CULTURAL REVOLUTIONSrnN E D FLANDERS- t h e gregarious,rneffeminate, Bible-thumping next-doorneighborrnof Homer J. Simpson —hasrnbeen canonized bv Christianity Today.rnthe leading voice of American evangclicalisni.rnOn the February 2001 cover,rn”Saint Flanders” is depicted in a By/anhncrnicon, holding a jewel-covered bookrnin hi,s left hand and making the sign ofrnthe HoK’ Trinifv with his right. Margernand Honrer (who holds the sacred doughnuts)rnappear as angels oer his shoulders.rn”J’/jc Simpsons’ Ned Flanders is the mostrnvisible evangelical to many Americans —rnand that’s just okilv dokilv,” reads the caption.rnNo, sadh, tliis is not a joke, hi fact,rnthe folks at Christianit}’ Today are rightrnon track: Ned Flanders is the paragon ofrnAmerican eangelicalism. It’s just toornbad that the joke is on tlicm.rnThe piece in CT is adapted from arnbook forthcoming from (of ail places)rnWcstminstcr/John Knox Press called ThernGospel According to the Simpsons: ThernSpiritual Life of America’s Most AnimatedrnFamily by Mark I. Pinskv’, w ho describesrnhimself as “an observant Jew raised in arnNortheastern suburb.” He recounts (brillianriyrnwritten, hilarious) snippets fromrnSimpsons episodes, which together givernus a sort of profile of the man Homer callsrn”‘Saint Flanders,’ ‘Charlie Church,’ andrn’Churchy La F’emme.'” This arhcle onrnthe man Pinskv describes as a “complexrnand nuanced character who often raisesrnserious issues” includes such subheadingsrnas “Ned’s Dailv Obedience,” “Ned’srnDark Side,” and “Ned’s Tests of Faith.”rnUnder the latter, we are admonishedrnthat, “In one episode, too much gratitudernfrom Homer turns out to be a deadhrnthing. Again, praer plays a central rolernas a plot device.” Yes, we’re still talkingrnabout a cartoon character.rnAmerican evangelicalism, like thatrnnerd in high school who always tries tornget in good \ith the po]3ular crowd, hasrnbeen aping popular cidture for ears, tryingrnto legitinnze itself in the eyes ofrnbroader “mainline” Chri.stianih, as v’ellrnas secular popular culture. Ned Flandersrnis a caricature scribbled by the jocks onrnthe side of a locker and laughed at by therncheerleaders; still, apparently, the nerdsrnat CT are just so thrilled to be noHecdrnthat thev hae turned a blind ce to thernfact that everyone is laughing at diem,rnnot with them.rnChristianity Today was founded byrnevangelist Billv Craham and scholar CarlrnF”.H. Henry in 1956, a time when a growingrnnumber of evangelicals were makingrneery effort to distance themselves fromrnthe real “dorks” —such “fighting fundamcntalfsts”rnas Bob )ones. It was intendedrnto be the evangelical answer to the secularrnTime and die mainline Christian Century.rnThe movement diat grew aroundrnChristianity Today and Billy Crahamrn(whom the fimdamcntalists promptly cxeonnnimicated)rncame to be called thern”nev evangelicalism” and was known brnthe tenets enmnerated by Harold Ockenga:rna “determination to engage . . . in therntheological dialogue of the da)” (whichrncame to mean: “Start a Christian rockrnband”); the “reexaminahon [read: repudiahonjrnof dieological problems such asrnthe anhquit- of man, the uniersalit}’ ofrnthe Flood, and God’s method of creation”;rna “smnmons to social involvement”rn(passing out tracts in bikinis withrnCampus Crvisade for Christ); and a “ringingrncall for a repudiation of separation”rn(i.e., separating from eerone who looksrnlike a fundamentalist—e’en right-wingrnLutherans and Catholics). Bob Jones, Jr.,rncharacterized the new evangelicals asrnsa ing, in effect, to the liberals: ‘AVe willrncall vou ‘ChrisHan brothers’ if ou willrncall us ‘doctor,’ ‘professor,’ and ‘scholar.'”rnIf CT is still the organ of (new) evangelicalrnofficialdom, then the heirs ofrnGraham and Oekenga have a ways torngo —though at least they now hae anrn”indelible figure” represenfing them inrnthe person of an animated cartoon character.rnActualK’, Ned “Church)- La Femme”rnFlanders realK’ isn’t an evangelical (whatrnsort of evangelical brews beer in his basementrnand carries around a relic of therntrue Cross?): He’s a composite of ever)-rndiing the revolving, talented wrifing staffrnat The Simpsons find lampoonable aboutrnChristians —Catholic, mainline, evangelical,rnfundamentalist, and penteeostal.rnThe controersial cover drew man)’rnangr responses, parficularly from OrthodoxrnChristians, who accused editorrnDa’id Neff of “desecrating an icon” andrn”attaek[ing] . .. the Incarnation of Christrnhimself” Neff’s reply was flippant andrncondescending: “This lighthearted coverrnhad its theological side,” he w rote, whilerncifing die Protestant understanding of thernpriesthood of all beliexers —as if thatrnwould absoK’e him for “borrowing anrnartisfic form historically reserved for extraordinaryrnsaints to sav something importantrnabout the salt-of-the-earth believersrnnext door.” In an interview with thernChicago Sun-Times, he went on to sarnthat “religion doesn’t have a lock on selfimportance.”rnPerhaps today’s (new) evangelicalsrnshould be the ones returning bitter responsesrnto CT, such as “Thank you forrnhelping nre realize that all of mv attemptsrnto be a hip, contemporary Christian ha erndone nothing but degrade Christianityrnand make me look like cartoon supergeekrnNed Flanders. Please cancel m)rnsubscription.”rn—Aaron D. WolfrnT H E UNITED STATES always seemrnto need someone to demonizc in order tornhave a funcfioning foreign polic)-. Nowrnthat Hider, Stalin, and the “Evil Empire”rnarc dead and gone, we have to make dornvvidi such lesser devils as Saddam Hn.sseinrnand Osama Bin-Laden. The Frenchrnhave no such problem. Thev do not baserntheir foreign policy on visions of foreignrndevils (if, in fact, France sfill has a foreignrnpolic)’ of her own). The French seem tornderive a certain melancholy satisfacfionrnfrom being able to feel superior to us —asrnthey did during the Clinton presidencyrn— or sorrv for us, as they do now. Ourrnformer president was rafirer appreciated,rnfor he and his impeachment adversariesrngave them something to mock —bothrnhim as a figure of fun and the narrowmindedrnpuritans opposing him, who dornnot understand what sex is.rnWe know why the) laughed at us underrnClinton, but wh)’ do they feci sorrv’rnfor us now? On a recent visit to Aix-en-rnProvenee, I met with Prof Pierre Courtial,rnthe 86-)’ear-old grand old man ofrnProtestant theology in France. Over tea,rnhe asked me, “What will become of yourrncountry now?” “Wdiy do vou ask that?” Irnreplied. “Vofre/)re’s;cic’;;/,”hesaid. “YourrnPresident, Mr. Bush.” M. Courfial apparcndyrnbelieved that Bush is not vcrv”rnbright; that he is a dangerous militarist;rnand that, at the same tune, he is an oldfashionedrnisolationist. “America is diernonlv superpower left. Wliat will becomernof us all?”rnIn the course of a well-attended con-rn6/CHRONICLESrnrnrn