The view from the Christian Right
Renee in Ohio printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Oct 07, 2006 at 01:56:49 PM EST
bumped up from the diaries -- fc

Demetrius and I attended First Friday at the local Unitarian Universalist church last night. On the first Friday of every month, there is a potluck followed by several choices of speakers, discussions, and activities. The main forum this evening was about the appropriateness of churches being involved in matters of public policy. There were four speakers, and what you see below are some of the remarks from Gary Lankford, president of the Ohio Restoration Project. He kept emphasizing that we need to really listen to each other, and learn to disagree, without being disagreeable. That quickly becomes difficult, for me, anyway. Part of his talk below the jump.

The reason I'm here instead of at a high school football game on a Friday night, is because I think community forums are important, and I think we're in danger in our society of losing our ability to disagree without being disagreeable. I've heard three very different perspectives, and I agree with all three of you on some points, and disagress vigorously with some of you on other points, but I'm happy to say that I consider you brothers in Christ, and hope we can find some point of commonality. Not only within the Body of Christ, but with other Americans who don't count themselves as part of our faith tradition. So, what I'd like to offer tonight is something that I've learned in dialog with what I call "liberals of good will". You know, there's a tendency in America to polarize and to demonize people who think differently than we do. I've heard lots of angry rhetoric on both sides, and yet when I sit down and talk with real people who disagree with me vigorously, I find that once we get through the initial friction, we're able to talk about some things and work on some things, and accomplish a little something, at least relationally, and find some points of commonality. And that's what I want--to help share with you some of the things that I'm learning, and maybe help you understand what it's like on the Evangelical side of the aisle.

I've learned from dialoguing with my liberal friends that they really do have a very different perception of what's going on in America, and the conflict in the religious conversation going on, so I'm going to share some of those things with you if I could.

For over 300 years in America, it was widely assumed that to be in public office, you needed to be a Christian--or at least a Unitarian or a Deist. And that distinction, though important, wasn't critical, because even Deists in ages past were much more biblical in their worldview and their understanding of scripture than many of today's Evangelical office-holders. It was a different culture, and we had a broad, Christian cultural consensus as the backdrop for the public discourse and the public debate. You know, one of the great achievements of American Christianity is religious tolerance. Religious tolerance was a new thing in the world, and not practiced very many places, and not practiced for very long anywhere.

Now when the colonists first came to America, they came for religious freedom from Catholicism. They were not very tolerant of other Protestants. Eventually they progressed to where they were tolerant of other Protestants. Some more time went by, and they finally accepted and tolerated Catholics. Some more time went by, and they finally tolerated Jews, and Hindus and Buddhists and other faith traditions--nonwestern religions. And finally America accepted Atheists and Secularists. And one of the historical ironies, once the Atheists and Secularists were accepted, they decided now would be a good time to kick Christians out of the public square.

And that's how the Evangelical side of the aisle feels now--we feel unwelcome in the public square. We feel like there's a deliberate, organized attempt to quiet us, and reduce our political influence, and reduce our ability to talk and debate in the public square. And this often comes as a great surprise to my liberal friends. Because they tend to think of the "Christian right" for lack of a better term, as being a powerful oppressive influence in society--something that must be fought. When my liberal friends say "Speak truth to power", they mean, "Speak against those angry religious right people that are ruining America." And yet we have a very different experience, and a very different perspective of what's going on in America.

There was this broad Christian consensus in America, and in the 1930s, the Secularists began to organize in a very purposeful way, and they made astounding progress for a country with the kind of religious tradition and cultural tradition that America had. And by 20 or 30 or 40 years later, they were pre-eminent in the universities, in the medias, in the mainline churches, and in government. In fact, it was in the 1950s that William F. Buckley wrote a famous book called God and Man at Yale.  Yet Ivy League schools all over America had started as Christian seminaries, and by the 1950s, Christians weren't welcome there any more. Certainly not on faculty--they were ghetto-ized and minimized in universities in the Ivy League, and later, in the mainstream university experience. In fact, at most universities, outspoken Evangelicals are outnumbered by liberal people, 10-1 to 16-1, depending on what university you're in. That's a pretty significant victory for people on the left side of the aisle.

There were also some very significant Supreme Court decisions that came in the 1960s and 70s, and I want you to think about this for a second. These were all landmark decisions that marked major shifts in American culture and American experience. They all happened for the very first time in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1961, we had Torcaso vs. Watkins, where for the first time they outlawed religious tests for public office. 1961. In 1962 they outlawed any kind of school prayer in American schools, led in any way by teachers or faculty or staff. Here was the prayer that they outlawed in 1962: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and beg Thy blessings upon us, our teachers, and our country." That was deemed a violation of the separation of church and state.  Did you catch that? "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and beg Thy blessings upon us, our teachers, and our country."

In 1963, the Court found Bible reading over the school intercom unconstitutional. You couldn't read Bible verses in the morning announcements. In 1971, they devised a new test to determine what was "excessive entanglement" in church-state issues, called the Kurtzman test. Here are the three new definitions. The government action must have a secular purpose, or it's not allowed. Its primary purpose must not be to inhibit or advance religion--if it inhibits or advances religion, it's not allowed. And three, there must be no excessive entanglement between government and religion. Now if you follow church-state court cases at all in the last 35 years, you'll find that the Lemon v. Kurtzman case settle nothing at all. Every Supreme Court had a totally different idea of what each of those three points meant in practical usage.

Then you have 1972, Roe vs. Wade, where all the state laws regarding abortion were overturned, and the Supreme Court decided there was now a constitutional right to abortion. After 200 years, now there was a constitutional right. It was a pretty significant change.

And 1977, the court found that the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools was unconstitutional.  And they referred to the Lemon-Kurtzman decision in a 5-4 ruling,  saying that even though the ten commandments were posted in schools since they were started, in the early 1800s, it was now unconstitutional.

So what you find is that by the 1960s, the liberal church became politically active. They became politically active in the war on poverty, in the civil rights movement, and in the anti-war movement. Now the conservatives were dragged reluctantly into politics in the late 70s and early 80s, back with the Moral Majority people and the Pat Robertson people, Christian Coalition and all that stuff. And I say reluctantly, because they're still reluctant. And I know they're reluctant because I'm still dragging them into the public square--they still don't want to be there. Most Evangelicals just want to be left alone. They feel like they're responding to an aggressive, hostile culture that won't let them be.

Now again, if you count yourself as a liberal, I'm not accusing you of anything. I'm just sharing with you what the experience is in my faith community, and the people that I talk to, the people I know that are politically motivated, and why they're motivated. The people I know don't have any desire to lead a theocracy. They don't have any desire to oppress women, or minorities, or any other group. That's not the motivation of churchgoing people. They feel like they have to respond to some of the things going on politically and culturally.

And the rhetoric has been even worse in the last five or ten years. In the last several years, people in my faith community have been accused of, here's a headline from Harper's Magazine, "The Christian Right's War on America". That's a cover story, "The Christian Right's War on America". Now we've been called the "American Taliban". We heard on national tv by that great philosopher Rosie O'Donnell, that radical Christianity is just as dangerous as radical Islam. Now, most people in my faith community have trouble not taking that personally. There are no people among radical Christians that are bombing innocent civilians. Our churches don't get together and organize bombing raids, so that seems like an unfair criticism of people in my community.

We're often called extremists and hatemongers. Bigoted. Anti-tolerant. Homophobic. Mysogynist. In fact, we feel like we're the only group that you can criticize without fear of retribution. Now again, I share this with you, because, when I share this with liberals, they are very surprised that that's our experience. They don't think that's true at all. And again, one of the reasons I support community forums is it's very easy for us to talk in our own little echo chambers, and never talk to anybody that thinks significantly differently from we do, and we never learn to have any sort of dialog.

One of my favorite cultural moments was hearing Julia Roberts being interviewed on The Tonight Show. She was absolutely convinced that the Republicans had stolen the presidential election--the first George Bush election. Not because that was an illegitimate claim--her proof was, "I know they stole the election. I don't know a single person that voted for George Bush! They must have stolen it." And that's all too typical of us. We don't know a single person who voted for the other guy, so there must be fraud involved! I hope we can get past that.

There's more, but I'm still working on it. I really appreciated hearing Eric Williams, who spoke first, and was one of the main people behind the IRS complaint that was filed against two major churches that were practically endorsing Ken Blackwell. I'm hoping to write up some of what he said next.

There were also two other speakers, both Evangelicals. Everyone was supposed to give a 10 minutes opening statement. Lankford's statment was almost 20 minutes.

My faith, the Way of the Square Ground, was against the law until President Carter signed a bill specifically granting us freedom of religion in >>> 1979<<<.  I was in college  at that time!

Native American religious practice has always been persecuted- starting BEFORE the Pilgrims.  The Pilgrims themselves became notorious for forcing their practices upon others.

Even as recently as a couple of months ago, I heard complaints about the bill granting us our first amendment rights.  The Religious Right is especially hostile.  They complain that we get and are wanting special rights- an obvious attempt to turn people against us.  What we've asked for all along is the same rights to practice our faith even as they do.  The rights guaranteed us under treaties... they are but a dream for most Native Americans (or have been turned into nightmares by the re-interpretation of those treaties).

Some Native American faith practices are STILL BANNED.  The Native American church is severely persecuted, and their use of peyote (NOT to get high) is against federal law.  I understand that the Ghost Dance is still outlawed in areas.  There are other ceremonial activities that are not practiced, not because they violate "christian" codes of ethics, but because if the slightest evidence of the practice is noticed, the individual is severely persecuted by the churches (such as the early Christians faced if wine was smelled on their breath after the eucharist in the morning).

I don't want to return to the past.  Christians are NOT being persecuted, if anything, they are being forced to treat people as Teyose (Jesus) would have them... that is, with kindness and respect.

- From someone who was told on the last job (working for a homeless ministry) that he had to choose between his job and his tribe, and whose wife lost her last THREE jobs directly and specifically because of being Native American. (I quit and walked out!)

-Also, we were thrown out of a conservative parish because of being Native American!

Tell those sorry bas****s "as you sow, so shall you reap"- if they don't repent!!!

by ArchaeoBob on Sat Oct 07, 2006 at 05:26:41 PM EST

It's actually interesting you note that people are still to this day subject to retribution for traditional practices--the Museum of the American Indian actually has, as part of an exhibit, a discussion by an elder of a California nation on how dominionist "spiritual warfare" groups have deliberately attempted to disrupt the White Deer Dance his people hold.

(To be honest, I wasn't surprised that this is occuring--I was surprised to see it specifically mentioned in a museum funded by the federal government, especially in the present political climate.)

But yes, people forget that it's literally been only within the last twenty years or so that people have not been subject to arrest for practicing traditional Native American spirituality.  (I remember reading, among other things, that in the 90's they had the first Sun Dance among the Pawnee since it was banned some hundred years or more ago.)  We won't even get into how in much of North Dakota you can still be arrested for essentially "Driving While Indian". :P

Heck, a lot of my own ancestors hid out as "Black Dutch" so they'd not be marched off to Oklahoma (yes, as late as 1879 you could still be marched to Oklahoma for merely acknowledging you had Cherokee descent).  I'll probably never be able to be completely open with my family about my own spirituality as a result of them being dominionists--and a fair amount of the knowledge being lost, between the Trail of Tears and traditional religion being largely banned.  (We're just lucky we didn't lose more of it--we were able to write our own grimoires and formulas; otherwise even more would be gone.)

by dogemperor on Sat Oct 07, 2006 at 08:31:03 PM EST

The laws were on the books and several of my elders were threatened with "one way tickets to Oklahoma" by state officials in the 1970's.  One Elder, a decorated veteran (and possibly hero) of WWII, and his family were pursued by Florida officials and bounty hunters because they were "wild" Indians (definition- didn't belong to churches and tried to live the culture somewhat).  

The last trainload of Creeks were shipped to Oklahoma around 1911.  The story I heard is that they would be loaded onto a boxcar, it would be locked, and then they would be released once it arrived in Oklahoma.  The grandfather of one person I know was on that train, escaped from the boxcar, and walked back to Florida.

by ArchaeoBob on Fri Oct 13, 2006 at 10:09:22 AM EST

I hope he's just being dishonest because if evangelicals are this delusional, there's no hope of reaching them. He says: "For over 300 years in America, it was widely assumed that to be in public office, you needed to be a Christian--or at least a Unitarian or a Deist. And
that distinction, though important, wasn't critical, because even Deists in ages past were much more biblical in their worldview" ... The Constitution makes it clear that this is false. That's why Patrick Henry and other conservative Christians of the time opposed it. They knew that the Constitution would allow nonchristians and even atheists to hold the highest offices in the land. And during the Civil War, Theocrats were urging Lincoln to rewrite the Constitution to recognize God and Christ. If you look at the writings of Jefferson and Paine, it's unlikely you'd draw the conclusion that Deist thought was very Biblical. Conservative Christians however, have always been pushing this myth. In 1831, The Reverend Bird Wilson, who was just a few years removed from being a contemporary of the so-called founding fathers, said that "the founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected [George Washington, John Adams,
Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson] not a one had professed a belief in Christianity."

Dr. Wilson's sermon, which was published in the Albany Daily Advertiser the month it was delivered also made an interesting observation that flatly contradicts
the frantic efforts of present-day fundamentalists to make the "founding fathers" orthodox Christians

When the war was over and the victory over our enemies won, and the blessings and happiness of liberty and peace were secured, the Constitution was framed
and God was neglected. He was not merely forgotten. He was absolutely voted out of the Constitution. The proceedings, as published by Thompson, the secretary,
and the history of the day, show that the question was gravely debated whether God should be in the Constitution or not, and after a solemn debate he was
deliberately voted out of it....
    Lankford then says: "Now when the colonists first came to America, they came for religious freedom from Catholicism." Wrong again. They came to escape the persecution of English Protestantism.
    Then comes the very stupid but typical: "And that's how the Evangelical side of the aisle feels now--we feel unwelcome in the public square." There are hundreds of openly Christian politicians. Where are all the openly atheist people in power? I challenge that idiot to name even a handful.
    I really love this one: "In 1961, we had Torcaso vs. Watkins, where for the first time they outlawed religious tests for public office." Has he read the Constitution? "This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the
authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution
or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the
United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required
as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
    Then he whines: "In 1971,
they devised a new test to determine what was "excessive entanglement" in church-state issues, called the Kurtzman test. Here are the three new definitions.
The government action must have a secular purpose, or it's not allowed. Its primary purpose must not be to inhibit or advance religion--if it inhibits
or advances religion, it's not allowed. And three, there must be no excessive entanglement between government and religion." Again, the Constitution makes it clear in the 1st amendment that government shall not promote or restrict any religion. Jefferson famously talked about the "wall of separation". Madison, the primary author of the Constitution called for the "total separation of the church from the state."
    And let's never leave out: "Then you have 1972, Roe vs. Wade, where all the state laws regarding abortion were overturned, and the Supreme Court decided there was now a constitutional
right to abortion. After 200 years, now there was a constitutional right. It was a pretty significant change." Actually, it was only 100 years. Until about 1870, abortion was legal in the US, and it was legal in all other "Christian" countries for centuries before that. Christians were ambivalent about abortion, but considered it an acceptable practice in the early stages of pregnancy. The belief that a single-cell zygote is a human being is in fact the radical modern idea contradicting almost 2000 years of Christianity.
    He goes on to say that evangelicals don't want to oppress anyone, they just want to be left alone. Of course their big current issue is gay marriage. Will someone please tell me, how will it affect the life of any evangelical if gays could marry? Someone needs to make these folks understand that, other people living in a way you disapprove isn't a form of persecution.
        Finally, while it's certainly true that leftists say some pretty nasty things about evangelicals, it's usually less nasty than what they say about us. More importantly, in almost every case, they start the fight. The Pat Robertson's of the world were calling us murderers, servants of Satan etc, long before liberals finally started fighting back. And if you want to show us some evidence that you're not intolerant, homophobic, etc, I for one will be happy to take back what I said.

by Dave on Sat Oct 07, 2006 at 06:57:37 PM EST

All this blathering about how Christians (in the US) are now being "persecuted" is so idiotic. All that those of us from non-Christian faiths want is the same rights that Christians have taken for granted for ages. As Thomas Jefferson wrote:

"But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

By the same token, it does no injury to those who disagree with homosexuality if homosexuals are allowed to marry, adopt children, or anything else that has been granted to heterosexual couples. It does no injury to those who oppose abortion if someone else has an abortion.

What is so terribly wrong with allowing people to live as they see fit, as long as what they are doing doesn't violate someone else's rights? I fail to understand how allowing homosexuals to marry, allowing women the option of abortion, or any of the myriad "crusades" of the Religious Right possibly violates any of their rights. Allowing homosexuals to marry is not the same as forcing everyone to become homosexual, or even making churches marry homosexual couples. The same holds true for the abortion one is going to force women to have abortions in this country, nor are they going to force churches to promote abortion.

It simply makes no sense to suggest that allowing one group of people the same rights and privileges others have had for so long in any way causes harm to those who had the rights before. No one is asking for "special" consideration here...all that is being requested is that the discriminatory practices be ended. What is so wrong with wanting to end discrimination?

by LynneK on Sun Oct 08, 2006 at 03:10:51 PM EST
But I do understand, (though I do not necessarily agree with), their position on the abortion issue. Their concern is not that women will be forced to have abortions. Rather, they believe that unborn children are full human beings with the same rights as everyone else. So for them, abortion does violate someone else's rights. What constitutes a human life , and when it begins are difficult questions that people have wrestled with for centuries. So it surprises me that people on all sides of this debate have so much certainty and so little humility.

by Dave on Mon Oct 09, 2006 at 01:58:56 AM EST

It seems very strange to me that when push comes to shove, and Christians are finally asked (ordered) to actually respect the First Amendment, they take offense.

For 300 years, they have effectively ruled the roost, doing as they pleased with blatant disregard--even hatred and contempt--of other belief systems, infesting schools and common, public--read neutral--ground with their own religious worldview. They prayed their prayers with impunity. They posted their 'commandments' with impunity. They had say in what religions were 'okay' for public officials! For over 300 years in America, it was widely assumed that to be in public office, you needed to be a Christian--or at least a Unitarian or a Deist, Gary Lankford says.

The fact that FINALLY other beliefs are speaking out, demanding equal time, demanding that our government actually pay attention to the First Amendment, makes them mad. Secular government and public places is fair to all--is truly neutral ground. Why can't they understand that?

How they feel in being denied is how all of us 'others' have felt for 300 years. They have tipped the scales in their own (Christian) favor for so long it seems 'normal'. It isn't. Now we are just saying so.

Their whining gets me angry. Sorry if I seem strident. Giving ALL faiths equal time is the goal...IMO. I work towards that.

Just my $0.03 worth. YMMV


by Quotefiend on Sat Oct 07, 2006 at 04:22:50 PM EST

I think that those overcome by religious zealotry of any stripe understand perfectly well that a neutral public square is fair to everyone.  They simply don't believe that we should be fair to everyone, because from their perspective, everyone else is wrong.

For many, this is truly an epic battle for what they believe is "right" and they feel that allowing anything else would be "wrong."

In that way, they're no different from most of the rest of us, except in so far as they feel more deeply compelled to take direct action, to speak out, and to be visible.

Beware of the everyday brutality of the averted gaze.
by mataliandy on Mon Oct 09, 2006 at 11:27:51 AM EST

It wasn't that one NEEDED to be Christian to serve in public office, it was ASSUMED the EVERYONE was Christian (except Jews, of course, but Jews were slightly comtemptable even to people who weren't openly anti-Semeitc).

What Lankford is really complaining about is the loss of Christianity from it's "special place" in American life, the loss of its hegenomy, like a royalty that has been rendered moot by the advancement of society. Someone should remind him that the early American leaders also codified slavery of Blacks and the second class status of women because like Christian lip-sevice, it was the "fashion" of society at the time. Many male citizens bemoaned women's sufferage on the very same basis as Lankford is complaining about, as did many (most?) Southerners did about emancipation.

by Joe Max on Tue Oct 10, 2006 at 12:16:47 PM EST

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