The decade's most triggering comedy
For years, decades even, political pundit David French has been a well-respected and frequently cited voice in Protestant circles, often held forward as the representative of Evangelicalism on cable news and in major media outlets. This was especially true when he was on staff at the conservative journal, National Review. Recently though, his criticism of his fellow believers over their support of Donald Trump, skepticism of government COVID-19 policies, and rejection of racial ideologies derived from Critical Race Theory has more and more well-known pastors cautioning that French’s writing lacks discernment and Christian charity.
In dozens of essays over the last two years, French has routinely decried what he views as the sins of white evangelicals. While some of this writing has appeared in large, mainstream publications like The Atlantic and Time Magazine, most of his criticism is delivered in his “Sunday Essays”— a weekly op-ed that French publishes via The Dispatch on the day Christians set aside for worship and fellowshipping as local church communities. The tendency of the articles to spark dissension and arguments between Christians on what is known as “the Lord’s day” has even become something of a running joke on social media. As pastor Steven Wedgeworth, a columnist for the Evangelical outlet World Magazine, quipped, “The 4th Commandment [to remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy] was given in part to spare you from bad Sunday columns.”
It’s easy to see why French’s views of his brethren receive such a pointed reaction, given that he often charges them with Covid conspiracy-mongering, racism, and being motivated by a desire to defend their white supremacist power.
Promoting his most-recent piece, in which he warned against small, fringe Christian groups who believe the 2020 election was stolen, French asked, “Where are America’s most dangerous political radicals?” His answer wasn’t found in Black Lives Matter, Antifa, or Islamic splinter cells. Rather, he said, they are, “rallying in churches, by the thousands, in city after city. In church after church.”
It is opining like this that led Rev. Kevin DeYoung, who has praised French in the past, to charge him with indulging in a sustained “white evangelical jeremiad.”
DeYoung is a well-respected Protestant figure thanks not only to his leadership of a large Presbyterian church in Charlotte, North Carolina, but also due to a number of books he has authored and his role on the council of the popular reformed publication, The Gospel Coalition.
In an opinion piece addressing the frequency of French’s attacks on white American Christians, in particular, DeYoung noted, “[French’s essays have] the same head-shaking ‘you people’ vibe that prompted the ‘deplorables’ to embrace Trump in the first place. It’s one thing to object to an idea or to a set of propositions,” he said. “It’s another to object to a class of people. Even if French is right, and evangelicals should not have supported (voted for?) Trump and evangelicals should not be skeptical about many of the Covid protocols, there is little sympathy for trying to understand why evangelicals might have behaved in these ways. There is no persuasion, only pique and annoyance.”
French did not take the rebuke well. In a fiery Twitter thread, he dismissed pastors as not possessing “policy expertise.” French then added:
Sadly, when I see pastors wade in on matters of law/policy, it is rare to see superior insight. And when I do it’s because of a degree of committed study that is highly unusual. Otherwise, pastors risk their credibility by speaking about things they don’t truly understand. Those of us who know law and policy, on the other hand, know where ideas come from and transparently, obviously know that many (not all!) of the political positions that characterize white evangelicals don’t have any meaningful Evangelical theological origin at all.
DeYoung then pointed out that however low a view French may have of pastoral expertise, they, not pundits, are the people the Bible has given the role of feeding, leading, and protecting their flocks. “My church is filled with white evangelicals,” the pastor replied, “and they don’t deserve to be castigated every week.”
But DeYoung is hardly alone in being a pastoral voice with a reputation for gentleness now calling French to account.
Jonathan Leeman, pastor, author, and leader of the international church-equipping ministry 9Marks, took French to task for an essay in which he argued that the loss of Christian power and influence in the U.S. has led it to become a more Christian nation in many ways. With a gentle, collegial tone, Leeman asked French, “May I offer one challenge to what feels like the general thrust of your article?” He then went on:
The pastoral burden for my push back is: it doesn’t serve the church member who shows up in the pastor’s office with their job on the line for refusing to put their pronoun in their email signature to say, “You’re freer than you’ve ever been!”… Rather, because Christ’s kingdom is upside down, as you say, I believe it’s better to say, “I’m so sorry. I find it’s helpful to remember that Jesus predicted trouble in this world for following him.” … Jesus’s pastoral burden was to prepare Christians for persecution, not tell us we don’t have it that bad …
I agree with your saying to believers, “Hey, the past wasn’t always as Christian as we might think. There was a whole lot of hypocrisy and nominalism that led to terrible injustices against minorities, Catholics, etc.” Yet my suggestion is not to pit this affirmation against the very real losses people are feeling and experiencing AS CHRISTIANS.
French did not reply.
But he did reply to Josh Daws, a layman whose Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote was widely circulated among evangelicals on Twitter who felt it accurately described French.
“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial,” Daws quoted Bonhoeffer. “God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly.”
Dozens of pastors and church leaders were among the hundreds who retweeted it and more than one thousand who liked it. French did not deal with the spiritual thrust of the quote, but rather stuck to the thesis of his most recent op-ed on churches as breeding grounds for religious radicals. This, despite the fact Daws made it clear he was addressing the totality of French’s Sunday essays.
While the majority of French’s writing on white Christians has reproached them as groups, he has occasionally gone after specific evangelical leaders, and that, too, has earned him some pushback.
After Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler and host of the popular evangelical broadcast “The Briefing,” revealed in 2020 that he was supporting Donald Trump in the presidential election despite his disapproval of some of Trump’s behavior, French accused Mohler of failing a Christian “character test.” He also chided the theologian for asserting that, based on party platforms, he’ll likely vote Republican for the rest of his life. French cited Mohler’s unwillingness to vote for a Democrat as a lack of spiritual integrity.
“Listen to Mohler’s announcement,” he said, “and you’ll hear a narrow political philosophy — one that’s limited to evaluating a party platform on a few, discrete issues…The role of the people of God in political life is so much more difficult and challenging than merely listing a discrete subset of issues.”
Months later, Mohler highlighted the fact that French is among a group of conservatives that “regularly castigate evangelicals to their right,” noting that, “There is cultural favor to be found in putting distance between yourself and the unwashed evangelical horde.”
This notion that French is benefitting professionally from secular leftists who are pleased with his bashing of other Christians was echoed by Justin Redemer, chief development officer for the reformed study center, The Davenant Institute. Redemer noted, “All non-Christians seem to love David French’s solutions to the Church’s problems.”
Perhaps no other prominent Christian intellectual has better encapsulated growing frustration with French better than pastor, professor, and best-selling author Carl Trueman. On a recent episode of his podcast “The Mortification of Spin,” he and co-host Pastor Todd Pruitt engaged in a discussion of the pundit that centered on French’s minimization of Christian concerns over transgender activism in schools, as well as his dismissal of worries about cultural trends like “drag queen story hours” for children at libraries.
“That’s what makes it so annoying to me when you have these Christians constantly bashing other Christians,” Trueman said. “There are Christian culture warriors who deserve to be bashed, but when it becomes bashing anything that conservatives traditionally stand for, I think at that point, you think, these people don’t care about children. If somebody criticizes the LGBTQ movement and all you can say is, ‘Oh conservatives just obsess over that,’ then I’m going to say you just don’t care about children. That’s a problem.”
A moment later, Trueman revealed he was referring to “people like David French” and appeared to reference French’s earlier disparaging of pastors as not possessing the same expertise he does. “He’s a lawyer,” the professor joked, “he’s also an expert on higher education apparently. He’s also an expert on pastoral ministry.”
Pruitt agreed that French is “the perfect example of some conservatives, particularly during the Trump era, who became so embarrassed by their fellow conservatives that they now only know how to punch right.”
Pruitt finished with a sincere plea:
You know I would want to sit down with David French and say let me tell you about the several families in my church whose daughters now refuse to drink anything in the morning on school days, so that they can get through school all day without using the restrooms. Because, number one, now the school allows biological males into the girls restrooms, and, number two, drugs are being openly used…I’d like to have David French sit down with those parents to see what its like when Christians basically give up and stop resisting.
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