Evangelicals and the Social Sciences
Despite certain stereotypes and even the best efforts of the media, most Western Christians today do not hold to a literalist view of creation – they believe something approximating to a divinely inspired and intended creation worked out through the processes described by modern science. In fact, science degrees are thought to be more popular than arts degrees amongst UK Christians students. But this only refers to ‘hard science’ – what of the Social Sciences? Is the Church unable to extend its understanding of divine inspiration beyond Biology, Chemistry and Physics?
I’ve just been to Momentum, the students, school-leavers and twenty-something’s event run by Soul Survivor. On the whole, Soul Survivor are great – they explicitly support women in ministry and have been leaders in church child protection policy for two decades. But one thing stuck out this week: a massive distrust of anything that social science has to say about the modern world.
Where most Evangelicals accept (and I realise this is a simplification) that hard sciences like biology and physics tell us how the world was made and that our faith gives us insight in why the world was made, sociology, anthropology, social psych and the less biological side of psychology are viewed with deep suspicion.
I’m not even really sure why this is. Its become the norm for Christians to pray prayers like “thank you God that you’ve allowed scientists to show us how wonderfully you designed your creation”, but never “thank you God that you’ve allowed sociologists to understand the amazing diversity amongst the people you’ve created”. But here are a few observations:
It is a basic premise of many Evangelical Christian’s understanding of humanity that each of us should discover our God-given identity. This identity is an exclusionary Christian identity – we are Children of God and we can be nothing else. I generally use the term “Christian Identitist Movement” to refer to this line of thinking, but its not a common term.
Bizarrely, the only deviation from this thinking is that someone is a ‘Man of God’ or a ‘Woman of God’. No combination with any other Identity is accepted – people are not Black Children of God or Disabled Children of God. On one hand, I get why this came about – the world labels us to give us places within a hierarchy, and there is a perception that to be a Disabled Child of God is to not be fully a Child of God; the former tarnishing the latter amidst a failure to embrace a better model of disability (or even accept that the model of Disability that the Western Church has subscribed to has changed considerably over recent centuries).
Then it hit me: most of those who I have seen speaking about casting off any other identity and just being a Christian/Child of God have ticked two or more of the following: white, male, middle-class, in a straight marriage. Could it be that the Evangelical Church finds sociological theories of identity threatening, because they inherently carry a sense of privilege or non-privilege?
In fact, I’ve only ever heard White preachers talk about worship being divorced of culture, of a colour-blind tradition. I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard a Disabled Christian say disabled people shouldn’t identify as such. The exception to this is people who claim ‘same sex attraction’ but refuse to be called Gay. I’ve had conversations with Christians who want to dispute the validity of Goth churches, but they’ve never been Goths; ditto skaters, ditto Deaf people, ditto Work Class people.
This is only one facet of the rejection of social sciences by the Evangelical Church today. Others include outright refusal to acknowledge any validity to the claim that language lacks a static underlying meaning and that class has any meaning whatsoever.
So what is my problem here? Its essentially this: Evangelicalism has largely come to terms with a God big enough to rely on a process like the Big Bang to bring about his intended world, and yet remains unable to reconcile the diversity of created humans and the intricacies of cultural development to God’s plan. Ultimately it leaves us with an imperialist faith that ignores the message of the Tower of Babel story in Genesis, where God gives people their different languages and identities. The Social Sciences could provide Evangelicalism with fresh insights, and yet it refuses to acknowledge the possibilities.
 I either need to cite Manuel Castells’ book on Identity or John Holloway’s “Change the world without taking power”. I suspect both talk about this phenomena within Identity Theory.
 My friend Imbecillis needs citing here. He’s looking for funding for a PhD in medieval Christian understandings of disability. If you can fund him, please do.