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Evangelicalism and the Legacy of Uncle George
*Disclaimer: Knowing full well that the term “Evangelicalism” is as useless as a square tire, I have chosen to use it anyway. To the media, it means “Red States”; to the liberal mainline religionists, it means bigots; to conservative Anglicans, Lutherans, and Catholics, it means Baptist-adjacent. Admitting that the term should be abandoned forthwith in favor of a better descriptor but absent a preferred moniker, I go forth with a broad brushing, painting with wild abandon.
Growing up in a house he did not build and eating from vines he did not plant, it is the temptation of a privileged child to confuse blessings with birthrights. His sense of entitlement is often only matched by his naïveté. He thinks that the world renders up prosperity the same way his family’s chef serves up Sunday brunch—on schedule, with no fuss, and with a deferential nod thanking him for the privilege. He seems blissfully unaware that his father and mother labored long and led tortured lives in order to secure his present status.
Evangelicalism was born on a farm built by his grandparents—Renaissance and Reformation—with liberty and prosperity abounding as far as the eye could see. Unfortunately they passed on before he got a chance to get to know them and learn the family business. Despising the wisdom of his elders, he has never learned how to properly maintain the estate, much less expand the territory. He is the man in the parable who buried his talent. Except in this case he thinks that the talent is a seat cushion and that it was made specifically for his derriere.
Evangelicalism is not technically a child anymore but you certainly couldn’t prove that by his behavior. He’s a toddler when it comes to piety and a teenager when it comes to culture. Take prayer for example. His forbearers gave him prayer as a precious gift. He opened their present and sulked as though they had bequeathed to him an old pair of socks. He quickly threw it to the side. It wasn’t novel or exciting. There was no rattle or hum. It bored him. He was happy to just bury it in his closet. He could always dig it out and set it out on the coffee table if pious relatives came to visit. After all, why leave prayer in the closet if you can impress people with it?
Just like a rebellious teen, it’s fits, tantrums, and ten kinds of unholy hell if you tell him that he can’t wave his prayers around in public. This is typical brat behavior. Evangelicals bend themselves into pretzels over prayer in schools, prayer at national events, prayer in the public square, and prayer in the market place, but woe betide if you suggest that they have more prayers at home and as a part of their Sunday worship services. They don’t actually give a hoot about prayer, they just don’t want anyone else playing with it. It’s like a two-year old who doesn’t want a thing until someone else gets their hands on it. Toddlers and teenagers…
Another example of Evangelicalism's immaturity is his relationship to the Ten Commandments. Perhaps I should say the statues of the Ten Commands since he really has little interest in the actual statutes. He wants the Decalogue displayed everywhere from courthouses to lemonade stands. But suggest to him that he should actually “remember the Sabbath” and he is quick to inform you that he is "not under law” in typical “your're-not-the-boss-of-me” fashion. Now his true motive has come to light; he really just believes that the commandments make better lawn ornaments than pink flamingos. Evangelicalism doesn’t think them valuable apart from the fact that they are 'vintage.' Vintage is hip. It’s as cool as the other side of the pillow. Retro-religion is the new tie dye.
Given such a mindset, those statues of the Ten Words become little more than graven images which forbid the same. But that is no matter. They are obsolete after all. This being the case, I really don't understand the furor when they are carted off the Federal lawn. For the adolescent Evangelical, they are the moral equivalent of shag carpet from 1973.
It is for reasons like these that Evangelicalism is taking a beating. Rods for the backs of fools. But it is my hope that at some point in the near future he will find himself flipping through the family album and will be suddenly overcome with a heavy sense of obligation. His great-grandfather, George, slew dragons. Great-uncle Constantine ordered an empire around the cross. There’s a nice photo of his grandparents inventing the modern world. What a heritage! Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas—men whose minds shaped the face of history—these and hundreds like them fill the gallery. Hopefully, Evangelicalism will soon realize that his portrait will eventually be glued there too. Does he want to be remembered as the one who sold the farm? Will his picture be the last one in the album—the tragic end? Or will he finally become a man and put away childish things?
There is no shortage of dragons. The sword of St. George is waiting, well-rested, atop the mantle. But it only fits the hand of a fit man. First, one must grow up.
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