I learned from George Yancey Tuesday or Wednesday that the murderer at the Chabad of Poway synagogue was the exception that tests the rule: a Church-going Evangelical who commits an ideology-driven crime.
For decades, the commentariat has blamed conservative Christians for heinous crimes, routinely getting way out over their skis on it but never paying a price when it turns out the criminals weren’t regular church-goers, whatever they might have adopted as a religious label.
Still, even a blind pig sometimes finds truffles, and a broken clock is right twice per day. 19-year-old John Earnest was a member of an Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC — not to be confused with the Orthodox Church), his father was an elder and he was well-catechized, as Julie Zaumer reports, at greater length than Yancey, in the Washington Post.
Yet Earnest picked up anti-semitic ideology that managed to co-exist with his Christian beliefs.
I’m passingly familiar with the OPC, and can vouch that anti-semitism is not inculcated there, although philo-semitism isn’t as obligatory there as in the different sort of Evangelicalism in which I sojourned from age 14 through my late 20s (through parental inadvertence — our mutual Christian boarding school choice).
Zaumer does a very good job teasing out several such doctrinal niceties within Evangelicalism, as Washington Post “God Beat” reporters so often do (its Acts of Faith is a daily web stop for me). And there are tantalizingly-unexpected data, such as Earnest’s pastor being “the only African American pastor in the entire OPC denomination,” who gets accused of “Cultural Marxism” when he preaches anything about “social justice” (latter scare-quotes for symmetry).
But here I set up my soapbox.
Evangelicalism is not doctrinally homogenous. It has Churches where love of Jews is taught for the “thanks-but-no-thanks” reason that the modern nation-state of Israel is a sina qua non to an end-times script of lurid battles, a bizarre mass body-snatching by God (“the Rapture”) and such; you also have the OPC, its amillenial position being much closer to historic Christianity. What loosely binds them together as a movement is what Mars Hill Audio Journal‘s Ken Myers calls “orthopathos” (“right feeling”) or, if you want to get geeky about it, the Bebbington Quadrilateral.
A fortiori, and setting aside endless debates about who’s right and who’s wrong (spoiler alert: the Orthodox Church is right — and homogenous in Nicene dogma), Christianity is not homogenous.
Likewise, Islam is not homogenous. There’s Sunni, Shia, Suffi, and probably as many other flavors as there are Imams in the world. It is not homogenous, I submit, for the same reason Protestantism is not homogenous: disparate good- and bad-faith interpretations of a holy text held to be foundational.
If you want to say that John Earnest wasn’t a real Christian, or that his Christianity was tragically tinctured with toxic non-Christian (if not anti-Christian) ideologies, you must be prepared to respectfully entertain the same possibility about “Islamic terrorism.”
Having done so, you may conclude that Islam is more prone to terroristic ideology than Christianity, but I doubt that you could honestly and intelligently claim that Islam is uniformly terroristic, let alone the idiotic trope that it’s “not even a religion.”
I may overhear some of the internal Evangelical discussions about this incident, and can easily imagine revisiting it (the part before the soapbox, too). Already, I’ve seen Alan Jacobs link to this article.
INSTANT UPDATE: I apparently misread Zaumer. Rev. Mika Edmondson, the African-American OPC pastor, was not Earnest’s pastor, though he had preached recently at Earnest’s Chuch. The mistake was one of primacy in the story: the first pastor quoted and referred to as “pastor” and quoted as saying “radicalized into white nationalism from within the very midst of our church,” which I took to mean congregation rather than denomination.
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