is this anything?

In the February 9, 2009 edition of Newsweek, Richard Mouw, the President of Fuller Seminary and former Grand Rapidian, objected in a “My Turn” column to Newsweek’s incendiary cover story on the Bible and homosexuality.  Mouw said that “one remark that hit especially close to home was made by the editor of this magazine.  He wrote that anyone—anyone!—who tries to make a scriptural case against same-sex marriage is guilty of ‘the worst kind of fundamentalism.’” 

Mouw continued:  “That hurt.  I have spent several decades of my life trying to spell out an evangelical alternative to ‘the worst kind of fundamentalism.’  My friends and I have argued that the Bible supports racial justice, gender equality, peacemaking and care for the environment—views that often draw the ire of the worst kind of fundamentalists.”

Given Mouw’s confessed chagrin at being labeled a fundamentalist, is it a coincidence that Lisa Miller, the author of the offending cover story on homosexuality, ended this week’s “Belief Watch” column (Newsweek, March 16, 2009, p. 18) by associating Mouw with fundamentalism?  Her article is about people who prefer to be called “followers of Jesus” rather than “Christians,” but look how she places the term “fundamentals” next to a quote from Mouw (his only citation in the piece).

Miller wrote:  “While many Christians applaud this effort to transcend labels and history, some also worry that ‘followers of Jesus’ diverts people from the fundamentals.  ‘Two questions constantly come up,’ says Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary.  ‘The first is Christology.  What about the full divinity of Christ?  How much can you keep that in the background?  Second, what’s the role of the church in all this?’”

While my hermeneutic of suspicion may be reading into this more than is warranted, I doubt that an accomplished writer like Miller and her editors say anything by accident.  What she writes is correct, but I wonder if her association of the term “fundamentals” with Mouw isn’t a subtle way for her to strike back.  If so, she’s clever, but not nearly as charitable toward Mouw as Mouw is with her—and their homosexual friends.

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  1. The term “fundamentalist” has lost all meaning. It originally indicated something laudable–adherence to the central claims of Christianity. Now it means nothing because it means a million different things. This chick is such an obvious self-loather, why even bother with her? She’s preaching to her choir.

  2. Dr. Wittmer: You have a sharp eye, and I’m inclined to believe one of two things:

    (1) Ms. Miller is shrewdly manipulating her audience’s mental associations (“Christian fundamentals=Bigotry”). Her target isn’t just Mouw, but the beliefs of all orthodox Christians. (Note how the “fundamentals” deal with Christology and the church, which are pretty basic beliefs of Christianity.)

    Potential evidence: Note that Miller says “many Christians applaud this effort to transcend … *history*” (emphasis mine) – Is this a tacit nod to Christians who are rejecting the traditional interpretation of the sinfulness of homosexual sex? Miller would see this as a positive change, no?

    But…

    (2) Are we doing more eisegesis than exegesis? Note again that the “fundamentals” she reports deal with Christology and church identity; my impression is that these issues must be stretched before they suggest negative social behavior–bigotry, misogyny, etc.–that Miller would disapprove of.

    In other words, Doc…are we just paranoid? Are we just playing language games like those I played as an English major, “proving” that Caliban never actually tried to force himself on Miranda in The Tempest? I mean, Shakespeare wouldn’t create ambiguity by accident, would he? 🙂

  3. …. or is this further evidence of why years ago I stopped taking Newsweek seriously? The main strream newspapers and news magazines are hurting royaly on the bottom line of the account sheet because from long ago thier credibility has steadily eroded…

    It might also help if we asked Dr. Mouw how he understands Miller’s statement… Also, there is more to the fundamentals then just Christology or ecclesiology. And as always, did she quote him accuratly?

    Peace…

  4. I don’t think we should expect a fair shakedown from any news organization. Historically, orthodox Christians – those who hold to the fundamentals of the faith – have been painted in a negative light on purpose. If we were ever presented fairly then people might reconsider how they think about us.

    It’s how I look at the persecutions in Rome. How early Christians were accused of being cannibals, of having orgies (which, I don’t see why the Romans viewed it as taboo for Christians to have orgies when such acts were common among the Romans), and incest (see previous parenthetical statement).

    However, once Christians were put in the ring with wild animals or burned alive, people’s minds changed. I think of the multiple stories of people converting to Christ after watching the Christians die and share their message.

    All that to say this; Christianity is rarely presented in a fair light by her dissenters because to present Christianity fairly is to invite people to join. Newsweek won’t give us a fair view because (1) they don’t want to understand us and (2) even if they did, they don’t want others to look at us sympathetically.

  5. “my hermeneutic of suspicion may be reading into this more than is warranted” may be, of course, accurate. And it is interesting, to me at least, that you might describe yourself in this way.

    Is it the best we have to offer…these debates and conversations…suspicion…I saw this the other day and it stopped me short…made me reflect..and so I wanted to share it with you.

    May God bless us Mike as He breaks our heart…may we take His name and feed His children. If it appears that I am hijacking the post accept my apology…but it seems sometimes we are so concerned about…well, the wrong stuff.

    All the clever conversation (me included) to what purpose?

  6. Daryl:

    I certainly don’t think that my observation/suspicion is of any great “purpose.” I only know that I winced when I read what Lisa Miller wrote, and I thought it was interesting. That’s all. I honestly don’t care much if she meant it or not. So I wouldn’t read as much into my question/observation as you apparently are. Maybe you are overly suspicious of my suspicion?

    Adam:

    Part of what makes me wonder is that Lisa could have used other synonyms for “fundamentals.” Her magazine accused people like Mouw of being “the worst kind of fundamentalists,” Mouw said that hurt and it wasn’t true, and so she subtly calls him that again. At least that’s what it means to me, and I dare any of my postmodern, reader response friends to say I’m wrong!

  7. Doc Wittmer: good points.

    This discussion reminds me that even established journalists and magazines can be catty. I agree with Joel that we shouldn’t exactly be surprised when Christianity gets misrepresented in popular news sources. Still, that’s no reason not to call “foul” when foul ends are meaned. So to speak.

    Also Doc, I was wondering about the origin of your last name? Clearly it refers to “someone who wittms,” but what does it mean “to wittm”?

  8. Adam,

    Thank you for the clarification. I should have added that we should still call foul. After all, that’s what the early apologists did in response to the slander thrown against them.

  9. Adam:

    “Wittmer” is a Swiss German name, and as you say, it literally means “one who does the wittm.” In this case, “wittm” has a double meaning.

    Originally it referred to a hallucenogic plant that grows in the valley of Savoy, and then once my high ancesters began slaloming naked past the chalets of Savoy, it was used to refer to that, too. So a “Wittmer” is one who slaloms naked in a state of high euphoria, typically in the Swiss Alps near the region of Savoy.

  10. …… and my Swiss German Neukomment ancestors probably were standing on the side lines watching in amazement…. 😉

  11. Dr. Wittmer:

    What a delightful origin! I learn something new every time I visit this blog. 🙂

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