The Problem with Pavlovitz

During the episode “End of the World” of the TV sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” the plot revolves around a cult that predicts the world will end that very night. City manager Chris Traeger (played by Rob Lowe) asks, “Why does the cult call themselves the Reasonableists?” To which main character Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler) replies, “Well, they figured if people criticized them, it would sound like they were attacking something very reasonable.”

To put the matter bluntly, John Pavlovitz is a Reasonableist.

For those unfamiliar with the name, John Pavlovitz is “a pastor, writer and activist from Wake Forest, North Carolina.” He is known for his personal blog and contributions to Relevant Magazine.

Recently he wrote a blog post entitled, “I’m Not The Radical Left, I’m The Humane Middle.” In it, he goes through a number of his positions that other unnamed parties have opposed and asserts that his positions are perfectly reasonable.

Which, of course, means that his opponents are unreasonable. Or worse.

Near the end of his post, he writes, “I suppose humanity feels radical to inhumane people.” Did you catch that? Anyone who disagrees with him is “inhumane.” The Latin terminology for this logical fallacy is Ad Hominem, attacking the people who disagree with him rather than dealing with the positions they hold.

Pavlovitz appeals to the emotions of his readers, presenting his position with stirring words like “compassionate, humane,” or casting himself as uncontroversial with words like “normal, ordinary, usual” and “mainstream.” It is for people who “want more humanity.” He draws his readers to join him against “the cruelty of these days.”

By contrast, he subjects his ideological opponents to the worst kind of Straw-manning. He paints himself as the victim of small-minded bigots. No, he didn’t write that exactly; he did write about people who are “so filled with fear for those who are different, so conditioned to be at war with the world, so indoctrinated into a white nationalistic religion of malice.” Like I said, small-minded bigots. He foments the very divisiveness he claims to oppose.

Lest you think I am being harsh and uncharitable, I will concede one point he makes. John Pavlovitz is probably not part of the “Radical Left.” However, he is definitely part of the Ordinary, Everyday, Mainstream Left. Save for his insistence elsewhere on being a follower of Jesus, there is nothing remarkable about his blatant left-leaning tendencies—including his denial that his tendencies are indeed left-leaning. But if you are regularly platformed by “the left” and regularly opposed by “the right,” how honest is it to call yourself part of “the middle?”

If he really were in “the middle,” as he claims to be, why are all the positions he listed contrary to what is traditionally considered “the right?” Why does he not emphasize where he agrees with “the right” over and against “the left?” True, he gives lip service to being pro-life, but he redefines it as meaning “to treasure all of it”—whatever that means. (Actually, he rarely articulates or offers clarification on his positions; he just sort of shotguns them all at once with little definition and less precision.)

This then brings me to the matter of his status as a Christian and a pastor. He mentions “God” once and “Jesus” not at all. He makes many references to the Bible and Christianity, but offers no specific references or quotations. He is his own moral authority.

And in the middle of the list of his positions, he drops the bombshell to end all bombshells: “I believe all religions are equally valid.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is something no true Christian can say. Either Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” or He is not. We can defend the pre-political right for people to practice the religion of their choosing, but we cannot equivocate on the validity of any system of belief contrary to Christianity. If Pavlovitz—who, I remind you, has the self-descriptor “pastor” in his bio—cannot get this most basic tenet of Christianity right, what else has he gotten terribly wrong? Setting aside his politics for the moment, I plead with you, reader: Let this man have no influence in your Christian thinking whatsoever.

If you’re going to call yourself part of “the middle,” you need to have an accurate understanding of “the right” and “the left.” If you’re going to engage in political discussion, you must not automatically disparage all your ideological opponents as evil trolls. If you’re going to claim the moral high ground, you need to be sure you are standing firmly on absolute truth. And if you’re going to call yourself a Christian, you must point people to Jesus as Lord and Messiah, not yourself as the one who decides what is “normal.”

Reasonable enough?

P.S. Agree or disagree, I welcome your feedback.

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