As a life-long Republican and an evangelical minister, I have been appalled at the attitudes and actions of so many Christian Republicans. There has been the (still alive) birther movement, continued belief that President Obama is a Muslim, charges that he is a not-so-secret communist, and support for a documented Republican leadership strategy to oppose every proposal that Obama made the last four years no matter its merit or the damage this strategy can bring to our country’s recovery.
Add to this, an uncritical acceptance of money and ideas by billionaire businessmen who quite cynically say what conservatives want to hear in order to benefit their own corporate bottom line, and we have a situation far worse than when the Moral Majority got co-opted by the political right back in the 1980’s.
At first, I was reluctant to believe that race and prejudice had much to do with the opposition to Obama. There are legitimate issues reasonable people can disagree with about job creation, tax levels, lowering health care costs while expanding coverage, and the extent and kinds of governmental regulation, not to mention issues in foreign policy.
But I have changed my mind, sadly. I believe the worst of this sorry spectacle is indeed caused by fear and prejudice. The fear that prejudice creates when faced with so many societal changes that seem to threaten one’s lifestyle and beliefs.
The fundamentalist Christian worldview is under attack by many forces, and in many areas those forces are winning. There is: abortion; homosexual equality; governmental intrusion into home and school discipline; “radical” separation of church and state so there are no prayers of any kind in schools; promotion of contraception; acceptance of any and every alternate lifestyles as perfectly OK; a breakdown of the traditional family and gender roles; a general decline in morality; a course and crude popular culture getting worse; a rise in “new age” spirituality and atheism and decline in church attendance; opposition to Creationism and promotion of “godless” evolution. This is quite a list. (And it is not just a concern for fundamentalist Christians.)
When added to a few other political issues – like opposition to gun control and climate change – that aren’t explicitly Christian but are too often adopted by conservative Christians as nearly sacred, and we have a group of people feeling under siege. This is when, as humans, we become fearful and often look for a scapegoat to focus our fear and anger on.
Let me be clear. This does not describe all conservative Christian Republicans. But it does describe frighteningly too many of them. People who seem irrational in their fears and accusations, and who see conspiracies of the enemy in every opponent to their views.
I recently was sent an email from a fundamentalist minister that endorsed the following political statement:
A Nation of Sheep Breeds a Government of Wolves!
Let’s take a stand!!!
Language: English only
Culture: Constitution, and the Bill of Rights!
Drug Free: Mandatory Drug Screening before Welfare!
NO freebies to: Non-Citizens!
Who are the bad guys in this scenario, the free-loading “takers of freebies” that will cause America to “commit financial suicide” as the email also said?
Almost anyone who is not a white, conservative Christian. I shudder to write this. But I come to no other conclusion.
Obama represents to these people all the forces of negative change they feel.
- He is racially different, and advocates for immigration rights. Despite being an immigrant nation, this prejudiced attitude is all too rampant that foreigners are here to steal our jobs and import un-American religious and cultural values. Islamist terrorism has made this tendency hugely worse. In a just published AP poll 79 percent of Republicans expressed racial prejudice in the questions measuring explicit racism, compared with 32 percent among Democrats.
- He is religiously liberal, coming out of the black church ethos of Martin Luther King, Jr., which many fundamentalist Christians sadly opposed. Only a few years ago did a couple of fundamentalist colleges change their policy against interracial dating. And cultural pluralism has brought with it religious pluralism. Christianity is not the only game in town anymore.
- He is for abortion rights and women’s rights. Despite the reality that a large American majority also support continued women’s choice (though not to use abortion as birth control), it is still all or nothing for so many. The recent remarks of two Republican Senators as to why they do not support an exception for rape make this evident.
- He changed his mind about same-sex marriage. To them this is endorsing repulsive and abominable behavior, which along with the rest of the above, will bring down God’s righteous judgment on America. Yet the focus on homosexual sin above others totally ignores that which is so much more emphasized in Scripture: lack of justice for the poor and exploited, rampant greed that leads to terrible inequalities, and self-righteousness that ignores one’s own part in the problem.
- He is an advocate for a more activist Government. Big brother government is seen as the enemy on many levels. It has been complicit in stripping away Christian “rights” (such as school prayer), and in redefining marriage. And more subtly, Big Government is perceived by many as acting in a way to remove individual responsibility for our actions.
Christian conservatives are very big on individual responsibility. Back at the beginning of the 20th century there was a split between liberal Christians who emphasized a social justice gospel and fundamentalists who emphasized a personal salvation gospel. (Biblically we are called to both personal salvation and social justice, so there never should have been such a split.) Southern fundamental Christians, including the large Southern Baptists, still had States rights issues hanging on from the aftermath of the Civil War. Over the next few decades the Federal government would pass and then repeal prohibition; expand federalism hugely with the New Deal; grant unions more power; force civil rights and integration on the country; and become more involved in what had been strictly local education policy and curriculum.
All this was seen by many as eroding both individual and states’ rights and responsibility.
Ironically today, the Christian fundamentalist right admits to very little responsibility for the condition America is in. It is always the other side’s fault. “Our real problem,” they say, “is not standing firm in the truth.” Unfortunately, their “truth” is often selective, self-righteous and condemning.
Fundamentalist Christians lost popular opinion on the Scopes “Monkey Trial” about creationism. They became very anti-higher education and skeptical about science because of the way academics had claimed historical inaccuracies in the Bible. (Ironically, the 20th century, brought an explosion of archaeological discoveries that showed the basic historical accuracy of the Bible.) Fundamentalists retreated from the public square for some 70 years until Jerry Falwell came on the scene.
Meanwhile, they would be seen to be on the wrong side of the civil rights movement. They would be perceived as opposing the whole women’s rights movement, not just a radical fringe. And they would only reluctantly admit that the anti-war movement of the 1960’s had any truth to it. Most deny the science of global warming or that it is even a Christian concern as good stewards of God’s creation.
Instead of providing homosexuals with a loving and accepting community in which to encourage and attempt behavioral changes they professed could be made, Fundamentalist Christians condemned homosexuals as perverts and abominations. Fundamentalists were even slow in accepting the truths of Alcoholics Anonymous that addictions were not just a matter of will power and just saying no.
And most recently, conservative Christian Republicans promoted George W. Bush as God’s divinely ordained choice for President because of his genuine born again faith, and socially conservative political stance. Modern Christian prophets were sure this was God’s man to bring America back to godly ways. And while he seemed to start well, and seemed to be the right man in charge on 9/11, he ended up getting America involved in disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and being a large part of the cause of our recent financial crisis and national debt.
Instead of bringing America together in unity and back to God, this conservative Christian Republican ended up dividing the country further, alienating allies, and leaving the country worse than he found it. And almost no Republican will admit this (at least in public).
Instead, they use President Obama as the scapegoat for all they see wrong with the nation, while being in denial of their own responsibility in all this.
No wonder conservative Christian values are under attack. No wonder less people are attending church services. No wonder there is such polarization and demonization in politics and society.
It will not stop until fundamental, conservative Christian Republicans repent of their own sins of fear mongering, distortion of the truth, demonization of opponents and harsh judgementalism of those with whom they disagree. God’s blessing will only come when the scapegoating and lies the fear and prejudice have caused ends.
Tom McCrossan is an ordained minister in the Reformed Church of America, serving in special ministry as an Assistant Chaplain at a local rescue mission. His grandfather was a minister first in the Methodist and then in the Presbyterian Church. His uncle served at the Victory Service Club of the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles. He is married with three grown children and lives in Schenectady, NY.
Photo Credit: (Damon Winter / The New York Times)