Our “Seamless Garment” Problem

When I was a very new academic, I loved attending conferences and listening to scholars from various institutions deliver papers that illuminated issues with which I’d struggled.

One of those issues was my puzzlement about why some religious folks seemed unable to “live and let live”–to understand the Bill of Rights as a list of things that government wasn’t supposed to decide. You go to XYZ church, I go to ABC–government shouldn’t be involved in those choices. I read such-and-such books, you consider them evil. Not government’s concern. Etc.

I certainly understood that people of good faith could disagree on where lines got drawn, but I lacked a description for those insisting that government use its power to impose their religious beliefs on everyone else. Then I attended a conference presentation that gave those people and that insistence a label: the “seamless garment” folks.

Seamless garment folks are people who see government and religion as one inseparable authority; when government won’t legislate their beliefs, they experience that refusal as discrimination.

The frustration of the Seamless Garment folks is arguably what has led Evangelical Christians to support Donald Trump (and especially his Seamless Garment Vice President, Mike Pence.) Their insistence on using government to require others to act (or not) in accordance with their beliefs has now eclipsed their attention to such biblical admonitions as caring for the widow and orphan and adhering to the Golden Rule.

What have we seen from these folks during Trump’s first year? A writer for Vox supplies a list.

In my first year at Vox, I’ve covered a range of religion stories — from witches casting spells against Trump to controversial debates over the alt-right at the annual Southern Baptist Convention conference. In that time, I’ve noticed a few distinct, related patterns emerging. Most notably, Christian nationalism is getting stronger — even as that nationalism has both caused divisions within the evangelical community and led to wider politico-religious divisions in America, cleaving white evangelicals, from, well, everybody else.

The article lists five “take-aways”:

  • Religious minorities are experiencing a spike in discrimination. Muslim communities have been particularly hard-hit; anti-Islamic incidents have soared.   There’s been a 44 percent rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes and a 57 percent increase in Islamophobia overall. Anti-Semitism has increased as well.
  • Evangelical solidarity is showing fissures. Their demographics are changing and their communities are becoming more diverse; like other young people, young evangelicals have different priorities than seniors, and are significantly less anti-gay. Many of them are uneasy being tied to the Trump presidency– the Southern Baptist Convention, a body that represents nearly 40 percent of evangelical Protestants in America, passed a near-unanimous resolution condemning the alt-right.

And, of course, there was Roy Moore. His Alabama special election campaign, late in 2017, seemed to capture the religious zeitgeist, as evangelicals wrestled with the question of whether to support a man who had been accused of molesting teenage girls if it also meant supporting a pro-life, even theocratic candidate. The reasons for white evangelical support of Moore were varied, but the outcome of the election — which showed the growing influence of evangelicals of color — revealed that changing demographics, not changed minds, were responsible for Democrat Doug Jones’s victory.

  • Spiritual but not religious is becoming a significant voting bloc. The author noted that many of the people she interviewed said that the need for inclusive, LGBTQ-affirming spaces had alienated them from the religions they had grown up in or near, and left them in search of something different.
  • On the other hand, Christian Nationalism is on the rise. The prominent Evangelicals around Trump believe Christians should take over America, and run it in accordance with biblical law. (In fairness, many other evangelicals see them as charlatans.)

The article ended with speculation about the role Evangelicals will play in 2018. This  paragraph, especially, struck a chord:

The greatest trick Christian nationalists — or their more explicit cousins to the right, white nationalists — have up their sleeve is to claim they are being persecuted. Central to the narrative of Christian nationalism in the White House, no less than the explicitly white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, is the idea that the “liberal media” and “PC police” have banded together to silence the “true” speakers of truth — a dynamic that, in the rhetoric of Christian nationalism, turns into a full-on war between good and evil (just consider how Roy Moore’s defenders compared him to Jesus during the last days of his campaign).

Unfortunately for the Seamless Garment members of the Christian Taliban, the U.S. Constitution specifically rejects the “seamlessness” they seek, and leaves matters of religious belief and observance to our individual consciences.

Fortunately for the rest of us, His Trumpness can’t change that.


  1. Those fake Christian Taliban members seem compelled to push their agenda more forcefully onto the rest of us each and every day, while they never once consider looking in the mirror at themselves and their own behavior. They are the very people mentioned in the bible who refuse to remove the plank from their own eye before trying to remove the splinter from their neighbor’s eye. Jesus commands us to love one another, yet evangelical leaders choose to command their followers to live with hatred for others.

    Organized religion is at the root of so much conflict in our world and I am glad to see so many of the younger generations refusing to be a part of it. I hope their ideas of inclusion and kindness will soon overpower their older generation’s ideas of division, hatred and persecution. This cannot happen soon enough.

  2. “the U. S. Constitution specifically rejects the “seamlessness” they seek”. Unfortunately, a growing number of those who are the official interpreters of the Constitution are themselves part of the Christian Taliban.

  3. But these crackpots can, in fact, change the Constitution. If the effort to convene a Constitutional Convention is successful, what do you think will be the first item on the agenda? Kiss the First Amendment (all of its components) goodbye.

  4. The Evangelical Christians supporting Trump are using his playbook to make distinctions between those on the ever-lengthening list of personages accused of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual texting, etc.; excusing those on the far right as committing excusable “social blunders”. They have a “boys will be boys” attitude and their sexual allegations and accusations are soon forgotten. Are they only allowed to become public news as another distraction from what is going on inside Congress while we are incensed at our religious beliefs and rights being denied and our outrage at the sexual abuses against women – and young men – are being pushed aside as being unimportant. Consider the circumstances of Senator Al Franken; his unfunny, in poor taste, with no illegal actions but fully admitted to the accusations and asking for an ethics hearing, resulting in his being ousted. He came from years of writing and acting on Saturday Night Live, not from the Vatican, but he was IMO the strongest hearing questioner in the Senate. He totally rattled Sessions to the point of obvious anger and confusion. What went on behind the headlines to result in his “resignation”; in part due to attacks from his own party?

    The religious organizations have for years preached against sex in all its forms as sinful, including limited sexual activity within marriage, but they are among the highest segment of society committing sexual acts against their own parishioners.

    “…Christian Nationalism is on the rise. The prominent Evangelicals around Trump believe Christians should take over America, and run it in accordance with biblical law. ..”

    Those making the loudest demands for this “takeover” are those the furthest from Christianity as written in the New Testament and “biblical law” was not the “law of the land” but the laws of the Old Testament based in the Jewish religion. Hobby Lobby, Chick-fil-A and Mike Pence with their control over women’s bodies, health care and their very lives fortunately missed the Old Testament law of women being “unclean” during their menstrual cycle and demanded they be separated from humanity until “their time” ended. “Periods For Pence” and the thousands of donations to Planned Parenthood Clinics in the name of Mike Pence needs to be reactivated before he takes over the presidency and begins putting his RFRA, anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion Indiana laws in effect at the federal level.

    Being basically Christian and accepting of all other religions as being their human and American right; I see nothing resembling “christianity” or any other religion in this current administration, including Congress. The Constitution was written to prevent the takeover of this government by any religious faction, yet there they are. It also includes protection by the Legislature to prevent the takeover of the Executive branch by anyone exhibiting the inability to carry out the powers and duties of the office of the presidency…yet there he is.

  5. All of this is having an impact. From 2016 to 2017 there was an 86% increase in hate-related homicides (GlAAD) per USA Today Jan 26, 2018.

  6. Lest we forget, crackpot evangellyfish are willing to overlook Drumpf’s pecadilloes as long as he delivers on policy. Franklin Graham is one of them.

  7. Evangelical spokespersons laud the religious liberty they believe Trump and Pense espouse, but apparently that religious liberty does not extend to Muslim refugees seeking asylum here. The Christian mantra to welcome the stranger and show him hospitality has been sadly missing at a time when Christian “witness” was most needed.

    Years ago, my church sponsored a family of Vietnamese boat people refugees to Indiana. They were buddhist but were so appreciative of being rescued and helped to assimilate here that they became members of our church. Christians do not win more souls to Christ by shunning or denigrating them. As my mother used to say, you attract more bees with honey than with vinegar.

  8. “The prominent Evangelicals around Trump believe Christians should take over America, and run it in accordance with biblical law.”

    Not hardly! They believe they should run it in accordance with OLD TESTAMENT law. They reject the New Testament; they reject Jesus and his teachings; but they do not have the courage to say so, and yet they do have the cruel audacity to use Jesus to camouflage the evils they intend.

    Have you noticed the Heston pose? The Heston pose; what is that. You most often see it when someone else is speaking and the Heston poser is merely emanating vibes. It is the cliche of body language and facial clench that Pence and the other elected Evangelicals borrow from Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Old Testament characters in cheap movie scenes– the unblinking, glaring disapproving eyes, the tight, downturned clamp of disapproving mouth, the clench of disapproving jaw, and the threat of a rigid, disapproving stance. The school principal standing at the edge of your peripheral vision in the glare of the windows during study hall. The deacon standing along the wall at the rear of church. The Heston pose telegraphs not only their intent but the judgement they have already made. The Heston pose presumes the possession of a right and a duty to judge. The ego payoff for that body language transaction is that they presume (again) that others will reverse engineer what they are seeing and deduce that the Heston pose emanates from a godly perfection, for what other reasonable, sane source could inspire such a pose. And how then do they verify the transaction has been completed, what is their receipt that proves our worshipful strokes have arrived in their ego-bank? The proof of the posing is our fear and obedience. If you want to legitimize the Heston pose, complete the transaction by paying them your fear and obedience.

  9. Gee, I wonder who in the White House snuck the clause in our new tax bill giving even more preferential treatment to churches?

    Thanks to a lame democratic party, our entire country has shifted so far to the right I’m witnessing anti-gay, and anti-abortion democrats running for office. I’m no longer capitalizing those terms because the corporate owners of our “leftist” political have disallowed any resemblance to a strong working-class party.

    There is no opposition to corporatism. There is no opposition to an economic system which has created the worst income and wealth inequality since our last Gilded Age. There is no resistance to allowing Theocracy in our government.

    Nationalism follows so closely to authoritarianism and Fascism. There are even republican lawmakers making statements that women should return to being “homemakers”.

    The Dem Party will use their outrage to fundraise for their campaigns but then do nothing to stop it once in office.

    When Rep. Tim Brown and Ball State President decided behind closed doors to create a bill turning over our local school system to Ball State, there was NO public discussion, not one publicly elected local board member was asked for input or told about it, and neither of our two elected state reps was involved in the discussion. The newspaper editor’s response, “Well, maybe we should give this a try.”

    We’ve moved so far from a democratic state and don’t even come close to a representative republic. And now the church can raise more money to advocate for a theocratic government.

    And quite frankly, the democratic party has shown no opposition. Anti-Trumpism is still far right politics.

    The response to authoritarianism is democratic socialism and there are less than a handful of those within the existing Dem party. The younger generation which is the largest voting bloc outside the Boomer’s is forming their own opposition party.

  10. Indeed politics does make strange bedfellows, but I for one do not think religionists will take over America; it is on the verge of being taken over by the rich and corporate class. That class will have strange bedfellows as well in resisting such an usurpation with the likes of us liberals, thoughtful evangelicals, spiritualists and a rapidly growing segment of atheists and agnostics disenchanted with the Falwell/Robertson crowd, a crowd willing to forgive anything Trump and others do in the pursuit of power. In short, I think both Trump and the Falwell cabal will fail and that the First Amendment will survive.

    Never did I think that I would be on the side of the epitome of greed represented by the rich and corporate class, but though our motivations may differ (the unregulated exercise of total greed in the marketplace versus constitutional government undergirded by democratic institutions), and only because in my estimation government by religionists would be worse, on this limited issue I cast my lot with the Davos crowd. I can do battle with the greedhogs later, after the unholy union of the Trump/Falwell crisis is in our wake.

    Should my prediction prove wrong and the religionists take over, I think it would be a Pyrrhic victory for such insurgents because too many Americans have been exposed to democratic idealism for too long to allow more than a temporary takeover by a sect to which a majority of Americans do not belong. America is not the Holy Roman Empire of yore (which Voltaire noted was neither Holy, Roman nor an Empire), and It’s hard to govern when the streets are full of demonstrators, as the religionists would find, just as the Romanovs discovered in an early 20th century revolutionary Russia led by Lenin and Stalin.

    Such views here expressed do not mean that we must not be vigilant to threats to our democracy, or what is left of it after assaults by Trump and the rich and corporate class. The solution is political and with a robust pro-democracy turnout in November, 2018, we can send a message to Trumpists/religionists that reads as follows: “Keep the church out of the state’s business; just as we keep the state out of the church’s business” which, by the way, is precisely what Madison and Jefferson had in mind when applying quill to parchment some 229 years ago.

  11. Funny how the Christo-Fascists (Evangelical Christians) could have waited and run Pence or some equally false prophet for President on their own. Thanks to this being a democracy they have the right to do that. But they didn’t. Instead they made a deal with the devil (who deftly brought them into their fold) on the hopes they’d be rewarded when said devil fell. Had they chosen to read the Bible outside the lense of their own colon, they would realize the Bible has pretty clear admonitions against crafting deals with the devil to get what you want. That certainly wasn’t how Jesus did it. (See Gadren, Temptation) Jews, of which Jesus was one, have been persecuted (read:slaughtered) for thousands of years and Mike Pence feels persecuted because someone else is gay. Now who’s the snowflake?

  12. Pastor Pence is chomping at the bit waiting for #45 to be indicted so he can swing into his evangelical sermon about how he is going to SAVE the country. Don’t believe me? Watch him adore 45 whenever he speaks and Pastor Pence is behind him. It’s creepy.

  13. Turnout in 2018 must come earlier than November. The primaries are just a few months away. If there are not qualified and viable candidates from whom to choose, once again the unchallenged will prevail. Voters in the gerrymandered districts of Indiana have obviously known for a while that voting under such lopsided contest rules is a fool’s errand.
    I live in Brooks district. I have heard almost nothing about any candidate of either party who might be challenging her lockstep Trump policies. If I don’t vote at all in the primary, I passively vote for her.
    It is a sad and dangerous state of affairs occurring all over the country. Pence and his corrupt cohort will continue to plead persecution of their bigoted religious practices and continue to force their corrupt version of religion on all of us. The SCOTUS may be our last defense and it is looking very shaky with the addition of Gorsuch, a classic example of a theocrat.

  14. Even though I am totally against religion as a concept, I do understand the needs of those who must have something etherial to occupy their time. BUT, the lessons throughout all of history – including this very moment – show that religion, and it’s utter mismanagement by zealots, has created and continues to create more human misery than any other single institution of our minds. I say that only because there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever connecting anyone or anything with an intangible force or power.

    It seems we have deified our tribalism to the point where self-immolation is certain. The idealism of all major religions – especially the most ancient among them – has been gobbled up, chewed and spat out as another reason to cast group against group who are of a different “belief” system.

    As I’ve suggested many times before, religion keeps coming to the rescue of sanity. The power centers of those more militant (and youngest religions, e.g., Islam and Christianity) sects of the “modern” religions do nothing more than seek power over the masses in order to enrich themselves. Hell, we can see this same sort of behavior on a crowded playground at elementary schools. Religion is just another excuse for those sorts of spoiled children to show how much stronger they are than everyone else.

    Mike Pence, as noted, may be more dangerous to our Constitution than Trump. All Trump might do is blow up the whole world. Well done, voters.

  15. When I was young I was “taught” that respectable people go to church on Sundays or at least that was what people who weren’t could do to appear respectable. I think that there are many my age who still believe that. They want us to appear as people do in their memories. That way their memories would be recreated in their present lives.

    The fact that much about those times was delusional doesn’t enter into their thinking. Appearances count. As long as whatever was done behind closed doors and appearances counted society was on an even keel.

    Now people have opened the doors to their closets we don’t look so neat and orderly. Base instincts show and white gloved ladies in full lady garb are shocked, I tell you, shocked.

    Extreme authoritarianism was, they remember, the order of the day for white males. Of course the ladies ran things but men contributed bluster often and with such passion. Society was all illusion but it was predictable and everyone’s roles were straightforward and easy to play.

    The fact that TrumPence lies with every utterance is forgivable by people who believe that life should lie to be orderly. It’s the illusion that counts not the reality. People brought up that way just want everyone to play their appropriate role. Is that too much to ask?

    Yes, it is.

  16. Evangellyfish claim Drumpf found jeebus after his affair with porn star. Could be. They do say blessed are those who cum in the name of the lord.

  17. You’ve misapplied the term “seamless garment” to refer to Evangelicals such as Pence. Instead, seamless garment is a way of characterizing the consistent life ethic, or the consistent ethic of life. As stated on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consistent_life_ethic), consistent life ethic “is an ideology that opposes abortion, capital punishment, assisted suicide, and euthanasia. Adherents are opposed, at the very least, to unjust war, while some adherents also profess pacifism, or opposition to all war. The term was popularized in 1983 by the Catholic Cardinal Joseph Bernardin to express an ideology based on the premise that all human life is sacred and should be protected by law.” Some current Catholic Church leaders who subscribe to this ideology, or something close to it, are Pope Francis, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, and Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark and formerly of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

  18. Thank you Nancy Pappas!! You eloquently stripped all of this down to its barest of essentials and what Christianity is supposed to be about. Those “Christians” that fail to see and/or remember these very basics in regard to what they supposedly practice are in for an eventual very rude awakening. What’s tragic is that they besmirch all those Christians that are out there that are horrified by what they are seeing as they watch their friends and neighbors being continually led very far astray by the very false prophets they are following. They pray for them since these folks are so locked into their wrong headed notions that attempts to discuss where they have gone off the rails with them are totally fruitless. It is indeed a shame and a tragedy.

  19. Apologies if I’m redundant (haven’t read all comments yet) however I’m not sure white Christian nationalism completely explains the movement behind the effort to change our society and form of government to a “Christian” theocracy.

    “Dominionism” is a set of WAY far-out-right fundamentalist “Christian” tenets, one of which is the 7-Mountains Mandate or Prophecy. 7-MM asserts that the 2nd coming of Christ can never happen until the “church” takes control of the seven major spheres of influence in society for the glory of Christ. Once the world has been made subject to the kingdom of God, Jesus will return and rule the world.

    The 7-M’s are:
    1) Education
    2) Religion
    3) Family
    4) Business
    5) Government/Military
    6) Arts/Entertainment
    7) Media

    Two of the tenet/mandates’ FIRM believers and advocates sit at very high levels of our current federal government: Mike Pence and Betsy DeVos. The Indiana General Assembly is also chock-full of them.

    Unfortunately, the US media still don’t have the cojones to question our elected leaders about how their religious beliefs form their view and provide guidance as to how they govern and legislate. (They had NO problem doing so in 1960 when Jack Kennedy ran). In other words the media still respects the institution of separation of church and state but a formidable and growing number of our governing class do not. This is a quaint norm that needs to be blown up by adherents of secular government.

    You can read more on your own by Googling but here’s a couple links:



  20. Todd Smekens:”Thanks to a lame democratic party, our entire country has shifted so far to the right I’m witnessing anti-gay, and anti-abortion democrats running for office. I’m no longer capitalizing those terms because the corporate owners of our “leftist” political have disallowed any resemblance to a strong working-class party.”

    Guess what,the blind faithful of the commercial enterprise known as the Democratic Party are demanding that you support those Democrat candidates (DINO). Candidates that are not different than the Repubs they seemingly despise. If you don’t share their support,you are shunned,denigrated (purist) and accused of being a nazi/or agent of Putin.

    And to quote Nancy Papas:”As my mother used to say, you attract more bees with honey than with vinegar.”

  21. PJ, frankly I have never heard of “Dominionism” and I’m glad that you brought it up. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:


    It is a useful plank in trying to understand what people today are thinking.

    Another thing that I’m trying to understand. If both parties are equally incompetent and malicious who does one vote for?

  22. Pete, thanks. For some reason that entry didn’t come up on a search of Wiki.

    To answer your last question, I can only root for the de-construction or even complete
    DEstruction of the two major national parties as we currently know them. As William suggests in his comments above, they are both bloated commercial enterprises that continuously feed the growing colony of parasites made up of political operators and consultants who recruit and support candidates who can raise the most
    money (to be spent on hiring guess who?) not necessarily the best candidates to win elections and govern. This cadre of consultants and operatives have benefited from the Citizens United SCOTUS decision as much as the PACS and the corporations and plutocrats that fill their coffers.

  23. I wish folks would stop referring to “pro-life” and instead use “forced-birth”. “Pro-lifers” are NOT pro life or children or mothers — once you are born, you are on your own. Their agenda is about forcing women to give birth against their wishes and controlling women’s bodies.

  24. PJ, I personally am afraid that rooting for the major parties to voluntarily change sounds way to slow. I think that the problem needs to be solved urgently and decisively and of course that takes a very large crowd speaking very loudly and in unison.

    I can’t imagine a clearer or more urgent national message than overwhelming rejection of the GOP in ’18 and ’20. I personally don’t think that either party could possibly ignore or misinterpret what that would say about who a majority of Americans are.

    The important gist of the message to everyone is unity. We are united. We will do what we have to do.

    I’m afraid that if the message instead is we are millions of small self interested groups nothing will change.

  25. JD – just to let you know – Brooks has a few challengers on the Democratic side this year — and it took a while before anyone wanted to step forward and challenge her. She also has at least one Libertarian challenger, John Krom.

    The Democratic challengers are Sean Dugdale, Dion Douglas and Dee Thornton according to one source, but as of today, Dee Thornton and one Eshel Faraggi have filed.

    I have met Dee and at the moment, she seems like the serious candidate (IMHO).

  26. Over my 65 years of life, and 40+ years being a minister I quite being a Christian a long time ago. The reason is simple: Far too many SERPENTS and way too few ‘Doves’. There is a political agenda to ‘American Christianity’, just as there was to ‘Roman Christianity’ just as there was to the originator of the Myths that come down to us – the one called ‘Jesus’ (whose name is really Joshua if translated properly. And He didn’t have anything to do with those who were NOT Jews except to exhort them to do good. Christianity is ‘Pauline’ – not Christ-like. And for those who may be Christian reading this – Christ is not a “man” – it is a Spirit a state of awareness ‘annointing’ as it were. I can tell you this – I don’t find ONE among us that fills that pair of boots! So for me Christianity is a political ‘club’ of various factions that run the gamut – but mostly – ignorant of the truth. This is just my outlook. It comes backed by 20 years of studying the roots of Judaeo-Christian-Islamic religion. The Torah is not what it was made out to be. But that is a story for another day. Suffice it to say modern religions basing themselves on the stories in the Hebrew Torah – are all based on a pile of mistakes and mistranslations and all due to some simple lies, and deceptions (And not on the part of Moses!) my two cents for today!

  27. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

    UNLESS – they have “a compelling governmental interest”.

    I feel as though the real question should be, why is the US government so concerned about what we do with our minds, bodies, and souls? Why are we even still dealing with this basic topic?

    What does it benefit them, to deny me the freedom of personal choice? Why is it so important to them that I give birth to children I don’t want, which bathroom I use, or what substances I put in my body? What “compelling interest” does Uncle Sam have in MFoxx?

    I pay my taxes so that they can take care of defending the country, maintaining infrastructure for utilities and logistics, curing cancer.. not so they can judge my morals, or lack there of. When are we going to get angry about how they waste our money on telling us what to do with our lives?

    There are bigger problems in the world we should be focused on resolving, for all of humaity’s sake. This petty squabeling over things that don’t advance mankind’s ability to continue our existance, is going to end badly some day.

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