It not just that its absurd, its that your politics aren't working. At all...


When one considers the nature of twentieth-century liberal religion and the tendency of major theological thinkers to relegate the Bible to the periphery of Christian ethics, it not only left a gap in contributions from peace and justice witnesses of the church catholic, it freed those otherwise bound by superstition to abandon their commitment to participation from the religious perspective that made use of the text. While conservative preachers certainly enjoyed a unfettered control of the text following theologians such as Niebuhr, it does not appear that those thinkers contributed much of value to the contemporary discussions of American morality and ethics. However, integral characteristics of the religiously conservative political public face were patriotism, the promotion of American democracy, and anti-communist sentiments, and this was to an advantage on the American political stage. After WWII, a now-legendary preacher named Billy Graham fomented the anti-communist fears of religious conservatives and forged a new role for the church as a significant voting block. Jerry Falwell and others grabbed hold of Graham’s coattails and launched their own very public, and politically aggressive, ministries. The effects on American politics were realized very quickly.9

During the 1980s, through political power struggles and emotional manipulation, political conservatives seemed to hijack Scripture as their own. They followed Rauschenbusch in an important and familiar way—an insistence that the Bible contained universal truths, and that Jesus could be fully represented in the realm of liberal democracy. Yet, there is also a difference. Political conservatives came to insist that they had special access to this truth and a divine mandate to legislate a universal moral vision, much of which was left over from the anti-communist crusades that served to counter anyone who might interpret the stories of Jesus in a manner that prioritized kenosis, sacrifice of privilege, and the eschewing of power as a reflection of the cross.

Additionally, conservatives have relied upon a marginalization of those communities that understand the text to be saying something different by publicly questioning the legitimacy of that community’s faith.10 Conservatives have commandeered biblical language to the point that many Christians avoid any reference to central biblical themes, such as sin and redemption, forgiveness and salvation. Embarrassment keeps many from embracing their readings of the Bible as a basis for ethics, and prevents them from being vocal about their beliefs. There are some who perhaps do not want to risk being confused with their political opponents and what they believe to be “magical thinking” about God and America.11

But consider this: there are very few groups or individuals who concern themselves with the lives of the Amish, the Bruderhof, the Hutterites, or most Pentecostal congregations. It is pertinent to the conversation to note that these groups do not vote or run for public office. Such Anabaptist or Radical Reformation groups practice an ethic that is closely bound to very conservative interpretations of the biblical text. However, not only do they not engage the world through ballot boxes, but they are also generally known to be pacifist groups who self-marginalize. Because of their perceived harmless political status, or their eschewing of the electoral process, these groups are rarely scrutinized for their religious beliefs. However, they are generally considered to be positive, if not somewhat enigmatic, communities.12

Conservative groups who work to elect politicians that will insist on ordering school texts that contain information on biblical “science,” or teach that same-sex intimacy is sinful, or want to make access to abortion illegal come to be viewed as political threats and labeled as cranks. These groups are often mocked and vilified because they attempt to coerce specific religious beliefs onto others. It is the insistence that morality should be legislated onto the lives of others that is in turn used to indict, with a broad stroke, the whole of Christianity as an aggressive, oppositional, and oppressive constituency.13

I suggest that the failure of Christian ethics is related to Christianity’s continuing quest for power as a political force, because it is perceived to be a coercive force in people’s lives. Yoder wrote that the good news cannot be good unless it is perceived as such.14 The failure of Christian ethics is in fact the failure of the church to be Christ like. The downfall of Christendom is its insistence upon maintaining political relevance at the expense of embodying ethics in a manner that makes claims about Jesus and the Bible credible to others. Human history shows that political power and the ethics of power are, if anything, in-credible. Such is the case for the contemporary church and its insistence upon making universal claims of transcendent truth, biblical inerrancy, and divine right to rule (often, the right to rule and control social and economic expression politics).

9. Barker et al., “Of God and Caesar.” Note also, former United States Vice-President

Dick Cheney sent out Christmas cards in 2003 that quoted, in handwriting, Benjamin

Franklin: “And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable

that an empire can rise without His aid?” Quoted by Noah, “Imperial Vice Presidency”;

cited in Rieger, Christ and Empire, 63.

10. For an excellent example of populist-style writing that provides evidence to support

my assumption, please see Hawkins, “Seven Non-Political Differences between Liberals

and Conservatives.” He writes: “Conservatives are better Christians

than liberals: Certainly there are debates about social conservatism and Christianity on

the conservative side of the fence, but Christian conservatism is considered to be an

honorable and important part of the Republican base. People are going to hate to hear

this, despite the fact it’s absolutely true, but Christianity and liberalism have become

largely incompatible. That’s because there are so many liberals who are implacably hostile

to Christianity that liberal Christians are left with one of two unpalatable choices.

Either they can water their Christian beliefs down into thin gruel so as to be compatible

with liberalism or liberal Christians can choose to be cringing dogs and keep their

mouths shut while their beliefs are regularly insulted, demeaned, and attacked by their

fellow liberals. Neither option should be acceptable to someone who has a strong Christian

faith.”

11. Mark Sandlin, “I Want My Religion Back,” para. 2

12. Compare Yoder’s Priestly Kingdom, part 3, “The Public Realm.” Yoder argues

assertively for Christian participation in democracy and the overcoming of “American

civil religion” through the introduction of Christian commitment to reconciling

democratic leadership to the gospel. Contra Ellul, who writes that Christian anarchy

is an “absolute rejection of violence. Should anarchists vote? For my part, like many

anarchists, I think not.” Ellul also states that conscientious objection to militarism is

an important witness, and states that anarchists should “avoid taxes, and compulsory

schooling . . .” Ellul, Anarchy and Christianity, 11. Ellul, in direct contrast to Yoder,

believes that Christianity is the first form of anarchism, and suggests aggressively that

the church should embody anarchy as its witness to the gospel message.

13. For an example of one such conservative lobbying entity, please see the website

of Focus on the Family.

14. Yoder, Priestly Kingdom, 55.

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