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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: May 22, 2005
Latest Update: May 22, 2005
This lecture was prompted by an article in the New York Time series: Class Matters, especially the article relating to religious belief: On a Christian Mission to the Top: Evangelicals Set Their Sights on the Ivy League by Laurie Goodstein and David D. Kirkpatrick, on Sunday, May 22, 2005. Backup.
I found this article hard to read, largely because I so fervently believe in separation of church and state. Two things make me feel that way: one, I expressed in my concern for Pope Benedict XVI's refusal to accept the Lutheran's objection to the "supremacy" of the Catholoic church, and the other I expressed in teaching illocutionary understanding. I object to the cocept of proselytizing to the one "right," or, I guess, "supreme" God. My reason for these objections is that if I insist that "my way" is the right way and impose that on anyone, by offering food, aid, trade, life, afterlife, love, whatever in exchange for agreement, that is neither an illocutionary contract, nor a governance contract. It's not illocutionary because I'm not taking the Other's perspective, culture and understanding into account. It's not democratic governance because democratic governance requires that every citizen or member of the society governed by the decisions made in governance discourse be allowed to have his/her validity claims heard in good faith. Once again, this amounts to not listening in good faith for the "Other."
On the other hand, I share many values with Evangelical Christians, as I do with those of most beliefs, including atheism. I deplore the continuing reliance on the plastic intimacy of pornography and prostitution, including ads that sell with sex. But we aren't the only ones having trouble with this. So are the Evangelical Christians, as I reported recently. That might be because none of us knows how, as we mature into a global urban-led population how we will deal with the need for acceptance, security, sense of esteem and love, that allows us to enter real relationships instead of reassuring ourselves with the fantasy of pornography and prostitution. I was horrified by a Channel 4 news report Saturday night that many women are having affairs outside marriage. Like the Evangelical Christians, I was horrified because this is contrary to the values and beliefs with which I was reared, and I had to think twice when a young woman asked, "Would you rather pretend that it's not so? Or would you rather listen (in good faith) and try to understand why it's happneing and what can be done about it?" Tough question for a lot of us. And why am I surprised when men have been having affairs outside of marriage for eons now? I'm afraid for how this translates into divorce, effects on the children, greater poverty for women and children, and tremendous stress on communal institutions, like extended families, schools, housing, and the labor market.
Same thing with the class question. Does class matter? And what does Evangelical Christianity have to do with class? Early Evangelical Christians were associated with lower class Christianity, and engaged in less than middle-class dignity with talking in voices and other openly emotional behavior at large meetings, as they communicated with God. As a small child I was taken to these meetings. They were ardently attended in the South by Catholics as well as protestants. In the South, where Episcopalians, or Catholics in Catholic Louisiana, were considered upper class, Evangelicals were considered lower class. Over the years, as the NY Times article explains, Evangelicals have moved upwards into economic and status success, so that the label of lower class is no longer accurate. But the elites of the East Coast do still pretty much predominate in the Ivy League colleges."The most striking example of change in how evangelicals see themselves and their place in the world may be the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination. It was founded in Hot Springs, Ark., in 1914 by rural and working-class Christians who believed that the Holy Spirit had moved them to speak in tongues. Shunned by established churches, they became a sect of outsiders, and their preachers condemned worldly temptations like dancing, movies, jewelry and swimming in public pools. But like the Southern Baptists and other conservative denominations, the Assemblies gradually dropped their separatist strictures as their membership prospered and spread.
"As the denomination grew, Assemblies preachers began speaking not only of heavenly rewards but also of the material blessings God might provide in this world. The notion was controversial in some evangelical circles but became widespread nonetheless, and it made the Assemblies' faith more compatible with an upwardly mobile middle class.
"By the 1970's, Assemblies churches were sprouting up in affluent suburbs across the country. Recent surveys by Margaret Poloma, a historian at the University of Akron in Ohio, found Assemblies members more educated and better off than the general public."
On a Christian Mission to the Top, at p. A 23.
As I went through the article I found references to Tim Havens' mother's concern for what might happen to him in an Ivy League college as a freshman. I couldn't imagine what she meant precisely by this fear for him. Tim gave several indirect references which didn't make sense to me:"But his modest means did not stand out as much as his efforts to guard his morals. He did not drink, and he almost never cursed. And he was determined to stay "pure" until marriage, though he did not lack for attention from female students. Just as his mother feared, Mr. Havens, a broad-shouldered former wrestler with tousled brown hair and a guileless smile, wavered some his freshman year and dated several classmates.
" 'I was just like, 'Oh, I can get this girl to like me,' " he recalled. " 'Oh, she likes me; she's cute.' And so it was a lot of fairly short and meaningless relationships. It was pretty destructive.' "
On a Christian Mission to the Top, at p. A 22.
I didn't see why dating classmates at Brown University was a problem, except for that reference to staying "pure" before marriage. He clarified in the next paragraph that the a cappella Christian choir helped him in his sophomore year rededicate "himself to serving God, and by his senior year he was running his own Bible-study group, hoping to inoculate first-year students against the temptations he had faced. They challenged one another, Mr. Havens said, "committing to remain sexually pure, both in a physical sense and in avoiding pornography and ogling women and like that." Mr. Havens is now engaged, but notes that his is a "chaste romance": ""I didn't kiss her until I asked her to marry me. . ."
On a Christian Mission to the Top, at p. A 23.
Though I respect his commitment to respect marriage, I'm not sure that I believe the solution to avoid future divorce consists in not dating and/or in not kissing until engagement. That's a pretty difficult standard and one that goes way back in time. Remember mythos and logos, and how mythos tends to look back in time to the good old days that were. Not. Those good old days have been romanticized by our memories, and many in this world are looking forward. This is, in fact, one of the ways Karen Armstrong tells us that fundamentalists are different from modernists, in looking back to a "golden age," and wanting to go back literally to their perception of how things were then.
I find the upwardly mobile movement of evangelicals generally into the middle and upper classes an important lesson in how an excluded group can make a meaningful difference, even when excluded by those in power. Those are the lessons I hope we learn from this. Not one of forcing all the strictures currently embraced by evangelicals on pain of "buringing forever in Hell." To this end I included one of the letters to the editors, which says so clearly hat Christianity is about love, not about control and adversarialsim. love and peace, jeanne