I can think of nothing that’s done more damage to American Christianity than the Religious Right.
Despite what the movement’s prophets sanctimoniously shout from their pulpits, it’s not secular humanism, gay marriage, abortion, the ACLU, evolution, porn, or the ban against school prayer that’s most eroded Christianity in this country.
What’s emptied churches is the unseemly ambition of Religious Right leaders like Jerry Falwell (father and son), James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and Franklin Graham to crown themselves moral police and political powerbrokers. Make no mistake about it: politics is the tail that wags this dog. From Day One, the Religious Right cynically hijacked Jesus as a front man for its political agenda.
But the Religious Right has now jettisoned any pretense to being genuinely Christian. How else to explain its embrace of a presidential candidate who’s as far from being a Christian as a starfish is from being a star? The endorsement has the feel of a last-ditch, at-any-cost attempt to hold onto the political power the movement’s enjoyed for nearly forty years.
God willing, it’s the Religious Right’s final gasp.
I don’t say this because I’m one of those liberal Christians who, as a clerical colleague of mine hyperbolically states, “believe whatever they want to as long as it makes them feel good.” I’m actually a pretty traditional Christian, although not, perhaps, enough of one for my conservative friends and certainly too much of one for my liberal friends.
I subscribe to what C.S. Lewis called “mere Christianity”: a holding fast to central doctrines, identifiable through revelation and reason, coupled with a willingness to welcome or at least hear out a wide breadth of moral, spiritual, and theological positions. Mere Christianity embraces the humble spirit of St. Augustine’s “in necessary things unity; in uncertain things freedom; in everything charity.”
Augustine’s counsel sticks in the craw of the Religious Right, whose leaders demand lockstep fidelity to the political goals they morph into “Christian” principles.
When challenged, the Religious Right exhibits the denunciatory spirit of the Taliban, even if it stops short of the latter’s nasty practices. From the 1979 launch of the Moral Majority to the present day, the movement has thunderously called down God’s judgment on anyone who refuses to embrace That Old Time Religion version of Christianity it hucksters for political gain.
For all its Bible-thumping, the Religious Right shows scant respect for scripture, cherry-picking scriptural passages that best fit its social and political agenda and ignoring others.
Both Testaments, for example, call for radical hospitality to the stranger. The Religious Right wants to close the borders.
Jewish and Christian Scripture obliges us to care for the orphaned, widowed, and poor. The Religious Right despises “welfare bums.”
The two Testaments consistently warn against the abuse of power, while offering only a handful of observations about sexual conduct. The Religious Right obsesses over sexual morality to the point of lechery, but remains relatively silent about social injustice.
Jesus’ moral teachings in the Gospels center on nonviolent love. The Religious Right never saw a weapons procurement bill it didn’t back.
Again and again, despite its biblical rhetoric, the Religious Right favors Caesar over God. This arrogant doublespeak has not gone unnoticed, and it’s undermined the credibility of Christianity in America.
Because the media can’t seem to get enough of the Religious Right’s antics—after all, reportage of outrageous sectarian positions makes for good copy—thousands of otherwise thoughtful people now believe that the Religious Right and Christianity are synonymous. Thanks to this confusion, those who otherwise might have explored the faith with open minds and hearts are repelled by it.
Moreover, national surveys routinely reveal that Millennials turn away from Christianity primarily because they’re turned off by the Religious Right’s joyless puritanism. Data also show that a sizable portion of once-churched Christians―”nones”―leave because of the Religious Right’s splenetic intolerance and transparent politicking.
But the good news is that the tide seems to be turning. The Religious Right’s jaundiced presidential endorsement can’t but reveal the movement for what it is: an unscrupulous political machine that has nothing to do with genuine Christianity and everything to do with lust for power. This exposure surely numbers its days.
Now, for we mere Christians, begins the uphill work of rehabilitating the faith that the Religious Right so besmirched.