What Is Orthodox?

I'm a big fan of Matthew Yglesias' blogging, but he does tend to err a little when he talks about Christianity. For example, here he is commenting on Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley's statement that non-Christians are not his "brother" or "sister":

I’ve seen Bentley taking some heat for this on blogs. And certainly it’s an impolitic thing to say. But isn’t it very orthodox Protestant Christian doctrine? Back in the day we used to have long-winded debates about whether or not progressive politicians need to talk about religion more, and I’ve always thought this is a reason to be leery of the idea. The coexistence of multiple robust but mutually incompatible faiths is one of America’s great strengths, but I’m not sure it actually withstands a huge amount of theological scrutiny. Everyone is ultimately happier when we let this sleeping dog lie.

I agree on the point about progressive politicians -- they shouldn't talk about religion just to talk about religion -- but I'm not sure that Bentley's belief falls within "orthodox Protestant Christian doctrine," especially if "orthodox Protestant Christian doctrine" refers to the shared beliefs of the hundreds of denominations that fall under the banner of Protestantism. At the very least, it's contested. Biblical "literalists" notwithstanding, the Gospels aren't particularly clear on the issue of solidarity. For every John 3:16 or John 3:36, there is a Matthew 25:40 -- “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’" -- and a parable of the Good Samaritan. Both suggest that belief in Jesus' divinity -- or even the God of the Israelites -- are ancillary to the question of "Who is my neighbor," or in Bentley's case, "Who is my brother?"

Various flavors of Protestant disagree on these points, and denominations aside, entire theological careers are built on these questions. Go back in time and ask Walter Rauschenbusch about it, and he'll probably say that your "brother" is your fellow person, regardless of religious conviction. Billy Graham would disagree -- strenuously -- and James Cone would say that the Holy Spirit is found wherever the oppressed congregate. If you caught him at the right time, Dietrich Bonhoeffer might float the idea that salvation is universal.

The truth is that it doesn't actually make a ton of sense to talk about "orthodox Protestant Christian doctrine." Outside of a few core beliefs -- the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, the importance of baptism -- there is simply too much disagreement.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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