What’s Wrong with the Religious Right

That title get your attention? As a result of our current discussion on religion and politics, James and I have been doing some reading. First off, we started reading a book called God’s Politics: Why the right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It by Jim Wallis. I’ve made it about a third of the way through the book so far and while I don’t agree with everything he has to say I think he certainly provides some good food for thought. A second book I have started reading, which is good enough that it has halted my progress in reading Wallis’s book, is The Future of Faith in American Politics: The Public Witness of the Evangelical Center, by David Gushee. While I am only a fraction of the way through the book so far I can say that I don’t think I’ve seen a more reasonable discussion of evangelical involvement in politics. Either of these books is worth a read if you’re interested in these topics, but I particularly recommend the latter. A central idea in Gushee’s book is that the proper way for evangelicals to relate to government is in terms of a “public witness.” That is, the ultimate goal of our involvement with politics is to bring others to Christ. I think that in many ways this reflects our initial discussion on the purpose of government.

Now to the subject of today’s post, in the first part of his book Gushee embarks on a description of the current “evangelical right” and “evangelical left.” After describing each of these cultural groups he goes on to explain what he thinks is good and bad about each. Since probably most of the readership of this blog is right-leaning, I feel that the most useful way to spend my time in this post is in looking at Gushee’s criticisms of the evangelical right. His primary objection is that the evangelical right has become too partisan. He proposes that the evangelical right has begun to intentify the interests and values of the Church of Jesus Christ with the agenda of the Republican Party. His claim is that the American evangelical right acts as a bloc within the Republican Party and that therefore it acts both to promote the general values of the Republican Party and to promote its own power within the party. And what exactly is wrong with this? Well, a man cannot serve two masters. Therefore the Church cannot both be serving Christ and be a bloc within a political party. Simply put, the Church must declare allegiance to Christ and not to the GOP. He argues that the evangelical right have in many cases adopted the party line on matters that are not grounded in scripture. For example, he points out that in some cases evangelical right leaders have uncritically defended Republican politicians who were convicted in ethical scandals. As Christians we must enter politics with a fierce independence from partisanship and an unswerving loyalty to Christ.

This criticism harks back to a childhood memory of mine. I was probably in my early teens when the family was gathered at my grandparent’s house discussing an upcoming election. I was struck by a comment that my aunt (Carol) made. She said, “We don’t always for the Republican; we vote for the best man.” Given my child-like black-and-white view of politics, this statement made quite an impression on me (obviously since I still remember it). I could see the wisdom evident in it, but it somewhat startled my sensibilities. I had fallen prey to the trap of identifying the values of a political party with Christ’s values. When we approach politics as followers of Christ we must always keep our political allegiances in check. We must constantly ask ourselves whether the values we are promoting align with God’s. I challenge each of you to use the current election year as an opportunity to examine your political stances and ask yourself whether those stances are representative of Christ. Gushee suggests a litmus test: do you have the power to say no to your favorite politician or party?

A further criticism that Gushee has for the right is that their moral agenda is too narrow. Christians should be a voice and a witness in all moral matters. Again, this brings back the idea of a witness. What does it say about us as Christians if we devote all of our time to say…opposing gay marriage, while we ignore other big issues that are clearly of utmost concern to our current society, such as caring for the environment? After all, did not God call Adam to care for creation? What does it say about us if we spend all of our time campaigning against abortion and then turn our eyes as our government tortures other human beings? Others will see us as people who don’t really care about the common good and our witness will be damaged. They will certainly be unwilling to listen to our voice on matters that are more culturally controversial. Imagine if the Church could be a consistent voice for the common good, one that transcended political boundaries and special interests. That would be a powerful witness indeed. I hope that this post has gotten you thinking, and that perhaps it will start some discussion. In our remaining posts on religion and politics, James and I will get more into the specifics of what we think this “common good” is. That is, “What is the Christian platform?”

-Matt, the elder brother


8 Responses to What’s Wrong with the Religious Right

  1. James says:

    Bene factum! (I’m not telling you what that means). After several weeks of intermittence, I had forgotten exactly where we were planning on going next. In fewer than 1,000 words, you have a presented a clear point. This post is a paradigm for our ideal post: an widely-intelligible, palatable chunk of information.

  2. Carol says:

    Did I say that? Of course, it’s really hard to vote for the best person when you don’t feel that any of the people running are good choices. Then what? My answer has always been to tow the party line. At least in theory, my views would be best represented by doing that. I do not feel that it’s appropriate to not vote (I’ve already had a “heated disagreement” about this). The book sounds good; I’ll have to see about getting a copy for John.

  3. John says:

    Very well said, Matt. I agree with you in that we should be very careful in how we vote. As I’ve stated before, since we are in a democracy the people themselves are the “king” and should act responsibly for our nation. Christians have even a larger responsiblity than most Americans, because we have been commanded by the Lord to be “salt and light” in this world. Your also right about Christians getting “tunnel vision” about certain narrow issues and not looking into the bigger picture. For example, James Dobson has said publicly that he cannot vote for John McCain because he disagrees with McCain’s views on abortion (among other things). However, McCain has never voted pro-abortion, speaks against abortion (and FOR adoption, particually since he and his wife have adopted a daughter themselves) and said he thinks Roe v. Wade should be overturned. Moreover, as President he would appoint judges, and especially Justices to the Supreme Court would think likewise, constitutionally speaking. James Dobson is upset because McCain supports embronic stem-cell research (which I have a HUGE problem with too) and doesn’t support a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution because once Roe is overturned the issue will be decided by the States. Therefore, since Dobson can’t vote for McCain and he certainly won’t vote for Clinton and Obama, he said he WON’T VOTE! That is a huge slap in the face to the Founders and to all of the men and women who have died for this country! Since Jesus is not running for President, no candidate is perfect so we have to vote most of the time for someone we don’t alwyays agree with. So, what’s the alternative? An Obama or Clinton as President (God save us!) who will appoint Justices that will keep Roe v. Wade alive for another 25 years? I really think that Dobson and some others like them think that this country ‘”is due punishment because of our sins,” and an Obama or Clinton as President would be God’s judgement upon us. Maybe so, but it seems like they are putting themselves in the seat of judgement and not letting Gob be the perfect and holy Judge that he is. And, last time I looked at the Bible, God will judge this world (including America) not with a bad President, but with fire.

  4. Susan says:

    While most of the politicians I’ve supported are Republicans, I wouldn’t hesistate to vote for a Democrat that held the same values I did. When we support a candidate, we do so directly – no money given to the party itself. We have given money to the Republican party in the past, but we have learned our lesson after watching them support some very liberal candidates. Also, once you give, they will call you ALL THE TIME. The last time they called, I told them if they called again I would vote for Hillary, and I would do it, too, if Terry wouldn’t have a heart attack.

    As far as the environment, I would have to disagree with anyone who puts it anywhere near the abortion issue. The world was created for man, not man for the world, and man was created in the image of God. To me that puts the environment as a secondary issue. The fact that 3000 humans a day are killed in America primarily for the sake of convenience is just a scourge on our whole society and something we should all be ashamed of. I’m not sure any legislation will change that – it will take a heart change. But I absolutely will not vote for someone who doesn’t believe in the sanctity of life because I feel that if I can’t trust their thinking on this issue, I can’t trust it on anything else. It truly is a litmus test for me, and I would vote for a pro-life Democrat any day over a pro-choice Republican.

    Terry would probably enjoy reading those books.

  5. Susan says:

    While I don’t share Dobson’s position, I have to respectfully disagree with John that abstaining from a vote in a presidential election is a slap in the face to those who died for our country. I think abstaining is far different than just not showing up. In fact, I think a well-informed abstention is better than an ill-informed vote. I’m sure Dobson will cast a vote in other elections this November- he just won’t cast a vote for president. So again, while I probably wouldn’t do the same thing, I think that he is taking part in the political process by abstaining (and especially since he has a national platform to get attention for his non-vote, while I do not). His decision should not be cast in the same light as an apathetic citizen who doesn’t bother to vote.

    What bothers me a little more about Dobson is why he did not endorse Huckabee in the first place when it could have made a bigger difference.

  6. John says:

    Susan is right. Americans have the luxury to “agree to disagree” with each other. I was petty emotional when I wrote the “slap” comment. That being said, I think voting in EVERY election is important. In my humble opinion Dobson has become too “political.”

  7. Susan Seaman says:

    Please let me change the focus of this discussion a little, thought I agree with many of the comments. I want to focus on Matt’s refference from the 2nd book and one of his own comments. Specifically, the writer says; “the ultimate goal of our involvement in politics is to bring others to Christ.” I think this goal is well intentioned but misses the mark.

    To borrow from a catacism (don’t recall if this is Baptist or Presbyterian), our purpose on earth is to glorify God and enjoy Him. Now that can take you a lot of places, but it can not limit you to the author’s suggestion, IMHO. I personally believe that Christ upheld TRUTH at a higher level than Love and Salvation. Regardless, TRUTH should be equal to LOVE and evangelism at the very least. I’ll temporarrily leave this subject to let others chime in and to give a chance to comment on the second quote.

    Matthew said; “Imagine if the church could be a consistent voice for the common good.” I’m not real sure what is meant by the “common good?” My following comments are not meant to imply any derogatory interpretitions for Matt’s comment. I simply want to expand on what that could mean and perhaps what I think it should be.

    My simple definition of the “common good” would be an outcome that accomplishes one of the following; it either results in the salvation of an individual or brings Truth to light. From an eternal perspective, it is better to enter the kingdom of heaven maimed and blind than not enter it at all. Basically, what I’m saying is that I don’t think the church should be promoting “common good” when that could be interpreted in other ways. Specifically, common good could mean:
    * We should love our enemy period and stay away from potentially offensive topics such as absolute TRUTH, Hell, etc.
    * We should join in on common cuases that are PC, because they demonstrate our love and provide opportunities to share Christ while letting the ramifications be what they may.
    * We should all be nice little Christians who do what their told, turn the other cheek, care for the poor, love and nothing else.

    My overall concern is that we as Christians have allowed the press to define us. Yes, some leaders have messed up politically, morally, and otherwise. However, that does not call for a complete retreat. Do we need to refocus? Absolutely. Does this mean we elevate the environment and AIDS to the same level the value of life and the family. I personally don’t think so. In fact I would place those two further down below taking care of the poor, widows, and orphans which the church of Christ does fairly well.

    Now the left is trying to make the world think that we don’t, because they think those should be political issues. Most Christians believe that these are issues for the local church’s and individual believers. We do need to do a better job, but we don’t need to make them political issues IMHO.

    Thanks guys for getting this started. I look forward to more comments. You’ll have to overlook my speleng and; punctuation. I’m an engineer you know.

  8. Susan Seaman says:

    Sorry guys, I tried to put in my name and email address, but it came up as Susan’s in the post???


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