As Jerry Falwell Jr. spoke on the Republican convention’s final night, longtime observers of the Christian Right movement, of which his father was a founder, had to shake their heads in wonder. Gone was the usual claim that the Republican candidate was a Man of God motivated by profound faith and humbled by a sense of religious duty. Gone was any long recitation of Christian Right issue positions or accomplishments. Gone, perhaps most significantly, was any reminder of the covenant between conservative Christians and the Republican Party in which the former took the spiritual risk of political engagement in exchange for the latter’s promise to turn back the cultural clock.
Instead, Falwell emphasized Trump’s pledge to change the half-century-old IRS rule in which nonprofit groups (including churches and other religious institutions) were told they had to choose between tax-exempt status and the ability to endorse political candidates and engage in direct electioneering activities — a pledge the tycoon made in a recent meeting with conservative Evangelical leaders designed to win them over. Like many of these leaders, Falwell, who endorsed this Philistine at the very beginning of the 2016 cycle, has in a crude, transactional manner sold out, like a ward heeler with a constituency that needs favors from the Boss.
Yes, Trump has also gone to some lengths to promise judicial appointments sure to support reversals of the constitutional right to abortion and same-sex marriage. And, even more important, he’s made the Christian Right’s enemies his own — the “elitists” and “cultural relativists” of the secular left and mainstream media, the Muslims that deny Jesus as the exclusive Way, and the disparagers of Israel’s biblical role in the Last Days. Going along with this politician’s ambitions is a small matter of overlooking his crudity and egoism; his instrumental treatment of other people (especially women); his deep involvement in the Babylon of mass popular culture; and his “populist” manipulation of very un-Christian racial and ethnic resentments.
It’s hard to know what goes through the minds of people who consider themselves followers of a messiah who preached love for one’s enemies as they cheer Trump’s declarations that he wants to torture and kill terrorism suspects and their families, and deport millions of Christians and their children into destitution and violence, and reverse years of conservative Christian investment in criminal-justice reform, and intimidate other countries into letting America always be first. Like Falwell, they do mostly refrain from claiming that Trump — who has not been able to bring himself to admit the need for divine forgiveness — is himself a man of faith, though the Christian Right warhorse tried to suggest he was a “Baby Christian” who had only recently found God. But for the most part, they implicitly treat him as the Scourge of God (as Attila the Hun was once described), a pagan sent to smite the wicked.
Some conservative Christian leaders may simply emulate other conservative ideologues who, as a purely practical manner, have decided to go along with the Trump candidacy in hopes of inheriting the GOP after he loses, or cashing in chits if he wins. Or perhaps they are just following their flocks, unlike some (notably Southern Baptist spokesperson Russell Moore and longtime Christian Right and homeschooling advocate Michael Farris) who have made a prophetic stand against Trump. As longtime observer of Christian conservatives Sarah Posner noted:
A July 13 Pew Research Center survey found that 78 percent of white evangelicals intend to vote for Trump — meaning Trump will likely match the level of support among white evangelicals enjoyed by George W. Bush in 2004, when white evangelicals made up 23 percent of the electorate, and were an essential 36 percent of all Bush voters.
This is obviously not the first time in Western history that religious people have followed irreligious politicians who promise to fight against the forces of cultural change that threaten all entrenched sources of privilege. But it must be painful to some to observe that, despite the trappings of religious invocations and the country musicians touting their Bible-believin’ (along with their trucks and their guns) as tokens of defiance toward liberals, this has been a profane convention celebrating profane values. Farris recently said the acceptance of Trump represented the “end of the Christian Right.” That may overstate the case, but the days when the GOP could comport itself as the Christian conservative party are gone for the immediate future. Conservative Catholic columnist Ross Douthat read the draft of Trump’s speech tonight and tweeted: “The speech is basically Buchananism without the religion.” That means culture war with no restraint, and perhaps no survivors. And that’s scary.
By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 21, 2016
“We Don’t Need A ‘Christian Left’ To Replace The Christian Right”: We Need A Commitment To Church-State Separation
It was inevitable, I guess, that the latest talk of the Christian Right “dying” — or at least suffering under divisions created or exacerbated by Donald Trump — would revive hopes of a “Christian Left” emerging to compete with, or even displace, the alliance of Republicans with conservative evangelicals and traditionalist Catholics that has played so large a role in American politics since 1980. And now, at Slate, Ruth Graham has expressed these hopes at considerable length. Though I will not blame her for a sub-headline that fatuously refers to Democrats as a potential “party of God,” Graham’s piece begs for a dissent from a liberal Christian perspective. To put it simply, must Christian progressives replicate the politicization of the Gospel that Falwell and Robertson and Colson and so many others undertook?
Yes, Graham is right in identifying this as an opportune moment to disrupt the popular stereotypes (promoted equally by secular and conservative religious folk) of Christian faith connoting conservative politics, or of the only “good” or “real” Christians being the conservative variety. And it never hurts to protect the First Amendment rights of American Christians to vote and think and speak as they wish, which historically (viz. the abolition and agrarian reform and urban reform and civil rights movements) has been on the Left as much as the Right.
But like previous apostles of a Christian Left such as Jim Wallis, Graham implies that the grievous error of Christian Right leaders is misapplying biblical lessons for contemporary culture and society, and elevating concerns about personal morality and “family life” above commitments to peace and social justice. The idea is that God does indeed have a preferred politics (if not necessarily a party) that just happens to be very different from those the Christian Right has endorsed.
The alternative argument is that believing there’s any comprehensive prescription for political behavior in religious scripture or tradition betrays a confusion of the sacred and the profane, and of the Kingdom of God with mere secular culture. That’s what one prominent liberal Christian named Barack Obama maintained in his famous Notre Dame commencement speech of 2009, in which he described as essential to faith a healthy doubt about what God wants human beings to do in their social and political lives. And it leads not to a desire to replace the self-righteous Christian Right with an equally self-righteous Christian Left, but to a renewed commitment to church-state separation — on religious as well as political grounds. After all, church-state separation protects religion from political contamination as much as it does politics from religious contamination. And what the Christian Right abetted was political contamination, not just recourse to the wrong politics.
Needless to say, Christians who are also political progressives would get along better with their non-Christian and non-religious allies if they stood with them in staunch support of church-state separation instead of implying that progressive unbelievers are pursuing the right policies for the wrong (irreligious) reasons. And they would also tap into the true legacy of this country’s founders, largely religious (if often heterodox) people who understood the spiritual as well as the practical dangers of encouraging the religiously sanctioned pursuit of political power.
So with all due respect to Ruth Graham and others like her who dream of a Church Militant marching toward a progressive Zion under the banner of a rigorously left-wing Party of God, thanks but no thanks. Progressive Christians would be better advised to work quietly with others in secular politics without a lot of public prayer about it, while also working to help reconcile with their conservative sisters and brothers, who may soon — God willing — be emerging from the Babylonian captivity of the Christian Right.
By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 17, 2016
In the waning days of March, a scandal has engulfed the Alabama State Capitol as Gov. Robert Bentley fired his top cop, who then turned around and accused the governor of having had an extramarital affair. The controversy engines hit high gear with the release of a salacious audiotape, in which the governor is overheard telling his listener how much he loves her and enjoys touching her breasts.
For all the inevitable handwringing and headlines, though, the accusations of Bentley’s romantic dalliance with a staffer — long-rumored in Alabama political circles and seemingly confirmed when his wife of 50 years filed for divorce in 2015 — are unlikely to damage his political standing. Nothing to see here, folks.
Except this: The disgrace of Bentley — a churchgoing, Bible-thumping moralist — is just one more gaping hole in the mantle of sanctimony that has afforded the Christian right a special place in American politics for the last 40 years. Though you will still occasionally hear rhetoric from the campaign trail that purports to espouse Christian values, fundamentalist Christianity — at least as a potent voting bloc — is pretty much a spent force in GOP politics.
If you have any doubt about that, just survey the current GOP presidential field, which is led by the narcissistic, non-Scriptural, thrice-married hedonist Donald Trump. Ted Cruz bet his presidential run on his bona fides as a true believer in the fundamentalist strain of Christianity, which emphasizes church attendance, public prayer and a narrow-minded moral code (at least for public consumption). But in primary contests so far, Trump has at least held his own with conservative churchgoers.
That’s the only thing about Trump’s baffling rise that prompts me to say a couple of hallelujahs. I don’t mourn the passing of fundamentalist Christianity as a commanding force; its adherents have done little to advance moral or ethical values.
With a precious few exceptions, they don’t promote social justice, or work to eliminate poverty, or campaign for compassion toward the “stranger” — immigrants. Instead, they have tried to impose their mean and rigid religious beliefs on public policy, misinterpreting the U.S. Constitution and misunderstanding the civic underpinnings of a pluralistic democracy.
Their enthusiasm for Trump underscores what has always been true about that group: They have strong nationalist and authoritarian impulses; they’re xenophobes; they’re averse to social change. There is also, among some white fundamentalist Christians, a strong whiff of racism.
It helps to remember the early days of the late Jerry Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority in 1979 and arranged a marriage of convenience with the Republican Party. As pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, he railed against the 1954 Supreme Court decision that desegregated public schools and denounced the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a “Communist subversive.”
Falwell abandoned that rhetoric after he became a nationally prominent figure, but he didn’t abandon his right-wing views on race. His foray into national politics began when the federal government moved to revoke the tax-exempt status of the white-only private schools — “seg academies” — that sprang up in the wake of public school desegregation. Falwell had started his own seg academy in Virginia.
Given the animating passions of Falwell’s followers, it’s no surprise that so many conservative Christians have made a seamless transition to Trump. They had already shown themselves to be flexible on their principles, so long as their politicians continued to support the policies that were really important to them. Those include contempt for the poor, suspicion of Muslims, and a nationalist rhetoric that insists on dominance on the world stage.
Bentley has hewed closely enough to that line to make it unlikely he’ll pay any price for his alleged affair. (For the record, Bentley has stated, unconvincingly, that he has not had any “physical” relationship with the staffer.)
For example, the governor supported the state’s extremely harsh law aimed at illegal workers, even though it originally included a provision (since struck down by a federal court) making it a crime to “transport” an undocumented immigrant. Some critics pointed out that could punish a good Christian who offers an immigrant a ride to church.
Neither Bentley nor his supporters minded a bit.
By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, March 26, 2015
“Does Ted Cruz Think He’s The Messiah?”: Cruz’s Role Is To “Take Dominion” Of The Governmental “Mountain”
When Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for president, many assumed he would quietly distance himself from his father, Rafael Cruz, since the elder Cruz has long been extreme in his religious views, and outspoken in proclaiming them.
But the opposite has been the case. Rafael Cruz has been the senator’s primary surrogate on the campaign trail, particularly with the evangelical voters who are now Ted Cruz’s base. The two have frequently spoken together, prayed together, campaigned together—even shot highly awkward “slice of life” videos together.
The reason Ted Cruz might be reluctant to embrace his father so publicly is that Rafael Cruz subscribes to what is known as dominionism, which holds that Christianity should exercise “dominion” over all of society, not just the traditional boundaries of religion.
Historically, dominionism began as an offshoot of Christian Reconstructionism, the sect founded in the 1960s by defender-of-slavery R.J. Rushdoony that seeks to replace secular law with Biblical law, stonings and all. More moderate versions of Reconstructionism began to take hold in the New Christian Right, which began in the 1970s as an effort to re-engage evangelicals in politics and fight back against the sexual revolution and the civil rights movement. Dominionism was one such version.
The etymological and Scriptural roots of dominionism are God’s command that Adam and Eve should “have dominion over all the earth” and Isaiah 2:2, which says, “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains.” Those “mountains” are interpreted not literally but figuratively (evangelicals are actually only selectively literalistic) as referring to the “seven mountains” of society, specifically family, religion, arts and entertainment, media, government, education, and business.
And since an overwhelming majority of evangelicals—more than 75 percent, according to recent surveys—believe that the “latter days” are already here, the time for dominion is now. Hence the recent flood of Christian movies like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Christian businesses like Hobby Lobby, and Christian politicians like Pat Robertson.
Rafael Cruz’s new book, A Time for Action: Empowering the Faithful to Reclaim America, makes this theology quite clear. In it, he writes, “The Bible tells us that we are the salt of the earth and light of the world… Doesn’t that suggest that our influence should touch every area of society—our families, the media, sports, arts and entertainment, education, business, and government?”
Notice that not only did Cruz state the dominionist view in general, but he listed the specific “seven mountains” in which dominionists believe.
(Notably, Cruz has not appeared to have signed on to a more radical version of dominionism called the New Apostolic Reformation, which believes literally that the Earth is controlled by a hierarchy of demons under Satan’s authority, and that Christians must engage in “spiritual warfare” against them. Though the NAR sponsored Rick Perry’s 2011 prayer revival The Response and now have outsize influence in Christian Zionism, many conservative Christians believe it to be a kind of cult.)
Rafael Cruz’s views of his son’s role in all of this are literally messianic. When Ted was 4 years old, Rafael says that he told him “You know, Ted, you have been gifted above any man that I know and God has destined you for greatness.”
Of course, lots of parents have high expectations for their children, though perhaps not that high. Rafael Cruz, however, has a very specific, messianic role in mind. Consider the following sermons given on Aug. 26, 2012, at the Irving, Texas, megachurch of Christian Zionist Larry Hugh—the entire service and sermons are available online.
First, surrounded by Jewish symbols including a menorah, a Jewish star on the lectern, and a shofar in his hand, Pastor Huch noted that 2012 would be the year of “divine government—that God will begin to rule and reign. Not Wall Street, not Washington, but God and God’s people will begin to rule and reign.” (According to Huch, this was because of the numerological significance of the number 12, not the Mayan calendar.)
Then he said, “I know that’s why God got Rafael’s son elected—Ted Cruz, the next senator. But here’s the exciting thing… in a few weeks begins that year 2012, and this will begin what we call the End Times transfer of wealth… When gentiles begin to receive this blessing, they will never go back financially through the valley again. They will grow and grow and grow… We will usher in the coming of the messiah.”
Next, Rafael Cruz took the stage. He noted that in the Bible, “the king and the priest complemented each other.” He then complained (as he has many times) that most churches are focused only on the “priestly anointing” but that most should take on the role of kings going to battle: “The battlefield is the marketplace… go to the marketplace and take dominion… that dominion is not just in the church, it is over every area: society, education, government, economics.”
Citing the Book of Proverbs, Cruz preached that “the wealth of the wicked is stored for the righteous. And it is through the kings, anointed to take dominion, that that transfer of wealth is going to occur.”
(Incidentally, Methodist scholar Morgan Guyton has provided a brilliant theological takedown of the sermon from a Christian point of view, including close readings of the Biblical Hebrew and Greek.)
Dominionism is both mundane and profound. On the mundane level, it’s not so different from the prosperity gospel, which holds that (contra what Jesus had to say) God wants you to be rich. “God’s going to open up that multimillion contract,” Cruz preached in Irvine. “God’s going to open up that promotion at work.”
But on the profound level, Ted Cruz’s role is to “take dominion” of the governmental ‘mountain,’ thus effectuating a Bernie Sanders-like “wealth transfer,” except not from the 1 percent to the 99 percent, but from the wicked to the righteous. Even the cover of Rafael Cruz’s book makes this clear, with its picture of a church looming over a much-smaller American flag.
Unsurprisingly, all this is a mission from God. Rafael Cruz has said that at a prayer session in 2013 or 2014, “It was as if there was a presence of the Holy Spirit in the room and we all were at awe… And Ted, all that came out of his mouth, he said, ‘Here am I Lord, use me. Here am I Lord, I surrender to whatever Your will for my life is.’ And it was at that time that he felt a peace about running for president of the United States.”
Rafael Cruz’s worldview is deeply informed by (and sometimes copied word-for-word from) the pseudo-history of David Barton, who now directs Ted Cruz’s SuperPAC, which has raised over $30 million from just four extremely wealthy individuals, and who was previously the chair of the Republican Party of Texas.
Before spending billions to elect Ted Cruz, Barton wrote a series of books on the founders of the United States, all roundly condemned by actual historians. For example, his book on Thomas Jefferson, a noted deist who was suspected of atheism in his lifetime, suggests that Jefferson was in fact a pious, evangelical-style Christian. That book was voted “the least credible history book in print” by the History News Network website, and was pulled by its publisher, but is now available from World Net Daily, the far-right conspiracy website.
And in 1995, when challenged by historian Robert Alley, Barton admitted that there were no primary sources for 11 quotes he attributed to Madison, Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. Even Barton’s Biblical quotations are erroneous.
Yet despite all of this, Barton’s view is now commonplace on the far right: The United States was founded as an explicitly Christian nation, by Christians, with Christian principles dictating public policy.
Indeed, Barton’s ministry, WallBuilders, has now formed a network of pastors called the “Black Robe Regiment,” based on a British slur for pastors who supported the American Revolution—and who, it is alleged, “presented what the Bible said about taxes, education, laws, public policy, good government, and the military.”
It’s easy to see how Barton’s bogus, revisionist history connects with Rafael Cruz’s dominionism. First, Barton is himself a dominionist: he said in 2011 that “If you can have those seven areas, you can shape and control whatever takes place in nations, continents and even the world.”
Second, now dominionism is not about creating a new republic but restoring the America that once was. As Cruz writes in his new book, “although many people think otherwise, the concept of separation of church and state is found nowhere in either the Declaration of Independence of the Constitution or the United States of America.” Dominion is thus restorationism.
Third, Cruz has often echoed Barton’s own ideas, including that our system of taxation is contrary to the Bible and that public education is a communist plot invented by John Dewey (who in reality was a fierce anti-communist, but never mind). (The modern homeschooling movement was pioneered by Rushdoony.)
Finally, as weird as dominionism may sound to non-Christians, it is now well within the mainstream of the Christian Right. Prior to the Cruz family, its political standard-bearers were Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry.
Now, everything I’ve said so far is about Rafael Cruz, not Ted Cruz. We don’t really know how much of this Ted believes. But it is interesting that even anodyne statements by Ted Cruz can be read in multiple ways, the classic indicator of dogwhistling. For example, Sen. Cruz wrote an epilogue to Rafael Cruz’s book, in which he said, “If our nation’s leaders are elected by unbelievers, is it any wonder that they do not reflect our values? … If the body of Christ arises, if Christians simply show up and vote biblical values, we can restore our nation.”
Read one way, this is just a Christian version of “make America great again.” Read another way, “restoring our nation” has a very specific dominionist meaning of one believes that America was once a Christian quasi-theocracy. And not many candidates describe their campaign as trying to get the body of Christ to arise.
Whatever Ted Cruz’s religious views, however, those of his father are relevant in their own right. He stumps for his son all the time, Barton has his hands on some of the largest purse strings in Republican politics, and many of Ted Cruz’s supporters are animated by a theological vision of America that will restore “kings” to power at the End of Days, of whom Cruz is apparently one.
The word “dominionism” may not roll of the tongue of political pundits, but given its shocking ambitions, maybe that’s part of the point.
By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, February 14, 2016
The pattern started in earnest in 1996. Social conservative leaders weren’t sold on Bob Dole as the Republicans’ presidential nominee, but the religious right movement struggled to rally behind a credible alternative.
As we discussed in March, in nearly every election cycle that followed, a similar dynamic unfolded. In 2000, the religious right wanted John Ashcroft, who didn’t run. In 2008, the religious right hated John McCain, but it couldn’t settle on a rival. In 2012, social conservatives were skeptical about Mitt Romney, but again, it failed to coalesce behind someone else.
The movement and its leaders were absolutely determined not to repeat their mistakes. This would finally be the cycle, the religious right’s heavyweights insisted, in which social conservatives en masse made an early decision, chose a competitive GOP candidate, and helped propel him or her towards the convention.
And though I was skeptical of their organizational skills, social conservative leaders, for the first time in a generation, are doing exactly what they set out to do. National Review reported late yesterday:
James Dobson, founder of the Christian group Focus on the Family and one of the nation’s most influential evangelicals, will endorse Ted Cruz for president today, according to sources briefed on the announcement. […]
Dobson, sources say, has long been an outspoken voice on Cruz’s behalf, arguing in previous private gatherings that Marco Rubio was not sufficiently conservative to earn the group’s support.
The endorsement from Dobson, a powerhouse in religious right circles, comes on the heels of similar support from the Family Leader’s Bob Vander Plaats, the National Organization for Marriage, and GOP activist/direct-mail pioneer Richard Viguerie.
This isn’t a situation in which prominent social conservatives suddenly saw the merits of the Texas Republican’s candidacy. On the contrary, it’s part of a deliberate strategy.
National Review reported earlier this week on the religious right’s initiative to formally choose the movement’s presidential hopeful.
The initiative, spearheaded by Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, had originally brought together a loose coalition of some 50 like-minded conservative leaders from around the country. Together, beginning in early 2014, the group – referred to internally simply as “The GROUP” – met every few months to discuss the state of the race, to pray for guidance, and to conduct a straw poll to see which candidates enjoyed the most support at each stage of the campaign.
It had all built to this day and to this meeting, where members would vote until they reached a verdict. Once finalized, their decision would represent the culmination of an oft-dismissed undertaking that began several years earlier and aimed at one thing: coalescing the conservative movement’s leaders behind a single presidential candidate in a show of strength and solidarity that would position them to defeat the establishment-backed candidate in the head-to-head stage of the 2016 Republican primary.
And two weeks ago, in a hotel boardroom in Northern Virginia, Ted Cruz cleared the 75% supermajority threshold “required to bind the group’s membership to support him.”
Dobson’s endorsement is part of the initiative’s rollout, and his Cruz endorsement will reportedly soon be followed by the Senate Conservatives Fund Ken Cuccinelli and the FRC’s Tony Perkins.
Will this translate into success for the far-right senator? It’s true that social conservatives’ influence over the direction of the Republican Party isn’t as strong as it once was, but this constituency still represents a significant chunk of the GOP base, especially in states like Iowa.
In a competitive nominating fight, which will likely come down to three or four people, Cruz’s formal alliance with the religious right may very well make an enormous difference.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 18, 2015