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Posted by on May 6, 2010 in Uncategorized

Evangelicals Under Attack: Al Mohler & Franklin Graham on Secular Oppression

Earlier this week, Rev. Franklin Graham sat down with Newsweek editor Jon Meacham for a brief interview about his disinvitation from the National Day of Prayer ceremony held at the Pentagon. Mid-way through the interview, Meacham pointedly asked Graham: “Do you believe that Christianity is under siege?” Graham replied in the affirmative. In a separate interview with Newsmax, Graham reiterated this persecuted Christian theme and suggested that secular oppression was right around the corner.

This rhetoric of Christian (read: evangelical) persecution is not unfamiliar to Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. On May 4, 2010, Mohler posted a lengthy blog post titled “It’s Getting Dangerous Out There – A Preacher Is Arrested in Britain.” Mohler’s column begins: “We have seen this coming for some time now. The public space has been closing, especially when it comes to Christian speech – and especially when that speech is about homosexuality.”

Mohler goes on to tell the story of Dale McAlpine, a British Baptist street preacher, who was arrested in London’s Hyde Park for preaching against homosexuality. Without a doubt, McAlpine’s religious liberty has been violated. However, Mohler implies to his largely American audience that what happened to McAlpine in England will soon happen to conservative evangelicals in the United States. Mohler concludes: “Do not think for a moment that this troubling development is of consequence only for street preachers in Britain. The signal sent by this kind of arrest reaches right into every church in every nation where a similar logic takes hold.”

Mohler’s comparison of England to the United States is less than honest. He ignores a number of inconvenient facts. First, England does not have a codified constitution. There is no equivalent in England to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Freedoms are found in statutory laws passed by Parliament. Religious freedom in England has always been treated as a right subject to legislative restrictions.

Mohler also conveniently fails to point out that the relationship between religious institutions and government is quite different in England. Conservative evangelical scholar Stephen Monsma has described this relationship as “Partial Establishment.” The Church of England is recognized as the official established church, the Queen holds the title of “Supreme Governor” of the Church of England, and seats are reserved in the House of Lords for senior Anglican officials. Most importantly, the advancement or promotion of religion is considered to be a charitable purpose by the English government. As a result, the overwhelming majority of religious schools in England are partially subsidized by the state. The English government also heavily subsidizes the work of religious social service providers. One survey found that government funds amount to 80% of the budgets of the top 3,800 charities in England, religious and secular alike.

Mohler never mentions to his readers that those of us in the United States enjoy real religious liberty and freedom of speech in the United States. Our First Amendment provides protections unparalleled in other nations including England. Congress cannot strip away our freedoms. We have a Constitution that protects Mohler’s right to speak out against homosexuality. The English do not.

We’re talking about Apples and Oranges. Mohler would have his readers believe we’re talking Apples and Apples. Mohler is not ignorant of the fact that England has a different (and liberty limiting) church-state model than the United States.

Mohler is certainly not a dumb guy. In fact, I would argue that he is a masterful “interpreter” of culture, facts be damned. However, when you are selling fear and actively pushing this persecuted Christian identity, sometimes facts get in the way. Nuances and real differences get in the way of the argument that Mohler is trying to make. And many of Mohler’s readers will eagerly buy what Mohler is selling – an excellent salesman, no doubt!

I’m always somewhat humored though by prominent evangelicals like Franklin Graham and Al Mohler who position themselves as part of some persecuted Christian minority. Franklin Graham is the son of Billy Graham who is probably the most famous religious leader of the 20th century. Franklin grew up the son of a man who held the title of “Pastor to Presidents.” Throughout his life, Franklin has had access to some of the most powerful men and women in the world. Now, Franklin is the victim of oppression.

Meanwhile, Mohler has been dubbed by TIME Magazine as the “reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the United States.” He too has access to powerful elected officials in addition to having the ear of the media. Nonetheless, Mohler would have you believe that he and his fellow conservative evangelicals are under attack.

These evangelical men have invested much time and energy in shaping American culture. Evangelicals have been credited with the re-election of President George W. Bush in 2004. Evangelicals of the Mohler/Graham variety wield a tremendous amount of influence in the Republican Party. That’s undeniable. White evangelicalism is a political force to be reckoned with. Al Mohler and Franklin Graham are leading voices in that movement, a movement that oozes privilege and has not experienced persecution.

All that said, Mohler and Graham both have done a true disservice to those facing actual oppression in American society by encouraging other evangelicals to embrace this persecuted Christian identity. Let’s hope that one day Mohler, Graham & Company will stop peddling fear and stop trivializing the plight of individuals who suffer from real oppression.

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  1. Weaver,
    You are truly a left-wing fundamentalist.

  2. Someone give Mr. Anonymous Coward a cookie; such an intelligent, thought-provoking comment…

    Next time, sign your name. Otherwise, Imma gonna delete.

  3. If I am not mistaken, Dr. Mohler studied in England, I think at Oxford. If true, then he would be up on constitution/parliamentary differences re: religious ‘freedom’.

    Is Al Mohler going over the edge into Dominionism, I wonder?
    Or just testing the waters?

  4. No idea if Mohler has spent anytime in England. His degrees are from Baptist schools: Samford and Southern Seminary.

    You may be thinking of Richard Land whose terminal degree is from Oxford.

    Dominionism is a category that is more popular on the web than in the academy. I prefer to stick with evangelical and fundamentalist.

  5. A fair reading of Dr. Mohler’s article shows he’s not comparing rights/laws, but the logic pattern at work. He writes:

    “This arrest is a clear sign that the LOGIC of ‘hate speech’ laws and similar rules and campus codes runs into direct collision with religious liberty and the freedom of religious speech….”

    “We will soon learn which nations truly believe in religious liberty and freedom of speech. Cases like this are inevitable when the LOGIC of hate speech and special rights for ‘sexual minorities’ prevails.

    Do not think for a moment that this troubling development is of consequence only for street preachers in Britain. The signal sent by this kind of arrest reaches right into every church in every nation where a similar LOGIC takes hold.

    Yes, we will soon learn which nations honor religious liberty ….”

    His point is clear, concise and IMO neither disservice nor fearmongering. We know that some conflicts between free speech and religious liberty exist in our country; you’ve talked about it on this blog. If jurisdictions here enact hate speech laws and also make sexual orientation a protected category, do you believe street preaching of Bible verses on homosexuality could never result in arrest?

  6. Agree to disagree – I think my reading of Mohler was quite charitable.

    Mohler is aware of the differences between the two systems but instead chose to completely ignore those differences. We can talk about “logic patterns” all day but eventually other factors have to be considered. Mohler did not consider those real factors which do seem to hinder his argument.

    Mohler is an advocate (that’s being charitable). Most would characterize Mohler was a culture warrior. When Mohler chooses to ignore those revelant factors and differences, his arguments serve the purpose of arousing fear. No sociologist of religion or even informed observer would argue that “warriors” on both the Left and Right do not routinely ignore facts and craft arguments in a way that results in exaggeration and arouses fear. Mohler has done just that here. It furthers his particular agenda but does not further dialogue on these issues.

    I’m not familiar with “hate speech laws.” I am familiar with hate crimes legislation. The latter of which only comes into play when a crime has been committed against a targeted special group be it a white man attacking an African-American man due to his race or a African-American man attacking a gay man due to his sexual orientation. I am not, however, aware of any laws that make illegal speech of any kind. I don’t think any members of Westboro Baptist have ever been arrested for their anti-gay message.

    We now have a large body of legislation and court decision that protect the free exercise rights and free speech rights of Americans. Questions over whether a person can preach against homosexuality from the pulpit or the public square have been settled by courts. Shoot, a person can still preach a message of white superiority if they so choose. A small small minority still do. Religiously-motivated racist beliefs have not been criminalized. I’m sure someday someone will be wrongly arrested. That’s not uncommon in our society. But that’s what we have the courts for, correct?

  7. Agree that the legal point you make is important. So far the concept of hate speech here is primarily in campus speech codes and ‘similar rules,’ as Mohler noted, and occasional legislative proposals.

    You say it’s settled, Mohler says beware the logic.

  8. If his purpose is to arouse fear, maybe John’s was to in the book of Revelations. Do you really believe that is not possible in our country? Preachers are already being persecuted in some form or fashion,especially those that preach against sin, maybe not to the point of arrest yet, but I say, “just wait”

  9. I don’t think preachers in the United States are persecuted, particularly straight white male preachers who are evangelical. I might even contend that it’s a bit of an oxymoron for straight white conservative men to claim persecution rather than tremendous privilege.

  10. I totally agree, Rev. Angela, that it is a tremendous privilege that we live in a country where we are able to preach the gospel without fear at this point. I do not see how any one’s race or gender could be regarded as particular as all races, both male & female, have that opportunity to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. And while it is a privelege and we have the freedom to do so, I say Preach on, because the day will come when Christians will be greatly persecuted worldwide….red, yellow, black & white, male & female.

  11. Actually, from a legal and legislative perspective, I believe Equal Access and the RFRA actually accord more freedom of public expression for any kind of religious speech than anything that’s been done recently. This kind of thing that you hear from Mohler and Graham seems to pop up at election time, and is tagged on the politicians that the right wing doesn’t like, though I believe Bill Clinton’s signature is on both of those pieces of legislation I mentioned. I think it is pretty clear, if the Westboro crowd is free to roam the country at will, the tolerance for extremist religious speech, at least from a government perspective, runs pretty deep.

    If the day ever does come when conservative Christians face government oppression and persecution as a result of what they teach and preach, can we blame anyone but ourselves? There are people in America today who are persecuted because of their race or their religion, and I don’t see a lot of people standing in line to defend their rights. If anyone’s rights are in danger, everyone’s rights are in danger.

  12. Big Daddy Weave says:

    “Our First Amendment provides protections unparalleled in other nations including England. Congress cannot strip away our freedoms.”

    I would agree with your above statement for the most part. If you look at the text of the first amendment, you see the subject of it is Congress. The problem is that subsequent court decisions have eroded what the framers intended. No longer can just Congress violate the first amendment. States and even individuals can according to recent court decisions. My fear is not Congress but a Supreme Court that legislates from the bench instead of interpreting the Constitution.

    I believe there is coming a day in this more and more poltically correct country where preaching the Word of God will be costly to the messenger!

  13. Aaron:
    I want you and your Dad and Barry Hankins to watch Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon when it comes out on DVD in June and see if you think there are any fair analogies to Mohler and SBC fundamentalism.
    Do see the various UK Guardian reviews to help frame your thinking and interpretation of the film.

  14. Thank you for this post. I grew up in the BJU fundamentalist camp (on campus actually) and heard these claims of “persecution” quite often. I now understand that there was no religious persecution at all. In the case of Bob Jones University they chose to fight to the supreme court claiming their right to segregate was biblically mandated. Later in 2000 BJ3 lifted the very rule that they chose to defend all the way to the supreme court claiming that they never asserted it was biblically based…..sheesh…..whatever. Other claims of religious persecution had to do with abusers covering up their sins and not wanting to follow reasonable government rules, e.g., Roloff Homes and others.

    So to find a more balanced view on this so-called oppression is refreshing indeed. Thank you.

  15. I read Big dad’s bio. I actually believe in the gospel of and by Christ Maybe you should big dad. Being progessive is empowering government and defying the charitable spirit of man. Being moderate sounds good. But fact is, it’s nonsense. It means nothing without context. Iread your article. You actually believe our constitution will prevent ministers from free speech? Tell that to the unborn child who is the victim of OUR CONSTITUTION!!!!!

  16. I am so sick of these snake oil salesmen. They do nothing but beg for money and preach hate and fear. They have to make folks believe they have a stronger relationship with God, thus they can advise you. Shows how weak people are, searching for someone to tell them what they want to hear. These gloom and doom fear fools are laughing all the way to the bank!!!! And, what exactly has Franklin Graham done besides slide into his dads honey hole. He’s done nothing in his own right. Guess legacy works in religion too.


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