated accusations of plagiarism, and 2) racially insensitive comments made after the Trayvon Martin shooting. At the time the SBC was working to counter it’s own “echoes of racism," and didn’t need its most visible public voice adding to the problem.
Land was replaced at the SBC by Russell Moore, a social conservative who yet exhibits virtually none of the fundamentalist markers. While Land clearly falls on the Bob Jones fundamentalist side when it came to cultural engagement, Moore clearly falls on the Billy Graham evangelical side. He doesn’t declare war. He doesn’t speak of “us vs. them.” He sounds much more like Billy Graham than like Bob Jones Sr. But as we’ve mentioned, the SBC is a big tent that contains both BJ fundamentalists and BG evangelicals.
This became clear when Moore spoke up about the immorality of then-candidate Donald Trump. BG evangelicals applauded him, BJ fundamentalists declared war on him. And since both live inside the SBC, it was a mess. First, Donald Trump declared war on Moore, labeling him a “dark hearted” man. (For fun, listen to Holy Post Podcast episode #201, where we interview Moore a few days after he was attacked by Trump.)
Then, after Trump won the election, the fundamentalist elements of the SBC turned on Moore, with leading SBC fundamentalist voices like Robert Jeffress threatening to withhold money from the SBC if Moore wasn’t fired. Moore survived - just barely - as the SBC committed to continuing down a more welcoming - less combative - path.
Which leads us to Richard Land and the Christian Post. Land represented the old Bob Jones “let’s fight!” side of the SBC, whereas Moore represents a move in a more welcoming, Billy Graham direction. Christianity Today, founded by Graham, is more like Moore. The Christian Post, founded by Land, is more like, well, Land. So the tension between CT and CP mirrors the tension within the SBC between Moore and Land, between Jeffress and more welcoming voices. Is American evangelicalism more about fighting? Or about welcoming?
After 30 years of fighting (Moral Majority, Christian Coalition, James Dobson, etc.), there is a strong desire to open the doors and welcome in the world. But the old culture warriors still love a good fight. Hence the Christian Post (and Jeffress, and Dobson, and Fallwell Jr., etc.) declared war on Christianity Today.
I’m hoping, in the end, love wins. Since I've already read the end of the story, I'm pretty sure it does.