Jason Micheli vs James Dobson

Jason Micheli —  August 21, 2013 — 3 Comments

james_dobson_756079At a friend’s house for dinner recently, someone compared me to Anthony Bourdain or, rather, called me the Anthony Bourdain of the Church world.

Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential and host of No Reservations, brings a dark cynical eye, soul of a poet, biting tongue and sometimes bigger heart to the culinary world. Bourdain can bring crappy cooks to tears for their sloppy ways but then around and wax poetic about the Jersey sliders of his youth.

Simply put, it was the most flattering comparison any one has ever made about me. I was on cloud 9 for days.

But then came this comparison from the blogosphere, contrasting me with James Dobson, the blowhard Pharisee who heads of Focus on the Family. Dobson got his start peddling his own particular brand of ‘use the rod, beat the child’ common sense psychology and today serves as the unelected Caiphus of Texas.

As the article rightly notes, I’m not in Dobson’s league at all- but I really like the comparison.

The article is from Slacktivist, arguing that what really defines evangelicalism today isn’t biblicism or orthodox belief but strident antipathy toward homosexuality:

james_dobson.06.01.07_lrgWhite evangelicals who are like that are completely secure in their place within the subculture. They get speaking gigs, tenure, book deals and constant affirmation from throughout the larger white evangelical community. Their standing within the tribe is unquestioned, unchallenged and  not “controversial.” But those of us who aren’t like that are, at best, treated as “controversial” and only semi-legitimate members of the tribe. We aren’t usually even allowed to say that we’re part of us.

The tribe draws its own boundaries. That’s done by the gatekeepers within the tribe — not by some conspiratorial “narrative advanced by the news and entertainment media.”

Those rabidly political types who claim to represent all of white evangelicalism are allowed to do so. The tribal gatekeepers never refer to Tony Perkins or James Dobson or Pat Robertson as “post-evangelical” conservatives. Yet folks like Brian McLaren or Jay Bakker are routinely classified as no longer legitimate members of the tribe.

The message there is clear: Rabidly political evangelicals who revile LGBT people in the most vicious terms remain welcome in the tribe. Bible-quoting, Jesus-loving evangelicals who refuse to condemn LGBT people have crossed a boundary and are no longer welcome. The news and entertainment media did not create that boundary, the tribal gatekeepers did.

Or, to put it another way: Here is Jason Micheli’s response to the Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality. Here is James Dobson’s response. One of those men is an evangelical icon, was the subject of a hagiographic Christianity Today cover story, and his books can be found in the homes of millions of white evangelicals. The other is not regarded as an evangelical at all, even though he’d fit any Bebbington-style theological definition anyone would care to use.

Such theological definitions don’t matter. You will never be branded as “controversial” or banished from the evangelical tribe for insufficient biblicism. Or because your enthusiasm for crucicentrism, conversionism or missional activism is regarded as suspect. But if you’re feminist or pro-gay, you’re out. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

Bebbington, schmebbington. The tribe defines itself: An evangelical is a white Protestant who opposes legal abortion and homosexuality. Period.

You can read the full article here.

Jason Micheli

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3 responses to Jason Micheli vs James Dobson

  1. What does “evangelical” mean, anyway? This question has troubled me for a few years now. At Duke Div, evangelicals were present, but felt like a vocal minority, always a little less than “progressive” or however you want to classify the rest of the students/faculty. But, to be honest, I have no idea what an evangelical is.

    Given what I’ve heard and read, I seem to be out of the camp. I’m a fellow Mainliner (cradle UMC) and so should fall more into the progressive/mainline camp. And in many respects I do, but a recent article I came across in JETS (possibly the best journal title ever; Journal for the Evangelical Theological Society) made me question my non-evangelical status. I don’t know that I’m a full-fledged evangelical, but I feel like a hybrid between the progressive/evangelical options. The article is “The Emerging Divine in Evangelical Theology” by Gerald R. McDermott.

    I’m curious where, or if you would, self-identify between the labels. I’d love to follow Hauerwas and just say I’m a Christian, but my interest has been peaked by this question and ongoing conversation.

    • It’s a good question, Josh, and I’ll definitely give it more thought. I’ve always been torn between not wanting to cede the meaning of the term to others but not wanting to be associated with what are, really truly, it’s primary designations.

  2. I do not know where all the Pharisees are! I have met them in the so called “mainline” church and in the evangelical church. I am married to a woman who is a survivor of sexual abuse. During the last 7 years of ministry in the “mainline” Methodist Church, I was literally yelled at my one DS because my wife had come out of the closet as a sexual abuse survivor, An SPRC of a certified “Welcoming” Church informed me they could not have a pastor’s wife known to be sexually abused nor did they want to meet her child who was conceived in rape/incest. Two other DS’s did not yell – but let me know that self identified sexual abuse survivors are not welcome in their parsonages. The final straw was when a leader in the MFSA, after a meeting celebrating a church becoming a “reconciling” congregation made it very clear that my wife should return to the closet. I have met many Pharisees among the so called “Progressives” in the “Mainline” as outlined above. Do I think they are in the Evangelical side as well? yes but I have not met as many there. (In fairness I have probably not been exposed to as many either). In the meantime I have retired and do not ever anticipate listening to a 20 minute “rant” from a DS on this subject. If that is what he was like at home, I do not blame his wife for divorcing him! I would have done the same thing!

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