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The Road Goes On

Tuesday, May 31, 2005 at 4:27 PM

Soldiers of Christ I (Harpers.org)

Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer investigates one of the lesser-known power-centers of conservative evangelicalism for the May issue of Harper's. It's a lengthy close-up of Colorado Springs' New Life Church and Pastor Ted Haggard (also current president of the National Association of Evangelicals).

Yes, Sharlet is no unbiased observer, but I know the world he's describing, even though it's been a while since I've really been a part of it -- and he pretty much hits the mark.

Re-acquainting myself with this wing of the American church really stretches my commitment to ecumenism. Even though I'm by affiliation a low-church protestant I really do feel a closer spiritual kinship with folks on the opposite end of the Christian spectrum and even members of other religions than this wing of American Christianity. I say that with deep regret.

I also think I'm realizing that the biggest source of my discomfort with much of the praise & worship musical genre is its close affiliation with churches like this.

Here's a section:

In Pastor Ted’s book Dog Training, Fly Fishing, & Sharing Christ in the 21st Century, he describes the church he thinks good Christians want. “I want my finances in order, my kids trained, and my wife to love life. I want good friends who are a delight and who provide protection for my family and me should life become difficult someday . . . I don’t want surprises, scandals, or secrets . . . I want stability and, at the same time, steady, forward movement. I want the church to help me live life well, not exhaust me with endless ‘worthwhile’ projects.” By “worthwhile projects” Ted means building funds and soup kitchens alike. It’s not that he opposes these; it’s just that he is sick of hearing about them and believes that other Christians are, too. He knows that for Christianity to prosper in the free market, it needs more than “moral values”—it needs customer value.

New Lifers, Pastor Ted writes with evident pride, “like the benefits, risks, and maybe above all, the excitement of a free-market society.” They like the stimulation of a new brand. “Have you ever switched your toothpaste brand, just for the fun of it?” Pastor Ted asks. Admit it, he insists. All the way home, you felt a “secret little thrill,” as excited questions ran through your mind: “Will it make my teeth whiter? My breath fresher?” This is the sensation Ted wants pastors to bring to the Christian experience. He believes it is time “to harness the forces of free-market capitalism in our ministry.” Once a pastor does that, his flock can start organizing itself according to each member’s abilities and tastes.

. . . Free-market economics is a “truth” Ted says he learned in his first job in professional Christendom, as a Bible smuggler in Eastern Europe. Globalization, he believes, is merely a vehicle for the spread of Christianity. He means Protestantism in particular; Catholics, he said, “constantly look back.” He went on: “And the nations dominated by Catholicism look back. They don’t tend to create our greatest entrepreneurs, inventors, research and development. Typically, Catholic nations aren’t shooting people into space. Protestantism, though, always looks to the future. A typical kid raised in Protestantism dreams about the future. A typical kid raised in Catholicism values and relishes the past, the saints, the history. That is one of the changes that is happening in America. In America the descendants of the Protestants, the Puritan descendants, we want to create a better future, and our speakers say that sort of thing. But with the influx of people from Mexico, they don’t tend to be the ones that go to universities and become our research-and-development people. And so in that way I see a little clash of civilizations.”

So the Catholics are out, and the battle boils down to evangelicals versus Islam. “My fear,” he says, “is that my children will grow up in an Islamic state.”

And that is why he believes spiritual war requires a virile, worldly counterpart. “I teach a strong ideology of the use of power,” he says, “of military might, as a public service.” He is for preemptive war, because he believes the Bible’s exhortations against sin set for us a preemptive paradigm, and he is for ferocious war, because “the Bible’s bloody. There’s a lot about blood.”


I realize Sharlet seized upon particularly juicy quotes that Haggard would no doubt soften or place in a more palatable context. My bigger problem is the shallow historical optimism and neophilia. If (as the article says earlier), Haggard is a big fan of Tom Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree, he seems to have no grasp of what "Olive Trees" are (those things and traditions that touch the deepest needs of human lives and cultures that seem threatened by globalism/hyper-capitalism/modernity) and why so many are willing to do just about anything to prevent their extinction. Link

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