“[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)
Well we are in day two of the government shutdown of 2013 with no end in sight. Sadly I have to say that the groups most responsible for this on the Tea Party and Republican Party side of the house are Evangelical Christians and ultra-conservative Catholics. The Evangelical are held in the thrall of Christian Dominionism, or Recontructionism while the conservative Catholics long for the days when their church owned the governments of Europe.
If the shutdown was about pragmatic budgetary considerations I might give the authors of the shutdown some consideration. However, it is not and their leaders have either said it openly or all but said this to be the case.
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.
I back in my days as a more “conservative” Evangelical Christian I attended and unlike conservative Christian TV icon and former governor of Arkansas actually graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth Texas. This was in the days just prior to the Fundamentalist takeover of the seminary and the denomination. It was at Southwestern that I gained a distinct appreciation of and love for the concept of the separation of church and state and the importance of the rights, both civil and religious of non-believers, members of minority religions and others not in the religious majority, or those without power, be it religious, social or economic.
I look at what is going on today, just two days after the shutdown and it appears to me that the most vitriolic bunch pushing the Republican Party and their hapless, soulless and clueless Speaker of the House John Boehner into this are the Tea-vangelicals led by the like of SenatorTed Cruz, whose father Rafael Cruz is a prominent Dominionist pastor who has long been part of the movement to establish what amounts to a Christian Theocracy in the United States.
However, whether people realize it or not we were warned by no less than conservative icon Barry Goldwater about such people.
Yes, I said it. Barry Goldwater. Goldwater was not a fan of the influence of preachers and religious zealots. In fact he warned us about them in very clear words.
My liberal and conservative friends both might be dismayed by this but Barry Goldwater, the man who inspired Ronald Reagan to run for President and who was the conservative bulwark for many years in Washington DC warned us of what would happen when the Religious Right took over the Republican Party. Goldwater said of the types of people that currently dominate the conservative movement, if it can be still called that:
“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. Likewise it is little different (except in the religion involved) to the Wahhabi Taliban or the the Saudi Arabian state, the Shi’te Hezbollah government in Lebanon or the Mullah’s of Iran.
This ultra-religious intransigence of the Tea-vangelicals is being shown in its ugliness by the brazen acts of Evangelical political and religious leaders during this shutdown. And they wonder why more and more people want nothing to do with the faith that they espouse. 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.
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. It 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 and to establish their specific religion as a state religion with the full legal means to subjugate non-believers or others who do not agree with them.
The whole debate over the Affordable Health Care Act in the shutdown is a red herring. The actual goal is to achieve a merger of church and state with the Dominionists leading it and dominating what they call the “Seven Mountains” of culture and society. Attempting to delegitimatize President Obama through the shutdown and the debt limit is only a tactic in a larger strategy to achieve “dominion” over the United States and the world.
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 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 core of the current campaign in the shutdown 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.”
The leaders of this shutdown movement and their supporters are almost all self-proclaimed Evangelical Christians who represent gerrymandered congressional districts in which they only have to worry about being considered not extreme enough.
Like it or not Goldwater was right about this crowd. They will drive their churches and their political party into the abyss. The fractures in my former party, the Republican Party are becoming more and apparent and neither the Dominionist Preachers, or their allied politicians and pundits can see the end state of their party and for what they think they are fighting.
But then none are so blind as those who will not see. Please do not say that you were not warned.