“A large powder keg of resentment directed at evangelical Christianity in the United States.” That’s how BuzzFeed contributing writer Laura Turner described the criticism that descended upon mega-church minister Joel Osteen during the height of the Houston flooding.
But though the early parts of her article concentrated on Osteen and the Twitter-fueled narrative that his Lakewood Church kept its doors closed to flood-displaced Houstonians, and though she did acknowledge in passing that mainstream evangelicalism rejects the prosperity-gospel doctrine of Osteen, it was apparent that Turner was driving towards an indictment of evangelical Christianity itself.
And for those who read far enough, that’s exactly what she did:
The backlash against Lakewood Church, and the resentment fueling it, ties into a larger national narrative around the hypocrisy of politically involved evangelical leaders who helped put Donald Trump in office. American evangelicalism in the last four decades has been an increasingly politicized movement, rooted in many ways in the establishment of the Moral Majority, a political action group whose very name declared its concern with rectitude and character. Yet evangelicals are more often known for what they are against — abortion, same-sex marriage — than what they are for. More and more, prominent evangelicals seem to be folding conservative politics into their belief system.
Virtually every sentence of this paragraph is wrong.
First, if any national narrative of resentment fueled the backlash against Lakewood Church, it was unquestionably the resentment of wealth and privilege, not evangelicalism. The criticism on Twitter was specific and pointed straight at Osteen personally. And the images, memes, and tweets were attacking his opulent wealth, not his “evangelicalism.”
Turner, like probably every writer at BuzzFeed, has a real problem with evangelical support for President Trump (a problem I am obviously sympathetic towards). But this was a transparent attempt to shoehorn Trump resistance into a story about Osteen and Christians. It’s an irresponsible stretch that distracts from the real story Turner supposedly set out to cover.
Further, the only reason evangelicals are “more often known for what they are against” is one of the oldest journalistic tricks of the trade. It’s all about framing. As an evangelical Christian myself, it’s completely fair to say that I oppose abortion. But another way of saying that, of course, is to say that I favor a right to life for all humans, convenient or not. Conversely, those that are “for” abortion rights, could be described fairly and accurately as “against” an unconditional right to life for all humans. It is merely the strategy of hostile media (like BuzzFeed) to define evangelicals in negative terms.
And if it seems to Laura Turner and her bosses at BuzzFeed that prominent evangelicals are increasingly “folding conservative politics into their belief system,” that is largely because the public sphere is becoming increasingly hostile to the natural law and moral order of the Creator – something that evangelical Christians are compelled to resist. While it’s true that most prominent American evangelical leaders in 1932 weren’t speaking about the evil of abortion, that can be explained by the fact that society hadn’t embraced child killing as a moral good. Ditto that on same-sex romantic and sexual relationships, sex changes, and gender bending.
But those fairly obvious realities undermine the cause of marginalizing evangelical Christianity as some backwards, corrupt, hypocritical belief system. And if you don’t think that’s what Laura and BuzzFeed are intent on doing, simply consider that they opted for this kind of an article rather than reporting on the massive humanitarian relief work being conducted by Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians throughout the state of Texas right now.
Maybe Ms. Turner and her employer should start being known for what they’re against; namely, evangelical Christianity.