A Dissenting View of Evangelical Christianity
An evangelical Christian, Randall Balmer, takes a thoughtful look at the relationship between evangelical Christianity and the Republican party. Among other questions raised in his essay, Jesus Is Not a Republican, Balmer asks why the religious right hasn't taken a stand against the Bush administration's reliance on torture.
Surely, I thought, this is one issue that would allow the religious right to demonstrate its independence from the administration, for surely no one who calls himself a child of God or who professes to hear "fetal screams" could possibly countenance the use of torture. Although I didn't really expect that the religious right would climb out of the Republican Party's cozy bed over the torture of human beings, I thought perhaps they might poke out a foot and maybe wiggle a toe or two.
I was wrong. Of the eight religious-right organizations I contacted, only two, the Family Research Council and the Institute on Religion and Democracy, answered my query. Both were eager to defend administration policies.
Balmer's conception of Christianity differs from that promoted by right-wing evangelists.
I went to Sunday school nearly every week of my childhood. But I must have been absent the day they told us that the followers of Jesus were obliged to secure even greater economic advantages for the affluent, to deprive those Jesus called "the least of these" of a living wage, and to despoil the environment by sacrificing it on the altar of free enterprise. I missed the lesson telling me that I should turn a blind eye to the suffering of others, even those designated as my enemies.
Balmer fears that evangelical Christians, intoxicated by the power they wield within the Republican party, are promoting "the kind of homogeneous theocracy that the Puritans tried to establish in 17th-century Massachusetts" in order "to impose their vision of a moral order on all of society."
One reading of the religious right is that many evangelicals believed that their faith could no longer compete in the new, expanded religious marketplace. No wonder the religious right wants to renege on the First Amendment. No wonder the religious right seeks to encode its version of morality into civil and criminal law. No wonder the religious right wants to emblazon its religious creeds and symbols on public property. Faced now with a newly expanded religious marketplace, it wants to change the rules of engagement so that evangelicals can enjoy a competitive advantage. Rather than gear up for new competition, as Beecher did in the 19th century, the religious right seeks to use the machinations of government and public policy to impose its vision of a theocratic order. ...
As I argued in my testimony as an expert witness in the Alabama Ten Commandments case, religion has prospered in this country precisely because the government has stayed out of the religion business. The tireless efforts on the part of the religious right to eviscerate the First Amendment in the interests of imposing its own theocratic vision ultimately demeans the faith even as it undermines the foundations of a democratic order that thrives on pluralism.
The entire essay, ending with a call for tolerance of diversity and pluralism, is well worth reading.
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