It is long past time for a tough love intervention with the religious right. Nothing in our country is more personal, more protected, or more valued than individual citizens’ religious beliefs and how they are practiced. These protections, however, do not make those practices immune from healthy debate and honest criticism. Applied to evangelical voters, the reverse has almost become true wherein any meaningful discussion of motives and aims in a political sense is shouted down with claims of religious liberty. This is unhelpful, patently ridiculous, and harmful not only to the greater discourse but to the very people making the defensive argument.
Debate of religion and religious belief pre-date our country and very much shaped the thinking of the founders. Jefferson especially, including within the very writings that brought us the term “separation of church and state”, struggled along with other framers and founders with the concept. As a Deist, he did not lightly use the concept of inalienable rights granted by the Creator (a decidedly Judeo-Christian tradition) as the base argument for universal freedom. Aware that such language would make difficult a balance of a government that both protected and was protected from religion, it was equally clear and challenging applying the same to individuals. There was foresight in knowing an eternal struggle and debate was not only allowable but preferable as a method of maintaining the health of both faith groups and the state. Jefferson and many of the founders understood debate between noble citizens holding equal rights would be the key to longevity in democratic republic. They drew this understanding from the failure of pure Athenian democracy, taking the concepts of active citizen leadership but placing more checks and balances, more structure, and most importantly the concept of inalienable rights that were immutable even by the people themselves.
Fast forward to present day, and we have come down the road a far journey from the incepted idea. Recent examples are numerous. Lately, Christian “Value Voter” leaders continually insist on the religious conversion of Donald J. Trump, despite all evidence to the contrary and silence on the subject by the man himself. Some may be just projecting their faith onto someone they want to believe shares in it, but it is certain many know such claims for the ingratiating lie of “he’s one of us” they are. Even more grotesque an example can be found in the campaign of Roy Moore for Senate, which featured the dichotomy of the same man proclaiming to be the harbinger of a Christian theocracy while being a twice defrocked judge accused of sexual misconduct. The plea to the spiritual almost worked, however, with the sentiment of the Moore diehards summed up in a fascinating, but not unusual, quote of a supporter who spoke to Politico. “Even if the allegations are true, as Christians we believe in second chances,” said Pat Hartline, who lives in neighboring Cherokee County and was also in attendance. She said she will vote for Moore because he is a Christian conservative who supports gun rights. “He’s for all the right policies.”
Setting aside the theological and moral problems within that statement for another time, such sentiment does frame what a religious-political Frankenstein the right has fostered. This growth of the monster was not accidental, but purposefully encouraged. Religious revenue in America is conservatively estimated to be around $378 billion annually, and the high-end estimate of religiously influenced money within the economy could be as much as a staggering $4.8 trillion. Add in the passionate support of the faithful and we have a people group that is irresistible to political operators. A demographic with entrenched beliefs, a not completely unfound perception the world is out to get them, and predisposition to spend discretionary income on things they believe in is a fundraisers dream. It is easy to see how unscrupulous people learned the buzzwords and language sufficient to ingratiate themselves into otherwise quietly political Christians, preaching common cause for the sake of common funding. Having been told relentlessly by their leaders and the actions of a hostile media culture their faith is under attack, they were ripe for fleecing for political gain. Healthy skepticism and discernment in all things, encouraged both Biblically and traditionally, gave way to the fervent desire to do something!!!, and that something needed to be more tangible than just laying up stores in Heaven.
Elections, of course, give an immediate and empirical result, much quicker than the slow, steady, unglamorous work of improving one’s life from the soul outwards. Sending your donation to a candidate or party to achieve that result draws praise, thanks, and a feeling of belonging and purpose. Best of all, for the fundraisers and operatives, election cycles come one right after another, so all of the angst and reactionary zeal is replicable in perpetuity. For you see, goes the sales pitch, this upcoming election is the most impactful, most important, most spiritually decisive of our lifetime, and with your support, hard work, and most importantly your funding we can win it.
All of which runs counter to actual tradition and teaching of Christianity, but fits nicely with the emotions of its followers. This is undoubtedly feeds perfectly into the age of feelings being paramount to all else. Religious belief should shape and form your political beliefs along with experience, wisdom, research, and myriad other factors. Adjusting all the filters in your mind and heart to simply purify your political objectives leave little room for spirituality, less room for God, and no ability for healthy discernment. If one truly believes in the eternal soul of man and a judgement of the same by God, then of course all one’s actions should be weighed and considered carefully. But without discernment and principle, politics quickly become the god being worshipped and the political process becomes the rituals observed. The false god of political victory is an unworthy one, bringing no joy, no peace, and no reward beyond fleeting elections that matter little compared to eternity. The closer the hyper political Evangelical right get to the crusaders’ core theology problem of “God wills it!” the more politically useful they will be come, and less spiritually effective. If you are a Christian, or other faith that does believe in the soul that is accountable to God, let us find agreement that the latter is of eternally more importance than the former.
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Copyright © 2018 Andrew Donaldson. No reuse without permission or credit to original.