Essay / Misc.

Boyd: Off Message or On?

Greg Boyd is promoting a new book about how evangelicals should stay out of politics. With a tag like “evangelical mega-church pastor not toeing the GOP line,” he’s finding all the microphones of the established media pointing his way. Boyd was recently on a regional NPR morning show, working through talking points with the host and callers. Watch the dynamics of this exchange.

Host: Let me take another call from Cambridge, Massachussetts, Gwyn is on the line. Hi Gwyn, you’re on the air.

Caller: Hi, I just want to express my concern about the idea of having government that is led by people who believe that the most important thing is what happens in the hereafter, and which implies that it doesn’t really matter for instance global warming and the crisis in Iraq, in fact…

Host: Well, how can you say that they believe only in the hereafter, I mean they’ve taken a huge army into Iraq, that’s the here and now.

Caller: Yes, but, I believe that — I don’t know my Bible well– but I believe that at the end of the world, before the second coming of Christ, there is a crisis in the middle east, there is chaos, and so my question is, what do you do when you have leaders who believe that they’re rising during the rapture, and it doesn’t matter what happens to the rest of us, global warming doesn’t matter, because heaven is more important, and they’re going up and we’re not, we’re going down.

Host: That’s an interesting question, Gwyn, let’s pick it up, what about the end times expectations influence do you see that in public policy of president Bush, do you share that fear?

Boyd: Well, I don’t know if I see it in public policy, but the potential of it really concerns me. There are large groups of Christians who, they have a particular way of reading the Bible where they think that, there’s a prophecy that says that basically Israel is supposed to have all of the land that’s over there, and they feel that their call is to sort of help God fulfill that prophecy, and there are –and Pat Robertson really is one of the leaders on this– they’re putting pressure on the president to resist any kind of two-state solution.
The irony then is this: that you have people who, in the name of the one who died for Jews and Palestinians, and in the name of the one who teaches us to be peace-makers, we’re trying to interrupt the peace process, in the name of a Bible interpretation.. Now I don’t care about their Bible interpretation, they may be right and they may be wrong, but this is what happens when you start doing your politics on a theological foundation, it creates a lot of interesting and screwy and sometimes dangerous situations.

The most sympathetic, generous read of this exchange is that Boyd has in front of him a list of talking points, and is just waiting for callers’ questions as excuses to make his own prepared statements, obliquely related at best. Or maybe he’s groggy. But whatever the explanation (and more cynical ones are readily available), Boyd missed the chance here to put in a good word for the Christian faith. In fact, he let it be mocked and used the occasion to score points against people he disagrees with.

Extreme condensed paraphrase:

Caller: Religious people cannot be trusted with real world issues, because they believe in heaven and that makes them irresponsible about earth.
Host: Nyah nyah nyah, if you love heaven so much why don’t you go there?
Boyd: Let me tell you how bad Pat Robertson is.

It seems to me that when a Christian pastor agrees to go on public radio, he should be thinking about ways to recommend and defend Christian ideas like, say, heaven. When a caller serves up a good old-fashioned village atheist taunt that sounds like it came straight out of Bob Ingersoll’s handbook, a pastor or theologian ought to recognize it and think about how, much as he may hate Pat Robertson’s politics, this would be a good moment to say that there are some things that are basic to any version of consistent Christianity. After all, who could possibly care if Boyd and Robertson disagree about prophecy, if in fact this whole “heaven” thing is a big fairy tale? Host and caller agree that these superstitious folks are a funny (or is it scary?) lot, but the guest chooses this moment to score points against an easy target.

Apparently, thinks the NPR interviewer, there are some evangelicals you can have a decent conversation with. Let’s book this guy for a lot more shows. Memo to Greg Boyd: While you have the attention of the press (and anybody volunteering to help generate an evangelical left voting block is sure to have the undivided attention of the media until 2008), please stay alert and try to put in a good word for mere Christianity. Remember, on one side you have a world that thinks your God is imaginary, and on the other you have evangelicals you disagree with politically. You just wrote a whole book which ostensibly argues that we shouldn’t let politics undercut Christian witness. Better luck on the next few interviews?

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