Christ in America

God rewarded this servant with multiple mansions
This post is about the problems caused by American evangelicals, fundamentalists, and conservative Catholics. My knowledge is based upon my childhood in the fundamentalist Church of Christ; my education at an Independent Methodist college and a Southern Baptist college; listening to National Public Radio for hours everyday; reading the monthly newspaper, Freethought Today, cover to cover; paying close attention to the issues that Christian voters care about, and watching the national and local news regularly. Based upon these sources, it seems to me that a large majority of evangelicals, fundamentalists, and conservative Catholics: 

1) Oppose gun control, abortion rights, social welfare programs,  environmentalism, homosexual rights, and Palestinian autonomy

2) Regard science as the gateway to atheism; deny evolution, global warming, the "Big Bang," and the antiquity of the universe; believe that dinosaurs and humans coexisted; think that Biblical "science" should either replace or supplement evidence-based science in public school curricula.

3) Favor harsh prison sentences and capital punishment.

4) Are quick to support military intervention, imprisoning suspected terrorists indefinitely without a trial, and inflicting torture to gain information. Believe that America should stay out of other nation's affairs, thereby giving tacit support to human rights abuses and predatory dictators.

5) Believe that religious employers should have the legal right to deny contraceptive benefits through their insurance plans; that religious pharmacists should have the legal right to refuse to fill prescriptions that violate their personal beliefs; and that religious pastry chefs, florists, and others should have the legal right to refuse orders from atheists, Muslims, homosexuals, and anyone else of whom they disapprove.

6) Believe that America is a Christian nation founded on Christian values; that its prosperity is proof of God's preference; that Christian specific prayers should be a part of government meetings and school functions; that Christian symbols and monuments should be allowed in public parks, public schools, and in and around courthouses, post offices, city halls, and police stations; and that anyone who opposes any of these things is guilty of persecuting Christians.

7) Believe that foreigners who are here illegally should be expelled even if they were brought here as infants, have no ties to the country of their birth, and would be in danger if returned to the country of their birth.

During my coming of age years in the 1950s and '60s, most of America's churches held that attempts to mix religion with politics were unworthy of a people whose kingdom "is not of this world." They subsequently turned their attention to "preaching the gospel" and upholding morality. Now that religion has no part in the lives of a fourth of Americans, and non-Christian religions are on the increase, America's churches are desperate to regain a control that was formerly theirs simply by virtue of the fact that their values mirrored the values of the general public. 

This means that the church's newly found emphasis on transforming America into a conservative Christian theocracy doesn't come from a position of strength but from a desperation to return the nation to an era when white Christian conservatives ruled the nation and, legally or illegally, suppressed all challengers, a time that was like the materialistic 1950s when "In God We Trust" was put on the nation's currency; "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance; and tax breaks were given to "ministers of the gospel." As such, it is doomed to failure, a failure that is being accelerated by the church's willingness to abandon its own ethical teachings in the pursuit of power and wealth. I hold that the dominant face of modern American Christianity is morally, intellectually, and spiritually bankrupt; a purveyor of lies; a perpetrator of war; and an enemy of the poor. 

Despite all this, America's Christians believe that they are unique among all the peoples of the earth in their faithfulness to the teachings of Jesus Christ, no matter that their smugness, materialism, unprincipled pursuit of earthly dominance, and loathing of such "not nice" people as gays, atheists, and Muslims, are in contradiction to Jesus' message of love, humility, simplicity, peacefulness, and the renunciation of worldly power. I offer the following to support my contention:

1) While the public in general, and younger Americans in particular, are moving ever more in the direction of tolerance and inclusion, the church is openly embracing bigotry. For example, the Christians of the state of Alabama were so outraged a federal requirement that sexual orientation not be taken into account when issuing marriage licenses, that their lawmakers are working to end the issuance of marriage licenses altogether. Because Alabamians commonly hold that the Bible is a static record "of God's unchanging word," they can cite chapter and verse to prove that God wants them to go much further than putting an end to gay marriage; he wants them to criminalize homosexual relationships if not to actually execute homosexuals. Unfortunately for them, federal law makes these things impossible.

2) " their fruits you will know them." Matthew 7:20

America's evangelicals, fundamentalists, and conservative Catholics, have traded their belief that, if you do good and trust in God, God will make things right, for a world view that they formerly condemned as the hallmark of "Godless Communism." I refer Machiavelli's statement that, "The end justifies the means." The resultant pragmatism is what made it possible for Christians to support one politician who boasted of sexually assaulting women and another who raped children, and it is what is still inspiring America's Christians to protect clergymen who are accused of molestation. I could cite almost endless other instances of the church: violating the law to proselytize inside public schools; diverting public monies for its private use; petitioning for the installation or retention of religious monuments in publicly owned parks and buildings by claiming that such monuments have no religious significance; and supporting notoriously corrupt and otherwise unqualified politicians as long as those politicians favor right-wing religion.

(3) "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." James 1:27

In what part of the New Testament did Jesus embrace politics, and where did he encourage patriotism? Why, then, is the rallying cry of millions of Christians "America First," and why did the church go from visiting widows and orphans to deporting them; from respecting peacemakers to extolling violence; from helping drug addicts to imprisoning them? Liberals are made to feel unwelcome in most of America's churches because if there is one thing of which America's Christians are certain, one thing that their preachers tell them from the pulpit (in violation of a federal law that prohibits them from endorsing candidates), it is that God wants his people to vote Republican, and if Jesus prefers Republicans, then liberalism is clearly a sin. 

(4) It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." Mark 10:25

The heroes of the church are no longer the Kings, Bonhoeffers, and Schweitzers, with their emphasis on courage and sacrifice; nor is it the humble pastor of my childhood who turned down a raise so the money could be spent on what he regarded as higher things. The heroes of the modern church are rich politicians like Donald Trump, and rich preachers like Joel Osteen who lives in a tax exempt 17,000 square-foot mansion, and earns $55-million a year telling his16,800 person audience that they can be rich like him if they please God by giving generously to the church. So far as I'm aware, our modern era marks the first time that amassing wealth was officially endorsed by the church itself as proof of God's favor, the implication being that the poor have only themselves to blame and therefore don't deserve help.

(5) "Jesus answered, 'My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom.'" John 18:36

While American religion tries to hide its unbridled lust for power beneath a veneer of piety, the effect is like that of a cat who hides beneath a chair with his tail sticking out. When religion wants to effect political change, it goes all out to pass discriminatory laws, but when it wants things to stay as they are, it offers prayers. Consider some typical responses from Christian politicians following the Parkland, Florida, school shooting:

"When we say 'thoughts and prayers,' it's frowned upon. And I take real offense at that because thoughts and prayers are the only thing that's gonna stop the evil." Florida state senator Kelli Stargel

"I think of those kids who went back to school today after than horrific shooting, and they need something more. They need a belief in God and Jesus Christ."
Former U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz 

"And if there's ever a time to return prayer to the classroom, now's the time." U.S. Congressional candidate Steve Lonegan

American Christianity is a world turned on its head, but at least in the case of praying for an end to mass murder, it can't be positively proven that prayer is the complete failure that it appears to be. Potholes are another matter, but this didn't stop Jackson, Mississippi, mayor, Tony Yarber from tweeting: "Yes....I believe we can pray potholes away. Moses prayed and a sea opened up."

Is it not disingenuous to claim that banning guns won't save lives, but that banning abortion will; that social programs for the poor won't assuage poverty, but tax breaks for the wealthy will; that a commitment to helping disadvantaged youth won't prevent crime, but a commitment to building more and bigger prisons will; that any number of prayers by any number of people for any number of years can repair a single pothole or accomplish anything else of value, anything at all?
A people can be forgiven for having tried but failed, but how is one to forgive a people who pretend that good is evil and that evil is good? I know I cannot. 

"For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." 
Matthew 23: 27-28