Religious Right

A Brief History of the 21st Century

A 34-year-old yard-sale shopper in Ohio, sifting through a cardboard box of items she’d recently purchased, got something more than she bargained for. Taped to the back of a painting of dogs playing cards, she discovered two pages of single-spaced text, ostensibly from a 22nd-century history book, describing our immediate future. The pages were numbered 88 to 91 (front and back), each with the following headers on alternate pages: A Brief History of the 21st Century, Chapter 11: The Former United States.

... since most English-language records were destroyed in the chaos that marked the end of the Hot Wars in 2051.

The difficult years 2001 to 2008 set the stage for this turbulent Hot War period. The United States, confident in its role as sole planetary superpower but anxious about the threat of jihadist terrorism in the aftermath of the homeland terrorist incident of 2001, staged three major military projects during these years.

First, it invaded Afghanistan with mixed results. It successfully forced regime change, ejecting the jihadist party there, but it failed to help the invaded country reunify and rebuild adequately, nor did it apprehend the key leaders of various jihadist groups hiding there, including the planners of the 2001 incident.

Before completing the Afghanistan project, U.S. leaders next turned their attention to a second invasion, this one in Iraq, resulting in another regime change but, again, not in lasting peace. In fact, both regions remain destabilized today as a result of these ill-conceived and poorly executed invasions, torn by ongoing civil wars among competing warlords, many of whom provide safe havens for various remnants of 21st-century jihadist networks.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2006
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False Stewardship

James Dobson believes that Christians should be good stewards of the earth. He said so on his radio show in May—right after he harshly criticized the National Association of Evangelicals’ Rich Cizik, who has led a tireless crusade against global warming. (Dobson’s censure also included Jim Wallis and Sojourners.) According to Dobson, Christians should not let environmental “doomsday theories” distract them from abortion and same-sex marriage. Stewardship, while crucial, doesn’t require any particular action on global warming.

Dobson’s careful words fail to mask the familiar politics behind them. His claim that Cizik is “dividing evangelicals” points to the Religious Right’s vulnerability to a curveball tossed into a field otherwise marked by partisan clarity. And his complaint that Cizik wants “to roll back the use of fossil fuels … which would paralyze industry” is both unfair to Cizik’s position and a reminder that the strange bedfellows of big business and the Religious Right seem committed to making their love last.

Yet Dobson affirms stewardship, a small comfort given his unwillingness to do anything about it. Conveniently, he cites the lack of unanimous scientific agreement on global warming—an unreasonable expectation, especially considering the high stakes.

And Focus on the Family is not simply ignoring scientific consensus and the many Christians (including evangelicals) convinced that the time to act is now—it’s actively opposing them. Dobson’s “stewardship” is pure lip service; his view of creation in fact fits into a theology of dominion. Dominionism’s narrow reading of Genesis 1:26-28 emphasizes that Christians are to “have dominion” over worldly institutions and over the creation itself, and it dismisses any suggestion that the latter might not allow rank exploitation of the earth.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2006
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Something Has Gone Terribly Wrong

Australia is an absolutely beautiful country, and it wasn’t until I got back there (after more than a decade) that I realized how much I missed it. And being there again, about as far away from the United States as you can get, gave me new perspective on the perilous state of my own country.

I went “down under” again because a young woman that I had baptized as a teenager was getting married, and she had called to ask if I would officiate at her wedding ceremony. The request was wonderfully oblivious of my schedule and was borne of the deep relationship I have had with her and her family, who were part of Sojourners before returning to their native Australia. So I said yes, took the whole family, made it into a terrific spring break for my boys, with kangaroos and koalas, and agreed to launch the Australian version of my book God’s Politics at the same time.

What a wonderful 12 days—including a 25-hour journey each way with a 7-year-old and a 3-year-old! But wild kangaroos showing up at dusk every night of Easter weekend, outside our friend’s home in the country, made it worth the trip—along with all the reconnections made to the island continent.

Over the years, I’ve been to Australia many times, and the connections run deep. I remembered my very first visits, invited by a strong network of Christian communities (with wonderful names, such as the “House of the Gentle Bunyip”) who were vitally linking religious conviction with concrete action in the world on behalf of the poor and oppressed. I met powerful teachers such as Athol Gill, who insisted there was no credible belief in Jesus without following him in “radical discipleship.” Later I did a national speaking tour around the country, which began with an event hosted by some of Australia’s indigenous Aboriginal leaders who gave me “permission” to speak in their country and presented me with an Aboriginal flag, a ceremony I found very moving.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2006
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Politics With Purpose

In his new book, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right, rabbi, social activist, and Tikkun magazine editor Michael Lerner argues for a progressive spiritual politics that goes beyond the “intolerant and militarist politics of the Religious Right” and the “often spiritually empty politics of the Left.” Following is an excerpt.

What the Religious Right does, in essence, is to blame all liberals and progressives for the values of the capitalist marketplace. And they can get away with this tactic as long as the only answer most people hear from the Democrats and the Left is, “Keep your values out of the public sphere, which should remain neutral.”

Ironically, the liberal, value-free, nonideological discourse has been appropriated by the champions of global capitalism. They present capitalism as above mere politics and as simply seeking “progress” as it destroys local economies and cultures and puts in their place the mechanisms of a global system. Global capitalism always claims to be apolitical and to have no agenda except allowing people to buy whatever they want. Those who critique the logic of the market are portrayed as ideologues, whether they be from the Left or the fundamentalist Right.

A progressive spiritual politics agrees with the Religious Right that there is no such thing as a neutral public sphere. Our political institutions, our economic institutions, and our dominant culture are all suffused with values. And by and large today those values are rooted in an ethos of materialism and selfishness that is corrosive to human life, to community, and to religious and spiritual values.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2006
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Language That Unites

After last fall'

After last fall’s election many of us walked around in a fog wondering how the Right had such an easy slide into so many voting booths. What is it about the Right’s message that makes it so compelling to so many people, and what is it about other perspectives that leave them so unheard?

As the election evidenced, many Americans respond best to claims of a sure thing. If those with other views are going to have influence, they need to address biblical social issues with confidence and certainty.

In addition to understanding our conservative brothers and sisters, we also need to rethink the way we speak to them, and we need to intentionally tailor our words in a way that will be respected and heard. Using what some refer to as "God talk" rather than social activist talk, we can identify how uplifting the poor is also a biblical truth.

We need to acknowledge the Religious Right’s morality staples and link these with biblical peace and justice concerns, remembering to constantly point back to scripture. Obedience and righteousness are motivators behind the Right’s dedication to the unborn and sexual integrity. Using this same language, we can make the case that peace and social justice are also obedience and righteousness issues. We need to make clear that Christ not only died on the cross for sins, he also left us an image and a life to follow. Christ exemplified how to live in this life with each other, how to respond to "the least of these."

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Sojourners Magazine April 2005
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Say Amen, Somebody!

When Fred Phelps, founder of the "God Hates Fags" Web site, brought his hate campaign to Tulsa, Oklahoma, he got a little more than he bargained for from Bishop Carlton Pearson, pastor of the pentecostal mega-church Higher Dimensions Family Church. "These so-called conservative fundamentalist religious zealots, who came to [Tulsa] to protest our sensitivity toward homosexuals in our schools and churches, are totally irresponsible," said Pearson in a press release. "[They] do not represent the spirit of the legitimate Christian community in this town, are out of touch with both God and his purpose for the church, do not have the spirit of Christ, and do not in any way represent biblical Christianity as reflecting Christ's love and tolerance of people considered sinners in his day." Pearson is also the presiding bishop of Azusa International Fellowship of Christian Churches.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2005
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Struggle for the Soul of Islam

My father helped build a new mosque in my hometown, Morgantown, West Virginia. On the night of its inauguration in 2003, I went to the mosque’s front door carrying my young son. I wore the same flowing white head covering that I had worn when I made my pilgrimage to Mecca. I had experienced full and unfettered access to the holy mosque in Mecca. I was an active and vocal participant in mixed-gender study sessions. I was fully equal.

Yet in Morgantown the president of the mosque board barked at me: "Sister! Take the back door!" Stunned, I proceeded through the front door but didn’t dare go into the main hall. Instead, I climbed the back stairwell into a secluded balcony where women were supposed to pray, shut off from the lectures, prayers, and community meetings held on the main floor below. I felt sick to my stomach.

For the first 10 days of that Ramadan, I wondered if I could overcome my fears and enter the main hall. I was getting messages to be silent from those around me. One mosque leader declared: "A woman’s voice is not to be heard in the mosque." Though I had crossed the globe as an author and staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal and interviewed the Taliban, corporate titans, and political leaders, I didn’t dare peek over the edge of the balcony in my own mosque.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2005
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The Religous Right Era Is Over

God is not a Republican.

God is not a Republican. Or a Democrat. Certain fundamentalists have forgotten this basic truth, and as a result their influence over Christians has begun to fade.

Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and other extreme fundamentalists are losing credibility among the faithful by putting loyalty to party before loyalty to scripture and ignoring the fact that Christians are growing more concerned about an expanding set of moral issues. These two leaders in particular have seriously overstated their case in claims that God has virtually ordained George W. Bush as a divinely selected candidate. And the Bush campaign has seriously overstepped the proper boundaries of church and state by suggesting that conservative churches give them their congregational directories. This political alliance favors partisanship over Christian ethics and turns congregations into the Republican Party at prayer.

A backlash has begun, even among evangelicals. A diverse coalition, including prominent evangelical leaders, just published a statement that some people of faith will vote for President Bush and some for Sen. Kerry for reasons deeply rooted in Christian values (see p. 35). Rev. Falwell now has only a 44 percent approval rating among evangelicals. By contrast, Pope John Paul II—who speaks with equal conviction about abortion, peace, and poverty, regardless of partisan impact—has a 60 percent approval rating among evangelicals, a group that was once the most anti-Catholic in the country. Indeed, in a poll earlier this year, Bush held only a 4-point advantage over Sen. Kerry among evangelicals.

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Sojourners Magazine October 2004
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Take Back the Faith

Many of us feel that our faith has been stolen,

Many of us feel that our faith has been stolen, and it’s time to take it back. An enormous public misrepresentation of Christianity has taken place. Many people around the world now think Christian faith stands for political commitments that are almost the opposite of its true meaning. How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war, and pro-American? And how do we get back to a historic, biblical, and genuinely evangelical faith rescued from its contemporary distortions?

That rescue operation is even more crucial today, in the face of a social crisis that cries out for prophetic religion. The problem is clear in the political arena, where strident voices claim to represent Christians, when they clearly don’t speak for most of us. We hear politicians who love to say how religious they are but utterly fail to apply the values of faith to their public leadership and political policies. It’s time to take back our faith in the public square, especially in a time when a more authentic social witness is desperately needed.

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Sojourners Magazine September 2004
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The Right Stuff

In the mid-

In the mid-1990s, following Bill Clinton's second electoral ride to the White House, the vibrancy of Religious Right organizations appeared to be on the wane. Outside the sanctuary of the fundamentalist church, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson had become public caricatures of intolerance and zealotry. Pundits in the media and the liberal church deemed the movement torn, shattered, and perhaps dead.

How then, less than a decade later, has the Religious Right become a powerful sector of the Republican Party, holding veto power over most any GOP maneuver?

"The Religious Right has been institutionalized within the Republican Party," confirms Kenneth Wald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida at Gainesville. "Just look at the leaders of the GOP."

Note the top seven ranking Republicans in the U.S. Senate: Bill Frist, Tennessee; Mitch McConnell, Kentucky; Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania; Bob Bennet, Utah; Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Texas; Jon Kyle, Arizona; and George Allen, Virginia. Other than party affiliation, what do these senators all have in common? Each has earned a 100 percent rating on the Christian Coalition's scorecard, voting in accordance with that organization's positions on key legislation.

A similar pattern exists among the Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives. Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, who in part controls whether an issue will be even debated on the House floor, also receives a 100 percent on the Christian Coalition scorecard.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2004
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