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“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

May 18, 2016 Posted by | Christian Conservatives, Christian Right, Religious Right | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Another Terri Schiavo Moment”: Are Republicans Falling Into A Democratic Trap On Transgender Bathrooms?

I first began to suspect Democrats of throwing chum into troubled waters on transgender-bathroom labeling upon reading reports that conservatives were determined to launch a platform fight at the Republican convention to make sure “bathrooms” were an important part of the GOP agenda. Yeah, bathrooms. Ridiculous, right? Not if you are a conservative religious activist who believes LGBT rights opened the gates of hell and are ushering in the End Times. I’m sure more than a few Christian Right folk heard about criticisms of the North Carolina bathroom access law and thought: This is what we’ve been talking about all these years.

So suddenly there’s a new issue on the horizon that has not only caused some problems between the presumptive presidential nominee of the GOP and its most important constituency group, but that is distracting Republicans into a fight most of them — and certainly Donald Trump — probably don’t want to participate in.

The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent takes a look today at the Obama administration’s directive to schools across the country to let transgendered students decide which bathroom to use, and discussion of the issue by other liberals, and concludes that Democrats are “leaning in” on the issue.  Sure looks that way to me, too. Yes, the schools directive was bland and bureaucratic, and not really mandatory, but was nonetheless designed to set cultural conservatives off like a rocket, partly because of the subject matter and partly because it was an example of federal “meddling” with local control of schools, which a lot of these folks deplore as Big Secular Government getting between godly parents and their impressionable children.

It’s unlikely a whole lot of swing voters care that much about this issue one way or another, and those who think about it for five minutes probably figure the administration’s approach was a reasonable solution to a small but unavoidable problem. But even as they (and the schools, and the country) move on, conservative activists will remain transfixed, fighting for new bathroom labeling laws in the many states they control, fighting for platform planks, fighting with Republican politicians who are embarrassed by the whole thing, and maybe even fighting with each other on how to fight this new exotic import from Sodom and Gomorrah. This could even become a Terri Schiavo moment, wherein many Americans discover once again that the Christian Right and the political party in its thrall just don’t look at the world the way the rest of us do.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 13, 2016

May 15, 2016 Posted by | North Carolina Bathroom Bill, Religious Right, Terri Schiavo | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Origins Of The Religious Right”: Still Insisting That Religious Freedom Is A Justification For Discrimination

It is often assumed that the origins of the religious right’s political awakening (known back then as the so-called “moral majority”) was in response to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs Wade decision. But in an article a friend recently pointed out to me from 2014, Randall Balmer locates it’s origins in another court case: Green vs Connally. It has interesting relevance for some of the issues we are hearing about today.

Balmer first points out that immediately before and after Roe vs Wade, evangelical leaders didn’t see a problem with abortion. He provides several quotes, including this one:

When the Roe decision was handed down, W. A. Criswell, the Southern Baptist Convention’s former president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas—also one of the most famous fundamentalists of the 20th century—was pleased: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” he said, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

Meanwhile, Paul Weyrich was looking around for an issue that would galvanize evangelical support for Republicans. He found it in an edict from President Nixon’s Treasury Department that the provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act precluded a tax-exempt status for private schools that discriminated against African Americans. Schools like Bob Jones University and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University responded.

Although Bob Jones Jr., the school’s founder, argued that racial segregation was mandated by the Bible, Falwell and Weyrich quickly sought to shift the grounds of the debate, framing their opposition in terms of religious freedom rather than in defense of racial segregation.

In other words, “religious freedom” was used as the justification for discrimination. Sound familiar? That was the issue at stake in Green vs Connally.

It was on the heels of that argument that these religious leaders then turned to theologian Francis Schaeffer and surgeon C. Everett Koop (who later became Reagan’s Surgeon General) to stir up objections to abortion. They did that with the film Whatever Happened to the Human Race?

In the early months of 1979, Schaeffer and Koop, targeting an evangelical audience, toured the country with these films, which depicted the scourge of abortion in graphic terms—most memorably with a scene of plastic baby dolls strewn along the shores of the Dead Sea.

It is hard to avoid seeing a parallel with the doctored videos produced by The Center for Medical Progress that have raised evangelicals in opposition to Planned Parenthood.

All of that laid the groundwork for the involvement of the religious right in the 1980 presidential race between Carter and Reagan, although their positions on these issues were not as well-defined as we have been led to believe.

By 1980, even though Carter had sought, both as governor of Georgia and as president, to reduce the incidence of abortion, his refusal to seek a constitutional amendment outlawing it was viewed by politically conservative evangelicals as an unpardonable sin. Never mind the fact that his Republican opponent that year, Ronald Reagan, had signed into law, as governor of California in 1967, the most liberal abortion bill in the country. When Reagan addressed a rally of 10,000 evangelicals at Reunion Arena in Dallas in August 1980, he excoriated the “unconstitutional regulatory agenda” directed by the IRS “against independent schools,” but he made no mention of abortion. Nevertheless, leaders of the religious right hammered away at the issue, persuading many evangelicals to make support for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion a litmus test for their votes.

More than 35 years later, the religious right is still insisting that religious freedom is a justification for discrimination and using deceptive videos to ignite opposition to women’s reproductive health. As the saying goes…”everything old is new again.”

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 28, 2016

April 29, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, Religious Freedom, Religious Right | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Tithes And Offerings”: A Well-Established Fad Among The Glenn Beckish, Conspiracy-Theory Oriented Christian Right Types

As long as we are talking about flaky but popular-among-conservatives tax plans, Ben Carson’s allegedly Bible-based “tithe” tax, which he got to tout in last night’s debate, is among the flakiest. It’s really just an unusually low flat tax, which means (a) it wouldn’t come even close to paying for anything like the government we have, and (b) it represents an incredibly huge windfall for the rich along with significantly higher taxes for the poor (plus loss of refundable tax credits).

What it is, however, is a well-established fad among the Glenn Beckish, conspiracy-theory oriented Christian Right types that represent Carson’s real ideological home. Here’s RightWingNews’ Peter Montgomery on flat taxes and “biblical values:”

The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer has declared, “God believes in a flat tax.” On his radio show last year, Fischer said, “That’s what a tithe is, it’s a tax.”

Of course, that kind of flat tax would amount to a massive tax cut for the richest Americans and a tax hike on the poorest. So it’s not terribly surprising the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity has teamed up with the Religious Right to promote the idea that progressive taxation is an un-Christian idea. AFP joined Religious Right groups to create the Freedom Federation, one of the right-wing coalitions that sprung up in opposition to Barack Obama’s election as president. The coalition’s founding “Declaration of American Values” declares its allegiance to a system of taxes that is “not progressive in nature.”

David Barton, the pseudo-historian, GOP activist, and Glenn Beck ally, is a major promoter of the idea that the Bible opposes progressive taxes, capital gains taxes, and minimum wage. Barton’s views are grounded in the philosophy of Christian Reconstructionism, a movement whose thinking has infused both the Religious Right and Tea Party movements with its notion that God gave the family, not the government, responsibility for education — and the church, not the government, responsibility for taking care of the poor.

That’s how we have Republican members of Congress supporting cuts in food stamps by appealing to the Bible. And how we get Samuel Rodriguez, the most prominent conservative Hispanic evangelical leader, saying that a desire to “punish success” — i.e. progressive taxes — “is anti-Christian and anti-American.”

A lot of people still think of the conservative movement as a combo platter of “conservative Christians” who don’t care about economic issues, and “economic conservatives” who are indifferent or even hostile towards “social issues,” and then Tea Party People who only care about fiscal probity and constitutional issues. It’s actually all a stew. And in particular, the Christian Right is composed in large part of people who have divinized private property and think the Constitution permanently addressed social and family policy along with taxation and government structure. That’s part and parcel of Ben Carson’s strange gospel of American unity: it was all resolved by the Founders, and we’ll all get along if “politically correct” people weren’t causing trouble with their secular socialist schemes.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 7, 2015

August 8, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Conservatives, Religious Right | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Country Is Leaving Them Behind”: How GOP Candidates Feed The Social Conservative Narrative Of Oppression

If you want to get a sense of what social conservatives are thinking and feeling, there are few better ways than watching how Republican candidates seek their votes. Call it empathizing or pandering, but the candidates know it isn’t enough to say “I agree with you on the issues” — you have to demonstrate that you feel what they feel and look at the world the same way they do. That’s true to a degree of any constituency group, but it may be particularly important with voters who feel as besieged as social conservatives do today.

Which is why many of the GOP presidential candidates are repeating a narrative of victimhood and oppression that has become common on the religious right. It says that the forces of secularism — cruel, immoral, and on the march — are consolidating their gains and preparing to make it all but illegal to be a Christian.

“There are consequences when you don’t genuflect to the latest secular dogmas,” said Jeb Bush in a speech at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. The left, says Bobby Jindal, wants to “essentially outlaw firmly held religious beliefs that they do not agree with.” Not only will opposing same-sex marriage get you branded a hater, says Marco Rubio, “what’s the next step after that? After they’re done going after individuals, the next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the catechism of the Catholic Church, is hate speech. That’s a real and present danger.” “We are moving rapidly toward the criminalization of Christianity,” says Mike Huckabee.

It may sound ridiculous to assert that this majority-Christian country with a stronger tradition of religious freedom than any other country on Earth is about to start rounding up Christians and putting them in jail for their beliefs. But to many on the religious right, that doesn’t seem like such a remote possibility.

It’s partly because, in a very real sense, the country is leaving them behind. The rapid change in public opinion and laws on gay rights is the most vivid current reminder, but it’s part of a process that has been going on for decades. The truth is that American society has been drifting away from the “traditional” values to which they hold for some time now, whether it’s on things like corporal punishment, women working outside the home, or the infusion of Christian practices into government-sponsored activities (like prayer in schools). That’s not to mention the discomfort they feel upon seeing a celebrity undergoing a sex change hailed for her courage and splashed across the covers of glamorous magazines.

And Christians themselves are shrinking as a proportion of the population. According to recent data from the Pew Research Center, in 2014 Christians made up 70.6 percent of the American population, down 8 points from just seven years before. Meanwhile, the population of the “unaffiliated” — atheists, agnostics, and people who don’t identify with any religion in particular — has grown to 23 percent of the public. Most strikingly, only 56 percent of millennials identify as Christian, while 35 percent are unaffiliated, suggesting that the trend will continue.

So it’s perfectly understandable for social conservatives to feel like they’re living in a society that no longer shares their values, because they are. I might say, “Welcome to the world everybody else lives in” — if you’re a Jew or a Muslim, you aren’t going to complain that unless the department store puts up a banner acknowledging your particular holiday that you’re suffering under the bootheel of oppression.

Nevertheless, many conservative Christians have constructed out of these developments an uplifting story for themselves, where their supposed persecution gives them nobility and heroism. They can now tell themselves that just by doing what they’ve been doing — having lots of kids, staying chaste until marriage, or just going to church — they’re courageous revolutionaries, underdogs fighting the odds on behalf of their principles and God’s desires. When they oppose gay marriage, they aren’t the equivalent of George Wallace barring the schoolhouse door, they’re the equivalent of the Soviet refusenik in 1975 or the American patriot in 1775.

Liberals may dismiss this kind of rhetoric, but it’s mostly sincere, and it will likely become louder as social progress continues in the direction it’s going. It’ll be particularly interesting to see what the candidates say if the Supreme Court rules that gay people have a constitutional right to marry, as it may well do in a matter of weeks.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributing Writer, The Week, June 4, 2015

June 5, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Religious Right, Social Conservativism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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