Barry Goldwater was Right: Religious Leaders Endanger American Democracy

“[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.” — Justice Robert H Jackson, American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 US 382, 438; 70 SCt. 674, 704 (1950)

There is just over a month remaining before the 2012 Presidential Election. The campaign on both sides has been marked by distortions and lies as are most campaigns, but the most troubling aspect to me is the behavior of many professed Christians that are leaders of the religious right who seem to be more interested in their own interests than the interests of other Americans. All pretense has been thrown away this is not about Jesus, nor is it about the American principle of religious freedom, it is about conservative Christians of various denominations seeking to dominate through political means people that they have failed to convert with their message.

Unfortunately the political climate of the country is now dominated by the most extreme factions. Politicians and politically minded preachers, especially those of the religious right are using their “faith” to fuel animus against President Obama and before his nomination Mitt Romney to further their political aims.

I am a Christian and a Priest in a small Old Catholic denomination. I am a graduate of a premier Evangelical Protestant Seminary where I came to appreciate and revere religious liberty. What I am going to write today may offend some but it has to be said. I believe that the cause of religious liberty, and for that matter the liberty of the Christian Church to be faithful to its call and unencumbered by unseemly political alliances is in danger due to the actions of people that in many cases honestly believe that they are defending religious liberty. Justice Robert Jackson prosecuted the major Nazi War criminals at Nuremberg and was able to view the results of what happened when churches that entered into such alliances.

Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham and others too numerous to mention have said that President Obama was a Moslem without saying it flat out. Until he became the nominee many of these same leaders attacked Mitt Romney is not a Christian and a “member of a religious cult.”

Likewise people like Rick Santorum and some political preachers have compared the President to Adolf Hitler. When Santorum was asked about this by reporters during the primaries said that he “didn’t mean anything by his comments.” Give me a break. If you compare any American politician to Hitler it is not something that “you don’t mean.” It is an attempt to compare your opponent with one of the most evil men that ever lived.

Back in my days as a confirmed member of the religious right Barry Goldwater would occasionally get under my skin by criticizing leaders of the Religious Right. At the time I loved the “Voter’s Guides” published by the Christian Coalition and God forbid that anyone criticize the work of God being done by Christian political leaders.

But it was Barry Goldwater the man who inspired Ronald Reagan to run for President and who was the conservative bulwark for many years in Washington DC who warned what would happen when the Religious Right took over the Republican Party. Goldwater said of the types of religious people that currently dominate the conservative movement:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” November, 1994, in John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience.

Billy Graham, a saint if there ever was one and a man who used his faith to build bridges even while being unabashedly evangelical warned back in 1981 about the current crop of religious conservatives and stand in sharp contrast to the words and actions of Franklin:

“I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.” Parade Magazine February 1, 1981, from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

What we are seeing today is the expressed manifestation of religious bigotry operating under the guise of defending religious freedom. It is being shown in its ugliness by the brazen If there is any way to lose religious freedom it is to follow this attempt to marry the Christian faith with the American government is not only short sighted but does great damage to the faith and our American liberties.

Rick Santorum, James Dobson, James Robison, Rick Scarborough, Gary Bauer, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Franklin Graham and a host of influential of Evangelical leaders, politicians and even Roman Catholic Bishops have said what they believe religious liberty means to them and it has little in common with the understanding of our founders. The Catholic Bishop of Springfield Illinois has even said in the official diocesan newspaper that the Catholic Church deems sinful “makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.” This has nothing to do with limited government nor religious liberty. It is the imperial religion of Constantine, dressed up a bit to keep up with the times.  It is simply an attempt by these leaders to use the apparatus of the government to support themselves.

I am so glad that I attended a Southern Baptist Seminary before the fundamentalist takeover and came to value religious freedom. The freedom that early Baptists in Virginia fought to have included in the Bill of Rights, a belief that was against the domination of the government by any religious body, even other Christians.

George Truett, the great Southern Baptist Pastor who served as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote in his book Baptists and Religious Liberty in 1920 about the decidedly negative effect of when the Church became the State religion:

“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.”

The late Senator Mark Hatfield a strongly committed Evangelical Christian before it became popular in Washington made this comment concerning those that are now driving this spurious and poisonous debate:

“As a Christian, there is no other part of the New Right ideology that concerns me more than its self-serving misuse of religious faith. What is at stake here is the very integrity of biblical truth. The New Right, in many cases, is doing nothing less than placing a heretical claim on Christian faith that distorts, confuses, and destroys the opportunity for a biblical understanding of Jesus Christ and of his gospel for millions of people.”  quoted in the pamphlet “Christian Reconstruction: God’s Glorious Millennium?” by Paul Thibodeau

The current campaign is the imposition of Christian Dominionism onto the rest of the country. It may reference the Gospel and even certain Christian moral understandings even as it mocks other just as “Biblical” Christian teachings.

Back in 1981 Barry Goldwater said on the Senate Floor “The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.”

Like it or not Goldwater was right about this crowd. They will drive their churches and their political party into the abyss. We are watching it happen before our very eyes. God help us all as Americans of all faiths because this is not the what men like Jefferson, Madison, Adams, or Washington desired. It is the re-emergence of the state religions of old Europe that they so strongly opposed, and which so many had fled.


Padre Steve+


Filed under christian life, faith, Political Commentary, Religion

3 responses to “Barry Goldwater was Right: Religious Leaders Endanger American Democracy

  1. I can’t help but feel that this is a reaction to shrinking church attendance, and the accompanying lack of influence organised religion has in people’s lives. It seems, especially on the far right, that the churches (one or two in particular) see the path to survival and even re-invigoration by making themselves a component part of the political process. In this day of sound bites, just stating a strong church affiliation suggests certain personal qualities that are often lacking – and in the reverse, a church or group of churches endorsing a candidate brings them political power if their candidate succeeds.
    This is all the more frustrating in the light of the Founding Fathers’ desire to keep politics out of religious life, and religion out of political life. Then again, the extremist right has often had problems with their tendency to paraphrase Constitutional rights for their own gains.
    But then again, religion at the highest levels of power NEVER goes wrong. (Well, except for things like the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, modern-day Iran, the Taliban, …..) 😉

  2. padresteve

    Reblogged this on Padre Steve's World…Musings of a Passionately Progressive Moderate and commented:

    Friends of Padre Steve’s World

    Another somewhat stressful day as we wait to see if Judy is going to have surgery this morning. Since I have no idea if I will have the opportunity to write or post anything else today I am re-posting this article. The article is even more pertinent than when I first wrote it as the highly political and influencial leaders of the Christian Right grow more militant politically and use their clout at every level of government to crush the rights of others using the force of law and the legislative process, all the while claiming to be “victims” of religious discrimination.

    It is something that I as a Christian in an incredibly small and unifluential church as well as a Navy Chaplain sworn to uphold the free-exercise rights of all those in the military find frightening, because I know that these people would have no problem crushing me and those like me underfoot as they do all they can to establish a theocracy in all but name. It is both fascinating and frightening to me as a historian to see these supposed Christians espousing the political views of early Mormon leaders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, which are known as Theodemocracy. Of course maybe that is why so many of them end up on the Glenn Beck show.

    So, until whenever,


    Padre Steve+

  3. Mr. Militant Negro

    Reblogged this on The Militant Negro™.

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