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Monday, May 14, 2018

Right-wing evangelicals....the scourge of the Christian faith

It is the black and white picture of the universe that characterizes the world view of many right-wing conservatives. An abhorrence for subtlety, ambiguity, and all the grey’s of the palate, means that they can and do express views that shout clarity, certainty, and absolute rightness, without so much as a glance toward the many other positions between their position, the middle and the left.

The “right” also holds to a portrait of power as “top-down” emanating from a single source. Those who fall in line with their views, too, subscribe to a notion of party affiliation that smacks of fawning, except that they call it loyalty. End results, as in trump’s wall, or his throwing out the children of undocumented immigrants, or his “decisive” move of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem…..they all fall on the ears of his obsequious and fawning devotees like manna from the sky. “Power” to them, it seems, comes only in bombs that shake the universe, even if the shaking is dangerous, without contextual strategic planning, and without a collaborative process that undergirds both the “act” and the support for the act. Anything that even hints of a process, that involves the complexity of measured steps, carefully planned, carefully orchestrated among allies, and announced as the culmination of a complex set of conversations, debates, multiple options and a “best” among many potential decisions is anathema to their notion of how the world works.

Abortion is evil; war is good; profit is always good; the world is composed of enemies all of whom will take advantage if permitted; communism is from the Devil; Muslims are bad and dangerous; blacks are mostly lazy and uneducated (if not outright incapable of being educated!); the cops need more power and more weapons; the sentences need to longer and the punishments more demeaning; the future is out of control, unless we return to a more “stable” and “dependable” past where whites dominated….the left wants only a “nanny” state, with high taxes and lots of government bureaucracy; gays are obscene and psychologically unbalanced and should never be allowed in the classroom as teachers or permitted to adopt children; God’s word in the Bible is “holy writ” and Darwin’s theory of evolution is a denial of Genesis; capital punishment is the only “justice” for capital crimes; the opioid crisis is the work of  drug lords and gangs, supported by cartels from Mexico and Central America….The zealots of the evangelical fringe (now edging toward 30% in America) turn both a deaf ear and a blind eye to the moral turpitude that cascades from the Oval Office, so that they can champion the transformation of the judicial system into one controlled by far-right justices, especially at the Appeal Court level, (some 25 already confirmed, since trump was elected, while Obama was able to have only 8 confirmed by this time in his first term) most of whom will be serving for at least the next two decades if not longer.

Critical thought, for the right, is translated as “dogma” whether it be political ideology, theology, race relations, immigration, gun control (guns make us all safer), or food stamps (only make people more lazy and dependent on the state).

There is literally no crack of light, to permit even a brief thought that negotiations with these people are possible. Even the Roman Catholic chaplain of the Congress, previously undeterred by a single complaint, is threatened with removal, (and replacement by a born-again evangelical) to appease that cadre of voters.

Attached to this “belief system” as if it were an integral and essential component, is the belief that “salvation” is a single act, occurring once and thereby relieving one of all sin, along with the corollary that others who do not subscribe to a single “apocalyptic” moment of “salvation” must be excluded from the faith community. Also grafted onto their position, are such things as curricula for children, who also have the requirement to be “born again” and, if not, then teachers must patronize them into compliance. Hell is no metaphor for these people; it is a real place, to which all who are not saved (by their definition) will be condemned to an eternal damnation. Clearly, the “saved” will be rewarded by an eternal life in a place called heaven where the streets are paved with gold and there is no strife or enmity.

The fact that all of this concoction, cocktail, or menagerie, is constructed on a footing of absolute paranoia, of course, has no place in their epistemology. Their’s is the most confident, assured and dependable of positions: just ask them and they will concur. Whether their leaders are in the pulpit, (far too many are), on church committees (even more seek such seats, as gatekeepers) or in the pews (writing cheques to advance their agenda), or even in the higher ecclesial offices of bishops, archdeacons or primates, they are a formidable force, loud, brash, bold, secure in their piety, (and the requisite judgements of all others who do not conform…which really means the rest of us).

And they are extremely venomous, dangerous, and lethal. It is not that they shoot people, and leave them dying in the street. That would be criminal and open to charges, trials and the potential of jail terms. No, here is where their deviousness can be found. They boast of their shared capacity and “power” to ingratiate themselves to church leaders, and then to take prominent seats on hiring and firing committees, and block those who are not sufficiently “spiritual” in their definition, or dismiss those same kind of clergy, if they have managed to be deployed prior to the arrival of these insurgents.

 There is a format for what evangelicals call “spiritual”. It entails rousing gospel music, testimonials of those recently “saved”, a kind of exuberance inflated by a kind of metaphoric helium that inflates many encounters, and a recruitment program to “bring in more converts” and to grow, grow, grow. Some of these congregations are regularly “speaking in tongues” and most are engaged in avid and heated prayer. And while there is a time for scripture reading, the interpretative sources are selected with the utmost care, in order to fall inside the parameters of this conservative, right-wing theology.

After all, for these people, their religion is much more than a pale imitation of their concept of a business model: it is the business model that serves as the blueprint of their organization. Of course, profits and dividends are counted as people in pews, and cash in the coffers, and the growth of those numbers demonstrates to those attending and to those in positions of supervision, too often, that this church is growing exponentially, to the benefit of the leadership, and presumably the benefit of those sitting in the pews.

Now whether or not such a religious operation qualifies as a path to an enriched spiritual experience is an open question. It has great difficulty in wrapping its group “arms” around the outcast, and in fact, puts up electrified gates keeping the outcasts out, for fear that they will contaminate the “community” and drive the upper-classes out, draining the church of the primary source(s) of financial support. Whether such an operation is even capable of entertaining cogent and penetrating  questions from young adolescents or young adults, or especially from newcomers who just might have had a painful encounter in another church, and have summoned the strength and the motivation to try again, seems doubtful. Yet, the capacity to provide quick, easily accessible and cogent “advice” to someone whose life has fallen into the ditch, seems, on the surface, to be evident in the extreme. Instant transformations, of the kind that are based on desperation, the need for an immediate “life-saver” to a drowning man, may well be within the purview of such a social ministry. And yet, the long-term personal spiritual growth, that depends on the inevitable confrontation with impenetrable spiritual questions, most of which, it we are to be really honest, leave us all in the face of outright and sacred mystery, might have to find a different locus and a very different intellectual and spiritual model.

Answers, it seems, especially, black and white, correct and absolutely indisputable answers, to questions of what does God want, and what is the purpose and meaning of my life, and how does a person who seeks God go about that search, and who are the most helpful mentors for such a pilgrimage…these are some of the more challenging questions always seeking answers even after preliminary responses emerge.

For nearly seventy years, I have been in direct or indirect conflict with the evangelical approach to the Christian faith, as a school boy, as a college undergrad, as a absentee, as a church volunteer, and as a practising clergy. Everywhere I have tried to worship, I have been confronted by the spectre of these “born-again’s” who have openly expressed their dismay at my incorrigibility, sought to pray for me, sought to remove me from their midst, painted me as the ‘anti-christ’, labelled me as a heretic, as a new-age sinner, as a heathen, and as one who refuses to submit to ecclesial authority.

As the vice(s) of narrow and exclusive superiority in religious matters among the so-called Christian world tighten and threaten to strangle the windpipe of a healthy, exploring and expansive and poetic search for ultimate reality, aiming deliberately to silence all such windpipes, (because only in silence can the most frightened be relieved of their fear) and the “right” voices threaten to take control of the word “Christian”, the liberals among us have to find new energy and new strategies and new approaches to engage in a relevant way with the millions of young people who, themselves, find absolutes much more attractive than the more challenging and creative ambiguities.

After all, the questions, and the pondering of the questions, even without final answers, give those who choose a path that energizes further reflection, further engagement and further (and deeper) exploration of the deepest mysteries still awaiting and welcoming our encounter. Ultimate reality, after all, is a little difficult to enclose in some fear-induced mental, intellectual, political ideological box.

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