The _______?! He’s president?!?!?

Today I watched a clip of Back to the Future, one of my favorite movies. Specifically, the scene where Marty McFly travels to 1955 from 1985, and meets the 30 year-younger version of Doc Brown, the individual who had sent him to the past. Doc Brown asks him who is president in 1985, and when Marty replies that it’s Ronald Reagan, Doc Brown very famously replies, “Ronald Reagan? The actor?!” Indeed, in 1955, few would have thought that actor Ronald Reagan would eventually become president. In light of this, I thought it would be fun to do a similar exercise with other US presidents, regarding what they were doing 30 years prior to a given point in their presidency, and make similar statements. It’s funny how so many people were at one time at a place in life in which it would never have been obvious they were on that track. I’ve done my best to stick to round numbers whenever possible.

  • 1987, from 2017 – Donald Trump? The real estate guy?!
  • 1985, from 2015 – Barack Obama? The community organizer from New York Public Interest Research Group, leading the May Day initiative about NYC’s public transport?!
  • 1975, from 2005 – George W. Bush? The CIA Director’s son from Harvard Business School?!
  • 1965, from 1995 – Bill Clinton? The freshman class president at Georgetown?!
  • 1960, from 1990 – George Bush? The oil guy?!
  • 1950, from 1980 – Jimmy Carter? The submarine lieutenant in the Navy?!
  • 1945, from 1975 – Gerald Ford? The Staff Physical and Military Training Officer at the Naval Reserve Training Command?!
  • 1940, from 1970 – Richard Nixon? The litigation lawyer in California?!
  • 1935, from 1965 – Lyndon Johnson? The head of the Texas National Youth Administration?!
  • 1932, from 1962 – John F. Kennedy? That crazy Irish businessman’s teenage son?!
  • 1925, from 1955 – Dwight Eisenhower? The Army major?!
  • 1915, from 1945 – Harry Truman? The clerk at Kansas City National Bank?!
  • 1910, from 1940 – Franklin Roosevelt? The New York State Senate candidate?!
  • 1900, from 1930 – Herbert Hoover? The businessman in China?!
  • 1895, from 1925 – Calvin Coolidge? The law apprentice in Northampton, Massachusetts?!

Perspective.

Advertisements

Ranking the Super Bowls Since I Began Watching

Tonight will be the 23rd Super Bowl I will have watched since I was seven years ago, and, to the horror of most people who know me, I will be begrudgingly rooting for the New England Patriots to defeat the Atlanta Falcons. While I have no love for the New England Patriots, particularly the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick duo has kept the Steelers from going to the Super Bowl, first shockingly in 2002, then bitterly in 2005, and then in 2017, just a couple weeks ago, I nonetheless recognize it makes the Steelers look better, and given how they have dominated the Steelers for 15 years now, I’ve decided it makes logical sense to essentially root for them to have something to show for it, and, like it or not, Tom Brady is on the cusp of truly making history.

In spite of my being less than thrilled about this Super Bowl featuring the Patriots instead of the Steelers, I’ve realized I have witnessed some Super Bowls with terrible results and at the very least, this should be a good game. Thus, I thought it would be fun to rank the quality of Super Bowls that I’ve watched. I haven’t missed one since I started watching it in 1995. Below are my rankings, from #22, to #1. My rankings are based on a combination of some attempts to objectively evaluate the quality of games, with the games’ significance, or lack thereof, to me.

Poor – These games were just awful in every facet, with almost no redeeming value.

#22 – Super Bowl XXXV (2001) – Baltimore Ravens 34, New York Giants 7 – So much was wrong with this game. It was absolutely dominated by the hated Baltimore Ravens, who admittedly had among the greatest defenses of all time. They had one of the most subpar quarterbacks to ever win a Super Bowl. From almost the beginning of the game, it was never even close, and to have it dominated by my team’s most hated rival was less than ideal. And the MVP award was won by a guy who just a year before may have gotten away with murder. Combined with my trying to cope with 7th grade blues at the time, this was a very forgettable affair.

#21 – Super Bowl XLVIII (2014) – Seattle Seahawks 43, Denver Broncos 8 – So, SO much about this game didn’t live up to the hype. It was supposed to be a chance for Peyton Manning to win his second Super Bowl and go out on top. The matchup of Denver’s offense against Seattle’s defense was to be the ultimate unstoppable force versus immovable object matchup. Denver’s offense, quarterbacked by Peyton Manning and protected by a stellar offensive line, was filled with flashy passing targets such as Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas, and Andre Caldwell. Yet it ended up being horrifically lopsided. As I was hoping at least for a good game and especially for Peyton Manning to be able to go out on top, this was a disappointment.

#20 – Super Bowl XXIX (1995) – San Francisco 49ers 49, San Diego Chargers 26 – I was only seven years old at the time and don’t know why I even watched this. The Chargers had just pulled off one of the most improbable upsets in history, in which they bested my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game, causing me to sob in hysterics. I’m really surprised that game didn’t jade me from watching football forever, particularly since it was the first Steelers game I had watched from start to finish. I angrily rooted for the 49ers because of my bitterness, not realizing the thrashing they took made the Steelers look even worse than they already did. The only thing that prevents this from being the very worst on this list is that my mother cooked Stromboli that night, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

#19 – Super Bowl XXXVII (2003) – Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48, Oakland Raiders 21 – Oakland was favored in this game as their high-powered offense, marshaled by Rich Gannon, was considered especially stellar. The major storyline was Rich Gannon’s matchup with his former head coach Jon Gruden, who through the previous season was the Raiders’ head coach and was in his first season with Tampa Bay. Gruden’s knowledge of Gannon proved too much for Oakland to handle, and it was a blowout. A socially inept 9th grader, I believe I also mocked a girl at the party for being ignorant of the game. This game was not a keeper.

#18 – Super Bowl XXXIII (1999) – Denver Broncos 34, Atlanta Falcons 19 – In 5th grade at the time, I was in a bit of a daze, and to date, it’s been the only Super Bowl in which I was in and out of the living room through the entire game. It was the first time in seven seasons that the Steelers didn’t even make the playoffs, which was unheard of to my 11 year-old self, as I had begun watching football less than seven years before. It simply wasn’t the same. It was sad to look at the face of Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Reeves, who had lost multiple Super Bowls with John Elway at the helm, only to see him win two in a row with another team, the second time against Reeves. While it wasn’t exactly a blowout, there was never much doubt about the eventual winner. It was nice to see John Elway finish on top with two consecutive Super Bowl wins, but otherwise I pretended that entire postseason didn’t exist.

Fair – While not outright blowouts, they were not particularly close games, often with either one team totally dominating, or lots of miscues.

#17 – Super Bowl XXXI (1997) – Green Bay Packers 35, New England Patriots 21 – Few people realize the New England Patriots ever made it to the Super Bowl in the pre-Tom Brady era, yet this was a year in which the almost forgotten Drew Bledsoe led them to the big one. He was up against the young gunslinger Brett Favre (yes, Brett Favre was young once). While the Patriots kept it close at times, ultimately the Packers put the game away with Desmond Howard’s 99-yard kick return for a touchdown, at the time the longest play in Super Bowl history. As I was disappointed the Steelers didn’t return after losing the year before, the game had its good moments but was underwhelming.

#16 – Super Bowl L (2016) – Denver Broncos 24, Carolina Panthers 10 – In a span of two short years, the Broncos had transformed themselves from an offensive powerhouse to a stalwart defense, such that they were now the immovable object facing the unstoppable force of the Panthers’ offense. Peyton Manning was now showing signs of aging, and had even been sat in favor of Brock Osweiler for several games. Unfortunately, the game itself included poor performances by both offenses, multiple turnovers, and few flashy plays. While not announced, everyone effectively knew it was Peyton Manning’s final game, and it was nice to see him finish with a Super Bowl win.

#15 – Super Bowl XXX (1996) – Dallas Cowboys 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 17 – Ah, this game. My first time seeing the Steelers go to the Super Bowl. I was hyped up, truly believing they would win, in spite of the Cowboys having one of the greatest offensive lines in history, along with the famed triplets of Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, and Troy Aikman. I wore my Kmart-purchased Steelers uniform, with a statistics book in front of me. Although the Steelers kept it largely close, two phantom interceptions to Larry Brown proved too much. The second one, was particularly gut wrenching. The Steelers had forced a huge three-and-out against the Cowboys, which included a sack on Troy Aikman. It was now 1st and 10 on our own 32, with two timeouts left, trailing 20-17, with all the momentum in our favor. But it was not to be. A truly heartwrenching loss, I went to bed that night sobbing, and in retrospect, I’m glad I had no idea it would be ten long years of playoff hearbreaks and periods of mediocrity before I would see them finally win one for me. Let’s forget that one, shall we?

#14 – Super Bowl XLI (2007) – Indianapolis Colts 29, Chicago Bears 17 – Although this one started out looking like it would be a thriller, and the Bears led for some time, eventually Peyton Manning found his stride, and went on to win the MVP award. It was exciting to see Peyton Manning to finally win his first Super Bowl, but would have been nice to have a better second half.

#13 – Super Bowl XLV (2011) – Green Bay Packers 31, Pittsburgh Steelers 25 – With the Steelers appearing in their third Super Bowl in six years, in which they had won the previous two, I was much more relaxed about this than about their previous two. They were the underdogs, which didn’t bother me as much. This was a good thing, as the game started out looking like the Steelers would get routed, as there were Packers touchdowns right and left, an embarrassing pick six, and other terrible plays by the Steelers. Even when they started to come back, they shot themselves in the foot. They did have a nice bit of scoring towards the end, but unfortunately it turned out to be too little, too late. Aaron Rodgers was an absolute stud in that game, and I was by no means crushed by that loss. Still, given I was unemployed and had just moved to the DC area just a few weeks before, and was coming off severe disappointment in the dating arena, it sure would have been nice to have won that one.

Good – These ones had good back and forth, but didn’t QUITE have the big plays or legendary performances to put them at the next level.

#12 – Super Bowl XL (2006) – Truth be told, this one should be on the Fair list, or maybe even poor, but I simply had to have it higher because as a high school senior, I finally was able to witness my beloved Steelers win a Super Bowl, after over a decade of watching in hope. Unfortunately, this game was filled with penalties, though they were overblown, and three turnovers between the two teams, all three of which were sloppy, terrible red zone play by the Seahawks, multiple missed field goals by Seahawks kicker Josh Brown, and a complete Steelers inability to execute offensively in the first half. The Steelers, although they had played absolutely incredibly in the three playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl, looked absolutely flat. They were defined in this Super Bowl by their few and far between big plays, including a third and 28 conversion to get the ball to the 1, a Big Ben run to score their first touchdown, Willie Parker’s 75-yard touchdown run to set a Super Bowl record, and the first wide receiver to throw a touchdown in Super Bowl history. It was fantastic to send off Jerome Bettis with a Super Bowl win, but I wish my first witness to a Steelers championship had been a somewhat better game, but, it nonetheless added to an incredible senior year of high school I had.

#11 – Super Bowl XXXIX (2005) – New England Patriots 24, Philadelphia Eagles 21 – I have never rooted so hard for a Philadelphia team in my life, as I was bitter about the Patriots ending the Steelers’ 15-game winning streak for that year and ruining Roethlisberger’s otherwise dream rookie season. The storyline primarily involved the Patriots trying to match the Cowboys’ feat of winning three Super Bowls in four years, and the antics of the notorious prima donna Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens (TO). Scoring started slowly, with the teams playing neck and neck, but with the Patriots pulling away towards the end and the Eagles scoring their final touchdown too late in the game. The game isn’t higher due to Terrell Owens’ obnoxiousness, rumors of Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb playing sick, and the Steelers not being there. Ben Roethlisberger was in a great commercial, though.

#10 – Super Bowl XLVII (2013) – Baltimore Ravens 34, San Francisco 49ers 31 – As a Steelers fan, I hated my decision to root for the hated Ravens, but I selfishly wanted the Steelers to remain the only team with six Super Bowl wins, which the 49ers threatened. The Super Bowl storylines were the fact the head coaches were brothers, it was a chance for the Raven’s Ray Lewis to retire with a second Super Bowl ring, and the emergence of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (before his protests). While the Ravens dominated early, the 49ers mounted a comeback effort, which some conspiracy theorists argue was due to a blackout. The ending was thrilling. I hated seeing the Ravens win a Super Bowl, but at least it meant no more having to face Ray Lewis!

#9 – Super Bowl XLIV (2010) – New Orleans Saints 31, Indianapolis Colts 17 – This was the first Super Bowl in nearly two decades in which both #1 seeds made it. In fact, both teams were making bids for undefeated records late in the regular season, which was disappointing to see fall short. It was a matchup between Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, two juggernaut quarterbacks. There was plenty of great gameplay from both teams, and with the Colts trailing by seven late in the game, Saints cornerback Tracy Porter came up with a huge pick six to seal the deal. It was great to see what this meant to the city of New Orleans, less than five years removed from Hurricane Katrina.

#8 – Super Bowl XXXVIII (2004) – New England Patriots 32, Carolina Panthers 29 – I was in 10th grade during this Super Bowl, and this was when most of us fully came to the realization of ‘Oh my goodness, I hate the Patriots a lot.’ It began as one of the longest periods before the first score in a Super Bowl, but it came alive in the second half, with great plays by both teams. As the Patriots’ previous Super Bow, it ended on a clutch Adam Vinatieri field goal. The only reason this game is not on the Excellent list is because of a blunder that made the Patriots’ last drive easier.

Excellent – These games had tremendous gameplay by both teams, with very close finishes.

#7 – Super Bowl XLVI (2012) – New York Giants 21, New England Patriots 17 – This game had a cool storyline as it was a rematch of a Super Bowl four years before, with the same starting quarterbacks and the same head coaches. Though the Giants had pulled off a shocking upset four years before, most seemed to assume the Patriots would take them more seriously this time and exact revenge. With the Giants jumping out to a fast start, the Patriots came roaring back. As usual, the matchup featured an insane catch by a Giants wide receiver, a weird go-ahead touchdown by the Giants, and a thrilling Hail Mary that nearly was successful. It was a truly thrilling game, and add bonus points for Gisele’s tirade.

#6 – Super Bowl XLIX (2015) – New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24 – The Seahawks were favored to repeat as champions, and the game proved exciting. It appeared the favorite would seal the deal when they made an insane catch with less than 90 seconds remaining. However, a stellar interception by a rookie saved the day for the Patriots. It was a truly memorable Super Bowl, with Brady becoming a champion for the first time in a decade, and the Patriots turnaround that season had begun with the famed ‘We’re on to Cincinnati’ utterance.

#5 – Super Bowl XXXII (1998) – Denver Broncos 31, Green Bay Packers 24 – The Packers were heavily favored, by double digits in fact, to win a second consecutive Super Bowl. In 4th grade at the time, I rooted for the Broncos as I thought it would make the Steelers look better, who had lost to them in the AFC championship. It was a final chance for John Elway to win a Super Bowl. Brett Favre continuously hit his favorite target, running back Dorsey Levens. It became essentially clear the Broncos would win once John Elway energized the team with his helicopter run. When the Broncos won, they broke a 13-year streak of the NFC winning the Super Bowl. Game MVP Terrell Davis likewise had an outstanding game, WITH A MIGRAINE.

#4 – Super Bowl XXXVI (2002) – New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17 – It’s hard to believe there was a time when Tom Brady was a lovable underdog, but this game was just that. Having absolutely shocked the heavily favored Steelers in the AFC championship, they were heavy underdogs against the Rams’s high powered offense, known affectionately as the Greatest Show on Turf and run by Kurt Warner. However, the Patriots shockingly built a 14 point lead, which the Rams subsequently came back and tied. With the game tied and only a minute and a half left with the Pats deep in their own territory, John Madden infamously said Brady should take a knee; however, Brady efficiently drove them down the field and Adam Vinatieri sealed the deal with his inaugural Super Bowl-winning field goal. It was one for the ages, and sure made me feel better about the Steelers losing to New England.

Other Worldly – These games had top-notch play from both teams, close scores, big plays, and absolutely fantastic finishes.

#3 – Super Bowl XXXIV (2000) – St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16 – After the Houston Oilers had mediocrity throughout the 90s, they moved to Tennessee in 1997, and subsequently changed their name to the Titans in 1999, in which they reached a new level of play. Their playoff run had included the Music City Miracle, upending rookie budding superstar Peyton Manning, and a third victory over the 15-2 Jacksonville Jaguars. Their offense was led by speedster quarterback Steve McNair and running back Eddie George, and supplemented by receivers Derrick Mason, Frank Wycheck, and Kevin Dyson. The Rams high-powered offense was led by Kurt Warner, a grocery store clerk turned NFL quarterback, and included names such as running back Marshall Faulk, receivers Isaac Bruce, Az-Zahir Hakim, Ricky Proehl, and Torry Holt, and offensive lineman Orlando Pace. Though for a time the Rams appeared to have the game on ice, the Titans came roaring back, and with little time, McNair pulled an incredible scramble, and there was time for one more play. The Titans came only one yard short. Incredible gameplay by both quarterbacks, and unbelievable resilience made this game unforgettable.

#2 – Super Bowl XLII (2008) – New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14 – With the Patriots bidding for the first completely unbeaten season by a team since 1972, and their fourth Super Bowl win in seven years, they had attained a truly hated status at this point. A sophomore in college at the time, my dorm was seething with anti-Patriot sentiment, save two guys (bless their souls). The Patriots’ unstoppable offense had Tom Brady at quarterback and weapons such as Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker, Kyle Brady, and most notably, Randy Moss, who had become the most potent receiver in the league. The Giants, quarterbacked by Eli Manning, were a nitty-gritty team with a good defense (though not with great stats) strict disciplinary environment thanks to head coach Tom Coughlin. Although Brady threw a touchdown to Randy Moss with less than three minutes left to take a 14-10 lead, the Giants weren’t done yet. Manning pulled off a double miracle on the ensuing drive, in which eluded a sack from three Pats defenders, and receiver David Tyree outjumped Rodney Harrison to make a catch via his helmet. Plaxico Burress caught the ensuing touchdown. While Randy Moss almost caught a pass for a potential touchdown, the Giants held them. Goliath had fallen, and all was right with the world.

#1 – Super Bowl XLIII (2009) – Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23 – Big plays by both teams. Superstar power. Close finishes to both halves. You name it, this game had it. Kurt Warner, back from the football dead, ran his offense with Edgerrin James at running back, and receivers Steve Breaston, Anquan Boldin, Pitt alumnus Larry Fitzgerald. The Steelers, in contrast, had an historically great defense. Their line included Aaron Smith and Brett “Diesel” Keisel at defense end, Casey “Big Snack” Hampton at defensive tackle, the outside linebacker pass rushing tandem of Lamarr Woodley and James Harrison, inside linebackers Larry Foote, James Farrior, and Lawrence Timmons, a stellar cornerback quartet of Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden, William Gay, and Deshea Townsend, the hardest-hitting free safety in the league in Ryan Clark, and the super-human strong safety Troy Polamalu. At the end of the first half, with the Steelers in the lead 10-7, James Harrison brilliantly faked a blitz and dropped back into the endzone, intercepting a pass and returning it 100 yards for a touchdown, the longest play in Super Bowl in history. While the Steelers increased their lead to 20-7 and held that until about six minutes remained in the game, the Cardinals found new life and threw first a jump ball touchdown to Fitzgerald, then got a safety, and after getting the ball back, shocked all Steeler nation with a long touchdown catch and run by Fitzgerald. However, with two and a half minutes left, the Steelers weren’t done. The Steelers drove all the way from their own 12, and, with 35 seconds left, scored arguably the greatest touchdown catch in Super Bowl history. It was reviewed and upheld. The Steelers sealed the deal with a forced fumble. It was hands down the most satisfying Super Bowl I have ever watched, and I went to bed happier than I had in a long time. Troy Polamalu’s Coke commercial was a classic reboot of the famous Mean Joe commercial.

I hope you enjoyed this list, whether you agree or not. Here’s hoping the Super Bowl tonight will top all of these!

In Defense of #nevertrump

Among conservatives, those committed or resigned to voting for Donald Trump in November have been highly critical of the concept, which has resulted in each its own hashtag, known as #nevertrump, most commonly attacking it as disloyal, impractical, and even immoral. I would like to provide a defense of the choice many of us in the conservative camp have made to refrain from voting for Mr. Trump.

It goes without saying I view Hillary Clinton as a terrible choice for president, and have no plans to vote for her in a million years, a view which has proven to be shared by many of my friends in the progressive camp as well. She has demonstrated herself to be a thoroughly dishonest, unethical, and ruthless authoritarian. From a conservative perspective, her views on multiple social and religious liberty issues have proven particularly concerning, especially considering many of them frankly are clearly politically motivated. I am quite unnerved by her prospective presidency.

It would additionally be naïve to pretend that support for Trump, primarily among uneducated blue-collar middle-aged whites, was occurring completely in a vacuum. They have legitimate grievances regarding increased economic disenfranchisement that has left them behind in society, and given that I have now lived for over five years in a very white collar, highly educated area dominated by left wing politics, I can tell you from experience that the disparagement of the white working class and poor is quite widespread. Moreover, they have essentially become the only group of people in the current climate who can be mocked and humiliated in the media and in any discourse in progressive-dominated areas without the slightest fear of social, educational, or conversational repercussion. In that respect, I share their anger.

However, the rhetoric from some of the Trump-supporting contingent has been highly colorful, in some cases they have even, like David Barton, insinuated that Christians who don’t vote for him will be judged by God for it. I have outlined below my reasons why I do not buy this, and why I will not be voting for him come November.

The first reason is foremost; my Christian conscience simply does not allow me to cast a ballot for this man, because I am pro-life, and when I say that, I speak not only regarding the issue most commonly associated with the term, although that one is important, but regarding an ethic of life that seeks to foster human flourishing at any opportunity. A truly pro-life orientation takes into account many diverse situations in which human life must be fostered, and in so many respects, Mr. Trump fails miserably. He has voiced an avowedly pro-choice stance regarding the issue of abortion. He has made sweeping calls for bans on Muslims victims of the Iraqi and Syrian civil wars being admitted to the United States, essentially making mockery of one of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time, and comically oversimplifying the otherwise legitimate concerns regarding terrorist migration. He has stirred up the most vile manifestations of bigotry towards Hispanics. He has made multiple offensive comments towards blacks and trivialized their grievances towards law enforcement. These all point to a trend of a complete disregard for the concerns of other people, and exploitation of the latent hatred in the hearts of many of those within his support base. Even in spite of his incredibly shaky credentials on social issues, the fact that many still insist on voting for him for the sole reason that he MAY be better on those issues than Hillary. However, this mentality serves, frankly, as a scathing indictment of the current state of white evangelicalism in the United States, in that they prioritize their own pet moral issues without giving any consideration to the justice concerns of evangelicals of color, many of whom being otherwise quite conservative in their outlooks. Trump is exploiting the underlying hatreds found in the hearts of so many.

Secondly, I cannot support Trump because the conservative movement, which I hold dear, depends on rejection of this type of bigotry. Admittedly, we have spent decades stroking these types of bigotry and fear, but Trump has (hopefully) proven to be the culmination of it, and has become almost an outright parody of lowbrow conservatism. This type of conservatism must die, and must be replaced by a thoughtful conservatism understanding its roots in the thought of great intellectuals such as Edmund Burke and Alexis de Tocqueville that is rooted in notions of strong community, sensible tradition, and ordered liberty. Given his past statements, it is completely reasonable to assume Trump has no idea of the actual principles involved in being a conservative. When principles have been completely and utterly compromised, there is no reason, to be honest, to continue supporting a member of an entity. There is additionally merit for pro-lifers to consider longer term strategy of mobilizing candidates who are truly aligned with us in this arena.

Thirdly, I protest the contention that many have made that we have an obligation to vote for Trump, not matter how awful he is, simply because “we have to stop Hillary.” There comes a certain point in which one must ask the question, “How terrible can someone be and yet one is still justified in supporting them strictly because they are ‘the lesser of two evils.’?” If Adolph Hitler was running against Chairman Mao, would we nonetheless be obligated to vote for Hitler simply because he killed fewer people than Mao? As noted by Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, “When Christians face two clearly immoral options, we cannot rationalize a vote for immorality or injustice just because we deem the alternative to be worse. The Bible tells us we will be held accountable not only for the evil deeds we do but also when we “give approval to those who practice them” (Rom. 1:32).”

Fourthly and finally, I would like to respond to those who have condemned #nevertrump as a self-righteous movement. Some have even gone so far as to condemn Max Lucado and other Trump critics as like the Pharisees. I protest this as well. There comes a certain point in which someone has done and said such heinous things that critique is the response of any sane, morally conscious person. And to be frank, when I hear people bring up the Pharisee accusation, I am reminded of when Jesus spoke to the Pharisees and chided them for having neglected “the weightier matters of the law.” When people turn a blind eye to the demagoguery of people such as Trump, but then condemn as evil those who call him out for it, they are neglecting justice and mercy in favor of condemnation of mere (possible) name-calling. And on the subject of the Pharisees, Jesus called them out for hypocrisy, and on that front, it’s interesting to note how many evangelicals considered Bill Clinton unfit for office due to his sexual indiscretions, and yet they have no problem with Trump being a womanizing divorcee or with him saying he doesn’t need God’s forgiveness.

Trump preaches a gospel of demagoguery, self-centeredness, idolatrous nationalism, vague machismo, recklessness, and disregard for human dignity across the spectrum. As a Christian, I seek Christ’s message of redemption, kindness, compassion, and freedom. I reject Trump’s false gospel.

Anglicanism: Faith for the Unremarkable

It’s interesting how we humans often have things happen that we barely even remember, but then years later, seemingly at random, realize the significance of them. In my case, it was something said at the funeral of my great-grandmother. She passed away on September 1, 2005, just two weeks shy of her 90th birthday (and two weeks shy of my 18th). She was a person of an extremely quiet demeanor, preferring to do things behind the scenes. She was known for cooking for people, as well as sending cards to just about everyone for birthdays and even just for general encouragement. She faithfully attended church her entire life, as well as Wednesday night prayer meeting, up until the last year or two when she simply became too frail. Because of her introversion, she was not widely known, especially by the younger generations. Unfortunately, it was not until her funeral at the very beginning of my senior year of high school that I became keenly aware of this fact. Nonetheless, I am grateful to have been a part of her family. At her funeral, I remember the pastor saying something along the lines of the following: “Lucille was never the center of attention. She wasn’t athletic, or charismatic, never did anything flashy. But she was a servant who simply plodded along in a straight line towards Jesus.”

For some reason, it hit me the other day how meaningful that statement in fact was. All these were true of her, based on what I observed of her throughout her 70s and 80s, as well as by the accounts given by people who knew her when she was much younger. Yet this is in many ways so contrary to the frequent ideal of an American Christian. The ideal American Christian is supposed to be outgoing, charismatic, and constantly having amazing feelings indicating that God is “speaking” to them. That American Christians tend to value this is all too evident in the types of men (and a few women) who run America’s megachurches, and have the most books published. They are magnetic, flashy, and gregarious. The idea of the Christian life as a perpetually exciting thing also sells quite well. There is often very little discussion of people like my great grandmother, and the role they serve.

I find myself identifying with this in many ways. While my pursuits in life are in many ways very different from hers (she was the wife of a crusty truck driver and did a lot of work related to farming), I am like in my introversion. I have almost no personal charisma, and the truth is I’m not much of a life of the party. I go to a great church with great people, and I enjoy the various lay roles I’ve picked up there, but I would not consider myself a “move and shaker” at all.

It is against this backdrop that I have come to see the Anglican tradition, with its liturgical, creedal, and sacramental style as highly beneficial to those of us with the aforementioned temperament. First, because it makes you participate in the worship of God whether you “feel like it” or not. There are some days in which we simply will not be feeling close to God. The divine liturgy forces you to worship God in spite of this, reminding you that God is unchanging and immutable. To quote Mr. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “one day you’ll see him (Aslan), another you won’t.” Secondly, it is a highly historic practice that forces you to remember how small your time and place is in the grand scheme of history, and it connects with your fellow believers of the past, present, and future, reminding you that you are a mere blip on the radar of time. And thirdly, the corporate nature forces you to put aside your own individual, emotional preferences and instead worship as a community of believers. Of course, these reasons are not comprehensive; a more thorough list can be found here.

My great-grandmother exemplified these things in her own life. She was not emotional, instead espousing a highly stoical outlook on life, having come of age at the height the Depression, and having a German Reformed (a highly respectable liturgical tradition) upbringing doubtless helped foster this outlook. And she lived with a strong sense of connection to her family, and a sense of service to her community, always putting others’ needs ahead of her own. She spent several years taking care of her own mother (who lived past 100), getting up several times each night to tend to her needs. She did not care about “making her mark” or being remembered; instead she served others and ultimately served Christ through her actions. Moreover, I see her life as exemplifying one who serves Christ with all their heart while understanding their place in the body of believers past, present, and future.

If we are honest with ourselves, it is highly improbable that most of us will be much remembered after death. Most of our lives will disappear into the ash heap of history. A few of us may be more fortunate, but not likely. In light of this, I truly believe that Anglicanism provides a healthy approach to Christianity that takes into account our place in the cosmos and in the body of Christ. I look forward to seeing Great Grandma Burr in the world to come, and to hear of the work of God in her time. And I sincerely hope that I will follow her example, by serving God and my fellow humans for the very short time allotted to me in this life before I pass on. Ultimately, it does not matter what I am remembered for, but that I maintain an active faith in Christ, and that I plod along in a straight line towards Jesus. I hope that American evangelicalism eventually has this attitude restored to it.

It’s Not a Religion, It’s a (Heavily Surveilled, Draconian) Relationship

WARNING: This post may very well garner some controversy, as some may find it incendiary and maybe even crude. Some may feel that I’m making generalizations. I accept that, because I truly believe that my experiences and the experiences of those I have discussed the issues with indicate that the problem is real, and nearly any generalization I make would not likely be completely inaccurate. So there, you’ve been warned.

Imagine that you marry the love of your life. You have typically been an extremely introverted, maybe even shy, individual, but you click with this person like never have with any other. You can talk to them for hours upon hours about scores of topics that interest you both with equal passion, and many more besides. You can tell them anything, any problem, any worry, any secret, and you know they care, and have your interest at heart. You also have an incredible sexual bond, as it is the ultimate expression of your love.

But then you discover that, in the setting in which you live, it’s not enough that this secure, lively relationship exists. It’s also expected that you share the most intimate details of it with everyone else, and other couples are expected to do the same. You are expected to give the details of what you and your spouse have recently done together, how you currently feel about each other, and even how your sex life is going.

But that doesn’t come easy to you. Telling people your personal, intimate thoughts and feelings has never come easily to you. Furthermore, there are several people living in your setting who are extremely extroverted, and are very good at talking about their marriages/love lives. What’s more, they ALWAYS seem to have upbeat, happy stories to relate regarding their lives. You get the sense that they never seem to NOT feel close to their spouse. This is hard for you to believe, for even though you always know in your head that your spouse loves you deeply, there are just some days in which you don’t FEEL that close. You feel discouraged, because you see people ooing and ahhing over that person, who just seems to have it all together. Sometimes, you have to go around a circle where people take turns spilling intimate details of what’s going on with their spouse, and everyone does it with such ease. The aforementioned individual goes right before you, and once again, they just have amazing experiences with their spouse to share with everyone, and you wonder HOW you will ever top that. It’s your turn now, but truth be told, even though you love your spouse, and you know they love you, nothing all that exciting has happened lately. Although they have before, the last few weeks have been a pretty “normal” phase. You can’t think of anything interesting to share, and you can just feel the vibe: people doubt that you’re much of a spouse. And your feeling of discouragement just gets worse and worse, knowing you probably will never measure up. And you try SO hard. Sometimes in meetings you actually give what you feel is a pretty good account. But that other person always reliably has something better to share. And everyone knows it. Sometimes you even get scolded for not saying enough, and you are reminded of what a model of spousal relationships that person is. But no matter how hard you try, you get the sense that you are viewed as a deficient spouse, because you are honest that you don’t always feel close to yours, and even when you do, you just plain suck at relating it to others. Because of this, you end up feeling further apart from your spouse, and gradually less and less competent. They continue to unconditionally love you and care for you, but eventually you fall into utter despair, and lack motivation to converse with your spouse because you don’t think you have what it takes. This causes even further quizzical looks from the other people, as you sense they truly believe something is wrong with you. The one who is viewed as exceptional starts asking you questions about your relationship with your spouse, and they ask you in a tone that borders on prosecutorial. Everyone ought to be like them, right? At any rate, you know YOU probably never will.

Change a few words, and I essentially just described American evangelicalism’s “it’s a relationship, not a religion” mantra.

You think about that.

What American Sports Bars Can Teach us About Religious and Socio-Political Coexistence

Yesterday I spent my Sunday afternoon in a local sports bar, which has effectively become my favorite local hangout for sporting events, where I watched my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers lose in embarrassing fashion to the league bottom-feeder Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The only bright spots of the afternoon were that the local Washington Redskins didn’t have a game, meaning that there was actually room to sit down; and I won a drawing for a very large container of beer, which, in the interest of avoiding intoxication, I promptly shared most of with several strangers sitting by me at the counter.

Then in between the endless selection of beer, the mediocre food, the spectral range of jerseys, the sea of TV images, and the shouts, it hit me: this bar, highly typical based on my experiences at sports bars in the US, serves as a model of how people of differing religious, ethnic, political, and socioeconomic paradigms ought to coexist. Allow me to elaborate:

(1) Whoever your team is, you are faced with dozens of people openly and proudly displaying where their own loyalties lie, which are often contrary to yours. 

Virtually everyone in the bar was wearing a shirt and/or hat with their favorite team’s logo on it. Normally the hometown Redskins have at least a simple majority, but with many others, particularly since Washington, DC is such a transient city. Other teams well-represented included the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, Miami Dolphins, and event the Detroit Lions.

The same principle ought to hold true in a society.  A healthy sense of social tolerance means that anyone, whether Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Mormon, Jewish, Sunni, Shi’ite, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic; conservative, liberal, libertarian, socialist, green, etc. ought to be able to proclaim where they stand without fear of legal or physical repercussion. Just as no sports bar can properly function when certain fans are forced to hide their loyalties, no robustly tolerant and engaged body politic forces anyone to hide their viewpoints, no matter how unpopular.

(2) The clash of fanbases occurs in a completely non-violent fashion.

American sports fans, although sometimes prone to violent outbursts, have generally been known to be less violent than their soccer fan counterparts in Latin America, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. In his book How Soccer Explains the World, author Franklin Foer documents numerous instances of violent fans. Some are in places that might be expected, such as the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Celtic-Rangers rivalry in Scotland. However, other places with strongly violent soccer hooliganism were in the liberal West, including England, Italy, Spain, Brazil, etc. He interestingly notes that:

“There is, however, an important difference between a home game in London and Washington, The majority of English fans will root for England. In Washington, more or less half the stadium wore the blue-and-white Honduran jersey, and they were the ones who shouted themselves hoarse and heaved their shoes. The American aspiration of appearing in the World Cup rested on this game. But on that day, the Washington stadium might as well have been in Tegucigalpa. Traveling through Europe, you hear the same complaint repeated over and over: Americans are so ‘hypernationalistic’. But is there any country in the world that would tolerate such animosity to their national team in their own national capital? In England or France or Italy, this would have been cause for unleashing hooligan hell.”

Now, lest I be accused of romanticizing the US, I acknowledge our political system has plenty of problems of his own. What I am suggesting, however, is that American sports culture, particularly in bars, is largely, at least comparatively, very non-violent and demonstrative of passion without violence. A notable game was between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers. It is a fierce rivalry, in fact the oldest in the NFL. And yet fans of both teams were there, yelling at the TV, occasionally verbally going at it, but at the end of the day kept it completely good-natured. In a world of violent confrontations, such as Sunni-Shi’ite clashes in Iraq, ISIS-Ba’athist clashes in Syria, Israeli-Palestinian violence, numerous domestic disputes in Africa, and Egypt’s issues, models of vibrant and non-violent political debate is desperately needed.

(3) The lack of violent confrontation does not equal a lack of vibrant debate or the mellowing of one’s own stance.

As previously noted, in sports bars, fans of different teams, especially in heated rivalries, can have strong exchanges. Multiple times in this bar, I have witnessed opposing fans exchange “trash talk” regarding the game at hand, very occasionally even with a little profanity, but no physical confrontations. However, on the flip side, you will not see fans giving each other a “mutual respect” or “your path is just as good as mine”. Although one would already not expect debates about intrinsic right and wrong to arise over football, it’s worth noting that fans will stand firm over their choice of team. Numerous rivalries exist over which I’ve witnessed very heated exchanges: Bears-Packers, Steelers-Ravens, Cowboys-Redskins, Giants-Eagles. Each fan clearly has put their all behind their love of their own team, and have little patience for opposing views. But they nonetheless clearly believe in an environment in which everyone has the right to voice their passions.

In American socio-political discourse, a common catchphrase is “tolerance”. However, it seems that in many cases, rather than mean being willing to live alongside things one doesn’t personally embrace, it has come to colloquially mean “acceptance“. There are even some who have come to argue that tolerance as a concept must be abandoned, and that the only acceptable paradigm is “mutual respect”, in which one considers every other viewpoint to be equally legitimate. This individual is an excellent example. I likewise recall a conversation with a friend of a different religious faith, who said to me, “By focusing on our differences, it will open the door to conflict.”

The problem with this approach is that it actually makes healthy debate less likely, as it makes people fearful of engaging in passionate, constructive disagreement. Comedian and illusionist Penn Jillette makes a very compelling case that the very notion of “tolerance” is condescending, as it implies that people are essentially too fragile to handle being told that they are incorrect. He notes that:

“I think true respect… it’s one of the reasons I get along so much better with fundamentalist Christians than I do with liberal Christians because fundamentalist Christians I can look them in the eye and say, ‘You are wrong.’ They also know that I will always fight for their right to say that. And I will celebrate their right to say that but I will look them in the eye and say, “You’re wrong.” And fundamentalists will look me in the eye and say, ‘You’re wrong.’ And that to me is respect. The more liberal religious people who go ‘There are many paths to truth you just go on and maybe you’ll find your way’… is the way you talk to a child. And I bristle at that, so I do very well with proselytizing hardcore fundamentalists and in a very deep level I respect them and at a very deep level i think I share a big part of their heart.”

Likewise, with NFL fans at sports bars, when arguing about the better player, better team, better coach, etc., they have the guts to look each other square in the eye and say, “NO! YOU’RE WRONG!” On many occasions, rather than being the stereotypical stupid sports fans, the people involved in the argument are well loaded with facts, dates, and statistics. And no matter how heated it becomes, in the end they almost invariably come out teasing and laughing.

In politics, if we want to seriously hope to make progress on issues, then there must be a willingness to hear opposing views, but there must also be a willingness to share one’s own views, because without this honesty and fearlessness, the issues will ultimately not be addressed. As one left-winged writer has actually noted, “An easygoing tolerance, rubbing along beside each other without much curiosity, is not enough. We need to recover a confidence in intelligent engagement with those who are unlike us, a profound mutual attention, otherwise we shall crush a life-giving pluralism.” While I likely would disagree with this person on most issues, they are correct on this point. The flip side is that, as illustrated by fans at bars, people on the opposing side of an issue will not themselves receive this “intelligent engagement” when you maintain your own firmness and (informed) passion.

I have no delusions about America being the model of enlightened socio-political discourse. Nor am I downplaying the existent issue of fan violence in the NFL. What I am suggesting, however, is that, at least based on my experience, American sports bars are places that serve as an example of places where open, informed, heated, passionate, and non-violent confrontation often occurs, and can offer insight into how discourse ought to occur regarding the bigger issues in society. Sports culture appears to be one area in which the United States quite simply does it better than the rest of the industrialized world. If only our socio-political climate could follow suit.

My Review/Critique of Distortion: How the Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith

A new book has hit the shelves this week, entitled Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith, much to the elation of the conservative evangelical community, as well as, assuming my Facebook newsfeed is any indication, the conservative social network in Washington, DC. It is written by Chelsen Vicari, a 27 year-old self-described Millennial evangelical, who additionally serves as the Director of Evangelical Action at the Institute of Religion and Democracy. Since I am a Millennial who unapologetically identifies as politically conservative and whose religious paradigm is largely shaped by evangelical categories, I decided to buy the book on Kindle. Her essential purpose is to outline the central tenets and tactics of what has been deemed the Christian Left, evaluate them in light of Christian orthodoxy, and advise evangelical parents of Millennials on the best ways to combat this. And indeed, I admire Vicari for undertaking this project, given that Millennial religious affiliation is decreasing, that Millennials are largely liberal on social issues, and that the Evangelical left is an influential faction. I’m also glad someone has written a book on this topic because in my everyday life I’ve encountered quite a number of people, both in person and via social media, who were raised in conservative evangelical homes who appear to have abandoned multiple important Christian doctrines and social ethics, including the importance of preaching the message of the Cross, opposition to abortion, the Christian sexual ethos (and not just on homosexuality), and uncritical support for various left-winged socio-economic initiatives in the name of compassion, among others. However, while Vicari provides an excellent overview of the notions propagated by this movement as well as of the individuals in the center of it, I must confess that I was disappointed by two major components: firstly, her lack of critique of the highly right-winged Baby Boomer-dominated conservative evangelicalism replete with emotionalism and individualism, in which most of these liberal Millennial evangelicals were raised, that has in fact served as the foundation of the antics of Millennial evangelicals; secondly, her conclusion regarding how to address this issue, while certainly commendable for advocating loving patience as well as a searching of the Scriptures, omits numerous crucial instruments that have aided Christians for centuries in face of hostile cultures, including strong, beyond-face-value exigesis of Scripture, the Christian philosophical tradition, and Church history.

Vicari’s essential thesis is that the left has taken advantage of two pervasive and often overlapping mentalities within evangelicalism: the Couch Potato (the belief that Jesus primarily desires us to be humbly silent and socially neutral) and Cafeteria Christianity (compartmentalizing our personal faith with our public lives), such as through the prevalent “COEXIST” bumper sticker that spells using various symbols from different religions, and seek to silence what she terms “Convictional Christians” through accusations of bigotry and a lack of love. She subsequently lauds the work of the past three decades of James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Tim and Beverly Lahaye, and numerous other figures of the evangelical Christian Right as commendable. She implores fellow evangelicals to stand strong in the midst of an increasingly hostile popular and academic culture. She then concludes the introductory portion of the book with a recollection of her own college years spent in the Christian Left, with significant exposure to Brian McLaren. She notes (correctly) that much of the ideology of the Christian Left is centered around actions in the community and buzzwords such as “tolerance, nonconforming, and liberated”. On the other hand, Vicari notes that discussion of sexual morality, the reality of sin, or the afterlife was largely nonexistent. She further notes that they pitch themselves as apolitical and uncontroversial, preferring to focus on “justice” without acknowledging their own often rigidly anti-capitalist, anti-nationalist, sexually revolutionary message. She outlines other important figures in the movement including Tony Campolo, Tony Jones, Lynn Hybels, Rachel Held Evans, Jim Wallis, Richard Cizik, Jay Bakker, Jennifer Crumpton, Shane Claiborne, and Carl Medearis.

The second section of Distortion devotes individual chapters to various socio-political issues that are frequently pet issues for the Christian Left and also often major points of contention between them and the Religious Right. These include many Millennials’ endorsement of same-sex marriage and often even outright rejecting evangelical teaching of homosexuality as immoral; a strong commitment to the concept of “social justice” which typically includes stronger social welfare programs, federal educational initiatives, strong action on climate change, lenient immigration policies, and often affirmative action; “Jesus feminism” which asserts that Christian teaching has often oppressed women and strongly advocates for widespread action to contraception (and sometimes abortion), and at times even outright claims that Christian opposition to all heterosexual relations outside monogamous marriage is misogynistic; the tendency to believe in a “right to choose” even if that person personally has a moral opposition to abortion and to claim that evangelicals are obsessed with abortion and should focus on other issues; a tendency to doubly dodge the issues of domestic religious liberty by pointing to international Christian persecution as much worse, and international Christian persecution by excusing it with international rage over American foreign policy and accusing its highlighters of not caring about the suffering of other religions; and general support for the Palestinian cause over the Israeli cause based on the assumption that Israel is unjust towards them.

The third and final section of the book implores evangelical Millennials to remain strong in the face of increased hostility, and to maintain a balance of truth and love, a la the epistles of John, remembering that Jesus Himself gained all sorts of haters, but stuck to His message of truth regardless. Finally, she interviews various conservative Millennial evangelicals, who collectively assert the importance of churches instilling strong Christian cultural values in their youth, and also encourage young people to study the Bible and discern what is the best way for them to involved.

As a member of the evangelical wing of the Anglican communion, I was elated to see the premise of the book: an American Christian twenty-something highlighting the problems of the “progressive Christian” movement, particularly since she identifies as a former insider to the movement. Unfortunately, as I stated in the beginning, there were two glaring weaknesses in her approach, the first being that she doesn’t seem to recognize the problem of ahistorical ecclesiology runs just as rampant in the conservative wing of evangelicalism as it does in the progressive one. For example, in the beginning of her first chapter, she writes, “Peek behind the curtain of some ‘hip’ or ‘progressive’ evangelical churches, past the savvy technology and secular music, and you will find more than just a contemporary worship service. You’ll find faith leaders encouraging young evangelicals to trade in their Christian convictions for a gospel filled with compromise. They’re slowly attempting to give evangelicalism an ‘update’-and the change is not for the good.” The apparent implication of this is that evangelicals with progressive social and theological views are the primary culprits of this, when the reality is that there is no shortage of conservative evangelicals who make it “all about me”. Perhaps the most notorious of these are Joel and Victoria Osteen, co-pastors of a large megachurch in Texas. Here is something they recently said, essentially implying that worship is about you, and not the Lord your God. Yet it should be noted that they maintain conservative positions on basic theology, and on social issues.

Vicari additionally states, “Within these evangelical institutions, and even in some sanctuaries, truth has been made relative. Scripture verses that reference anything considered offensive are skipped over, and God’s supremacy is diminished in order to market the Church to as wide an audience as possible.” What she, again, doesn’t seem to acknowledge is that the dominant form of conservative evangelicalism created this climate. Growing up in the midst of the white, middle to upper middle class evangelical subculture, there were plenty of our own Biblical  issues that were swept under the rug, including but not limited to, the strong if not downright strident messages about oppression of the poor in powerful nations found in the Prophets, the Sermon on the Mount’s message decisively in favor of the oppressed and opposed to the abuse of violent state authority, as well as both Jesus’ and the Apostles’ teachings against divorce, which is beyond rampant in our culture (Note: I am not suggesting Vicari doesn’t care about these issues, only that she doesn’t seem to get that in certain ways, Millennial evangelical liberals are going the way they have BECAUSE of conservative evangelical culture, no in spite of it.).

And another one: “The Millennial generation’s susceptibility to ‘feel-good’ doctrine is playing a big part in America’s moral decline. Millennials’ religious practices depend largely on how the actions make us and others feel, whether the activities are biblical or not. For example, we only attend churches that leave us feeling good about our lifestyle choices, even if those choices conflict with God’s clear commandments. We dismiss old hymns that focus on God’s transforming salvation, love, and mercy and opt for ‘Jesus is your boyfriend’ songs.” Again, there is no question that Millennials are often very susceptible to this, but what about the Baby Boomers, the age group that is in charge at most churches now, and was very influential when we were growing up? In fact, aging expert Vern Bengston has remarked, “Boomers were the first generation to clearly differentiate between spirituality and religion. They said spiritual practice is not equal to going to church. They are the first to associate spirituality with an emotion, an intense feeling of connection with God.”

Vicari’s chapter on the issue of homosexuality is well-written. It elaborates on the relevant Scriptural passages in Genesis, Leviticus, Romans, I Corinthians, I Timothy, as well as the words of Christ Himself regarding his endorsement of the notion that “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”. She gets a bit of a KO when she writes, “By dismissing the Genesis marriage model, the evangelical Left is also dismissing Jesus Christ. While teaching in Judea, Jesus affirmed God’s divine establishment of marriage after He was approached by Pharisees.” She is careful to demonstrate that they are not simply words to be read and spewed, but instead have overarching frameworks in mind. She cites the example of pastor Andy Stanley’s dodging of the issue as demonstrative of evangelicalism’s increased dodging of the issue. She also prudently uses social science and appeals for consistency, wisely noting that “The church stopped defending marriage when fast-and-loose, no-fault divorces became fashionable in the church. We did so when adultery, premarital sex, and cohabitation were no longer condemned from the pulpit. We let go of the family unit when dads walked out on their families and left fifteen million US children fatherless.” She also makes sure to cite studies in social science discussing the overall performance of children in same-sex households and specifically their academic performance. Finally, the chapter was excellent in that it acknowledges the emotional abuse often endured by gays in the conservative evangelical community, noting that “We cannot ignore the outrageous suicide rate of teenagers who are attracted to the same sex.” Additionally, Vicari notes, “The church must provide a safe place for these teens. When the church offers no talks, no hugs, no assurances, no truth, and only ejection and condemnation, we cause devastating pain.”

The chapter on social justice I found less impressive. Towards the beginning Vicari writes, “Too often ‘social justice’ is the sheepskin socialism wears to make inroads into evangelicalism.” I cringed a bit when I read this, as I felt it reeked of a common conservative tactic I’ve observed of trying to discredit all economic policy proposals intended to help the poor by utilizing the emotivistic power associate with the word “socialist.” She criticizes Shane Claiborne for his blanket opposition to capitalism, which is a reasonable critique to be had, as well as Carol Keehan of Sojourners for essentially saying that obstructing Obamacare signifies lack of compassion for the poor. And she also rightly points out that there were problems with the oversimplified rhetoric by the blogger Benjamin Corey. She outlines a genuine problem wherein social justice rhetoric at Christian colleges has come to overshadow and in some cases completely overtake any sense of Christian theological instruction, which my own experience at a Christian college, while not that severe, did witness moments of this. However, I find her proposed “solutions” to be overly simplistic. She quotes Jerry Falwell, Jr. who said, “Jesus taught that we should give to the poor and support widows, but he never said that we should elect a government that would take money from our neighbor’s hand it give it to the poor….if we all did as Jesus did when he helped the poor, we wouldn’t need the government.” While a call for widespread evangelical compassion among evangelicals is important, it does not address the issue of injustice at the system level, which individual compassion cannot completely solve. For instance, growing up as a conservative evangelical, I can testify to the fact that while abortion and homosexuality were discussed without fail, almost never did we address the very serious issues of increasing income inequality or the abysmal state of our healthcare system. Vicari unfortunately makes no mention of this, and does not develop a sophisticated Christian theology of justice. A close reading of the Prophets, for example, lends support to the notion that what is being decried is the abuse of the poor by those in power, and that the Prophets were advocating systemic reform. While the left no doubt brings excesses to this, systemic alterations for the benefit of society’s marginal ized is very much a Christian cause, as it was very much advocated by the early church fathers. Finally, it seemed to me that Vicari is concerned that social justice rhetoric has watered down Christianity to nothing more than a social gospel movement and as such she risks throwing out the baby with the bath water. It is important for Christians to be grounded in what I would term a “fusion theology” in which both spiritual conversion and socio-economic transformation are considered essential components of the Christian faith. The Anglican theologian John Stott was a superb example of this. He was resolutely orthodox on the essential theological issues, unapologetically conservative on issues of sexuality and across-the-board sanctity of life, but also a passionate advocate of justice at the economic level, and virulently opposed to exploitation, and also recognized the importance of being good stewards of God’s creation.

The actions of some prominent evangelical feminists are properly criticized, most notably Rachel Held Evans’ decision to go a year following literally everything said in the Bible about women, to the letter. This is, of course, rather preposterous given that it’s been widely established in Christianity for quite some time that there is a difference between cermemonial and moral laws, the former of which no longer apply to men or women. However, yet again, it seems to me that Vicari ignores the fact that Held Evans’ approach is a natural outgrowth of the face-value biblical literalism so pervasive in conservative evangelicalism, such that people will inevitably ask the question, “Why this verse but not that verse?” Rachel Held Evans certainly does nothing to alleviate this bibliological chaos, but she is, again, a natural outgrowth of it.

Her chapter urging action against abortion is a mixed bag. While Vicari wisely mentions Psalm 139 as a demonstration of God’s care for His children prior to their being born, noting that, “Doesn’t it bring tears to your eyes to read that even while in utero, our “soul knows very well” our Creator? Likewise, it sends shivers up my spine to think about how God knew the soul of every precious boy and girl among the 55,772,015 babies victimized by abortion. For some progressive Christians, and many secular citizens, the soul of the unborn is not the most significant criteria for measuring the value of a life. Of more importance, it seems, are whether a parent has adequate material possessions, whether having children is convenient, and whether a child is wanted.” Indeed. And she also points out the industry of abortion by properly calling out Planned Parenthood for the fact that abortion is such a substantial part of their revenue. Unfortunately, Vicari blunders by employing the line from Horton Hears a Who, “a person’s a person no matter how small” in spite of  it being very doubtful that Dr. Seuss was referring to abortion, and his widow being opposed to this analogy, and the fact that he was left-winged. And her critique of Planned Parenthood, while largely sound, also claims Planned Parenthood’s widespread abortion services are part of the eugenic schemes of founder Margaret Sanger, when the truth is she was strongly opposed to abortion. And while she wisely points to a CDC study demonstrating that only 13% of teen pregnancies result from poor access to contraceptives, I wish she would further discuss the issue of many women feeling economically inadequate. While Vicari does provide excellent coverage of the adoption option, I wish there were more extensive discussion of how to help women who choose to keep the baby. She does mention the importance of the Church in providing services, but sometimes the church’s resources are insufficient, and some government assistance may be beneficial, as a necessary evil. I will stop short of endorsing such a notion, but it merits discussion. Even Paul Ryan has said that pro-lifers must broaden the scope of the issues they advocate.

In contrast, Vicari’s chapter on fighting religious persecution is stellar. She wisely notes that, “False claims that religious persecution is just a ploy to rally uber-conservative Tea Party patriots are causing young evangelicals to discount the serious consequences of inaction. Young evangelicals are not seeing this First Amendment issue for what it is-a matter that affects everyone’s ability to hold to their own belief system-because pundits on the religious Left are using misrepresentations of Jesus to convince them there is no credible threat to religious liberty.” Spot on. While what we face here is nothing compared to Christians around the world, using that as a basis to ignore religious liberty domestically would be a relative privation fallacy. She also is smart to cite a bipartisan petition support the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Arizona. On the foreign front, she cites numerous examples of Christians persecuted, and wisely notes that often, confirmed by my own experience, the Christian Left only cites international persecution to distract from domestic religious liberty issues, but then does not discuss it otherwise. She mentions Brian McLaren’s reasons given, but subsequently points to a strong refutation of this. The Christian Left has indeed been depressingly silent on the issue.

I will not lie, I cringed reading the chapter urging support for Israel. It essentially begins with an emotional overview of the Holocaust, and subsequently laments the many enemies Israel has (which it indeed does) and essentially implies that criticism of Israel is universally un-Christian, no matter the grounds. She quotes a provocative post by extreme dispensationalist pastor John Hagee that equates the modern state of Israel with the biblical “Israel” even though the latter refers to the Jewish people as a whole, about half of which do not even reside in Israel today. She quotes the biblical passages about God’s covenant with Israel, then quotes John Hagee, who says, “Ishmael, father of Arabs, was excluded from the title deed to the land in Genesis 17. Therefore, modern-day Palestinians have no biblical mandate to own the land.” This of course completely ignores demographic realities in the region. Indeed, Vicari flat out says, “CATC chooses to focus on political and social critiques of Israel rather than on what God’s Word has sketched out for the nation.” Here again, she ignores the fact that the idea of a Jewish state largely grew out of early and mid 20th century notions of “self-determination for all peoples” and included expulsion of Palestinians from their homes. This expulsion continues to this day via settlements, and Palestinian civilians face widespread collateral damage from Israel’s military actions against the Palestinians. Now, let me make myself clear: Israel has a right to exist, and is more democratic and liberal than any other nation in the Middle East. It faces a very real threat from Hamas, who calls for its destruction. And Vicari rightly points out the Christian Left’s failure to acknowledge this. Having been on a Christian left study-abroad program in the Middle East, I can likewise attest to their one-sidedness. Unfortunately, for Vicari, this appears to be all the proof she needs that all voices of concern for the Palestinians are illegitimate, and especially should not be voiced by Christians. It frightens me that her highly literal Bible-based imploring to support Israel is not the slightest bit tempered with acknowledgement of Israel’s abuses (which of course she be viewed proportionally), and essentially is urging fellow Christians to suspend their conscience in the face of evidence of mistreatment in favor of fundamentalist-like blind obedience to an interpretation that is highly suspect, and has been challenged by reputable theologians.

Vicari’s conclusion, that Christians with traditional views must stand against the Christian Left based on a two-pillared paradigm of loving truth and boldness, is correct, although again I was disappointed by some of the means advocated of equipping young Christians. The conservative mainstream evangelical approach that has in many ways birthed this liberal mess was exemplified by an interviewee who urged those who are spiritually struggling to, “Read your Bible, saturate yourself with the truth. The world is full of lies and smooth talking, and if you don’t know how to recognize them, you will be directed whichever way the wind blows.” While I am most definitely an advocate of reading the Holy Scriptures, this approach fails to recognize, again, that the notion of each individual being solely responsible for their own Scriptural instruction. But what this evangelical approach has given rise to is an entire generation of young evangelicals who have essentially said, “If we take these verses literally, why not these others?” It has subsequently led to almost complete rejection of Scripture as authoritative.

This is why, as an Anglican, I believe church history is exceedingly important. Because the truth is that the Christian sexual ethos, as well as teaching on abortion, and the importance being involved in public life, have a strong and rich history beginning with the direct successors to the Apostles and continuing throughout the centuries. This has given us a rich faith tradition rooted in Scripture, with the understanding of Scripture being guided through the ages by God’s Church and aided by reason manifest in a rich philosophical tradition. These are aspects that I believe would aid Vicari’s arguments tremendously, but as she professes to by a member of the Assembly of God denomination, it’s understandable that she would not stress these. As such, when I read the reasoning, it often gave me the feeling of watching a football game, and seeing a receiver wide open in the endzone. However, the quarterback does not see him and throws into double coverage, reducing the chances of a touchdown.

Vicari’s premise is absolutely to be commended. We need a thoughtful critique of this movement that is indeed causing a turning from orthodoxy among Millennials, as confirmed by my own experiences at a Christian college and elsewhere. The fact that it is being done by a Millennial who formerly ascribed to this ideology is encouraging. I would urge Christians to read this, because it does provide an excellent overview of the Christian Left and its strategies, tactics, and pet issues. However, what Christians must understand is that this phenomenon is perfectly explainable in the context of the emotionalism, individualism, literalism, and stridence of the Boomer-dominated Christian right. And it doesn’t appear that Vicari grasps this.