We need to deal with a movement that has claimed the attention of many Americans but has not only seriously distorted the message and teachings of Jesus but also has had a corrosive effect on Christianity, on contemporary politics and society, and on our democracy. That movement is an unfortunate marriage of convenience between Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians and the right wing of the Republican Party, which for the purpose of this article we will call the Christian Right. This alliance is attempting to hijack Christianity to serve its political ends much in the same way that Islamic fundamentalists have hijacked Islam to serve their particular insidious political purposes.
Those are strong words but they reflect accurately the present state of politics in America and need to be heard if we are to stop this dangerous movement before the Christian Right does any more damage to Christianity and to American democracy. In the past two decades we have seen an explosion of participation in evangelical and fundamentalist Christian churches and also growth in political influence of right wing politics in America. These trends have had unfortunate and serious consequences for our democracy and our values as an open and caring society.
Conservative Christians (Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians) are outspoken about the moral decline of American society, the loss of positive values and virtues in everything from our schools to our music, the destructive influence of Hollywood and the drug culture, and the decadence of much of our contemporary cultural life. They are concerned that the United States is no longer a Christian nation. They resent the decline of religious influence in public life as a result of judicial decisions that enforce the principle of the separation of Church and State, that bar religious emblems from government premises and that limit prayer and religious instruction in public schools. They are offended by public nudity and open expression of sexuality, by gratuitous violence in our cities and in our schools, by the increasing secularization of American society, and by the diminution of public moral values which they believe gives rise to crime, increases homosexuality and sexual perversion, and replaces God as creator with evolutionary theory.
Much of that is valid social criticism. There is concern about the corrosively destructive effect of many of these negative influences on our society, and most do share with them an interest in seeing greater social consciousness and moral sensitivity in our society, but many strongly disagree with them on how to bring about a truly just and caring society.
The fundamentalist approach to moral values is legalistic, authoritarian, rigid and punitive. It strains to find a rationale and justification for its positions by selective reading of the Bible, taking passages out of their historical, cultural and linguistic context and using those carefully selected passages to assert their ethical and moral positions with the discussion-stopping claim that those biblical passages that they believe support their views have divine authority behind them. The Christian Right espouses ethical positions and moral values that are inconsistent with what we know about Jesus’ own values and attitudes, yet it promotes these misguided and un-charitable values as Christian values, thereby doing considerable damage both to Christianity and to society.
Evangelical Christians insist that our nation’s moral decline and loss of values can only be reversed by ‘putting God back into our national life’ by removing what they believe is an artificial barrier separating Church and State that has resulted in pervasive secularism in American culture. Conservatives are pushing hard to re-establish their version of ‘Christian’ and ‘American’ values in our nation through aggressive political action that includes using all the available levers of power in the halls of Congress and appointing right wing advocates of their positions to the Judiciary.
The arrogant claim by Fundamentalists and Evangelicals that they alone possess the truth, they alone know the will of God and speak for God, they have a monopoly on knowing what is right and wrong, what is evil and what is good, not just for themselves but for others as well is imperious. Some in the evangelical camp will deny that the Christian evangelical makes this sort of arrogant claim, but it is patently obvious to anyone who holds a contrary opinion about the “rightness” of conduct in a particular situation that the evangelical expects to trump any discussion by asserting that ‘God’s word says’ so-and-so and that is all there is to it.
Most of us who are Christians place piety over politics every single day. Those who do the opposite are doing a disservice to the One whom we serve, Jesus. Politics has its place in our life, but it pales in comparison to serving God. Lowering God into the daily muck of one’s political beliefs belittles the faith and devalues the faith of those around us. It’s no wonder that people are turned off by church and its light is growing dim.