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January 26, 2007

Whose Friends? Whose Fringe?

In preparation for a visit by Catherine the Great to the Crimea, her minister Grigori Potemkin -- so the story goes -- erected a series of fake villages, often little more than facades, along the road she would travel. The goal was to impress Catherine with the value of her new possessions.

I thought about Grigori Alexsandrovich while I watched Friends of God: A Road Trip With Alexandra Pelosi last night on HBO. Actually, I thought about the criticisms of the film I had read.

Her critics didn't accuse Pelosi, the youngest daughter of the Speaker of the House, of animus towards her subject, American Evangelicals. They couldn't, especially after she told the New York Times that

I believe in the culture war . . . And you know what? If I have to take a side in the culture war I'll take their side [conservative Evangelicals]. Because if you give me the choice of Paris Hilton or Jesus, I'll take Jesus.

Instead, the criticism centered around Pelosi's choice of Evangelicals. As one critic, who called the film a "fascinating and entertaining piece," put it, "a lot of people [in the movie] are clearly the fringe people of the evangelical community."

Fringe, as in a "marginal or peripheral part"? That depends in your definition of "marginal" and "peripheral." I recognized every one of the folks in Pelosi's films and that recognition wasn't rooted in some distant or long-repressed memory. On the contrary, the aesthetics being labeled "fringe" will be familiar to anyone who has ever attended a Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) convention, browsed in a Christian bookstore, or gone through the mail here at BreakPoint.

As you may know, Ted Haggard, the former president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), plays Virgil to Pelosi's Dante in the film. As you may also know, at one point, Haggard tells Pelosi, "You know, all the surveys say that evangelicals have the best sex life of any other group." After Pelosi replies, "No way," Haggard asks some church members for confirmation which they, albeit sheepishly, provide.

While, in light of what subsequently happened, Haggard's prominence in the film is, well, unfortunate, it's not a cheap shot. Haggard volunteered this ultimately ironic tidbit and, besides, he's hardly the only Evangelical who has used this factoid as part of their case for Evangelical faith. Punto y aparte.

Just as any road trip worth the name includes not only the Gateway Memorial and Pike's Peak but also the world's largest ball of twine, Pelosi's road trip wasn't limited to mega-churches in affluent suburbs. She stopped in a small town in Texas (Rockwall) where she interviewed the folks from the Christian Wrestling Federation (CWF). She spent time with a group of Christian car collectors. And she spent time with "conservative comedian" Brad Stine.

Calling Evangelical analogues to mainstream pop culture phenomena "fringe" requires an air-brushing of history and a highly selective view of the world. While each of these groups by themselves are small, the attitude towards faith and culture they represent is hardly "marginal" or "peripheral." On the contrary, they're probably more representative than Pelosi's critics care to admit. They are consistent with the dominant Evangelical cultural mode of the post-Scopes era -- what my friend Terry Mattingly calls "the photocopy technique" of doing culture. You know, where "Christian" is used as an adjective: "Christian aerobics, Christian cappuccino, Christian counseling."

This is especially true when it comes to another subject of the film, creationism. Pelosi's road trip includes a stop at the headquarters of Answers in Genesis. It is fair to characterize AiG as "young-Earth creationists" who teach that the Earth is tens of thousands, not billions, of years old, in keeping with their reading of Genesis and their interpretation of the physical evidence in light of that reading. Thus,

all the available evidence points to a recent catastrophic origin for the world’s vast oil deposits, from plant and other organic debris, consistent with the biblical account of earth history [the Genesis flood].

< You may agree with this conclusion or, like me, your eyes may roll so far back that they get stuck in the back of their sockets, but what you can't do is call this a "fringe" view. Especially since 45 percent of the respondents to 2004 Gallup poll agreed with the statement "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so."

While this statement doesn't, of logical necessity, require a belief in young-Earth creationism, it does require the holder to disregard the vast majority of the scientific evidence regarding the spread of homo sapiens sapiens. (For instance, this find in Minnesota, which dates back 13 to 15 thousand years, doesn't fit within the worldview of, if the poll is to be believed, 45 percent of Americans.)

In any case, the point here isn't the truth of young-Earth creationism or even that it's what most Evangelicals believe -- the point is that it isn't a "fringe" viewpoint. AiG and groups like it are every bit as influential (in high likelihood, more) in Evangelical churches -- as distinct from Evangelical elite discourse -- than the folks at the Discovery Institute.

When Haggard's successor at NAE, Leith Anderson, tells the Times that "there is a broad diversity of evangelicals, a diversity in race, politics and denominations, " he's right, of course. And part of that "broad diversity" are groups like AiG, the Christian Wrestling Federation, Christian car clubs and Brad Stine. (Not to mention Joel Osteen who, whatever you think of his theology, is the opposite of "fringe.") Expecting Pelosi to stick to Sun Belt mega-churches and other "mainstream" institutions is a little like expecting Catherine to stay in her carriage. (Besides, if the folks at the CWF matches are ",fringe" what do you call the people at the handful of perfectly integrated Evangelical churches?)

After watching Friends of God, my thoughts went from Russia to Puerto Rico. The complaints about Pelosi's choice of Evangelicals remind me of the story "Y Tu Abuela, Donde Esta?" in which a newly-respectable family tries to hide its mestizo past by hiding grandma (who is "too" dark) in the basement when their son's fiancee visits. Eventually, the fiancee asks, "Y tu abuela, donde esta?" (where's your grandmother?"), which has become a put-down of those who sanitize their past, especially with regards to their origins, for the sake of a more respectable present.

If we're embarrassed by the folks in Pelosi's film, say so. If you consider them beyond the pale, say so. But don't be mad at Pelosi for looking in the basement.

Besides, I loved my grandmother.


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I truly believe Pelosi thought she was finding the "face" of evangelical Christianity without any "ulterior motive" to be patronizing, at best, and sneering, at worst. I think, to use some cliches, her heart was in the right place, and her intentions were the best. I just wish she chose a broader brush and looked at some of the other faces of evangelical Christianity. (I haven't watched yet, so if I'm wrong, correct me.) For example, for balance, Jim Wallis and Brian McLaren. And for our own pride, perhaps some of the "thinking Christians" -- the intellectuals, the writers/thinkers. Funny thing is when I tried to name a couple to Travis today, I kept naming Catholics. ( : But seriously, people like Stott, Phil Johnson, Zacharias. To paint a face of Christianity, you need a much broader brush. But I do appreciate her sincerity.


To save the very gospel itself, there cannot be evolution before the Fall. At least not the Darwinian and neo-Darwinian kind. For then God would have used what He calls sin, and called that "very good", which would make the Law nonsensical, the Fall irrelevant, and Jesus death on the Cross, meaningless.

There are over 700 Ph.D.s in the natural sciences who believe in Biblical creation. There are quite a few actual models being tested, and those that fail, are rejected. It is real science. As someone very interested in some of the natural sciences, I do find some of the models to be plausible, and I see no reason to reject the Word of God, and Jesus' belief in the Creation, Fall, and the Flood, on the basis of the actual data.

Syncretism with non- and anti- Christian philosophies that undermine the Gospel, will, in time, destroy those denominations, which hold to them.

I can understand, a little, the ignorance that causes Christians to dis Biblical creation models. But I can't understand those who are scientists, familiar with the sciences, or who believe that they are in a place to teach fellow Christians, who do so, for they will have failed to examine the data, or they will be seeking, like Schliermacher and Bultmann, to gain the admiration of "Christianity's cultured dispisers." An effort which always fails, and may well be idolatrous.

Take a look at the -scientific- material, I challenge you. Not the popularizations, many of which are frankly embarrassing, but the actual papers.


If your eyes didn't "roll so far back that they get stuck in the back of their sockets" you might be able to discern real science from bogus science.

To state that to believe in young-earth creationism requires "the holder to disregard the vast majority of the scientific evidence regarding the spread of homo sapiens sapiens," and then use demonstrably fallible scientific claims "(For instance, this find in Minnesota, which dates back 13 to 15 thousand years" is quite comical.

It is obvious the author hasn't studied the 'science' of current dating methods. What is disturbing, on this Christian blog, is that he apparently doesn't know his Bible very well either. In Genesis 3, we encounter the first sin, and the direct result of that was the first death. We also have the genealogies listed from the first man, Adam, to the person of Jesus. One either believes the Words recorded in Scripture, or they do not. If they do not, they can very easily suck up fallible science, by fallible man. If you knew the history of evolution that has generated the term homo sapiens sapiens, you would laugh - not support it.

Dating methods:
Homo sapiens sapiens:


I find it puzzling that I am unable to find someone making a high profile statement that the paleontology, the geolologic layers and the fossil evidence were put there that way. I get the impression that there is an underlying supposition that a fossil must have necessarily come from a once live specimen. If I believe that there is an Intelligent Designer who can create the DNA molecule, the human eye, the vast galaxies and the quantum mechanic, how is it that the same Intellignet Designer is disqualified from creating a mature universe including the traces and tracks of age and history? Is it possible that the signs of the age of the cosmos are part of the irreducible complexity?

Where is Centurion51 when you need him?

David Cervera

The reason nearly no one advocates a "mature earth" or "mature universe" theory is the implication that God would create a world with the express purpose of tricking us. It's like God said, "Normally I'd take billions of years to make a Universe, but I'm short on time, so I'm just going to make it in six days and make it look like it's really old". In other words, if God wanted a Universe that appeared to be billions of years old, why not just take a few billion years to do it?

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