With God On Our Side : The Rise of the Religious Right in America
by: William Martin
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Skewed Perceptions of Christianity
Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker
of the publications I receive is the "United Church News: Northern California
Nevada Edition." This is a publication of the United Church of Christ. In
the most recent edition (June/July 2006), the major article is entitled,
"Amplifying The Mainline: How The Mainline Church Is Finding Its Voice Despite
Some Well-Funded Attempts To Silence It."
The first paragraph reads as follows: "On Easter Sunday, April 16, NBC's 'Meet the Press' hosted its annual installment of 'Faith in America,' where seven religious commentators spent an hour discussing the state of religious life in this country. Representing the 'Christian perspective' were a conservative Roman Catholic priest, a liberal Roman Catholic nun and a charismatic Pentecostal pastor. Not a mainline Protestant leader among them."
Let's face it, whenever a TV talk show, in one way or another, seeks to discuss
"Christianity," you will rarely, if ever, hear or see a mainline Protestant
discussing the relevant issue. Invariably, representatives of the most
conservative wing of Christianity, if it's Christianity at all, are presented
and represented as its only voices.
This article goes on to give some reasons for the disturbing phenomenon
of mainline Protestant and Orthodox churches being "pounded into irrelevancy
by the media machine of a false religion" (according to Rev. Michael Livingston,
a Presbyterian who is serving a two year term as National Council of Churches
president). He states, "… it is the job of some of us to tell the story…so
that the noise we hear so persistently and loudly; the noise that divides,
that blames, that ridicules, that labels-is not the only reality, is not
the thing that comes to mind when one thinks of 'church' or ''Christian.'"
One of the most striking reasons given for this phenomenon is the fact
that complex issues can't be discussed in simplistic sound bytes. Yet,
reactionary forces in Christianity, as in society in general, see the
world in black and white terms and readily and confidently "discuss" issues
in those terms.
Most people want a sense of surety in life, and eschew the many gray
areas of life, as tolerance for ambiguity is very limited in a society
that expects a quick fix, quick solutions, to problems. Short-term thinking
is quite common, and mainline Christianity frequently sees the world as
quite complex where one size doesn't fit all. Therefore, people would
much rather hear a Jerry Falwell, who speaks with absolute certainty,
simplistic biblical exposition, from his world-view that does far more
to impose meaning on the biblical passages he cites (when he cites them)
than is informed by those very passages and the larger message of the
Bible, Christianity, the Gospel, and Jesus Himself.
On the other hand, someone like the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin,
a United Church of Christ minister, very well known as a deep thinking
theologian and socially concerned activist, is not only very unlikely
to have been invited to these TV discussions of Christianity but, tragically,
far many more people have heard of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and their
ilk, than the socially concerned, erudite, and articulate people like
Coffin, Rev. Peter J. Gomes, Rev. John Cobb, Dr. Rosemary Radford Reuther,
and others who have sought to explicate the message of Jesus as manifesting
concern for, and ministry to, others, including "the least of these,"
as we are obligated to do as Christians.
Reactionaries in both the "religious" and political arenas serve as
"lightening rods" and, as such, are great copy! They bring in the viewers
and readers! How else are we to explain the phenomenal book sales of an
Ann Coulter who demonizes others, even the widows of 9/ll? The reactionaries
not only appeal to many people who want simplistic answers to complex
problems; who want sound bites rather than intelligent discourse; who
have a very low tolerance for ambiguity; who want rhetoric that exudes
confident certainty; who want simplistic biblical exegeses that justify
the status quo from which they think they profit and through which they
can feel superior, but also appeal to the basest natures of people, including
many professing Christians.
As I've written before, many people have a vested interest in creating
"out-groups" so that they can cement "in-group" solidarity and cohesion
that enables them to feel a camaraderie with a "like kind," and also provides
a way of externalizing free floating rage (frequently born of frustration)
at forces they can barely understand or confront but can "safely" be projected
on to vulnerable people, particularly minorities, be they gay people,
Afro-Americans, women, or immigrants. And the reactionary forces in society,
particularly in the "religious" arena, give them permission to think and
behave in this way.
Moreover, to be able to justify such thinking and behavior biblically,
as the reactionary forces within Christianity assure them, allows all
sorts of evil to be done, all the while appealing to virtue. And reactionaries
provide this permission, this justification, as it is done in "the name
of God," "because it's in the Bible."
Christianity is paying a very heavy price for the indolence of so many
in not confronting the legalistic and prejudice-driven perversions of
the Gospel. We may expect to see increasing numbers of intelligent, sensitive
Christians leave moribund and oppressive churches and denominations to
form their own worship communities, free from unjust patriarchal and hierarchical
strictures, and free from traditions that make void the Word of God.
When divisiveness and exclusion is allowed to trump Jesus' call for
unity and inclusion (see, for example, John 17:21; Matthew 7:1-5); when
reactionaries are given forums denied to mainline Christian thinkers;
when "Christianity" increasingly becomes a handmaiden of reactionary politicians;
when "Christian leaders" align themselves with politicians who spew their
divisive rhetoric against assorted minority groups in order to hustle
votes; when the media features the reactionaries within "Christianity"
to the virtual exclusion of mainline church thinkers and theologians;
when the American public and professing Christians eschew critical thought
in favor of simplistic sound bites more suited to selling products than
seriously discussing important, even crucial, ideas, it doesn't take a
rocket scientist to see the handwriting on the wall for the future of
the Church as we have historically known it.
But the Church is a mere institution, whereas Jesus and His call for
love, mercy, compassion, humility, and justice is eternal! I'll put my
money on Jesus!
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