As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, November 06, 2006

First Refuge of A Scoundrel

Prey on people's instinct for praying.

In a State House race in Indiana and the US Senate race in California, the Republican has asked the voters to pray for their election. "Please pray, right now, that God will send the right people to the polls tomorrow, 11/7/06," one mailer reads.

And in both the governor's race in Texas and the US Senate race in Florida, the Republican candidates have made comments that appear to express their desire to convert all nonbelievers.

U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, who has made past comments that raised questions about her religious sensitivity, prayed in a telephone prayer service recently that God would "bring the hearts and minds of our Jewish brothers and sisters into alignment."

A Harris spokeswoman said Friday that the Longboat Key Republican, who has advocated electing Christian officeholders, was talking about converting Jews to vote Republican, not to Christianity.

Gov. Rick Perry went even further in Texas, espousing his belief that non-Christians will go to hell. He's entitled to such a belief, but in the context of a political campaign, it would appear to shrink the "big tent."

We are just coming out of a yet another sex scandal in the church, and yet we continue to see Republicans allying themselves with the Christian warrior soldiers of their base in the most divisive way possible. I don't think anything will change that fact of life, nothing will shake the faith in Republicans from the unshakeable. Although some pastors are trying:

Meanwhile, in Leawood, Kans., a suburb near the Missouri border, a 42-year-old evangelical pastor named Adam Hamilton was preaching an entirely different message. He was helping his 14,000 members parse the parables in Matthew 13—the wheat and the weeds, the good fish and bad. "Our task is not to go around judging people—Jesus didn't do that," he tells NEWSWEEK. He encourages his congregation to vote, he says, but when they do they're neither predictably Republican nor Democratic. On the issues, many are increasingly frustrated with the war in Iraq; they're conservative on abortion, but they "express compassion" for homosexuals. The religious right has "gone too far," says Hamilton. "They've lost their focus on the spirit of Jesus and have separated the world into black and white, when the world is much more gray." He adds: "I can't see Jesus standing with signs at an anti-gay rally. It's hard to picture that."

Two men of God, two flocks, two starkly opposing visions: from Dobson to Hamilton and through the geographical heart of the country runs a fault line that is increasingly dividing evangelical Christians in America in the first years of the 21st century, revealing the movement to be more complex, and more interesting, than the usual caricatures suggest. It is all too easy for those who do not share the evangelical faith to turn into latter-day H. L. Menckens, dismissing the movement as a collection of hard-shells and hypocrites; the news that the Rev. Ted Haggard, the former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, is now caught up in a sex-and-meth scandal involving a male prostitute only reinforces the instinct to consign the religious right to the fringe of American life and politics.

I respect Mr. Hamilton's attempts, and welcome the role of religion in civic action, as it has often been on the side of social justice, most particularly in the civil rights movement. But clearly, on the other side, we have a bunch of Elmer Gantrys who whip up support on social issues (and even that support seems to be waning) while making lots of money from those parishioners they see as rubes. The focus on things like gay marriage, to the likes of Haggard, can be seen in the context that they honestly feel it's a grave threat - to their own PERSONAL way of life, to the mega-church and big house and fleet of cars and the like. If they're personally tempted by their homosexual nature, then society - their society - will crumble.

Those supporters of these charlatans will simply say that Haggard, for example, is a man who was tempted, and the sins of wickedness are all around us, and the only defense is to pray harder. But this allows the pastors to get away scot-free, assuming they didn't know about the wanton hypocrisy they spouted in order to gain money and power.