How to Rightly Interpret the “Biblical Christianity or Political Conservatism” Meme
Last week I created the following meme:
It hasn’t gone viral but it is making the rounds on Facebook, Tumblr, etc. What I find interesting is how such a straightforward message is being interpreted in such radically different ways. Even more intriguing is the question of why certain people are reading it correctly while others aren’t. It seems to me this trend beautifully illustrates the human tendency to project our own thoughts, beliefs, and perspectives onto other people’s words while supposing we’ve retained objectivity. Since I have a high regard for authorial intent, however, I wanted to take this opportunity to tell people how to, and not to, rightly interpret the image’s message.
The best way to start is probably to identify wrong interpretations and dispel incorrect assumptions. I would make four points:
- This graphic isn’t a criticism of a particular set of political beliefs or political party–Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, libertarian or socialist, etc.
- Barack Obama is outside of the purview of this graphic. His name doesn’t appear, and this most certainly isn’t an endorsement of some sort.
- It’s not saying that evangelical Christians are inconsistent, or are even hypocritical, for voting for a Mormon presidential candidate.
- This is an in-house criticism among evangelicals. More specially, this isn’t an attack upon Mitt Romney’s religious beliefs, individual Mormons, or Mormonism on the whole.11.Yes, I do unequivocally–but not imprecisely–hold that Mormonism is a heresy. Yes, I do think it’s a real threat to historic, orthodox, biblical Christianity. No, I’m not socially attacking Mormons or utilizing a defensive posture. In other words, I still believe the content I heard in evangelical churches growing up but I totally disagree with the tenor. Richard Mouw captured my perspective well: “A lot of people today who have strong convictions are not very civil and a lot of people who are civil don’t have very strong convictions. What we really need is convicted civility.”
A number of conservative evangelicals have strongly objected with the same general criticisms. Capturing them well, one gentleman charged,
Your meme connects not voting for the Mormon with Mormonism being a threat to Christianity. It strongly implies that voting for a Mormon when Mormonism is an anti-Christian heresy is an ungodly double standard. If that’s not inserting religious identity into politics, then I don’t know what is. I’m guessing that people who don’t see it that way probably agree with you.
I certainly don’t think these people have deceptive, let alone malicious, intent.22.Stated in the affirmative, they genuinely mean well. They’re retorting the message as they perceive it. The problem is, that’s not the message. Such persons are unknowingly inserting all sorts of implicit suggestions rather than taking it at face value for what it actually says.33.Also, they seem to completely ignore the second sentence, which is the crux of the whole thing. No doubt there is a double-standard being addressed, but it’s not the one they suppose. That is, the double-standard the graphic is suggesting isn’t Christians voting for a Mormon candidate but rather Christians questioning the salvation of other Christians who aren’t voting for a Mormon candidate. Read correctly, it’s not inserting religious identity into politics but is instead shining a light on the conflation of religious and political identities that already exist.
The point of this meme is to highlight inconsistency as a means of creating awareness that something is amiss, thereby encouraging a certain sub-set of evangelicals to discerningly take a step back and intentionally reflect on their priorities and their source(s) of identity.44.To point out the obvious, there’s a real problem when Christians are confusing their eternal, heavenly identity (followers of Christ) with their temporal, political identity (Republican). Certainly not all, but many conservative evangelicals suffer from a kind of adjective-noun confusion such that they think, believe, and act far more as Christian Americans rather than American Christians. As difficult as it may be for such persons to hear, it seems abundantly evident to me that those evangelicals who questioned others’ salvation because they’re not voting for a conservative Mormon have conflated biblical Christianity with political ideologism.
In conclusion, I think we’ve got to ask ourselves why people are interpreting this in such radically different ways. Pretty consistently my liberal friends seem to see it as an strategic criticism of Romney, which they apparently endorse. Inversely, my conservative friends see it as an underhanded attack upon Romney, which they revile.55.As well as an implicit endorsement of Obama. Meanwhile, my moderate friends typically are seeing the real issue of obscuring religious-political integrities. Isn’t that peculiar? This begs the question of why the only group is frequently able to stand back from the heat of the current political context and look at the larger trends and principles of which I’m trying to prompt thoughtful reconsideration. That’s what I keep asking.