Keeping the Faith

religious right

Following the hostile corporate takeover of our government, per Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s stages, we’ve moved from denial, to anger, to bargaining, and on to depression. But damned if any of us should accept the death of democracy. This is what we’re trying to prevent.

It is important to keep harping away at the fact that this administration does not have a mandate, that the president lost by almost 3 million votes, that the nation is 86% urban and, as such, we are disenfranchised by a broken electoral system that gives rights to states, not people. And that this administration does not represent American values.

While some point to the election results as a vindication and re-empowerment of White Christian majority culture, the demographics keep moving toward a browner nation. More importantly, the election demonstrated how easily White Evangelicals could turn their backs on not only democracy but their own professed religious values.

White Evangelicals are comfortable taking rights away from non-Whites, non-Christians, and non-citizens, and embracing an autocrat. But don’t blame it on religion. It’s the “whiteness” talking. By way of contrast the Black church has historically done precisely the opposite — shown a strong commitment to social justice, called for broadening democracy, and shown reverence for the Old Testament prophets who spoke truth to tyrannical power.

In over six hundred passages, the Judeo-Christian bible is filled with rape, murder, genocide, and ethnic cleansing. It is truly a wonder it isn’t banned from more Southern and Midwestern libraries. In Deuteronomy the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivvites, and Jebusites all get slaughtered, to the last infant, by someone’s idea of God. In Hosea the Samarians get theirs too — “their infants shall be dashed, and their pregnant women shall be ripped up.”

But if we hate ISIS we should remember that our own “majority culture” is likewise founded not only on violence but on a violent ideology. Multiculturalism rarely gets sympathetic treatment in the western Bible. “To the winner belong the spoils,” as Donald Trump reminded us recently. Losers are annihilated, their lands (and oil) are seized, and those not murdered are sent into exile or barred from entry. For centuries scripture has served as a virtual cookbook for colonialism.

For some the Bible is a literal document and the intolerance found within must be observed and respected as God’s word. This seems to be the preferred version of Christianity for many White Americans. For most the document is a repository of sometimes conflicting cultural and spiritual thought and the intolerance must be viewed in a historical context — and then rejected. The positive aspects of religions preserve the heart of their ethical traditions.

The book of Exodus warns us to “not oppress the foreigner” — for we were strangers ourselves in Egypt. The Book of Leviticus tells us we can not merely “tolerate” foreigners but must treat them as fellow citizens. The Book of Ruth (the Moabite) recounts a story about honor, kindness and loyalty — one involving a foreigner who becomes accepted by her new family and people.

One look at the new White House raises the question — where are all the moderate Judeo-Christians? With the Twitter Administration now filled with (white supremacist) Christian fundamentalists and a supposedly “devout” Orthodox Jewish son-in-law, their treatment of immigrants and other faiths highlights a certain religious hypocrisy. Those who play Christians on TV, including Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson, have sung Trump’s praises. Realty TV’s “Rabbi to the Stars” Shmuley Boteach supports Trump and even chief-anti-Semite Steve Bannon.

It’s safe to say that most religious people in America are appalled by the country’s new direction. Yesterday I got an email from a Jewish peace group working with Muslims to fight Islamophobia. The meeting was taking place in a Quaker Meeting House. This said a lot about how most religions view our culture, and I was moved by the expression of people really living their faith in a way that wasn’t doing violence to others. But with America’s White Evangelicals it’s a different story.

In 2015 a World Magazine poll showed only 3% of Evangelicals supporting Trump, scarcely better than Hillary Clinton. By mid-2016 the Christian Post was running a piece with the self-explanatory title, “No, Donald Trump Doesn’t Have Majority Support Among Evangelical Voters,” showing that 64% of Evangelicals had voted for someone else in the primaries — but Trump’s numbers were rising. By last November, however, exit polls showed 80% of Evangelicals had voted for Trump in the general election. So much for religious principles.

Evangelicals comprise a major part of the Tea Party. Evangelicals (and right-wing Jews) also make up a major part of the Islamophobia network. They regard Islam as a political movement, or worse, and not a religion. Or, if they do recognize Islam as a religion, it’s as a competitor in a zero-sum Clash of Civilizations game. A Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) article says Evangelicals view Middle East realities in a Biblical context. A Pew Forum survey showed that they have the most negative views of Muslims of all Americans. Their views have long been uttered by “mainstream” Republicans like Steve King (R-Iowa) who calls the United States a White Christian country and denigrates the contributions of others.

There are, of course, notable exceptions. At least some Evangelicals despise the 45th president. And in many ways religious American Muslims and Christians share a common social conservatism. But in general, Evangelicals have traded in their Christian charity and professed moral values for an opportunity to grab power. And this is what they’ve historically done.

NPR’s Audie Cornish interviewed Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress and asked him why Evangelicals support Trump. Jeffress pointed to the 1980 election:

Americans at that time had a choice between [..] a sincerely born-again Christian who taught Sunday school in his Baptist Church and was married faithfully to one woman. His name was Jimmy Carter. The other choice was a twice-married Hollywood actor […] whose wife practiced astrology. […] Christians overwhelmingly chose Ronald Reagan not because he was the most religious candidate but because he had the quality people thought was most necessary at the time, and that is leadership.

Jeffress continued:

[the] same-sex marriage ruling actually made evangelicals more open to a secular candidate like Donald Trump […] many evangelicals have come to the conclusion we can no longer depend upon government to uphold traditional biblical values. Let’s just let government solve practical problems like immigration, the economy and national security. And if that’s all we’re looking for government to do, then we don’t need a spiritual giant in the White House. We need a strong leader and a problem solver, hence many Christians are open to a secular candidate like Donald Trump.

For Evangelicals like Jeffress, it was the failure of “government to uphold traditional biblical values” — specifically, not being permitted to deny civil liberties to gays — that made them give up on democracy and embrace a strong man, a caudillo, a führer. For Evangelicals, democracy is not about equal rights for all but about replacing the Bill of Rights with a Protestant Bible and privileging their own ethno-religious group. And with the right man sitting in the Oval Office perhaps they’ll get the Christian shariah they’ve always wanted.

It is an Orwellian abuse of language to describe “religious freedom” as the right to oppress others or to take rights away from them. But this is precisely the vision Republicans and their corporate, religious and racist constituencies have. Liberals and Progressives have a truer vision for America — one that guarantees everyone the same rights. It is a vision our nation has steadily enlarged upon, and it is a vision still seen in our bruised and violated Constitution.

A vision we need to keep faith with now, more than ever.