Christian Coalition

Capitalism v. Democracy: Financing Seminary Education (Part II)

A Aleksii / Shutterstock.com
A Aleksii / Shutterstock.com

Author’s Note: Institutions we have valued for generations are dwindling and falling by the wayside because we no longer have the finances to sustain them. In this second essay on financing seminary education (read the first HERE), I will address the socio-political and economic concerns that add to the complexity of the current crisis in theological education.

Democracy is based on the ideal of political equality. Each citizen is to have the same potential to influence what government does regardless of financial status. Markets, on the other hand, are directly related to real dollars. The consequent result for the U.S. democratic capitalistic structure is that while the rich and the poor are equal politically, they will never be equal economically. This combination could lead to two undesirable extremes: 1) mob rule by asset-less democratic majorities, or 2) oligarchic rule by the affluent. Thus, government’s role is to oversee the enterprise through the creation of regulatory policies that prevent runaway markets and taxation that assures a sustainable distribution of wealth and resources for the whole population. In order to achieve these goals, political theorists have developed models that focus on creating and sustaining a strong middle class with the result that the median voter will correct rising inequality in wealth as well as poor economic performance.

Susan Isaacs Anwers "What is an Evangelical?"

Susan Isaacs. Image courtesy of the author.
Susan Isaacs. Image courtesy of the author.

I first heard the term "evangelical" in the 1980s, about the time the Swaggarts and Bakkers were imploding. Christianity needed a new name for sane, intellectually sound faith.

"Born-again" had been sullied by the televangelists and worn out by Debbie Boone’s explanation of how she justified singing the lyrics to “You Light Up My Life.”

"Jesus Freak" had died with the Peace movement.

We needed another word to separate true Christians from fake ones; sheep from goats; serious believers from those who merely checked the “Christian” box on their driver’s license application because Jew, Muslim or Ekkankar didn’t apply. 

(Sometimes I wonder if all the denominations in Christendom are merely a list of the nomenclature we’ve used to separate Us from Them.)

A New Faith Coalition

As we approach the inauguration of President Barack Obama, it is worth a final reflection on the election that brought him (and us) to this point. Most elections are just power rearrangements; this one was a transformational moment in our history. First of all, this represents a watershed moment in the life of our country. Regardless of how you voted, our entire nation can celebrate the milestone of our first African-American president. We can all embrace this profound opportunity for deeper racial reconciliation and social justice.

This is also a moment to recognize that fundamental shifts are taking place in America— political, cultural, racial, generational, and religious shifts.

The leadership of African-American and La­­tino Christ­ians, along with that of a new generation of the faithful in white America, is ending an age of narrow and divisive religion. This new faith coalition voted for a broad new moral agenda for faith in public life. Racial and economic justice, creation care, peacemaking, and a more consistent ethic of life will be the keystones of this growing shift.

This changing face of religion in America was noted right after the election, when The Wall Street Journal reported, “A concerted effort since 2004 helped Barack Obama and the Democrats make significant inroads with religious voters. Reversing his party’s poor showing among faith-based voters in the 2004 presidential election, Mr. Obama won among Catholics, 54 percent to 45 percent, made gains among regular churchgoers, and eroded a bit of the evangelical support that has been a fixture of Republican electoral success for years.”

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Sojourners Magazine January 2009
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Praying for Power

Some Christians have tried for a "school prayer" amendment to the Constitution ever since the early 1960s, when the Supreme Court banned state-sponsored religious activity in public schools. On June 4, the latest attempt—called the "Religious Freedom Amendment" by its sponsor, U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.)—was the first such measure to reach a House floor vote in 27 years. Although it failed to get the two-thirds majority required for passage, the measure and the largely partisan vote (a majority of Republicans favored the measure, a majority of Democrats opposed) holds continuing significance for the U.S. political scene.

The Istook amendment is a case study in the muddy water that gets stirred up when true believers begin playing partisan politics. According to a New York Times report, House Speaker Newt Gingrich met with Christian Coalition Chair Pat Robertson soon after the amendment passed the Judiciary Committee. Gingrich renewed a 1994 pledge to religious conservatives to bring a school prayer amendment to a House vote. Besides the Istook amendment, Gingrich also agreed to push legislation eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and approving voucher-style tax deferrals for private religious school tuition, all before the November elections.

The Christian Coalition spent more than half a million dollars on behalf of the amendment, including radio ads in the districts of targeted members of Congress. It seems likely that votes against the Istook amendment by members of Congress up for re-election will be used against them by both secular conservatives and the Religious Right during the campaign season. Which means that a matter of faith and conscience will have been reduced to just another wedge issue in the struggle for political dominance.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1998
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A Strategy of Fear

One week after the October 1995 visit of Pope John Paul II to the United States, about one million Catholics received a letter from a new organization known as the Catholic Alliance. Using words from the pontiff as an introduction, the letter invited Catholics to join in "a fight with the radical Left for the soul of our great nation."

According to the letter, the avowed enemy is made up of interest groups on the Left, including "militant homosexuals, radical feminists, and Big Government liberals." All of these groups, the letter stated, have "powerful organizations advancing their point of view in government."

The Catholic Alliance claims to be the largest affiliate of the 1.6 million member Christian Coalition. According to its literature, it exists to assure America's 50 million Catholics that their voices will be heard by government; to represent Catholics in local, state, and national governments; and to protest unfair and biased treatment of Catholics by the media.

Although it claims to be Catholic, the Catholic Alliance often goes against church teaching. While it agrees with the U.S. Catholic bishops on the issue of abortion, the Catholic Alliance parts ways with the bishops' stances on many other issues. The alliance does not support an earned income tax credit, supports balanced budget legislation that would slash social spending, proposes harsh immigration policies, and supports capital punishment.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1996
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Kingmakers in the House of Caesar

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1995
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