Fred Clark is a very popular blogger. (The picture on the left is not him). His Patheos blog Slacktivist, which I would describe as a progressive Christian blog, has a huge following. It gets a lot of comments as well. Whenever Slacktivist links to one of my posts, the stats at The Way of Improvement Leads Home go through the roof. (Fred, please link to more of my posts!!).
Clark’s most recent post is entitled “A Ted Cruz Win Could Further ‘Bartonize’ Mainstream White Evangelicalism.” Here is a taste:
John Fea and Warren Throckmorton are two bloggers I enjoy reading. They both also happen to be white evangelical college professors at mainstream white evangelical institutions here in Pennsylvania. Dr. Fea, who blogs at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, is a history professor at Messiah College, while Dr. Throckmorton, whose blog is now on Patheos’ evangelical channel, teaches psychology at Grove City College.
They’re both terrific bloggers. Fea is an insightful, insatiably curious historian, and his blog is a steady supply of fascinating perspectives on early American history. His author’s corner interviews are an invaluable shortcut for keeping abreast of all sorts of important and interesting books and ideas. (He’s also a fan of the Mets and of Bruce Springsteen, indicators of wisdom and virtue.) Throckmorton can be a tenacious pitbull when he sniffs out a story. Check out his ongoing series examining financial irregularities at the mission agency Gospel for Asia — it’s an impressive, dogged pursuit of answers to important questions. In another life, Throckmorton would have made a fearsome investigative journalist.
But I’m worried for both of them. Specifically, I’m worried because this is an election year and that means that the ever-shifting goalposts of the white evangelical tribal gatekeepers may well shift between now and November. Depending on the outcome of the upcoming Republican presidential primary races, the bounds of theological acceptability could shift in such a way that both of these fine professors may end up on the outside looking in.
On the one hand, that seems unlikely. Messiah and Grove City are solid schools committed to quality academics. Science majors there study actual science — not young-Earth creationism. And their biblical and religious studies classes are taught by real scholars in those fields. They seem far-removed from the purity purges of the religious-right culture warriors.
But I might have said the same thing about Wheaton College ten years ago. Or about Southern Seminary 30 years ago.
And here is the problem: Both John Fea and Warren Throckmorton are well known and well-respected (for now) for debunking the falsehoods and fabrications of right-wing pseudo-historian David Barton and his theocratic Christian nationalism. (Here’s a link to Fea’s posts on Barton, and here are Throckmorton’s.) Right now, their work critiquing Barton and Bartonism is widely admired as a sign of integrity and a badge of honor for the evangelical institutions that employ them. But that could change, very rapidly, in the months ahead.
To summarize the rest of the post, Clark is worried that if Cruz gets the GOP nomination, big money evangelical Republican voters who want to stop Hillary Clinton at all costs will rally around the Texas Senator.
And if the Republican Party winds up rallying behind Ted Cruz, then the gatekeepers of white evangelicalism will fall in line. They’ll do so partly out of reflexive partisan loyalty, but partly out of financial necessity, because many of the same big donors who have contributed more than $38 million to David Barton’s pro-Cruz super-PAC are the same rich white guys who write big checks supporting mainstream evangelical institutions.
If it comes to that — if partisan identity and financial security both compel evangelical institutions to get in line in support of Ted Cruz — then it will also follow that outspoken critics of Cruz’s buddy, David Barton, will no longer be allowed to be either outspoken or critical. The boundary lines of white evangelical acceptability will shift. Barton and Bartonism will have to be included. And therefore critics of Barton and Bartonism will have to be excluded.
If Ted Cruz gets the nomination, Barton’s critics will abruptly be officially designated as “controversial” — the first step in an inexorable process of marginalization that can only be mitigated by a ritual of groveling apology that no one with integrity could ever comply with. Throckmorton’s scholarly rejection of “reparative therapy” for LGBT people may be dragged out to pressure Grove City to distance itself from this “controversial” professor. Fea may be criticized for his fondness for The Ghost of Tom Joad (Steinbeck and Guthrie are practically Marx and Lenin, after all). And I suppose having the support of the likes of me will only be a liability at that point.
I want to thank Clark for calling attention to my blog, but I think my criticism of David Barton is pretty mainstream among historians at evangelical Christian colleges. In fact, I don’t know of any American historian at a Christian colleges who agree with Barton’s politically-charged interpretations of the past.
I don’t know if there is any overlap between Cruz donors and Messiah College donors. I imagine that some overlap exists, but that is a question for my friends in the Development Office. (I do know that there is some overlap between Messiah College donors and Glenn Beck fans).
I love Messiah College and hope I can stay at this institution as long as possible. I cannot fathom a scenario in which the administration would not have my back on this issue–Cruz or no Cruz.