This is the second article in a series dealing with the disastrous effects of the involvement of the Christian Right in American politics on the Christian Church and religion as a whole. The first article The Price to Be Paid: Politically Motivated Christian Leaders Destroy the Faith is also found on this site.
“Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” (Genesis 25:29-34 NRSV)
It was a bad deal from the beginning but it was so tempting. Esau was hungry his brother had food and Esau stupidly sold his birthright for momentary relief from hunger and like Esau the leaders of the Christian Right made a similar deal.
Back in the 1970s Evangelical Christians, put off by many policies enacted by both Democrats and Republicans and led by men like Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, James Robison, D. James Kennedy and Francis Schaefer began a political-religious movement to “take back the country.” They were joined by others such as James Dobson, Gary Bauer and Ralph Reed and espoused many of the beliefs of the theocracy minded Christian Reconstruction movement.
They emphasized certain “Biblical values” of being anti-abortion and anti-gay but ignored many more Christian values because they were part of the “social Gospel.” Likewise as the movement grew it began to absorb and bless the abject greed and inhumanity of economic Social Darwinism embodied in the writings of the Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand and her economic disciple Alan Greenspan. Additionally they embraced a quasi-Pagan un-Biblical and anti-Christian view of the United States as a nation ordained by God to rule the world that is little different from the warmongering tyrants in Germany that were so instrumental in causing the devastation of both World Wars, the rise of Fascism, Stalinism and Naziism.
Conservative political figures beginning with Ronald Reagan recognized the value of this new voting bloc and within a few years the “religious right” was an integral part of conservative politics. Beholden to the new promises of Republican politicians each electoral cycle to reverse Roe v. Wade, appoint Godly or pro-Christian judges and “make America great again” Christians went to the polls, organized and became more a part of the Republican machine. For some reason Christian leaders ignored Reagan’s support and signing of one of the most liberal abortion laws in the country before Roe v. Wade while serving as Governor of California and his wife’s penchant for inviting astrologers to the White House and believed whatever he said that indicated support for their positions.
By the early 2000s many of the politically influential Christian leaders finally thought that they had made the big time by helping secure the electoral victories of George W Bush. Commenting on Bush’s 2004 defeat of John Kerry Jerry Falwell commented: “After more than 25 years since I formed the Moral Majority and began mobilizing evangelicals to participate in the political process, I actually realized the fruit of my labors nationwide…”
Other Republicans, especially conservative stalwart and standard bearer Barry Goldwater warned of the dangers inherent in the new Religious Right. Goldwater stated 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.” Goldwater was more correct than most of us believed. Richard Land, the former head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commissioned noted in 2004 after the Bush election “As we say in Texas, he’s going to dance with the one who brung him. We haven’t come to this place to go home and not push our values and our beliefs.” while the late Dr D. James Kennedy stated “Now that values voters have delivered for George Bush, he must deliver for their values.”
Despite support from many Republicans conservative Christians and other values voters found that despite throwing their support behind them that little of their agenda was accomplished. Now the problem was that every time a new Republican President was elected, or a Republican majority in Congress put in place little or nothing ever happened to advance the causes that Christians voted for Republican politicians to enact. Instead there were wonderful words of support and promises, but nothing changed. Abortion remained legal, gays got more rights and Christians became more frustrated and lined up time and time again to vote in the same men that promised everything and delivered nothing.
Finally after the election of Barak Obama as President the anger and frustration boiled over. In 2010 Evangelicals helped elect a solidly Republican House of Representatives and hoped that that momentum would carry over into the 2012 Presidential election. Evangelical preachers and pundits joined by the Roman Catholic Bishops threw away any pretense of independence. Christian leaders became the most vocal and vicious critics of the President often espousing some of the most outlandish and paranoid conspiracy theories to make their point. In the Spring of 2012 when they could not get an Evangelical or Catholic nominated for the Republican race they raced to support a man that just weeks before many had been calling a non-Christian religious cultist who they distrusted because of his multiple positions on every issue including abortion rights and gay rights.
Led on by Karl Rove, the Bush strategist who used them to help secure the Bush Presidency while mocking them behind their backs along with other senior Republican strategists in the administration they doubled down in their support for the Republican nominee and candidates at every level. Candidates who marketed themselves as Evangelicals and Catholics became the most extreme and absurd acts in the political circus and prevented Republicans from winning back the Senate and lose seats in the House.
Barry Goldwater had sounded the warning about what would happen years before. In 1994 he wrote: “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.”
As the race reached its crescendo the stridency of Evangelical and Catholic church and media leaders sacrificed all credibility with Franklin Graham threw his father the venerable Billy Graham under the bus in endorsing Mitt Romney. When they did so they franticly scrubbed references to Mormonism as a cult from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website as fast as they could and then made major ad buys in swing state newspapers. Catholic Bishops like Bishop Jenky insinuated that voting for Obama and Democrats could endanger the mortal souls of believers. Not to be outdone, former Governor of Arkansas, GOP political pundit and seminary dropout Mike Huckabee made similar comments in the week before the election. Leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation like Rick Joyner were actually quoting Mormon prophecies in order get Christians to vote for Romney as the savior of the country.
In the end the election came and went. President Obama was re-elected by a bigger margin than George Bush defeated John Kerry or Al Gore. The Democrats gained seats in the Senate including seats in Indiana and Missouri that were theirs for the taking due to the abject stupidity of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, solidifying their advantage in that chamber. The Democrats appear to have gained seats in the House. In some state elections Gay marriage laws were enacted or upheld, attempts to defund certain abortion providers met defeat.
And what did Evangelicals get? Let’s see…. Evangelicals and Catholics have now gotten Christians labeled as hypocritical, insincere, anti-gay, sheltered and too political. Christians are now being viewed as the guardians of wealth and privilege just as State churches that dominated Europe that our Christian ancestors fled from were viewed.
This was much more than a tactical and possibly strategic defeat for the Republican Party. More importantly it was a generational loss for Christians and the Church. The country will survive, but the political dominance and privilege enjoyed by the institutional churches will rapidly fade and this is due to demographics and the reality that people don’t believe us anymore. They still pretty much like Jesus, but they don’t like his followers. Somehow I think that Mark Twain might have been right when he said “If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be — a Christian.”
Maybe with some real reflection and pondering and obeying of the commands of the Gospel, not just the ones that we like or help us politically that we will regain some sense of honor and allow people to actually hear that message again. That message at the heart of the Gospel, that God so loved the World that he gave his only begotten Son, and in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself counting men’s sins not against them….
Many Evangelicals and Catholics led by power hungry leaders more interested in political and economic power willingly sold their birthright and didn’t even get a bowl of soup in return. It is time to question the motives of those religious leaders, pundits and politicians and rethink the disastrous political alliances made by them for the past 35 years. If conservative Christians do not seriously look at this they will see themselves further marginalized in the political life of the country and abandoned by people who have no real issue with Jesus, but who have been driven away from the church by the vicious, petty, mean spirited and intolerant leaders who have brought about the current situation.
In 1801 Abraham Bishop, a Republican from Connecticut and Abolitionist said something that is quite descriptive of the politically corrupted “Christian” political preachers, pundits and politicians who like Esau have traded their birthright for a pittance.
“When the pretended friends of religion lead infidel lives; when they carry religion to market and offer it in exchange for luxuries and honors; when they place it familiarly and constantly in the columns of newspapers, manifestly connected with electioneering purposes, and when they are offering it up as a morning and evening sacrifice of the altar of political party- these men are placing a firebrand to every meeting house and applying a torch to every Bible.” Abraham Bishop in an oration at Wallingford CT on 11 March 1801
The 2012 election was to paraphrase the late Francis Schaefer the “Great Evangelical Disaster.” Unfortunately most politically active conservative Christians have not learned anything from history. The even more radical comments of the new leaders of the Religious Right including Matt Staver, Tony Perkins, Bryan Fischer, the Catholic League’s Bill Donahue, the venerable Phyllis Schlafly, fake historian David Barton and groups such as Liberty Counsel and the American Family Association continue to drive people away from Jesus and the church.
The costs of selling the birthright cannot be fully measured in the near term. The political influence of the Religious Right and its financial power and ability to get out the vote have made it indispensable to the Republican Party but as the same time its leaders and policies on a host of issues are driving it and the Republican Party out of contention in future elections outside the deep South. The results of the leaders of the Religious Right from the earliest days of the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition until today will haunt the American church for decades to come.