Heaven & Earth
Saving Fundamentalists From the Religious Right
It's Time to Open Our Hearts and Minds
By Paul Plasencia
Years ago, I had a bumper sticker on my little red Mazda that read, "The Christian Right is
Neither." I had just left ministry and enjoyed the irony of the message. Sly humor, especially humor that drives home a point, has always appealed to me; and these were the early 1990s. The
Christian Coalition under the leadership of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, to name two
recognizable figures, had emerged as a powerful base to be
exploited by the right-wing of the Republican Party for their own Machiavellian aims.
Today, a decade later, the Christian Right has grown and become something of a powerbase
for the kinder and gentler face of fascism in this country. I think that it is necessary, however, for those
of us who incline to the left to draw a distinction between the political entity that the
Christian Right has become and fundamentalist Christians who seek to live according to God's will,
as they understand it.
In order to be honest, and so my prejudices are identified before proceeding, I need to make a few
- I have no love for the Christian Right;
- I am not a fundamentalist
- I do not see the Bible as literally inspired and absolute truth;
I believe that there is a God, I remain agnostic with regards to religious expression.
Some of My Best Friends Are Fundamentalists
Let me be clear. I do not dislike fundamentalist Christians. What I dislike is the feeling I get that their good intentions and commitment to live lives of faith are being manipulated in our country to establish a plutocracy in place of a representative
republic. I have the advantage of a rather complete theological education. While I
am loathe to play the role of the pedagogue, I find that the stratagem employed by the Bush
administration to utilize the faith of theologically unsophisticated persons is reprehensible
to both faith and democracy.
I know and have known many, many fundamentalist Christians. The great majority of them are good and moral people.
They do not hate others, but instead are driven by a conviction that God wishes the salvation of
all through a particular experience of acceptance of Christ as a "personal savior" (a phrase that
never occurs in the bible). I disdain the caricature of the lubricious deacon or elder that prays
on Sunday and commits all matter of ill toward his or her fellows for the next six days. For most
fundamentalists, this contradictory lifestyle simply does not exist. Most struggle daily to keep
faith, to do good for others, and to be decent people.
As members of the left, we cannot disdain fundamentalists' faith commitments or their choices. Indeed, we must affirm their right to worship as they see fit
and to bring their voices into the dialog. We should also be clearly aware that not all fundamentalists are members
of the right wing. Some have taken to heart the biblical texts that call for compassionate
action on behalf of the disenfranchised and marginalized, inclusive of gay and lesbian people and
undocumented people. Many take seriously care for our natural environment. The fundamentalist community is more
diverse than we in the left may find comfortable; indeed, while we've talked about inclusivity and
diversity, they've been doing it.
It is the coalescence of the right-wing's political agenda with faith that I find frustrating.
Reinhold Niebuhr was correct when he asserted that people who are uniformly moral as individuals
are capable of gross immorality as groups. I do not believe that most Germans were, individually,
immoral or cruel during the 1930s and the 1940s. I am painfully aware that most said nothing as the
machinery of evil created a killing machine and instigated a program of genocide that targeted
Jews, Gypsies, and gays.
Today, as I look around, I cannot help but wonder if this is not possible in our country.
Diverging From Scripture, Conscience, and Common Sense
The Christian Right has proposed a moral agenda that includes homophobic legislation seeking to
limit the rights of citizens of our nation. The Christian Right has equated the people of God with
the United States, and sees no contradiction in a clear conflation of God with Country. The Christian
Right has stood repeatedly against the rights of the undocumented. The Christian Right has embraced
capitalism as a divine right.
On that last point – capitalism – it is an extraordinarily curious thing to note the way the Christian Right, in its modern political formulation, ignores the history of the church. It is clear that throughout its history, the church has tended toward
socialism rather than capitalism. Read the Book of Acts (in the New Testament, following the four
gospels). St. Luke speaks about the church giving up all of its possessions and living with all of its
things in common ownership. Each received according to need, all contributed to the good of the whole. Widows and orphans were cared for by the community. Charity was common (dare I say the word welfare?). The early church fathers were also of one voice regarding material wealth – until the time of Constantine, that is, at which point Christianity became a religio licito as the emperor embraced the faith, and that which had formerly been persecuted was subsidized.
Consider the words
attributed to Jesus in St. Matthew 25:
25:31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit
on his glorious throne. All the nations will be assembled before him, and he will separate
people one from another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the
sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right,
�Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the
foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me
something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me
clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the
righteous will answer him, �Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and
give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and
clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the king will answer
them, �I tell you the truth just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or
sisters of mine, you did it for me.'
There is no mention of a belief in a particular creed or of an experience of a prescribed event. Jesus of
Nazareth calls for compassion and care, the deeds of faith for those in need.
The bible is not of one voice. It is a richly diverse document that welcomes dialog with itself as
its authors attempt to parse out truth that goes beyond the literal meaning of the text. Consider
how the New Testament authors use the Old Testament. Even a cursory reading reveals that they were not taking the text
Let Us Embrace All of Our Neighbors
Ultimately, as activists on the left, we do the nation a huge disservice by disenfranchising people of faith.
The neo-fascists have discovered their goodwill and converted it into political capital. I think it
is time for us to begin a meaningful dialog with our friends of all religious persuasions and ask
what it means to be a child of God in the political world we find ourselves in.
We need to listen and to speak. We
need to learn their language so we can share our thoughts. And we need to see past the caricatures,
look into the hearts of our neighbors, and ask every person about God's love of the poor, the broken, and the
Paul H. G. Plasencia (firstname.lastname@example.org) was educated at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, in Columbus, Ohio and the Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, California. He served the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as a pastor for 15 years. Following a crisis of faith, he left ministry and the church and now teaches high school history in Ventura, California.
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