The Politics Of Religion

What happens when politics–or racism–masquerades as religion?  Because that’s where America finds itself.

A guest essay in the New York Times put it, “Evangelical now means ‘Republican.'”The article noted that what is drawing people to embrace the evangelical label on surveys is its identification with the Republican Party rather than theological affinity for Jesus Christ.

Interestingly, in 2019, fifty percent of the self-identified Evangelicals who never attended church said they were politically conservative. 

A recent column by the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin amplified those findings, casting doubt on the conventional wisdom that abortion and gay rights motivated “devout” Evangelical voters.

Conservative commentator and evangelical Christian David A. French acknowledges in a piece for the Dispatch: “We know that opposition to abortion rights motivates white Evangelicals far less than their leaders’ rhetoric would suggest. Eastern Illinois University’s Ryan Burge, one of the nation’s leading statisticians of American religion, has noted, for example, that immigration drove Evangelical support for [Donald] Trump more than abortion.

”As for gay rights, the Public Religion Research Institute’s annual values survey shows a majority of White evangelical Christians still oppose gay marriage, but that “substantial majorities in every major religious group favor nondiscrimination laws that protect LGBTQ people, ranging from 59% among white evangelical Protestants to 92% among religiously unaffiliated Americans.” Moreover, even opposition to gay marriage is declining because of a massive generational divide on the issue between older evangelicals and more tolerant millennials and Generation Xers.

Rubin’s reading of the relevant research leads her to conclude that what Evangelicals want is not a government that produces legislative fixes to real-world problems but a government willing to engage their enemies on behalf of White Christianity.

Longtime devout Evangelicals have reached similar conclusions. Peter Wehner recently shared his pain in an article for The Atlantic, in which he described the Evangelical Church as “breaking up,” and argued for reclaiming Jesus from his church.

Influential figures such as the theologian Russell Moore and the Bible teacher Beth Moore felt compelled to leave the Southern Baptist Convention; both were targeted by right-wing elements within the SBC. The Christian Post, an online evangelical newspaper, published an op-ed by one of its contributors criticizing religious conservatives like Platt, Russell Moore, Beth Moore, and Ed Stetzer, the executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, as “progressive Christian figures” who “commonly champion leftist ideology.” In a matter of months, four pastors resigned from Bethlehem Baptist Church, a flagship church in Minneapolis. One of those pastors, Bryan Pickering, cited mistreatment by elders, domineering leadership, bullying, and “spiritual abuse and a toxic culture.” Political conflicts are hardly the whole reason for the turmoil, but according to news accounts, they played a significant role, particularly on matters having to do with race.

In an effort to understand what was happening, Wehner reached out to dozens of pastors, theologians, academics, and historians, as well as a seminary president and people involved in campus ministry. What he found clearly pained him.

The root of the discord lies in the fact that many Christians have embraced the worst aspects of our culture and our politics. When the Christian faith is politicized, churches become repositories not of grace but of grievances, places where tribal identities are reinforced, where fears are nurtured, and where aggression and nastiness are sacralized. The result is not only wounding the nation; it’s having a devastating impact on the Christian faith.

How is it that evangelical Christianity has become, for too many of its adherents, a political religion? The historian George Marsden told me that political loyalties can sometimes be so strong that they create a religious like faith that overrides or even transforms a more traditional religious faith. The United States has largely avoided the most virulent expressions of such political religions. None has succeeded for very long—at least, until now.

Wehner quoted one scholar who noted that Evangelicals “are quick to label their values ‘biblical. But how they interpret the scriptures, which parts they decide to emphasize and which parts they decide to ignore, all this is informed by their historical and cultural circumstances.”

More than most other Christians, however, conservative evangelicals insist that they are rejecting cultural influences,” she said, “when in fact their faith is profoundly shaped by cultural and political values, by their racial identity and their Christian nationalism.”

The lengthy Wehner article is wrenching; it testifies to the pain of truly religious Christians in the face of the politicization of their faith. 

The rest of us are faced with a different pain: the threat to America posed by a racist politics that its practitioners think is religion.

 

25 thoughts on “The Politics Of Religion

  1. “a government willing to engage their enemies on behalf of White Christianity.”

    I think this statement reflects all religious fanatics who don’t understand their own religion but “identify” with it.

    I hate to nitpick, but identity is what our egos create to attach to something. The ego is where our fears manifest. Nearly all irrational fears, phobias, neurosis, etc. come from ego. The I.

    That snippet above jumps out because these “self-identified Christians” are wanting to control others. They get together with others of like mind so they can grow louder.

    But, the problem is they are judging others. Did Christ teach judgment?

    It’s the same nonsense when I hear people say, “We are a Christian Nation.” How can that be when we don’t follow what Christ said?

    I believe Gandhi made this observation as well.

    Religions aren’t dangerous at all. Christ didn’t teach most of what is taught in churches today.

    Humans who identify with their egos are the problem. Period. Jesus taught that love was the key. Fear is the opposite of love. All emotions arise from those two. Jesus said pick love always. That is the path to God.

    How can it be any other way?

  2. Sheila; what was the Republican meaning of “conservative” as their foundation when you were an active member? Was it the foundation of Mayor Hudnut’s administration working against you which lost you your bid for state Senator? (I voted for you.) I began working for the City in 1972 under Mayor Lugar and watched as Mayor Hudnut did away to all of the active “isims”, required sworn and signed loyalty oaths and paid in cash 2% “donation” to the party under Lugar. (Well, I was mother of 5 children in the process of a divorce and really NEEDED a job.) I was still there under Goldsmith as he turned City administration into a Nixon microcosm and a preview of Trump’s federal level Republicanism; couldn’t get a job in the private sector due to lack of trust of former political employees.

    The political term “conservative” has no connection to the definition of the word in dictionaries or the Bible thumpers of today yet they claim it. And, has the term “liberal” always been a dirty word in politics? It appears to me to be more “Christian” in its foundation, especially today as we fight to save all lives and provide for all people in need.

  3. It is fitting that the backward, right-wing, “conservative” religious groups go all-in for anything and everything Republican. After all unsubstantiated fairy tales are what the Republican party has been spewing for decades. Take “trickle-down” economics…PLEASE.

    So, these sad, misguided people follow the cult upon which not a single shred of hard evidence exists. The Republican message machine exploits this hotbed of abject ignorance and fear to promote their own brand of FantasyWorld. When there is no “there” there, these power mad fools have to make stuff up. This is how ALL religions are born: “Beliefs” over facts. Fantasy to assuage mindless fears. Profits before people. It’s the Republican way.

  4. Any time Sheila chooses religion and politics on The Sabbath, is bound to stir elevated discussion. No pun intended.

    Among majority of evangelicals without a microphone, it is discerned within their discussion groups, sowing discord is one of the most heinous sins in the Bible. … To sow discord is to say and do things which cause distrust among one another, which results in arguments and fights. Usually the ‘sower’ is acting as if he/she is not trying to cause arguments. Sowers of discord have hijacked their faith community by seizing into the voids of elder positions eventually causing disruptive rifts in the congregation and pulpit resignations.

    Discernment among genuine believers in the evangelical community know there are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

    Those quick to judgement shall be judged finally.

  5. Follow the reports of the Heritage Foundation and the Family Action Councils and you will quickly see that they are doing all that they can to cross the boundary between church and state. Ever since Tim Lahaye and James Dodson started using religion to gain political power, politics has become religion and vice versa.

  6. “The article noted that what is drawing people to embrace the evangelical label on surveys is its identification with the Republican Party rather than theological affinity for Jesus Christ.” Since most of those “evangelicals” would be clamoring to crucify him for the radical socialist things he said, the mere thought of a theological affinity for Jesus Christ is laughable.

    They want to cling to the words of the Old Testament, even though they clearly misunderstand the meaning of those parts they love the most.

  7. I can’t believe Wehner and other writers use such phrases as “White Christianity” and “Christian Nationalism” to be politically correct and avoid using the more accurate labels: “White Christian Nationalism”, or “Christian White Supremacy”. We need to stop beating around the bush and call a duck a duck.

    As for me I couldn’t care less what happens to any organized religion. I thought you might enjoy the description of the mission of The Marginal Mennonite Society, a page I follow on Facebook. I encourage you to subscribe as they celebrate the lives of many freethinkers before use who weren’t cast under the spell of organized religion.

    Enjoy.

    About MMS:

    We are Marginal Mennonites, and we’re not ashamed. We’re marginal because no respectable Mennonite organization would have us. Yet we consider ourselves amongst the legitimate heirs to the Anabaptist tradition.

    We reject creeds, doctrines, rites, and rituals. Because they’re man-made, created for the purpose of excluding people. Their primary function is to determine who’s in and who’s out.

    We are inclusive. There are no dues or fees for membership. The only requirement is the desire to identify as Marginal Mennonite. If you say you’re a Marginal Mennonite, that’s good enough for us.
    We see God as Mother as well as Father, a heavenly parent who cares for all her children. (Isaiah 49:15: “Can a woman forget her nursing baby, or show no compassion for the child who came from her womb? Even these may forget, yet I won’t forget you.”)

    We like Jesus. A lot. The real Jesus. The human teacher who moved around in space and time. The Galilean sage who was obsessed with the Commonwealth of God. The wandering wise man who said “Become passersby!” (Gospel of Thomas 42).

    We believe the Commonwealth of God is a state of being, a state of transformed consciousness, available to everyone. (Luke 17:21: “People won’t be able to say it’s over here or over there. For God’s Commonwealth is inside you and around you now.”)

    We are universalists. In our view, everyone who’s ever lived gets a seat at the celestial banquet table. We claim kinship in this belief with Anabaptist leader Hans Denck, Brethren leader Alexander Mack, and Quaker leader Elias Hicks, among many other universalists throughout history.

    We oppose the proselytizing of non-Christians. For us, religious diversity is beautiful. It would be a shame if all Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Jains, Pagans, Pastafarians, etc., were converted to Christianity. So we reject evangelistic projects and missionary programs, no matter how well-meaning they claim to be. (Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you hypocrites! You scour land and sea to make a single convert. And when you do, you make that person more a child of Gehenna than you are.”)

    We endorse the “Sermon on the Mount.” In particular the sayings identified by modern scholarship as most authentic. Especially the ones on the following themes:
    1. Nonviolence (Matthew 5:39-40/Luke 6:29);
    2. Generosity (Matthew 5:42a/Luke 6:30);
    3. Unconditional love (Matthew 5:44/Luke 6:27-28);
    4. Universalism (Matthew 5:45b/Luke 6:35d);
    5. Mercy (Matthew 5:48/Luke 6:36);
    6. Forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15/Luke 6:37c);
    7. Non-attachment to things (Matthew 6:19-21/Luke 12:33-34);
    8. Freedom from anxiety (Matthew 6:25-30/Luke 12:22-28);
    9. Non-judgment (Matthew 7:3-5/Luke 6:41-42); and
    10. Compassion (Matthew 7:9-11/Luke 11:11-13).

    We are pacifists, in the tradition of Bayard Rustin, Vincent Harding, Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Day, Mahatma Gandhi, Jeannette Rankin, Jane Addams, Leo Tolstoy, Adin Ballou, Lucretia Mott, George Fox, the nonviolent Anabaptists, and of course Jesus.

    We are humanists, feminists, and freethinkers. We are gay, carefree, and fabulous. We believe in art, evolution, revolution, relativity, synchronicity, serendipity, the scientific method, and putty tats. We value irreverence, outrageousness, and a strong cup of tea.

    We don’t want to take ourselves too seriously. As someone once said: “God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.” For us, hilariousness is next to godliness.
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    This Declaration is not a creed or doctrinal statement. It carries no weight of authority. We are anti-authoritarian. The above “beliefs” are suggestions only. We could be wrong.
    The Marginal Mennonite Society was created in February 2011. Declaration last revised Jan. 20, 2017.

    MMS Page Administrator: Charlie Kraybill, Bronx, NYC See less

  8. Once again, these poor people who “identify” with this or that aren’t the problem. All humans have egos.

    The fundamental cause of the right-wing in the 21st century is MANIPULATION.

    Jesus didn’t manipulate the weak-minded. He loved them and preached to them.

    These “preachers” and rich oligarchs and politicians, etc. are manipulating them for ______ .

    It’s the oppressors we need to stop – not the oppressed. Read Paulo Freire.

  9. Evangelical and Christian in the same sentence is an oxymoron. There is very little “Christian” in being an Evangelical Christian, these days. It’s just another weapon to be exploited.

  10. Hey Patrick,
    If I ever decide to follow Jesus again, I wanna be with your group and the puddy cat. Ha ha ha. That’s hilarious! My kind of people of all stripes. Thank you for your post.
    Sign me
    Reformed catholic now atheist

  11. “Churches become repositories not of grace but of grievances.” When political doctrine overwhelms faith, the faithful are placed in a place of agony. This process is terrible on so many levels.

  12. We have people just now questioning the Southern Baptist Convention for political reasons?

    That train departed 150 years ago, when all of the other major religious groups (Methodist, Episcopalians etc…) reunited with their counter parts after the Civil War. Maybe this is just the most stark example of “ all this is informed by their historical and cultural circumstances.”

  13. One aspect of human knowledge is our need to organize it in order to focus on various aspects of it. We have formalized that need in biology and even invented a branch of human knowledge responsible for defining and organizing all types of living things, taxonomy. Knowing, classifying, and naming things according to their differences allows us to effectively communicate but also makes considering the bigger picture that considers how different things are also alike, a little more challenging.

    If we consider our country in less detail rather than more we might see that there are really only three groups that differ in their cultures. There are those with a culture of behaving like responsible adults, those who limit their responsibilities to only their own families, and those who behave like the worst of fifth-grade boys who limit their behavior to blaming others and avoiding accountability for everything outside of their family lives.

    There, doesn’t that wrap up endless much more detailed wondering?

  14. “…on behalf of White Christianity.” There is what appears to be the issue, “White…” The other
    most salient point is Sheila’s “…a racist politics that its practitioners think is religion.” “Think”, obviously,
    being the operative word. Conservatism has been linked to anxiety, and religious conservatism, especially, IMHO,
    is a life choice (?) that appears especially suited to allaying existential anxiety.
    Todd, I did enjoy your expounding on the MMS, despite being an Atheist. The Sermon on the Mount points
    sit well with me. They also seem to resonate with what I know of Buddhism.
    At bottom, Evangelicism seems to be, or has become, tied to bigotry.

  15. When every poll I see indicates a decline in religious belief and a growth in Atheism, I’m reminded of thoughts like these. A natural decline in superstition shows the results of science and education and it can’t come quickly enough!

  16. I will send by email a photo that my wife took today, “TRIUMPH” , a giant bumper sticker on a pickup tail gate.

  17. When Christ made the statement in front of the Roman governor of Judea, “my kingdom is no part of this world. If my kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be delivered up to the Jews. But, as it is, my kingdom is not from this source.” John 18:36. He made it clear that he would not become involved in politics!

    But look! One of those with Jesus reached out his hand and Drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, taking off his ear. When Jesus said to him colon return your sword to its place, for all those who take up the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father to supply me at this moment more than Twelve Legions of angels? In that case , how would the scriptures be fulfilled that say it must take place this way?” Matthew 26:51-54

  18. The neuroscientists would say it is the lizard brain that leads to bigotry, fear of the “other”, Freud would say the “Id”, and Jung would say it’s the “shadow”. The ego tries to negotiate the “Immoral” drives of the id with the moral ones of the Super-Ego as I understand Freud. For Jung, the ego negotiates between the Self and the Shadow. Civilization creates neuroses because we have to learn to contain primal drives, including the violent ones.

    Many Christians forgot a long time ago the gospel reading John shared of Jesus telling one of his followers to put his sword away. They forgot in the 4th century when two Bishops fought to be the Bishop of Rome, during the Crusades and the Inquisition, and when they burned witches. I think we can all agree that violence and war are problems, defnitely not solutions.

    UU’s and marginal Mennonites have much in common. Both obviously combine reason with faith.

    It is now not only the evangelical Christians embracing white nationalist supremacy and embracing violence as a necessary means to their oppressive ideas, it has also infected members of Congress i.e. Gosar, M Taylor-Green, Gaetz. They have decided to use the violent rhetoric of 45 to gain support from the violent base.

    And so, our experiment in democracy remains endangered. Unless, of course, it is true that the oligarchy has already destroyed our democracy. And not only ours,but other nations i.e. Poland as well.

    The only way, as I see it, to escape the insanity of the belief in violence now embraced by many conservatives is to clean one’s own house, to face one’s own shadow. Kyle Rittenhouse failed to do that. M Taylor Greene and Cosar have failed to do that. And certainly 45 has never done so.

    I can only hope and pray that I respond to those who believe that violence is a solution in the way that MLK, Gandhi, and Mandela, and Desmond Tutu have. Where are the bearers of light, love, peace, and joy? We are everywhere also. Is it not a shame that the media does not shine the light on us as they do those who believe in the Big Lie?

  19. Deranged, disgraced drumpf dungheap, Mike Flynn, is calling for one American religion and I doubt it would be Islam. kristo-fascism. Not worthy of capitalization.

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