Sunday, February 24, 2008
When examining the endeavors of a group of people, it is always helpful to examine their goals to see whether these are feasible, as well as examining the methods used to achieve those goals, in order to determine whether the methods are effective. So we might well ask whether it is reasonable to try to produce a Godly nation by establishing Godly laws enforced by Godly leaders.
History is always helpful, as it contains instances of individuals and nations which in the past tried to achieve the same thing. Hopefully, we can learn from their mistakes and/or successes. The first and earliest historical example we see in history is the history of Israel, thousands of years ago. Israel as a nation began with a leader chosen directly by God. That leader’s name was Moses. And that nation was brought to birth by God, in a series of miracles by which a nation of slaves was rescued from its captors. Israel also had Godly laws. These laws were not merely the product of some constitutional convention; rather, they were given to Moses directly by God. As Romans 7:12 says, those laws were “…holy, and the commandment holy, and righteous, and good.”
But there was a problem with the nation, for it did not keep the law. So poor was their performance, in fact, that most of those who came out of Egypt with Moses died in the wilderness by God’s judgment, and never saw the Promised Land. Certainly the law was good, and its enforcement (by Divine judgment) was excellent, but those who were under that law were miserable failures. Their sons and daughters did somewhat better, and were allowed to enter the Promised Land with Joshua as their leader. This generation fully and enthusiastically committed itself to keeping God’s law. When Joshua issued his challenge, “If it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD,” all the people responded by saying, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD, to serve other gods…Therefore we also will serve the LORD; for he is our God.”
This was a Godly people with a Godly leader, Godly laws and the best of intentions; yet their zeal lasted only one generation. A thorough reading of the Old Testament will show that even though Israel had the law of God, the nation was constantly guilty of breaking that law. They struggled with homosexuality (Judges 19-20; 1 Kings 22:46), infanticide (Jeremiah 32:35) and many other evils. Occasionally, they had Godly leaders who succeeded in turning the nation around; yet their reformations were always short-lived. The reformations became fewer and fewer, and their sins piled higher and higher, until finally, God caused the nation to be destroyed and scattered by the armies of Assyria and Babylon (2 Kings 17, 24).
The history of Israel is meant to serve as an object lesson to us all. Israel had the best “constitution” imaginable; it had the Law of God. But Israel was a nation of sinners who could not keep that law. In seeing their failure we see what original sin is: a pathological failure, a terminal disease with no known humanly achievable cure – and we see that we are all afflicted. As one songwriter put it, “Everyone is crooked deep down.” This is why Christ came into the world. Jesus Christ came into the world as a King, and He spoke of a Kingdom, but that kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36-37). Those who are allowed into that kingdom as immigrants are not allowed on some fleshly basis, but rather on a spiritual basis (John 3:3-8). One must be born into that Kingdom. Sinners are disqualified from entry because of their sin; yet through the mercy of God, they can be born again. Those born into that Kingdom are easily identifiable as time passes, because their customs, culture and behavior become progressively different from what is seen in the world at large.
It is the death of Christ on the Cross and His resurrection which grants us the opportunity for this new birth, and it is our faith in Christ and His sacrifice which makes this new birth actual in our experience. This is why He commands His subjects to be witnesses of that new birth and new life to the world at large. To be sure, we are to witness with our words, but much more importantly, our witness is to be in our actions. “Even so, let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). God’s method of spreading the reach of His Kingdom in this age is thus: by the display of the lives lived by His subjects in this age, lives which are bear testimony to the miraculous work of God in turning “crooked deep down” sinners into saints. Not only did Christ teach thus, but His apostles did also. For instance, read the first epistle of Peter and note how many times Peter talks about the testimony of our actions.
This is why neither Christ nor His apostles ever told His followers to try to make a Christian nation by passing Christian laws. It had already been tried, and had failed miserably. Trying to get the unsaved to live like Christians through legislation is like trying to teach pigs to fly; it wastes your time and annoys the pigs. Rather, we are to speak words of truth and live lives of blessing toward others. Otherwise, why did Paul write in the epistle to the Galatians, “I don’t make void the grace of God. For if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for nothing!” And, “…if there had been a law given which could make alive, most certainly righteousness would have been of the law. But the Scriptures imprisoned all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
The Religious Right is guilty of starting a “culture war” for the purpose of trying to achieve something that is unachievable by the methods they are using, if the Scriptures cited above are an accurate guide. In this culture war, which they are fighting with broken weapons, they are actually doing far more harm than good. The Church of the first century was born in the godless, perverted society of the first century Roman Empire, yet it never tried to use political action to accomplish its mission of acting as salt and light in the world. And that church was far more effective as salt and light than American evangelicalism is today. It is impossible to make a nation righteous by imposing righteous laws upon it, for the problem is that the people who make up that nation are incapable of making themselves righteous, since they are sinners. The solution lies not in laws, but in spiritual intervention.
To be sure, an honest examination of the effectiveness of the Religious Right against homosexuality and abortion shows what appear to be some successes. There is the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. There are also 27 states which have amended their state constitutions to prohibit or restrict the recognition of civil unions between persons of the same gender. But the Religious Right has also failed to achieve certain goals. For instance, the proposed national Marriage Amendment to the United States Constitution has been submitted to the Senate three times, and has failed to be ratified all three times. And neither the Federal Government nor any state has outlawed homosexuality. As far as abortion, the Right did win a ban on partial-birth abortions in 2003, with the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (HR 760, S 3), signed into law by President Bush. Many states have ratified similar bans. Yet abortion, per se, remains legal in the United States. Indeed, agitation by the Religious Right has caused governments in the United States to create enhanced protections for abortion clinics.
And the Religious Right has failed to police itself. There is the case of Ted Haggard, who preached against homosexuality, and whose closet homosexuality was disclosed by a homosexual masseur in 2006. There is former Congressman Mark Foley, who was very active in writing legislation opposing child pornography, yet who was forced to resign from Congress because of inappropriate contacts with male Congressional pages. There is former US Senator Larry Craig, who was given a 96 out of 100 rating by the American Conservative Union, who also voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment, yet who was arrested in an airport bathroom in Minneapolis in 2007 for making a pass at an undercover officer. There is former Representative Robert Bauman, a staunch conservative who, according to Wikipedia, often criticized the morality of the United States and who received a perfect 100 score on the Christian Voice Morality Rating, and who was arrested in 1980 for attempting to solicit sex from a 16 year old male prostitute.
But the failure of the Right goes beyond sexual morality. There are the Republican congressmen, the collection of broken weapons whom the Religious Right urges us to support in elections, some of whom are now enjoying a bit of a vacation in various federal prisons. I think of Randy Duke Cunningham, who in 1996 attacked President Clinton for appointing judges who were soft on crime, yet who had a son who was arrested for transporting 400 pounds of marijuana from Massachusetts to California. And in 2005, Cunningham himself was forced to resign from Congress and sentenced for tax evasion, bribery, and fraud. There is also former congressman Tom DeLay, who was involved in the scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was also indicted by a Texas grand jury in 2005 on charges of misconduct in fundraising and violations of Texas election law.
Figures such as James Dobson in the Religious Right uniformly urge conservative Christians to support the Republican Party because of its “pro-family, pro-values” stance, yet these people are shamed into embarrassed silence when their standard-bearers are blown apart by long-hidden scandal. 2006 was a banner year for Republicans (“Republican Scandals Helped Pave the Way for Democratic Gains,” Washington Post, 8 November 2006, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/08/AR2006110800623.html). Yet even before that, there were Republican stalwarts who boasted of high moral standards, a high degree of moral outrage over the condition of America, and high marks on “scorecards” issued by religious political organizations, yet who were indicted and convicted of high crimes and misdemeanors. When Religious Right figures continue to pressure Christians to vote Republican, one has to wonder what they really want.
The present rhetoric of the Religious Right seems to imply that all that is necessary to be a good Christian is to oppose homosexuality and abortion, to vote Republican, and to be patriotic. But in defining morality and moral issues as narrowly as they have, they are neglecting a whole host of other issues mentioned in the Bible, issues which are truly life-and-death matters for many in the world, and which will be life-and-death matters in the United States before very long. The Right claims to be greatly concerned about the sanctity of human life, yet they ignore the effects of Republican policies at every level of government which support big business at the expense of the poor, both here and abroad, and at the expense of the environment; policies which give power to a small elite for the purpose of ruining, robbing and enslaving the many. The failure of the Religious Right does not merely consist of fighting an ill-advised war with broken weapons; it consists much more of supporting a political regime which is destroying the earth. I will deal with this subject further in my next post.
Note: All Scripture references are taken from the World English Bible, a public domain translation.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
One of the early leaders in the political Christian Right was Robert Grant, who founded American Christian Cause in 1974 to advocate Christian moral teachings in Southern California. Concerned that Christians overwhelmingly voted in favor of President Jimmy Carter in 1976, Grant later founded Christian Voice to mobilize Christian voters in favor of candidates with conservative values. While it seems that American Christian Cause is no longer active, Christian Voice is still quite viable. Their history is given on their website thus: “Christian Voice was established in 1978 as a national political lobby and educational organization that represents traditional American values in Congress and across the country. It was the first of the "Christian Right" groups, predating the Christian Coalition, Coalition for Traditional Values, Concerned Women for America, and many other groups. CV has always welcomed the opportunity to share its knowledge and expertise with groups that were formed after it. Today, Christian Voice is pleased to see so many pro-family organizations emulating it and following in its path.
“Christian Voice is best known as the originator and developer of the "Congressional Report Card" and the "Candidates Scorecard". Christian Voice pioneered grassroots action through use of the "Church Networking Guide". Our successful role in many legislative battles has made us the subject of more than 7,000 feature articles in publications such as Newsweek, Time, and U.S. News and World Report and on TV programs such as 60 Minutes, ABC News Special Report, 20/20, and Good Morning America.”
Almost immediately, there was a falling-out between Grant and other Christian Voice leaders because of inflammatory comments made by Grant against the others. This led to the formation of the Moral Majority as a separate Christian Right organization in 1979. The founder of Moral Majority was Jerry Falwell, who died in 2007. In the early 1970’s he began to meet with conservative politicians such as Senator Jesse Helms to devise strategies for political action. Other founding members of Moral Majority included Tim and Beverly LaHaye, Charles Stanley and D. James Kennedy. The organization has supported such things as the continuance of apartheid in South Africa, the outlawing of abortion, opposition to state recognition and acceptance of homosexuality, censorship of media outlets that promote an anti-family agenda, and opposition to arms limitation talks between the United States and the Soviet Union. Regarding apartheid, Falwell himself also strongly supported racial segregation in the United States during the 1950’s and 1960’s, though his rhetoric became much softer in later years.
The original Moral Majority no longer exists, having been disbanded by Falwell in 1989. However, in 2004, Mr. Falwell formed a new organization, The Moral Majority Coalition, to continue his vision for political action. Its stated aims for 2008 are stated in four “platforms” as follows:
- The Moral Majority Coalition will conduct an intensive "Voter Registration Campaign" through America's conservative churches, para-church ministries, pro-life and pro-family organizations.
- The Moral Majority Coalition will conduct well organized "Get-Out-The-Vote Campaigns" in 2008.
- The Moral Majority Coalition will engage in the massive recruitment and mobilization of social conservatives through television, radio, direct mail (U.S.P.S. and Internet) and public rallies.
- The Moral Majority Coalition will encourage the promotion of continuous private and corporate prayer for America's moral renaissance based on 2 Chronicles 7:14. (Source: “What We Are All About: The Four Pronged TMMC Platform,” http://www.moralmajority.us/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12&Itemid=27)
In 1983, the Family Research Council was created, largely due to the efforts of Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family. Its founding board included Dobson and two noted psychiatrists, Armand Nicholoi Jr. of Harvard University and George Rekers of the University of South Carolina. Its present leader is Tony Perkins, who, according to one magazine article, once paid Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke $82,500 to obtain a Klan mailing list. It concerns itself with policy matters having to do with the government’s role in preserving the traditional family. But it also has interests in other policy areas, such as immigration, affirmative action, national defense, environmental issues and foreign policy. These positions often reflect the positions of the most politically and economically conservative wing of the Republican Party. For instance, this group has actively opposed any discussion of global warming as a genuine problem, and has actively supported the war in Iraq. (Source: “Prayer Targets: Our Troops, Homosexuals in the Military; International Threats, Life and Sexuality, Global Warming, Christian Youth, http://www.frc.org/get.cfm?i=PW07C01; “We Shall Overcome…Liberals,” Salon Magazine, January 2006, http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2006/01/09/justice_sunday/index.html)
The Christian Coalition was officially launched in 1988 by Rev. Pat Robertson in the aftermath of his unsuccessful White House bid. However, the incorporation records of the State of Virginia reveal that the Christian Coalition, Inc. was actually incorporated on April 30, 1987, with the paperwork filed earlier, and with planning having begun before that. Robertson served as the organization's president from its founding until February 2001, although Ralph Reed controlled day-to-day operations from 1989 to 1997. The current president is Roberta Combs. Incidentally, Ralph Reed was also involved with another group, the U.S. Family Network, which claimed to be a “grassroots organization promoting conservative advocacy.” The U.S. Family Network is now under investigation by the Justice Department for accepting money from a Russian bank tied to the scandals involving former Representative Tom DeLay and lobbyist Jack Abramoff. (Sources: Wikipedia; “The DeLay-Abramoff Money Trail,” Washington Post, 31 December 2005, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/30/AR2005123001480_pf.html)
The Christian Coalition website states: “Christian Coalition of America is a political organization, made up of pro-family Americans who care deeply about becoming active citizens for the purpose of guaranteeing that government acts in ways that strengthen, rather than threaten, families. As such, we work together with Christians of all denominations, as well as with other Americans who agree with our mission and with our ideals.”
In 1992, the national Christian Coalition, Inc., headquartered in Virginia Beach, Virginia, began producing voter guides which it distributed to conservative Christian churches. Voter guides had been issued by other Christian Right groups prior to this, but the Christian Coalition guides may well have enjoyed a much wider circulation. These voter guides claimed to be non-partisan, but typically they supported Republican candidates and pro-business, pro-military policies. The Republican bias of the voter guides led to legal and tax troubles for the Christian Coalition. In the aftermath of the departure of Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, the Christian Coalition declined in influence, membership and finances. The Christian Coalition has spun off several state-based groups, such as the Iowa Christian Alliance and the Christian Coalition of Florida.
A sampling of policy and issue positions taken by these groups reveals the following:
- All these groups support traditional marriage and traditional Biblically-prescribed sexuality.
- All of these groups support school prayer and the teaching of Biblical morality in public schools.
- All of these groups support the sanctity of human life, opposing abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, genetic alteration of humans, and cloning research.
- All of these groups favor the promotion of legislation and legal enforcement to implement the aforementioned values in American society.
Most Biblically orthodox Christians would have to agree with points 1 and 3, though there might be some grounds for disagreement on points 2 and 4 (But more on that in my next post.) However, the following is also true of these groups and groups like these:
- These groups unquestioningly support the Iraq War started by President George W. Bush.
- These groups either have no stated position on global warming, or they publicly refuse to believe that it is an issue or that it is caused by human activity. For instance, in February of 2007, Jerry Falwell claimed that the debate over global warming is a tool of Satan being used to distract churches from their primary focus of preaching the Gospel. And James Dobson, with several other prominent evangelical pastors, called on the National Evangelical Association Board to remove its president because of his attention to the issue of global warming. According to Dobson, the issue is not an appropriate focus for evangelicals, who should focus on “…the great moral issues of our time, notably the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children. In their place has come a preoccupation with climate concerns that extend beyond the NAE’s mandate and its own statement of purpose.” (Sources: “Dobson, Others Seek Ouster of NAE Vice President,” Christianity Today, March 2007, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/marchweb-only/109-53.0.html; Letter to National Association of Evangelicals, http://www.citizenlink.org/pdfs/NAELetterFinal.pdf)
- Many leaders in these groups still have ties to racist/segregationist ideas, organizations and people, as was true of Jerry Falwell.
- In addition to their core issues, most of these groups also adopt and promote economic and political positions that have nothing to do with preserving Biblical marriage and family, or Biblically mandated sexuality. For instance, most of these groups support harsh responses to the problem of illegal immigration, responses such as building a border fence.
- Most of these groups support laissez-faire free-market economic policies, and are opposed to environmental regulations which would restrict such economic policies. Most of these groups oppose any government system of universal health care, as well as any increase of taxes, taking a more libertarian view toward the running of the systems of society.
- Many leaders in these groups support and actively lobby for an American military strike against Iran. They also support the branding of Iran as a terrorist state.
- Most of these groups oppose any ban on assault weapons.
Most of these groups support the approach of Bush, Cheney and most Republicans toward the energy situation in the United States. That approach can best be summarized as striving to secure as much oil and other fossil fuels as possible in order to maintain our present expansive (and expensive) way of life for as long as possible.
The positions noted above are taken from the websites of these organizations, along with a sampling of voter guides available at the following locations: http://www.electionforum.org/, http://www.oregonfamilycouncil.org/, http://www.familyvoterinfo.org/, http://www.cfc-alert.org/.
These groups all uniformly state that they exist to promote the restoration of Christian values in America, and to promote the restoration of the United States as a Christian nation. It is appropriate, therefore, to examine whether they have been effective in achieving that goal, or whether they have, in fact, achieved something rather different. That will be taken up in my next post. But today we are out of time, as this post has gone on for much longer than I would have liked.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
If one was an average kid, however, one usually didn't appreciate the full significance of many of these events. I was a kid, though somewhat precocious. Yet I was still a kid. I remember nothing of the Cuban missile crisis; at the age I was at the time, I was far more preoccupied with monsters under my bed and learning to tie my shoes. I remember my parents dragging me and my brother out of bed to see the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. I have only dim memories of when John F. Kennedy was shot; the only thing I can clearly recall is that my mom cried a lot, as she also did when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were shot. But I distinctly remember the experience of racism – being ganged up on by white kids shouting “Nigger!”, constantly getting into fights, being taught by strict and hostile teachers. Once while my dad was stationed at Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado, the Denver Post ran a Sunday comic strip series illustrating various Bible stories. When the strip portrayed the story of Cain and Abel, the cartoonist made Cain black.
My parents had gone through significantly worse times than I when they were kids. As adults, they became solid Democrats, impressed by the idealism of the Kennedy administration, the signing of the 1964 Voting Rights Act by President Johnson, and the support of the civil rights movement by many Democrats. The Republicans had nothing to offer, having defined themselves around Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Senator Jesse Helms, and other ultra-conservatives who seemed to want to preserve the old racist, segregated, “separate but unequal” order at all costs. Because I was precocious and a good reader, my parents talked with me on a fairly deep level about the things going on around us, and as a result I aligned myself solidly with the Democratic Party. In 1968 I was rooting for Hubert Humphrey, even though I was far too young to even think about voting. In 1972 I backed George McGovern.
The civil rights movement was the first major American movement of protest and agitation to arise after World War II. Originally, it was strictly about securing fair treatment and a better life for people of color, about stopping the savage persecution of people because of a difference of skin color or ethnic background. The movement saw significant successes in the period between 1950 and 1970. Those successes had two interesting consequences. First, there were people in this country who were not members of an ethnic minority, yet who considered themselves a minority because of the sexual lifestyle they had chosen to adopt. They too began to speak out in protest over what they called their own “marginalization,” their own “persecution.” There were also women who rose up to protest their own marginalization and exploitation at the hands of a society dominated by males.
Secondly, the nation had become sickened by American involvement in the Vietnam War. Historians now differ over the appropriateness of such an attitude; some say that with a little more persistence, the United States might have won, and that the reason America lost was because of betrayal of the military by the press. The argument of such historians is not without merit, in my opinion. Yet there was also the My Lai massacre, and the perception by many in the media and in the public at large that this was a war with no end, an inextricable mess. It was a war fought by an army of draftees, of 17- and 18-year old kids, many of whom could not afford college, many of whom came home in body bags. These kids began their own protest movement, a movement which swept across hundreds of college campuses and city streets and was broadcast live on network television news shows, a movement that experienced its own massacre at Kent State University in 1970.
These new protesters were drawn to the Democratic Party just as the original civil rights activists had been. The Democrats were seen as younger (because of John and Bobby Kennedy), more progressive, more idealist, more open to change and more honest; the Republicans were seen as rigid, reactionary friends of the rich and of big business, mere protectors of an established oppressive order. This was not lost on Democratic candidates for political office. From 1968 to the end of the Vietnam war, most Democrats ran for office on an antiwar platform. Even afterward, up to the end of the Cold War, the Democrats uniformly opposed any expansion of the American military, preferring to cut military spending in order to spend more money on social programs. As time passed, I became more aware of these things, though I missed the significance of much of this in 1968, since I was too young to appreciate it. All I knew at that time was that I was a Democrat.
I remained a Democrat even after I became a Christian at a Lutheran vacation Bible school. The pastor who taught us was a really nice man, but he was a true patriot, a member of the National Guard. When there was a Veterans' Day or Memorial Day weekend, he used to preach on Sundays in uniform, rather than wearing his vestments. The congregation was as patriotic as the pastor. I remember discussing politics with one of the ushers when I was in junior high school, and how he would admonish me that “it behooves us to support our leaders.” That was the first time I had ever heard the word “behoove”, and it always made me think of cows for some reason.
But in 1973, President Nixon negotiated a pullout of American troops from Vietnam. In 1975, Saigon fell. In 1975, Americans witnessed the frantic, terrified escape of Vietnamese refugees from the American embassy and the emigration of the “boat people,” as well as the ensuing massacres of civilians in Vietnam by the Communists, and of civilians in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge – all brought to us by the same press and television news networks that brought us the My Lai massacre and the antiwar protests. Suddenly, the Communists didn't look so good, nor did being antiwar. Then the S.S. Mayaguez was seized by the Cambodians in international waters, and President Ford had to send the Marines to rescue the ship. When Jimmy Carter became President, he pursued a policy of non-confrontation with the Soviets, a policy of negotiation and goodwill and unilateral disarmament. The Soviet Union responded by building up their own military and by invading Afghanistan, where they used chemical weapons against the civilian population. It was during these years also that Alexander Solzhenitsyn came to the United States and began speaking and writing about what life was really like in the Soviet workers' “paradise.”
Events like these caused me to re-examine my Democratic affiliation. I came to believe that the idealism of the Democrats, while commendable in certain respects, was out of touch with reality in other respects. When I returned to the Lord after my Army tour, I found myself in opposition to Democratic positions regarding sexual morality. I knew that the Republicans had serious issues of their own, and were not entirely trustworthy. Yet I came to believe that the Republicans at least understood the dangerous world in which we lived, and were therefore better qualified to lead our nation. Or, to put it another way, if the Republicans did things that threatened the environment or civil rights, I could always sue them. But I would not be alive to sue the Soviets for anything if they took over the world. It seemed to me that Jimmy Carter was losing the Cold War – and this was not a war to lose. I believe even now that had he been elected to a second term, the United States would have lost.
The first official election vote I ever cast as an adult was therefore for Ronald Reagan. I had my reasons, but there were others who had their reasons for casting the same vote. I remember newspaper articles from that time describing pro-Reagan rallies at Baptist churches in my area, where “cheerleaders” would shout from the platform, “Are you a flag-waving American?!” I think – but I can't remember exactly – that the Rev. Jerry Falwell also began to distinguish himself as a major Christian leader around this time, and he solidly supported Reagan. Reagan also described himself as a Christian. In the context of the Cold War struggle against a godless Communist empire, it is understandable that so many evangelical Christians supported Reagan.
And Reagan did many good things as President. His greatest triumph was in restoring American prestige abroad, and in laying the foundation for winning the Cold War. The hijackings and kidnappings of Americans by Islamic extremists decreased dramatically from their height during the Carter years. Yet there were many progressive values held by the Democrats which were disregarded by Reagan. He was not a protector of the environment (does anyone remember Interior Secretary James Watt?), or of labor, or of the small victims of big business. He seems to truly have believed that there were no limits to economic growth; therefore, many of the energy concerns of former President Carter were swept aside. He was slow to recognize the legitimacy of the anti-apartheid protests in South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and the anti-Marcos protests in the Philippines. But the Reagan years saw the beginnings of a real marriage between American evangelical leaders and the Republican Party. This was a great boon to the Republicans, who recognized the strength of their new power base. Yet it was a strange marriage, in which the Republicans adopted traditional Republican positions and the evangelical leaders went about trying to legitimize the Republican positions as “Christian.”
Thus it was that one night in the 1980's, while I was still involved in the abusive church described in the posts http://thinsoc.blogspot.com/search?q=%22What+My+Old+Church+was+Like%22 of this blog, we had just ended a prayer meeting, and a young college woman in our group started handing out “Christian voter's guides.” I took one and read it, and discovered a statement that Christians should oppose an end to apartheid in South Africa. I think the reason was that slaves were to be obedient to their masters, or a reason like it. This, from an organization which was patriotic to the core, which probably celebrated every 4th of July with gusto! That wasn't the only experience I had with “Christian voter's guides” which legitimized many Republican positions as “Christian,” even though they could not be Biblically defended.
While the Cold War lasted, it seemed to me that the Soviet and Chinese communist empires were a cancer, and that our Republicans were a chemotherapy – curative, as long as one understood the side effects. And the therapy worked. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. America was the reigning superpower. Happy times were here to stay. And there seemed no further use for Republican chemotherapy, except that conservative media stars such as Rush Limbaugh, as well as many in the Religious Right, began to define our own Democratic Party as cancer and the Republicans as the necessary chemo. I can't remember when I discovered Rush. At first I thought he was an irritating loudmouth, but I began to be convinced by his assertions regarding the liberal bias of the mainstream media, as well as his praise for the Republican Party. Many prominent evangelicals were promoting the idea that through political action, we could restore the United States to the condition of being a “Christian nation.” These were the days of Ralph Reed, of Pat Robertson, of the “Christian Coalition,” of Bob Larson's radio show, and of James Dobson's “Focus on the Family.”
But around this time, I was also intensively studying Galatians. I was struck by such phrases as this: “...if there had been a law given which could make alive, most certainly righteousness would have been of the law.” Reading Galatians, I was struck by the thought that it was futile to try to make a nation into a “Christian nation” by passing “Christian” laws, since only those who had truly been born again could even begin to live like Christians. I was also taken by the New American Standard rendering of 1 Peter 1:1, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered...” It began to dawn on me that perhaps God wanted American Christians to see themselves as resident aliens in a foreign country – as strangers and exiles, rather than as unquestioning patriots.
But when I began to express these views to my “brothers and sisters” in our cultic church, I encountered loud howls of disagreement from several of them. So I began to keep these things to myself. Also, I did find Bill Clinton to be repugnant as a President. (I still do, by the way. Although one of the aims of this blog is to discuss how the political Right has hijacked the evangelical church, the Democrats are not without sins to confess. And I am no friend of Madam Hillary – but I will have to tell my reasons some other day. They are not the reasons many would expect.) I voted for George Bush in 2000 and in 2004, motivated heavily by the rhetoric of key leaders in the Religious Right.
The exposure of our abusive church as an abusive church – really, a cult – in 2003 was an eye-opening experience for me. That experience changed my whole outlook, not only on that church, but on life in general. For years we had all been taught that authority figures are unquestioningly good, and are to be unquestioningly trusted. We had been fed a song-and-dance about the saintly goodness of our particular church leaders. And we had seen the song-and-dance completely blown away by the facts of abuse and dirty dealing under the color of religion. Once I saw that pattern of authority obtained by falsehood and then misused, I was able to recognize it in many other areas of life.
I became a questioner – not of the Bible, but of authority figures I had come to take for granted. There were triggers that brought on the questioning: anomalous acts by leaders, sudden burdens or increases of burdens placed on the backs of those being led, or of sudden unfair treatment of myself or others. The foot-dragging by some Republicans over renewal of the Voting Rights Act was such a trigger. The year 2005 was such a trigger, as I saw gas prices suddenly surge to over $3 a gallon where I lived. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was another trigger, as I saw the ineptitude of the Government's response and the resultant suffering on the part of the victims. I had already begun to question the Iraq war, since no weapons of mass destruction had ever been found, and all the reasons for the war began to appear to be fabricated. Yet even in 2005, I still considered myself a Republican.
The final straw came in 2006, when many Republican congressmen made opposition to illegal immigration into a huge issue. I was mailed a “Christian Voter's Guide” which was full of venom against the “criminal illegals who are coming here simply to break the law, to get involved in drugs and gangs,” etc. The pamphlet admonished me to support candidates who would keep our nation safe, “for the children's sake.” The pamphlet had been mailed by an outfit called the "Family, Faith and Freedom League." Of course, there was a picture of an unwashed Mexican crawling under a fence on the front, and a picture of innocent, apple-cheeked, blond children on the back. Now, I think both sides in this issue are guilty of wrongs. But that mailer was such a rotten, bigoted throwback, and seemed so clearly to summarize the Republican congressmen who wanted to “get tough on illegals” that I quit the Republican party that very month and switched to the “Decline to State” party. I also became, officially, an “evangelical expatriate.” Since then, I have moved farther and farther away from traditional Republicanism.
Yet there are many within the Republican Party who consider themselves evangelical Christians, and are in the party because of their faith. There are many who hear the rallying cry of their leaders urging them to vote for “Godly candidates who will uphold the Christian values on which this nation was founded.” These rallying cries have begun again in earnest this year, in 2008. It would therefore be instructive to examine the issues that are dear to these leaders, the issues which they consider important in restoring “Christian” values to the United States, as well as the issues which these leaders consider to be of lesser importance. It would also "behoove us" to understand why these leaders think the way they do, and to examine whether they actually have been effective in actually re-making the United States into a “Christian nation” by their efforts. That analysis will be the subject of my next post.
Sunday, February 03, 2008
I don't have a television. I no longer listen to the radio, and for a while, the only reason I listened was to get the traffic and weather reports. Fine, then, the corporatists say; we'll send you junk mail. We'll even disguise the junk mail so that it doesn't look like junk mail until you read the barely discernible fine print at the bottom of the mailer. Okay, then, I counter by carefully reading each piece of junk to see if any personal information pertaining to me is printed therein – and then I shred it. The corporatists respond by placing junk phone calls. But I have a strategy: I register with the National “Do Not Call” list, and when, in spite of registering, I still get phone calls, I try other tricks: yelling at the telemarketers, playing nice in order to get the phone numbers of the telemarketers so that I can turn them in, letting the phone ring until it goes to voice mail. I even try saying a few phrases in Russian or Tagalog so that the telemarketers will think that I'm an incomprehensible foreigner and give up.
When I go to many public places, I find loudspeakers playing Top 40 hits. In some supermarkets I can find flat screens at the checkout stands, playing commercials. In fact, flat screens flashing advertisements seem to be everywhere nowadays – even on the sides of buildings. We are a society that is advertised to death. Why all the advertising? To support continuous growth, to support an economy that depends on convincing people to consume ever more stuff each passing day. Now the corporatocracy, in its quest for ever-larger profits, has invaded the Church, and is seeking to turn the Church into yet another collector of consumers, yet another market.
I've got news for the corporatists: I'm onto you. Listen real good: I'm not some piñata to be broken by you, some piggy bank to be smashed. My faith is not for sale. Stop trying to break into the “evangelical market,” because at least as far as I'm concerned, there is no “evangelical market.” Too many people have been burned by businesses with fish bumper stickers whose owners delivered inferior products or services. As a result, more and more evangelicals are becoming suspicious of companies which try to get people to buy their wares simply by saying, “But we're a Christian company.” Let the proof of your goodness be the fact that you do good work, and you'll have a steady stream of customers (Proverbs 22:29); and produce things that are actually necessary rather than mere bling bling nonsense (Titus 3:14). But stop the lying marketing campaigns. Stop trying to smash me and take my money. Stop trying to use my faith to turn me into yet another mindless “consumatron.”*
I've got a message for the “Christian” media companies: Stop trying to sell me dumbed-down trash just to make a fast buck. For instance, I'm not interested in trying to use the power of God to get rich. In fact, I have a message from God for you: “The love of money is the root of all the evils,” 1 Timothy 6:10. Stop advertising your wares as a “ministry” or as “ministry tools” if you intend to charge restrictive royalties every time someone uses your “intellectual property.” I'm telling you now: whenever I go into a church that uses CCLI-licensed songs in its worship, I will not put any money into that church's offering plate. If, on this blog, I wind up quoting extensive passages of Scripture, I will use only those translations which are in the public domain, such as the World English Bible (http://ebible.org/index.html), or translations which have a Creative Commons license. When I listen to music, I will listen to indie artists of whom only I and a relative handful of others know, people who are talented but not famous, who are not part of some content-industry machine. Whenever I can, I will also make my own culture, stories and art, and teach others to do the same. I am no longer buying your stuff, and even if I was, you'd have to do much better than I can (and I have done some studying), and you'd have to be a lot more generous with your offerings. I give mine away for free.
It may break your hearts to hear this, but I am not going to contribute any more money to Matt Redman's retirement fund, nor that of Michael W. Smith or Howard Rachinski or anyone else in the CCM industry. I am not supporting John Eldredge's speaking tours, or Beth Moore's. They may all be nice guys, but actually working for a living is hard work, and I rather need the money myself.
Also, give up your stranglehold on the copyrights to the works of people who have now been dead for decades. Release those works into the public domain, because if you don't, I will make up my own works and refuse to use what you own. Besides, depending on restrictive licensing of “intellectual property” is now a losing game. The whole reason the game got started is that the West, and especially the United States, have exhausted certain key natural resources and have outsourced most of their manufacturing. Therefore, one of the few things they have left to offer when buying goods and services is intellectual property. But the rest of the world is becoming as educated as people in the West, and they no longer need our “intellectual property.” In fact, the creation of intellectual property is itself now being outsourced. Your days may be numbered.
I've got a message for evangelical pastors who are trying to grow a “successful” church: Be careful. Be humble and transparent in your finances. Don't partner with secular corporations or businesses to sell things in your church; such behavior is shameful. If you are trying to use your church as a means for financial success, then you are guilty of false advertising, because you are telling people that your church is a place where they may hear the truth, and that you are a servant of the Gospel, whereas the truth is that you are acting like a servant of Money instead. If that is the case, you ought to repent, because the penalty for false advertising of this sort may be worse than a few years in jail. You may have Hell to pay. Church is supposed to be a safe place for wounded souls, not a place to get jacked. Read Matthew 18:1-10. The giving which God wants every Christian to practice is not meant to go toward making the clergy rich.
I have a message for everyone who is as sickened and turned off by all of this as I am: Let your voice be heard. Support churches which are models of integrity, and avoid the rest. Know what the Bible says about money, so that you can tell the difference between proper and improper uses of money, between those who are telling the truth and those who are merely trying to make a buck. Look for cultural alternatives. Rather than rushing down to the “Christian” bookstore to buy a CD or a novel, enroll in a good music class or a creative writing class and learn to make your own culture; then give it away for free. But if you intend to buy overtly Christian media, insist that it be of high quality as art or literature. Don't settle for mere knockoffs. Don't buy something just because it's marketed as “Christian.”
Consider doing your ministry for free. The Lord directed those who preach the Gospel to get their living from the Gospel, but He also allowed the apostle Paul to work for a living while giving the Gospel away for free. And He did so because of all the posers pretending to be servants of the Gospel in order to make a fast buck. I believe that it is necessary for true servants of Christ to start imitating Paul's example again. Also, let churches become simpler. Instead of spending a lot of money on an impressive sanctuary, awesome multimedia, lots of intellectual property licenses and a large staff, spend money on providing food and clothing to homeless people and help to families without medical insurance. Proverbs 19:17 says, “He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD.” Practice personal charity.
And now, we are through with Money. We will next consider Power. I will give you a brief road map of our consideration. I will deal with Power as it regards those who, for their own ends, try to use the Church to gain authority and influence over a large number of people. But there are two aspects of this which I see. One is the simple desire of some to gain a high degree of ecclesiastical authority, to become big wigs in a church or a denomination. The other aspect concerns those who are not necessarily part of the Church, but who want to use the Church to gain a high degree of worldly political power. The one aspect is of interest to people who have been injured by abusive churches. The other aspect is of interest to those who are concerned about the direction in which our society is heading, about having their faith hijacked to serve ends contrary to that faith. I intend to deal with both aspects. But because this is an election year, I will consider the second aspect – the aspect of the Church and political power – first.
* I first heard the term “consumatron” used by Julian Darley of the Post-Carbon Institute during a podcast of a talk he gave. The talk was titled, “General Knowledge in a Post-Carbon Age.” It's archived at http://www.globalpublicmedia.com/, if anyone is interested.