Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Is FOX News the New Voice of the Religious Right?

Thirty years ago Christian fundamentalists (taking the name "Moral Majority" but loosely known as the "Religious Right") allied with the Republican Party in an effort to "return" America to its "Christian roots." From the beginning the effort was built upon historical myths and ideological-driven lies. America has never been a Christian nation; the "past" the Religious Right has sought for three decades is that of theocratic colonial America. The degree of theocracy that many within the Religious Right wish to force upon the nation is a matter of debate within the movement, ranging from government and judicial favoritism of (the right kind of) Christians to implementation of Old Testament laws requiring death to adulterers and homosexuals.

Fortunately, theocratic ambitions of the Religious Right have not been fully realized. On the other hand, the Religious Right helped create an atmosphere of Christian nationalism that bred a Christian patriot movement (here is one example) that itself is quasi-theocratic (and racist).

Long-time observers of the Religious Right know that the movement's most visible early public figureheads - those persons to whom many conservative/fundamentalist Christians consistently turned to for instructions on what to believe and for "proofs" to buttress religious and political prejudices - are gone or are on the way out the door. No one conservative Christian leader commands the public rhetorical spotlight as did the late Jerry Falwell or the semi-retired Pat Robertson or the retired James Dobson. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council , while quite influential among fundamentalist Christians, is not a household name along the lines of Falwell, Robertson and Dobson. Al Mohler and Richard Land have loyal followings in fundamentalist Southern Baptist circles, but are not nearly as well known outside Southern Baptist life. Religious Right leaders who today openly advocate theocracy - couched in terms such as "biblical worldview" and "Christian worldview" (see link above) - such as Gary DeMar, Gary North, Rick Scarborough, and David Barton, while popular in many conservative Christian circles (particularly the Christian homeschooling movement), are also far from household names. Tim LaHaye, a co-founder of the Moral Majority, Republican Party insider and famous as the co-author of the popular "Left Behind" novels, is probably the most well-known Religious Right theocratic advocate. Yet even so, his name is associated, publicly, with his novels, rather than his politics and theocratic-leanings.

So who do many conservative/fundamentalist Christians by and large now turn to on an everyday basis for instructions on what to believe and ammunition to support their religious and political prejudices?

Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh (the latter an ally of Fox News): far right political provocateurs with extremist viewpoints who also claim to be Christians.

In other words, while the Religious Right has succeeded in duping many Christians about our nation's history, perhaps the real legacy of the thirty year-old movement is the creation of a culture of Christian lies and myths that in turn produced a news media empire (FOX News) tailored to and targeted at conservative/fundamentalist Christians who are eager to embrace any falsehood that serves their selfish interests or gores their enemies.

The most untruthful and biased news channel on television, FOX News is hands-down the favored news channel of conservative/fundamentalist Christians, mostly Republicans and typically Southerners "who almost completely shut out any news source other than Fox News." (In a similar fashion, religious fundamentalists and many religious conservatives tend to "shut out" any religious views differing from their own.)

Echoing the Religious Right, FOX News is an advocate for the Republican Party and anti-big government Libertarians. Currently, many of the lies about President Obama and the Health Care Reform debate that are circulating by email within the conservative/fundamentalist Christian community, are also propagated by FOX News.

Brian McLaren, addressing the love affair between "conservative Christians" and FOX News, puts it this way:

"My concern is that many of my sisters and brothers, without realizing it, have begun seeing Jesus and the faith through the lens of a neo-conservative political framework, thus reducing their vision of Jesus and his essential message of the kingdom of God. As a result, too many of us are becoming more and more zealous conservatives, but less and less Christ-like Christians, and many don't seem to notice the difference." McLaren goes on to express dismay at the FOX-fueled lies about Obama and Health Care Reform that are dutifully spread through conservative Christian email networks.

Frank Schaeffer offers his own insider observations about the FOX-fueled Religious Right's assault on health care reform, which you can read here.

In short, I cannot help but wonder if the new FOX News-directed Limbaugh/Hannity/O'Reilly/Beck Religious Right is much more dangerous than the "old" Religious Right of Falwell/Robertson/Dobson. Whereas Religious Right version 1.0 (so to speak) wrapped nationalism around conservative Christianity through the use of historical myths and lies in a quasi-theocratic quest destined to ultimately fail in a pluralistic society, version 2.0 wraps conservative/fundamentalist Christianity around political neo-conservatism/nationalism/patriotism (and even facism according to some analysts), a marriage currently expressed in tea parties, angry town hall meetings (more), an endless stream of lies about Obama and his policies, including the claim that Obama is the next Hitler, and talk of secession, all in an effort to eradicate "liberals" from the halls of political power.

If the FOX News-driven Religious Right proves to be a long-term trend, the foreseeable future of American Christianity, and America as a nation, may be one of increasing cultural fragmentation and alienation, social civil warfare, or even a violent movement that seeks to restore so-called "justice" under the belief that it is the "sacred duty" of white patriots "to change the government."

Lest we dismiss the latter possibility, the history of the violent wing of the anti-abortion movement (more) offers a clue as to just how far "Christian" patriots will go if their hatred is left unchecked.

Monday, August 24, 2009

More "Civil War" Rumblings

A week ago I asked if the health care debate is turning into a reenactment of the American Civil War.

Now some within the Fox News-fueled far right are openly warning that a new Civil War is indeed fomenting,and they're pinning the blame on Obama.

The Second American Revolution Has Begun! - "The natives are restless .... America is seething. Not since the Civil War has anything like this happened .... A series of gigantic, unpopular government-imposed (but taxpayer-financed) bailouts, buyouts, rescue and stimulus packages have been stuffed down the gullet of Americans. With no public platform to voice their opposition, options for citizens have been limited to fruitless petitions, e-mails and phone calls to Congress all fielded by anonymous staff underlings .... the public is exploding .... Conditions will continue to deteriorate .... A false flag attempt, a genuine crisis, or a declaration of war, may slow the momentum of the “Second American Revolution,” but nothing will stop it."

Voight: Is Obama Creating a Civil War in America? - Courtesy of the Moonies' rag, the Washington Times.

Today's angry far right claims the label of "freedom fighters" in suggesting that a Civil War is at hand. Antebellum and Civil War era southerners (including Southern Baptists) utilized the same language in defending their rights to own slaves: should the United States outlaw slavery, they reasoned, whites would be victimized. Today's self-proclaimed freedom fighters likewise limit freedom to their own self-interests (to the point where they bristle at the suggestion of "messing with" their socialized health care - Medicare - AND become livid at the thought of extending socialized medicine to "others").

Observers of the current health care debate would be better served by examining Baptist freedom fighters of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In an era of genuine persecution (Baptists were beaten, whipped, jailed and even stoned for their faith - at the hands of theocractic colonial governments), Baptists fought for freedom of conscience and freedom of religion for all citizens, religious or not.

Is America a land of self-serving, self-righteous individuals who despise the "other" and will go to war against a democracy that champions equality and justice? Or are we a nation of citizens united in the common interest of freedom expressed in the attainment of general welfare and domestic tranquility?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Health Care Debate: Reenacting the American Civil War?

Although post-Civil War Southern Baptists largely denied it until recent decades, slavery was the overriding cause of the American Civil War. Only in recent years have contemporary Southern Baptists by and large admitted what their white faith forebears in the antebellum South openly declared: the defense of slavery was the reason for the formation of the Confederacy.

Upon the defense of slavery white antebellum southerners constructed an argument of freedom: if the United States government denied whites the right to own black slaves, they reasoned, then the government was intruding upon their personal liberties and freedoms. In defending white liberty and freedom (it did not occur to most white southerners that blacks might also be humans deserving of equal rights), southerners argued, they were standing up for states' rights and against the federal government (although the same southerners quickly argued for federal centralization when it could be used to advance slavery).

By the end of the war, unrepentant southerners (Baptist and otherwise) reconstructed their arguments into the myth of the Lost Cause. Gone was slavery as the primary reason, or even a real reason at all, for the war. Instead, southerners had warred against the North in a valiant effort to preserve personal freedom and liberty and states' rights. The honorable and righteous South had been defeated only because unholy and unjust northern forces marshaled overwhelming military might against noble but overwhelmed white southerners.

For nearly 100 years after the Civil War, racist white southerners ensured that blacks, although now free according to the United States Constitution, were kept in subjugation to whites through intimidation and violence (the Ku Klux Klan) and oppressive laws (Jim Crow and segregation), means sanctioned (openly or quietly) by most white Christians. True freedom for blacks in the South came only in the 1950s and 1960s when the federal government forced the old Confederate states to integrate schools and other public institutions. Even then, most whites, including many if not most self-proclaimed Christians, resented integration and federal intervention - and many resisted with anger and violence. Many white Christians, refusing to recognize blacks as equals and angry over the intervention of the federal government, pulled their children out of public schools and enrolled them in the new white private schools that suddenly sprung up in an effort to keep white children from being contaminated by contact with black children.

Integration, in short, vividly opened old wounds of white southern defeat and challenged the cherished mythical narrative of the civility, righteousness and godliness of white supremacy. While memories of Civil War and Reconstruction injustices remained anchored in the minds of indignant white southerners, this new intrusion of the federal government upon white southerners' liberties and freedoms reheated inherent racism and anger.

When the Supreme Court in 1963 (Abington Township School District v. Schempp) ruled that the government could neither promote nor denigrate religion (but instead must maintain neutrality) in public school classrooms - a court decision that Baptists, historic champions of the freedom of church and state, lauded and supported - it added fuel to the anti-federal government anger already boiling in a religion-saturated South. The boiling anti-federal government anger among white conservative Christians, however, did not reach critical mass until the late 1970s, following the growing pluralism of the 1960s, the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, and the 1976 Internal Revenue Service ruling revoking the tax exempt status of Bob Jones University because the school openly discriminated against African Americans (a decision upheld by a 1983 Supreme Court decision).

The Religious Right was formally birthed in 1979 from (primarily) white southern anger over pluralism and the 1963, 1973 and 1976 federal decisions. Rallying Christian fundamentalists and taking the name "Moral Majority" for their movement, they claimed to represent the voice of God in a nation that had forsaken God and turned to "human secularism." Falsely claiming that America at its founding had been a "Christian nation," they rejected the historical Baptist struggle for separation of church and state that culminated in the creation of the world's first secular nation, and instead created historical myths in which to anchor their desire for an American theocracy.

From 1979 to 2009, the Religious Right allied itself closely with a Republican Party that - proclaiming a moral and religious mandate - glorified unfettered capitalism, stoked public anger at the image of an intrusive "big government," passed laws that publicly benefited the wealthy while quietly stepping on the poor and middle classes, alienated minorities through party policies, cut the taxes of the wealthy and produced unequaled federal debt and an unparalleled wealth gap between rich and poor, warred against other nations on false pretenses, proclaimed opposition to Roe v. Wade (but did nothing to overturn it), fought against separation of church and state, and used evangelical language and theocratic imagery to continually co-opt fundamentalist Christians.

Then, in February 2009, the nation's first black president took office, and the mostly white Republican Party found itself largely confined to the states of the Old Confederacy, rejected soundly by voters under 40 nationwide, and decidedly thrown out of national power for the foreseeable future.

In response, white Republicans and Libertarians began holding "tea parties" protesting "big government," both in terms of growing debt (Obama inherited an economic disaster from the Bush administration, and government efforts to shore up the economy violated the god of capitalism which many conservatives worship - never mind that runaway capitalism got the country into our current mess) and intrusion upon personal "liberties" and "freedoms." Both the imagery (Revolutionary War) and language ("freedom," "liberty," "patriots") echo arguments used by white antebellum southerners in their defense of slavery.

This month, enraged tea partiers have transferred their anger (and hatred) to congressional town hall meetings focused on the moment's issue: health care reform. Conservative white Republicans and Libertarians are now channeling their anti-government anger against health care reform.

Yesterday's edition of National Public Radio's To the Point, a panel discussion of health care and religion, summed up the anger-laden health care reform debate. A spokesman for the Christian Coalition (an arm of the Religious Right) cut through the clutter in the current debate. Health care is not the real issue, he insisted. The real issue is that "the government will control everything," beginning with health care. He later continued, "public health care will destroy our democracy." A representative of the conservative Cato Institute added that "government operates through violence or threats of violence" and insisted that if health care reform is enacted, "the government will put you in jail or shoot you if you don't buy health care insurance." The Christian Coalition spokesman rejected any concept of universal health care as a moral issue, insisted that one of the current health care reform proposals includes the words "rationed care" (and then had to recant when it was pointed out that he was not telling the truth), and defended capitalism as biblical. Another guest, an American health care scholar originally from Canada, remembered that upon moving to the United States, she was stunned to observe that some conservatives "believe in markets the way some people believe in God or Christ." Jim Wallis of Sojourners calmly and systematically pointed out the falsehoods propagated by the Christian Coalition and Cato Institute, while a Catholic scholar outlined the moral, ethical and Christian imperative of universal health care.

To the ears of one who has spent much of the past few years writing on the subject of religion and the American Civil War (the focus of my dissertation), the rhetoric and language of yesterday's NPR health care debate resonated closely with the rhetoric and language of the antebellum and Civil War era debates concerning slavery: white religious conservatives selfishly defended their personal "freedoms" and "liberties" and "rights", while religious liberals argued for the biblical, moral and ethical imperative of equal rights and justice for all persons. Ironically, however, the conservative slavery-defenders of old had a much more solid biblical case than today's religiously conservative opponents of health care reform: slavery is a biblical theme and as a practice is not explicitly condemned in the Bible, while there is no biblical basis for free markets and capitalism; in fact, the New Testament repeatedly condemns the pursuit of individual wealth and warns against the corrupting influence of money.

The white anger over Obama's presidency and health care reform, in the words of protesters, ultimately rests in claims that the federal government is plotting to take away their freedoms and liberties. Video clips of this month's town hall meetings across the nation include angry senior citizens living on socialized medicine (Medicare) ranting against ... socialized medicine. The video clips also reveal claims that the government "outlawed prayer and legalized abortion" and now wants to take away the right to decide one's own health care, and "we're not gonna take it anymore!"

It is well documented that most of the health care reform claims of the angry white crowds of protesters are not true; they are simply repeating lies. But the anger is real, and it is strikingly similar in tone, language and content to that used by white southerners who defended slavery and railed against big government in the antebellum South. Whereas slavery was the real issue and antebellum white southerners used the pretext of an intrusive big government interfering with their personal freedoms and liberties in order to wage war on the North, today's angry white conservatives who constitute the base of a Republican Party anchored in the Old Confederacy have reversed the pattern: having convinced themselves (in the years since the Civil War, stoked in the modern era by Reagan) that federal government is determined to take away their personal freedoms and liberties (while at the same time unconcerned about the rights, freedoms and liberties of minorities and those who disagree with them), they are attacking an egalitarian-focused government by taking a very public and abrasive stand against a black president who is committed to ensuring that all Americans have adequate health care.

In other words, to a previous generation of white southerners, the campaign to abolish slavery became the pretext for constructing a narrative of an intrusive federal government denying personal freedom and liberty to the racially privileged, while universal health care today has become ground zero of the antebellum/Civil War era racially-infused "intrusive federal government" narrative that never died.

Who will win in this modern reenactment of the American Civil War? Big government has never been the real problem. In 1861 and today, the real issues entail human rights, morality and ethics. And in both instances, certain privileged classes (whether by power, socio-economic position, religion, wealth, and/or race) ignore the real issues in order to preserve the status quo that favors them.

The American ideal, encapsulated in our nation's founding documents although not always fully realized, is a nation of persons enjoying equal rights, freedoms and liberties. Emancipation of blacks moved America closer to these ideals; enactment of universal health care is a step that would move us yet closer to the American ideal. It is time to put to rest the self-serving and racially-laden myths that took root in the antebellum South and have poisoned public discourse and civility ever since, and move a step closer to the American ideal that encompasses all persons, by enacting universal health care. I can only hope that today's Obama town hall meeting here in Bozeman , and others that follow in the coming days and weeks, will help move us closer toward the American ideal.

Notes:

Here is a beginning point in terms of a bibliography of the American Civil War.


Survey of Religion and the American Civil War

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Baptists and Socialized Medicine

John Leland, the famed revolutionary era Baptist evangelist who championed religious freedom, was adament about separation of church and state: he even insisted that the state should not grant ministers and congregations tax breaks.

Leland would be probably be appaled if he were alive today and could see the tax favoritisms granted to ministers and congregations by the U.S. government. Yet the tax favoritism does not come without strings: for instance, in addition to not being taxed on housing, an ordained minister may opt of paying Social Security and Medicare if he or she has moral, ethical or religious objections to participating in socialized medicine and retirement.

While some Baptist ministers do opt out of socialized medicine and retirement (or so I am told), most apparently do not. In fact, when I recently queried some minister friends about their participation in socialized medicine and retirement, several otherwise conservative Baptists defended their own involvement in socialism.

At the same time, some of these very same conservative Baptists insist that socialized medicine, while fine for them, should not be made available to their fellow Americans. This attitude of "socialized medicine is fine for me but allowing my fellow Americans to have it will ruin the country" seems to be the same attitude that is playing out in tea parties and anger-ridden town hall health care meetings: a lot of (primarily) senior citizens (and all white, I might add) on socialized medicine are ticked off that Americans at large may be allowed to also receive socialized medicine.

What does it say for Baptists (and other clergy) and senior citizens (and conservatives at that) who refuse to give up their socialized medicine, to insist that their fellow Americans not be allowed into their socialist club? Perhaps this is just a little snapshot of how America has become a nation of selfish individuals (including religious folk) who are only concerned with their own interests and who have little to no compassion for their fellow Americans. I'd like to think this is not the case, but I'm not so sure anymore.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Baptist History Tidbits

R.L. Vaughn of Texas recently posted his survey of Landmark Baptist churches. Vaughn estimates that approximately 1300 Landmark Baptist congregations exist, with total membership of about 200,000. In addition, he identifies 35 Landmark associations. He also divides the congregations into types of Landmarkers.

More and more colleges and universities are turning to online resources in the classroom. A Baptist history course taught at Williams Baptist College in Arkansas is one example of how the online world is changing the higher education classroom.

The Baptist History and Heritage Society recently added new articles to its "History Speaks to Hard Questions Baptists Ask" and "Baptist Heritage Bulletin Insert" series.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Health Care and Christians: Forsaking Jesus

Right now in America, a paradoxical scene is playing out: millions of so-called Christians are mad as hell that our president and the Congress is proposing a health care overhaul that will allow all Americans access to basic health care. For many of these millions of Christians, their pro-life agenda begins and ends with abortion; the fact that America's current for-profit health care industry puts profits before life (and in the process leads to thousands if not tens of thousands of deaths each year) means nothing to them. And beyond defending an industry that kills people in order to pad the pockets of billionaires, these same so-called Christians have seemingly forsaken any interest in truth and instead worship Fox News, the most untruthful and hate-filled news network on television.

But don't take my word for it. Religious Right insider Frank Schaeffer, whose father was a founder of the Religious Right, provides the inside scoop on why conservative Christians are lying about the proposed health care proposal and orchestrating a campaign of deception and fear in the current town hall meetings. (Schaeffer uses the term "conservative Christians," although not all conservative Christians are of the caliber he describes.)

And here's more of the inside story of Republican and Christian Right lies.

For Jesus' sake, it would be best if these so-called Christians simply stopped calling themselves Christians (Foxians would certainly be a more appropriate label).

Fortunately, some Christians are actually acting like followers of Jesus by advocating for life and compassion the way Christ did in the Bible:

Health Care Debate Comes to the Church

Christians Weigh In On Health Care Reform

Thinking of Health Care as a Moral Issue

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Has the Religious Right Totally Discredited Itself?

As Frank Schaeffer summarizes, rar right evangelicals are gnashing their teeth over Obama, labeling him as the next Hitler and the AntiChrist; refusing to believe he is an American citizen; insisting he is a Muslim; and declaring that he has a secret campaign to kill old people through health care reform.

That people who call themselves Christians can so readily resort to ludicrious lies is beyond pale. But as Brent Walker, Executive Director for the Baptist Joint Committee For Religious Liberty reminds us, lies have become the public calling card of the Religious Right. And if Texas Governor Rick Perry has his way, our American government should operate according to the beliefs of Christian who lie about our nation's history.

The foundation of lies upon which the Religious Right is based is so obvious and so blatant that one wonders if far right evangelicals have so far removed themselves from reality and truth that they have sealed their own demise.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

400th Anniversary of Baptists: Selected Articles


Following is a selected list of online resources related to the 400th anniversary celebration of Baptists this year.

Baptists Celebrate 400th Anniversary Near Site of Movement's Origin (Associated Baptist Press)

Commentary on Baptists 400th Anniversary by Gary Burton, pastor of Pintlala Baptist Church, Alabama.

Celebrating 400 Years of Baptist Heritage (Resources, including free Bulletin inserts, by the Baptist History and Heritage Society)