Trump and Gorsuch Have The Right Wing Thinking Big. REALLY Big

By Peter Montgomery, The Christian Left, rightwingwatch.org, June 29, 2017

Intro – Excerpt:

TCL: This is some really scary stuff. Look how much money The “Christian” Right has. Look at the size of their outreach…. Faith and Freedom’s founder, political operative Ralph Reed, was happy to reel off numbers that he said represented the group’s outreach: 1.2 million doors knocked, 10 million phone calls, 22 million pieces of mail, 30 million voter guides….The entire Trump presidency has been pretty much a non-stop horror show for progressive Americans, but the month of June made it clear that if you are worried about President Trump and the Republican Congress rolling back advances made during the Obama administration, you aren’t worried nearly enough. Right-wing strategists seeking to undo what they see as federal overreach are looking back as far as the New Deal, and some even further, to the Progressive era at the turn of the 20th Century. With Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court and hundreds of Gorsuch-like judicial nominations in the pipeline, they’re making big plans…. the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference brought Religious Right activists to Washington, D.C. The atmosphere was triumphalist… Religious Right leaders had hitched the movement’s wagon to the Trump train, and they had already begun reaping the rewards… He said he’d give them the Supreme Court of their dreams and he pledged to make them more politically powerful by doing away with restrictions on churches’ political activities. He won their trust by making one of their own, Mike Pence, his running mate. Religious Right leaders pulled out all the stops to help Trump rack up a massive margin of victory among white evangelicals.…So much for perennial predictions of the Religious Right’s political demise….Religious Right leaders have a half-century long grudge against the Supreme Court over rulings on church-state separation, the right to privacy, legal equality for LGBT Americans, and more. Religious Right leaders were thrilled when Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch. They rallied support for his nomination and celebrated when he was confirmed. They made it clear that they are counting on him to undermine the separation between church and state. National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown saw in him the first step toward overturning the Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling. Anti-abortion activists are dreaming of the day that Roe v. Wade will be overturned.But today’s conservative evangelicals are interested in far more than abolishing legal abortion and reversing civil rights gains for LGBTQ Americans. Much of the Religious Right is also fully committed to the Tea Party’s radically restrictive view of the proper role of the federal government. At Road to Majority, Trump adviser Steven Moore said the government should get out of education and health care. That stance draws on both a right-wing ideological view of the Constitution and a Christian Reconstructionist worldview that God did not grant government the authority to be involved in education or the alleviation of poverty, jobs that they believe He assigned to the church and family…. “We are in a war for the future of this Republic.” [Sen. David Perdue of Georgia] cited the New Deal and the Great Society as consequences of periods with Democratic political dominance. “The great progressive experiment of the last 100 years, with bigger and bigger government, has failed, period.”

A primary vehicle for reversing the “great progressive experiment” will be by packing the federal courts with judges committed to a far-right view of the Constitution and laws. Gorsuch was part of Trump’s list of potential justices pre-approved by the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, which has been working for decades to achieve right-wing ideological dominance in the federal judiciary….Suares, who said that McConnell has “a laser-like focus on judges,” echoed Teller, saying another Supreme Court nominee could “fundamentally change the country.” What kind of change? She cited government programs that Democrats had passed when they had wide congressional majorities, including the New Deal and Great Society. Said Suares, “we now have to undo so much.” Suares said that, along with lifting the economy, a major goal for Republicans is making sure that legislation is geared to “shifting the culture” toward a more limited role for government… Legislation has its ups and downs, she said, but “with these lifetime appointments, we can really change the country in a short period of time.”… there are 120 positions open on the courts “because of the, uh, deliberation of the Senate” during the Obama administration. … “we are, one piece at a time, incrementally, slowly but very surely, restoring freedom in America.” McConnell himself said that he was looking forward to Trump nominating Gorsuch-like judges for every judicial opening, giving him an impact “far beyond his time.”… Gorsuch ….signaling a willingness to further dismantle regulations on money in politics, undermine church-state separation, and reverse gains on LGBT equality. Right-wing activists celebrated Gorsuch’s end-of-term contributions as a harbinger of things to come…. They had given their supporters dozens of religious rationales for supporting Trump, declaring him anointed by God to save America by destroying political correctness and bulldozing the Washington establishment….McCarthy said of Trump’s election, “I think that was God’s hand.”… God had given Americans “an opportunity to have a re-founding of our nation” and return it to “those ideas of our founding fathers, those principles, those things that our founders were clear were biblical mandates.” … the real fight ahead against the enemy, which he defined as “an ideology that is destructive not only to our ideas but to mankind altogether.”…. Freedom Caucus is most closely identified with hostility to big government, demonstrated the extent to which the Tea Party and Religious Right have always been overlapping movements…Meadows also echoed Religious Right leaders’ claims about religious persecution in America, … urged attendees to pray for President Trump, who he said “is trying to do what he can do for the unborn and for marriage” and “Judeo-Christian values.” Meadows said “the option of failure is not possible” because “our God still reigns over the affairs of nations.”

Full text

Trump and Gorsuch Have The Right Wing Thinking Big. REALLY Big By Peter Montgomery, The Christian Left, rightwingwatch.org, June 29, 2017

The entire Trump presidency has been pretty much a non-stop horror show for progressive Americans, but the month of June made it clear that if you are worried about President Trump and the Republican Congress rolling back advances made during the Obama administration, you aren’t worried nearly enough. Right-wing strategists seeking to undo what they see as federal overreach are looking back as far as the New Deal, and some even further, to the Progressive era at the turn of the 20th Century. With Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court and hundreds of Gorsuch-like judicial nominations in the pipeline, they’re making big plans.

Earlier in the month, the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference brought Religious Right activists to Washington, D.C. The atmosphere was triumphalist, almost giddy, in sharp contrast to previous years’ complaints about Barack Obama and dire warnings about a potential Hillary Clinton presidency. Religious Right leaders had hitched the movement’s wagon to the Trump train, and they had already begun reaping the rewards.

Candidate Trump had overcome conservative Christians’ qualms about his character with a set of too-good-to-resist promises. He said he’d give them the Supreme Court of their dreams and he pledged to make them more politically powerful by doing away with restrictions on churches’ political activities. He won their trust by making one of their own, Mike Pence, his running mate. Religious Right leaders pulled out all the stops to help Trump rack up a massive margin of victory among white evangelicals.

Faith and Freedom’s founder, political operative Ralph Reed, was happy to reel off numbers that he said represented the group’s outreach: 1.2 million doors knocked, 10 million phone calls, 22 million pieces of mail, 30 million voter guides.

Republican leaders’ gratitude was evidenced by their extraordinary participation at Road to Majority. President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows all spoke at some point during the three-day event, along with other right-wing luminaries like Sen. Ted Cruz and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. So much for perennial predictions of the Religious Right’s political demise.

Trump spoke at the event’s opening luncheon, where Reed declared, “We love him because he is our friend.” Trump in turn told the conservative Christian activists, “You didn’t let me down and I will never, ever let you down, you know that.” And, offering a subtle olive branch toward activists who were disappointed that last month’s executive order on religious liberty did not include sweeping exemptions for anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of religion, Trump assured them, “Believe me, we’re not finished yet.”

A number of Trump actions won loud cheers, including his withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord and his sweeping ban on foreign aid funds going to groups that even support, much less provide, access to abortion. But by far the biggest prize for Trump’s right-wing supporters was the Supreme Court seat that McConnell kept vacant for a year by refusing to allow Senate consideration of Barack Obama’s nomination of the widely respected Merrick Garland. For that step alone, McConnell has entered the Religious Right’s pantheon of heroes.

Religious Right leaders have a half-century long grudge against the Supreme Court over rulings on church-state separation, the right to privacy, legal equality for LGBT Americans, and more. Religious Right leaders were thrilled when Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch. They rallied support for his nomination and celebrated when he was confirmed. They made it clear that they are counting on him to undermine the separation between church and state. National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown saw in him the first step toward overturning the Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling. Anti-abortion activists are dreaming of the day that Roe v. Wade will be overturned.

But today’s conservative evangelicals are interested in far more than abolishing legal abortion and reversing civil rights gains for LGBTQ Americans. Much of the Religious Right is also fully committed to the Tea Party’s radically restrictive view of the proper role of the federal government. At Road to Majority, Trump adviser Steven Moore said the government should get out of education and health care. That stance draws on both a right-wing ideological view of the Constitution and a Christian Reconstructionist worldview that God did not grant government the authority to be involved in education or the alleviation of poverty, jobs that they believe He assigned to the church and family.

When Cruz addressed the gathering, he drew cheers with a challenge to his fellow Republicans: “We have a Republican majority in the House. We have a Republican majority in the Senate. We have a Republican in the White House. How about we act like it?”

Sen. David Perdue of Georgia gave one hint about what Cruz might mean, declaring, “We are in a war for the future of this Republic.” Perdue cited the New Deal and the Great Society as consequences of periods with Democratic political dominance. “The great progressive experiment of the last 100 years, with bigger and bigger government, has failed, period.”

A primary vehicle for reversing the “great progressive experiment” will be by packing the federal courts with judges committed to a far-right view of the Constitution and laws. Gorsuch was part of Trump’s list of potential justices pre-approved by the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, which has been working for decades to achieve right-wing ideological dominance in the federal judiciary. In 2001, during the first 100 days of the George W. Bush administration, the Federalist Society held a forum on “Rolling Back the New Deal.” While the Obama administration interrupted that effort, a Trump administration and a Republican congressional majority could put it back on track.

This year’s Road to Majority featured a session with a group of GOP staffers from the White House and Congress:  Paul Teller, a special assistant to the president for legislative affairs and liaison to conservative members of Congress and movement groups; Erica Suares, a policy adviser to McConnell; and Will Dunham, policy director for McCarthy.

Teller has clearly adopted his boss’s hyperbolic style, describing Trump’s first few months as “fantastic,” with “great success” on healthcare and a “huge, huge, huge victory” with the Gorsuch confirmation. He said that getting Gorsuch on the Supreme Court is “something that is really going to change America.” Another Supreme Court nominee, he said, would let Trump create “epic, titanic shifts.”

Suares, who said that McConnell has “a laser-like focus on judges,” echoed Teller, saying another Supreme Court nominee could “fundamentally change the country.” What kind of change? She cited government programs that Democrats had passed when they had wide congressional majorities, including the New Deal and Great Society. Said Suares, “we now have to undo so much.”

Suares said that, along with lifting the economy, a major goal for Republicans is making sure that legislation is geared to “shifting the culture” toward a more limited role for government. Suares celebrated the “100-plus” vacancies on the federal courts, acknowledging “a lot of that is because of what we did last year and the year before” with “slow-walking” Obama nominees. Legislation has its ups and downs, she said, but “with these lifetime appointments, we can really change the country in a short period of time.”

Faith and Freedom Coalition Executive Director Tim Head picked up on that point, saying that there are 120 positions open on the courts “because of the, uh, deliberation of the Senate” during the Obama administration. He said that during an eight-year period, typically about 400 federal judges would be replaced; adding that number to the current vacancies could mean 525 new judges in a two-term Republican administration, something he called “extraordinary.”

Dunham, who formerly worked at the Heritage Foundation and the Republican Study Committee, agreed that for conservative activists there is “pent-up frustration” with eight years of Obama, “and even further back, all the way back to the New Deal.” Said Dunham, “we are, one piece at a time, incrementally, slowly but very surely, restoring freedom in America.”

McConnell himself said that he was looking forward to Trump nominating Gorsuch-like judges for every judicial opening, giving him an impact “far beyond his time.”

Not long after Road to Majority, Gorsuch gave Religious Right leaders evidence that he will indeed be the far-right justice they have longed for. He joins Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito at the far-right end of the bench, signaling a willingness to further dismantle regulations on money in politics, undermine church-state separation, and reverse gains on LGBT equality. Right-wing activists celebrated Gorsuch’s end-of-term contributions as a harbinger of things to come.

One other point worth noting: Religious Right leaders have been telling their supporters—and Trump himself—that he is on a divine mission. Religious Right leaders had warned that the election of Hillary Clinton would mean an end to religious freedom in America. They had given their supporters dozens of religious rationales for supporting Trump, declaring him anointed by God to save America by destroying political correctness and bulldozing the Washington establishment. During a Road to Majority session on Capitol Hill, McCarthy said of Trump’s election, “I think that was God’s hand.”

At Road to Majority, author Eric Metaxas was one of those portraying Trump’s election as a sign that God has given America one more chance to stave off His judgment, saying, “the governor of the universe has given us a reprieve in this election but we now need to stand and fight.” Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) told Road to Majority activists that he is “genuinely excited about what God is doing in America right now.” He said God had given Americans “an opportunity to have a re-founding of our nation” and return it to “those ideas of our founding fathers, those principles, those things that our founders were clear were biblical mandates.” Loudermilk said Election Day was like the landing at Normandy, with the real fight ahead against the enemy, which he defined as “an ideology that is destructive not only to our ideas but to mankind altogether.”

During a Road to Majority session on Capitol Hill, Meadows, whose Freedom Caucus is most closely identified with hostility to big government, demonstrated the extent to which the Tea Party and Religious Right have always been overlapping movements.  Meadows told Faith and Freedom participants that he was their “brother in the Lord” and that “we have work to do to take this city and return it to its rightful place to honor God and faith.”

Meadows also echoed Religious Right leaders’ claims about religious persecution in America, saying “there is an attack that is going on.” It’s OK, said Meadows, “to be of a faith as long as it’s not a Christian faith, in this city.” There is an effort, he said, “to silence the pulpits and the pews across this country.” Meadows urged attendees to pray for President Trump, who he said “is trying to do what he can do for the unborn and for marriage” and “Judeo-Christian values.” Meadows said “the option of failure is not possible” because “our God still reigns over the affairs of nations.”

 

 

Trump Can’t Reverse the Decline of White Christian America

By Robert P. Jones, The Atlantic, July 4, 2017

Two-thirds of those who voted for the president felt his election was the “last chance to stop America’s decline.” But his victory won’t arrest the cultural and demographic trends they opposed.

Down the home stretch of the 2016 presidential campaign, one of Donald Trump’s most consistent talking points was a claim that America’s changing demographics and culture had brought the country to a precipice. He repeatedly cast himself as the last chance for Republicans and conservative white Christians to step back from the cliff, to preserve their power and way of life. In an interview on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) in early September, Trump put the choice starkly for the channel’s conservative Christian viewers: “If we don’t win this election, you’ll never see another Republican and you’ll have a whole different church structure.” Asked to elaborate, Trump continued, “I think this will be the last election that the Republicans have a chance of winning because you’re going to have people flowing across the border, you’re going to have illegal immigrants coming in and they’re going to be legalized and they’re going to be able to vote, and once that all happens you can forget it.”

Michele Bachmann, a member of Trump’s evangelical executive advisory board, echoed these same sentiments in a speech at the Values Voters Summit, an annual meeting attended largely by conservative white Christians. That same week, she declared in an interview with CBN: “If you look at the numbers of people who vote and who lives [sic] in the country and who Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to bring in to the country, this is the last election when we even have a chance to vote for somebody who will stand up for godly moral principles. This is it.” Post-election polling from the Public Religion Research Institute, which I lead, and The Atlantic showed that this appeal found its mark among conservative voters. Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of Trump voters, compared to only 22 percent of Clinton voters, agreed that “the 2016 election represented the last chance to stop America’s decline.”

Does Trump’s victory, then, represent the resurrection of White Christian America? The consequences of the 2016 elections are indeed sweeping. Republicans entered 2017 with control of both houses of Congress and the White House. And because the Republican-controlled Senate refused to consider an Obama appointee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in early 2016, Trump was able to nominate a conservative Supreme Court justice right out of the gate. Trump’s cabinet and advisors consist largely of defenders of either Wall Street or White Christian America.

The evidence, however, suggests that Trump’s unlikely victory is better understood as the death rattle of White Christian America—the cultural and political edifice built primarily by white Protestant Christians—rather than as its resuscitation. Despite the election’s immediate and dramatic consequences, it’s important not to over-interpret Trump’s win, which was extraordinarily close. Out of more than 136 million votes cast, Trump’s victory in the Electoral College came down to a razor-thin edge of only 77,744 votes across three states: Pennsylvania (44,292 votes), Wisconsin (22,748 votes), and Michigan (10,704 votes). These votes represent a Trump margin of 0.7 percentage points in Pennsylvania, 0.7 percentage points in Wisconsin, and 0.2 percentage points in Michigan. If Clinton had won these states, she would now be president. And of course Clinton actually won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes, receiving 48.2 percent of all votes compared to Trump’s 46.1 percent. The real story of 2016 is that there was just enough movement in just the right places, just enough increased turnout from just the right groups, to get Trump the electoral votes he needed to win.

Trump’s intense appeal to 2016 as the “last chance” election seems to have spurred conservative white Christian voters to turn out to vote at particularly high rates. Two election cycles ago in 2008, white evangelicals represented 21 percent of the general population but, thanks to their higher turnout relative to other voters, comprised 26 percent of actual voters. In 2016, even as their proportion of the population fell to 17 percent, white evangelicals continued to represent 26 percent of voters. In other words, white evangelicals went from being overrepresented by five percentage points at the ballot box in 2008 to being overrepresented by nine percentage points in 2016. This is an impressive feat to be sure, but one less and less likely to be replicated as their decline in the general population continues.

Updating two trends with 2015-2016 data also confirms that the overall patterns of demographic and cultural change are continuing. The chart below plots two trend lines that capture key measures of change: the percentage of white, non-Hispanic Christians in the country and the percentage of Americans who support same-sex marriage. The percentage of white Christians in the country fell from 54 percent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2014. That percentage has fallen again in each subsequent year, to 45 percent in 2015 and to 43 percent in 2016. Similarly, the percentage of Americans who supported same-sex marriage rose from 40 percent in 2008 to 54 percent in 2014. That number stayed relatively stable (53 percent) in 2015—the year the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states—but jumped to 58 percent in 2016.

Despite the outcome of the 2016 elections, the key long-term trends indicate White Christian America’s decline is continuing unabated. Over the last eight years, the percentage of Americans who identify as white and Christian fell 11 percentage points, and support for same-sex marriage jumped 18 percentage points. In a New York Times op-ed shortly after the election, I summarized the results of the election this way: “The waning numbers of white Christians in the country today may not have time on their side, but as the sun is slowly setting on the cultural world of White Christian America, they’ve managed, at least in this election, to rage against the dying of the light.”

* * *

One of the most perplexing features of the 2016 election was the high level of support Donald Trump received from white evangelical Protestants. How did a group that once proudly identified itself as “values voters” come to support a candidate who had been married three times, cursed from the campaign stump, owned casinos, appeared on the cover of Playboy Magazine, and most remarkably, was caught on tape bragging in the most graphic terms about habitually grabbing women’s genitals without their permission? White evangelical voters’ attraction to Trump was even more mysterious because the early GOP presidential field offered candidates with strong evangelical credentials, such as Ted Cruz, a longtime Southern Baptist whose father was a Baptist minister, and Marco Rubio, a conservative Catholic who could talk with ease and familiarity about his own personal relationship with Jesus.

The shotgun wedding between Trump and white evangelicals was not without conflict and objections. It set off some high drama between Trump suitors, such as Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University and Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, and #NeverTrump evangelical leaders such as Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention. Just days ahead of the Iowa caucuses, Falwell invited him to speak at Liberty University, where he serves as president. In his introduction, Falwell told the gathered students, “In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment.” And a week later, he officially endorsed Trump for president. Robert Jeffress, the senior pastor of the influential First Baptist Church in Dallas and a frequent commentator on Fox News, also threw his support behind Trump early in the campaign but took a decidedly different approach. Jeffress explicitly argued that a president’s faith is “not the only consideration, and sometimes it’s not the most important consideration.” Citing grave threats to America, particularly from “radical Islamic terrorism,” Jeffress’ support of Trump for president was straightforward realpolitik: “I want the meanest, toughest, son-of-a-you-know-what I can find in that role, and I think that’s where many evangelicals are.” Moore, by contrast, remained a steadfast Trump opponent throughout the campaign. He was aghast at the high-level embrace of Trump by white evangelical leaders and strongly expressed his incredulity that they “have tossed aside everything that they previously said they believed in order to embrace and to support the Trump candidacy.”

The 2016 election, in fact, was peculiar because of just how little concrete policy issues mattered.

In the end, however, Falwell and Jeffress had a better feel for the people in the pews. Trump received unwavering support from white evangelicals from the beginning of the primaries through Election Day. As I noted at the beginning of the primary season, the first evidence that Trump was rewriting the Republican playbook was his victory in the South Carolina GOP primary, the first southern primary and one in which more than two-thirds of the voters were white evangelicals. The Cruz campaign had considered Super Tuesday’s South-heavy lineup to be its firewall against early Trump momentum. But when the returns came in, Cruz had won only his home state of Texas and neighboring Oklahoma, while Trump had swept the southern states, taking Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, and Arkansas. Trump ultimately secured the GOP nomination, not over white evangelical voters’ objections, but because of their support. And on Election Day, white evangelicals set a new high water mark in their support for a Republican presidential candidate, backing Trump at a slightly higher level than even President George W. Bush in 2004 (81 percent vs. 78 percent).

Trump’s campaign—with its sweeping promise to “make American great again”—triumphed by converting self-described “values voters” into what I’ve called “nostalgia voters.” Trump’s promise to restore a mythical past golden age—where factory jobs paid the bills and white Protestant churches were the dominant cultural hubs—powerfully tapped evangelical anxieties about an uncertain future.

The 2016 election, in fact, was peculiar because of just how little concrete policy issues mattered. The election, more than in any in recent memory, came down to two vividly contrasting views of America. Donald Trump’s campaign painted a bleak portrait of America’s present, set against a bright, if monochromatic, vision of 1950s America restored. Hillary Clinton’ campaign, by contrast, sought to replace the first African American president with the first female president and embraced the multicultural future of 2050, the year the Census Bureau originally projected the United States would become a majority nonwhite nation. “Make American Great Again” and “Stronger Together,” the two campaigns’ competing slogans, became proxies for an epic battle over the changing face of America.

The gravitational pull of nostalgia among white evangelicals was evident across a wide range of public opinion polling questions. Just a few weeks before the 2016 election, 66 percent of white evangelical Protestants said the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens traditional American customs and values. Nearly as many favored building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico (64 percent) and temporarily banning Muslims from other countries from entering the U.S. (62 percent). And 63 percent believed that today discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. White evangelicals also stood out on broad questions about cultural change. While Americans overall were nearly evenly divided on whether American culture and way of life have changed for worse (51 percent) or better (48 percent) since the 1950s, white evangelical Protestants were likelier than any other demographic group to say things have changed for the worse since the 1950s (74 percent).

It is perhaps an open question whether Trump’s candidacy represents a true change in evangelicals’ DNA or whether it simply revealed previously hidden traits, but the shift from values to nostalgia voter has undoubtedly transformed their political ethics. The clearest example of evangelical ethics bending to fit the Trump presidency is white evangelicals’ abandonment of their conviction that personal character matters for elected officials. In 2011 and again just ahead of the 2016 election, PRRI asked Americans whether a political leader who committed an immoral act in his or her private life could nonetheless behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public life. In 2011, consistent with the “values voter” brand and the traditional evangelical emphasis on the importance of personal character, only 30 percent of white evangelical Protestants agreed with this statement. But with Trump at the top of the Republican ticket in 2016, 72 percent of white evangelicals said they believed a candidate could build a kind of moral dike between his private and public life. In a head-spinning reversal, white evangelicals went from being the least likely to the most likely group to agree that a candidate’s personal immorality has no bearing on his performance in public office.

Fears about the present and a desire for a lost past, bound together with partisan attachments, ultimately overwhelmed values voters’ convictions. Rather than standing on principle and letting the chips fall where they may, white evangelicals fully embraced a consequentialist ethics that works backward from predetermined political ends, bending or even discarding core principles as needed to achieve a predetermined outcome. When it came to the 2016 election, the ends were deemed so necessary they justified the means. As he saw the polls trending for Trump in the last days before the election, in no small part because of the support of white evangelicals, Russell Moore was blunt, lamenting that Trump-supporting evangelicals had simply adopted “a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it.”

* * *

White evangelicals have entered a grand bargain with the self-described master dealmaker, with high hopes that this alliance will turn back the clock. And Donald Trump’s installation as the 45th president of the United States may in fact temporarily prop up, by pure exertions of political and legal power, what white Christian Americans perceive they have lost. But these short-term victories will come at an exorbitant price. Like Esau, who exchanged his inheritance for a pot of stew, white evangelicals have traded their distinctive values for fleeting political power. Twenty years from now, there is little chance that 2016 will be celebrated as the revival of White Christian America, no matter how many Christian right leaders are installed in positions of power over the next four years. Rather, this election will mostly likely be remembered as the one in which white evangelicals traded away their integrity and influence in a gambit to resurrect their past.

Meanwhile, the major trends transforming the country continue. If anything, evangelicals’ deal with Trump may accelerate the very changes it was designed to arrest, as a growing number of non-white and non-Christian Americans are repulsed by the increasingly nativist, tribal tenor of both conservative white Christianity and conservative white politics. At the end of the day, white evangelicals’ grand bargain with Trump will be unable to hold back the sheer weight of cultural change, and their descendants will be left with the only real move possible: acceptance.

This article has been excerpted from the new Afterword in the paperback version of Robert P. Jones’ book, The End of White Christian America.

How Christianity Became a Lucrative Brand

 By Sarah Banet-Weiser, New York Press, posted on Alternet.org, December 17, 2012  http://www.alternet.org/books/how-christianity-became-lucrative-brand – The following is an excerpt from Sarah Banet-Weiser’s book Authentic published by NYU Press.

Mini-excerpt

Prosperity Christianity, or what some call “health and wealth” religion…is the adoption of the logic of free enterprise and branding as a way of understanding, experiencing, and proselytizing Christian religious values….. A focus on “free” enterprise—meaning (in part) an opposition to organized labor, state intervention, and public resources—made Christian enterprise compatible with conservative, anticommunist ideologies and the ideology of whiteness…. As a set of religious teachings and training, the theology is centered on the notion that God provides material wealth—prosperity—for those individuals he favors… the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the ‘sowing of seeds’ through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings…..a prioritizing of individualism, a privileging of the free market, a distrust in the state…

Excerpt

Prosperity Christianity, or what some call “health and wealth” religion… is often tied to Oral Roberts and other evangelists…historically related to faith healing… is related to the rise of Christian free enterprise in the mid-20th century and the interrelation between professional business and theologyChristian business schools (specifically in the midwestern US) emerged as places in which future evangelists could be trained to merge business skills with religious principles…provide a conservative and “moral” frameworkin the late 1970s. In the economic recession during this period, combined with residual countercultural fears…cultivated the individual entrepreneur as an important element to Christian free enterprise, which found a particularly rich home in small towns, farms, and local churches…the entrepreneur was cast as a special and rare type, not your typical bureaucratic businessman: “In this guise, the entrepreneur inherited the mantle of Jeffersonian virtue from the independent farmers and the Populist rebellion—a hero for the age of the mass office…. the Waltons, the founders of Wal-Mart, promoted Christian business schools and Christian free enterprise and free trade, which serve a vital function in the economic backdrop of advanced capitalism in the branding of religion Christian free enterprise is not simply the use of the marketplace to sell religion. It is the adoption of the logic of free enterprise and branding as a way of understanding, experiencing, and proselytizing Christian religious values. This not only is a necessary condition for the branding of particular religions but also changes the understanding of religion itself.

Indeed, the connection between Christian religious values and a kind of pro-corporate populism is crucial for branding Christianity because it offers the possibility of a wide audience for the brand. As Moreton points out, procorporate populism (which argues vehemently against government or state intervention) imbues the political economy with moral legitimacy, infusing it with the conservative values of a “rural white virtue.” … A focus on “free” enterprise—meaning (in part) an opposition to organized labor, state intervention, and public resources—made Christian enterprise compatible with conservative, anticommunist ideologies and the ideology of whiteness.Prosperity Christianity. As a set of religious teachings and training, the theology is centered on the notion that God provides material wealth—prosperity—for those individuals he favors. Prosperity Christianity cuts across denominational boundaries and is defined “as the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the ‘sowing of seeds’ through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings.” …found a welcome home in many megachurches across the US in the early 21st century this reimagined relationship between religion and the economy has become increasingly mainstream: a cover of Time magazine, in 2006, asked, “Does God Want You to Be Rich?”; a later cover, after the global economic collapse in the fall of 2008, asked a follow-up question: “Maybe We Should Blame God for the Subprime Mess?”

The Atlantic Monthly in 2009 asked a similar question: “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?” ….The most popular evangelical in the US in the 21st century, Joel Osteen…Another popular Prosperity evangelist, T. D. Jakes…primarily African American church in Dallas, Texas… televangelists Kenneth Copeland and Gloria Copeland, founders of the Kenneth Copeland Ministries and authors of books such as The Laws of Prosperity and Prosperity: The Choice Is Yours, preach that the more money worshipers give to the church, the more they will receive in their own lives. sermons focus on the righteousness of acquiring individual wealth and material success, a pursuit that becomes its own sort of salvation.

Not only are religious messages packaged like other brands, through infomercials, merchandise, and sophisticated media distribution, but also the content of the message can only be understood within a brand context: materialism, consumption, capitalist exchange, and personal empowerment… megachurches and other contemporary religious institutions (including many religious websites) are strategically nondenominational or “postdenominational” in their religious messages and practices. Within branded religions such as Prosperity Christianity, vague references to a Christian tradition that are individualized, such as how to make one’s life better, are more lucrative than specific and community-oriented content, such as a mention of Jesus….In the 1980s, televangelists like Jerry Falwell, Billy Swaggart, and Jimmy Bakker used television to build huge congregations across the nation…evangelicals draw millions of followers by reimagining Christianity, and part of this reimagining has been enabled by the normalization of the entrepreneur… With weak or no denominational ties, they are ‘free agents’ who make their mark on contemporary American society.”… some evangelists to consider themselves “free agents” in a neoliberal marketplace…

 

In the vacuum that was left by the eradication of the safety net [public provisions], churches and other faith-based organizations became the provider of last resort. Their family values rendered care a private privilege awarded in defense of marriage, not a mutual social duty of citizens to one another.…the fundamentalism of Christian ideology works in concert with the fundamentalism of the market, so that “prosperity” preaching provides a space in which the contradictions of “free” enterprise are resolved…The branding of religion in contemporary capitalism also means that neoliberal ideologies of the individual, the “free” market, and a lessening of state intervention of any kind are increasingly part of religious ideologies….a prioritizing of individualism, a privileging of the free market, a distrust in the state…For the vast majority of televangelists, commitments to hyper-American patriotism, free-market capitalism, and patriarchal conceptions of the ordering of society are regularly transmitted through mass-mediated images and ‘Christian’ discourse.”

If branding in its contemporary form emerges from a kind of fundamentalism of the free market, then this connects to (though does not always neatly map onto) a particular fundamentalism within religion. “Fundamentalism” here indicates not merely a strict adherence to religious doctrine as the truth but also a powerful belief in the set of neoliberal principles that structure contemporary cultural, political, and economic life. The fundamentalism of the free market, in turn, implies not only a strict adherence to capitalist doctrine as the truth (though it is about this kind of observance) but also a loyalty to capitalist logic as structuring principles for everyday life.

…Sarah Palin has efficiently built a self-brand as a religious American woman... The collapse of conservative ideologies into affective, indeed nostalgic, sentiments, especially those of a neoliberal definition of morality, is achieved through the use of conservative women as spokes- people for the nation. This collapse is also the crux of religious brand culture, which retools capitalist strategies and logics into cultural norms.

Full text

Prosperity Christianity, or what some call “health and wealth” religion, is largely a North American religious movement, connected to Pentecostal Christianity and Word of Faith teachings, and is often tied to Oral Roberts and other evangelists who became well known in the 1980s and 1990s. However, Prosperity Christianity is also historically related to faith healing; in the early 20th century, evangelicals focused on physical well-being as the therapeutic ethos of culture became normative and activities like the “mind cure,” which stressed the power of positive thinking as a cure for disease, became popular. Additionally, Prosperity Christianity is related to the rise of Christian free enterprise in the mid-20th century and the interrelation between professional business and theology. For instance, business schools began to attract religious individuals as both students and administrators by midcentury, and as business schools began to take a more prominent role in higher education, Christian business schools (specifically in the midwestern US) emerged as places in which future evangelists could be trained to merge business skills with religious principles.

In the later half of the 20th century, schools such as the University of Arkansas, the University of Ozarks, Southern Methodist University, and others developed business schools as a response to a variety of factors, including national market concerns, postwar inflation and debt, an increasing national demand for vocational business instruction, and a growing desire for whitecollar workers in the US. Christian business schools, however, could provide a conservative and “moral” framework for this kind of education. In her careful history of the global corporation Wal-Mart, Bethany Moreton argues that the figure of the contemporary religious entrepreneur became important to the rise of business programs at schools and universities around the US in the late 1970s. In the economic recession during this period, combined with residual countercultural fears of big business and bureaucratic businessmen, small-business enterprises and business schools cultivated the individual entrepreneur as an important element to Christian free enterprise, which found a particularly rich home in small towns, farms, and local churches. Outside the crowded, competitive urban industrial landscape, the emphasis on religion and American heritage that often characterized rural areas in the 1970s provided a welcoming context for the emergence of Christian free enterprise. These cultural spaces, as Moreton argues, “provided the cultural resources to enable a massive shift of economic possibility.”

In the small business schools that cropped up along the Sunbelt in the late 1970s, courses were offered in entrepreneurship, where, as Moreton states, the entrepreneur was cast as a special and rare type, not your typical bureaucratic businessman: “In this guise, the entrepreneur inherited the mantle of Jeffersonian virtue from the independent farmers and the Populist rebellion—a hero for the age of the mass office, a foil to sissified bureaucrats and the distant Shylocks of Wall Street.” As Moreton points out, the Waltons, the founders of Wal-Mart, promoted Christian business schools and Christian free enterprise and free trade, which serve a vital function in the economic backdrop of advanced capitalism in the branding of religion.

The commodification of religion had been a practice for centuries, but the use of the commercial marketplace to “sell” religion to reluctant, hard-to-reach, or otherwise inaccessible potential congregations proved successful in making religion “relevant” to an increasingly modern and pro-corporate population. But Christian free enterprise is not simply the use of the marketplace to sell religion. It is the adoption of the logic of free enterprise and branding as a way of understanding, experiencing, and proselytizing Christian religious values. This not only is a necessary condition for the branding of particular religions but also changes the understanding of religion itself.

Indeed, the connection between Christian religious values and a kind of pro-corporate populism is crucial for branding Christianity because it offers the possibility of a wide audience for the brand. As Moreton points out, procorporate populism (which argues vehemently against government or state intervention) imbues the political economy with moral legitimacy, infusing it with the conservative values of a “rural white virtue.” In the contemporary moment, the merging of Christian values with capitalist entrepreneurship takes the form of megachurches and charismatic evangelist leaders. A focus on “free” enterprise—meaning (in part) an opposition to organized labor, state intervention, and public resources—made Christian enterprise compatible with conservative, anticommunist ideologies and the ideology of whiteness. As Moreton argues, the wedding of conservative corporate ideologies to not simply Christian enterprise but Christian education in the formation of private Christian business schools created a context in which these two discourses were completely compatible, each informing the other: “The southwestern Christian college and the new mass white-collar workplace were just beginning a quietly historic partnership, and the terms of the bargain were clear enough.”

In the advanced capitalism of the later 20th century, the terms of the bargain find purchase in Prosperity Christianity. As a set of religious teachings and training, the theology is centered on the notion that God provides material wealth—prosperity—for those individuals he favors. Prosperity Christianity cuts across denominational boundaries and is defined “as the teaching that believers have a right to the blessings of health and wealth and that they can obtain these blessings through positive confessions of faith and the ‘sowing of seeds’ through the faithful payments of tithes and offerings.” Prosperity preaching has found a welcome home in many megachurches across the US in the early 21st century, spaces in which an evangelist preaches to hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals, as well as offering services to even larger audiences through live streams online. While there are certainly many religious detractors from Prosperity Christianity—indeed, Christianity Today describes it as “false gospel,” “unethical and unChristlike,” and “spiritually unhealthy”—it has garnered attention from thousands of followers, its message of gaining material wealth through prayer and commitment to one’s own congregation especially powerful since the global recession of 2008.

Recent headlines tell us something about how this reimagined relationship between religion and the economy has become increasingly mainstream: a cover of Time magazine, in 2006, asked, “Does God Want You to Be Rich?”; a later cover, after the global economic collapse in the fall of 2008, asked a follow-up question: “Maybe We Should Blame God for the Subprime Mess?”

The Atlantic Monthly in 2009 asked a similar question: “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?” Christian blogs have taken up the issue of merging money talk with scripture in sermons (alternately defined as Prosperity Christianity or “Christianity Lite”), with vehement defenders on both sides of the debate. The most popular evangelical in the US in the 21st century, Joel Osteen, whose Prosperity megachurch in Houston boasts more than 40,000 weekly worshipers, writes in his best-selling book Your Best Life Now, “Telling yourself you are poor, or broke, or stuck in a dead-end job is a form of sin and invites more negativity into your life.” Another popular Prosperity evangelist, T. D. Jakes, emphasizes personal achievement in his role as pastor of Potter’s House, a 28,000-member, primarily African American church in Dallas, Texas. As Shayne Lee and Phillip Luke Sinitiere point out, Jakes “argues that his ministries provide African-Americans with the life skills, emotional health, and psychological well-being to be successful.” They continue: “[Jakes’s] brand of personal empowerment promotes the bourgeois conservatism of the new black church.” In yet another example of Prosperity preachers, televangelists Kenneth Copeland and Gloria Copeland, founders of the Kenneth Copeland Ministries and authors of books such as The Laws of Prosperity and Prosperity: The Choice Is Yours, preach that the more money worshipers give to the church, the more they will receive in their own lives. 

The focus of evangelicals on personal empowerment and individuals (and, in this case, individual wealth) has reached a heightened significance in the early 21st century. Prosperity Christianity has become an important non- or postdenomination for many contemporary evangelical preachers, where sermons focus on the righteousness of acquiring individual wealth and material success, a pursuit that becomes its own sort of salvation.

Not only are religious messages packaged like other brands, through infomercials, merchandise, and sophisticated media distribution, but also the content of the message can only be understood within a brand context: materialism, consumption, capitalist exchange, and personal empowerment. As Einstein says about Prosperity preaching, “In order to draw in the masses, preachers must include what will attract the largest number of people—ideas about how their lives will be better, more prosperous, more fulfilling—and exclude those things that will lead viewers to reach for the remote control—mentions of Jesus, requests for contributions, suggestions that they are going to hell.”

A mention of Jesus is a turnoff for Christians? If Jesus is not an appropriate focus for spiritual leaders, the question then becomes: How does a spiritual leader become a valuable brand in a rapidly changing society? Evangelists now need to self-brand but another element obviously has to do not only with how particular individuals are skilled at making religion “relevant” to a contemporary culture (through communication technologies, social media, and so on) but with what identities are particularly brandable. That is, a lack of specificity in religious branding is important in order to reach a broad audience of religious consumers, so that megachurches and other contemporary religious institutions (including many religious websites) are strategically nondenominational or “postdenominational” in their religious messages and practices. Within branded religions such as Prosperity Christianity, vague references to a Christian tradition that are individualized, such as how to make one’s life better, are more lucrative than specific and community-oriented content, such as a mention of Jesus.

Contemporary evangelists, including Prosperity preachers, are the latest in a long history, dating back to the 18th century, of successful evangelists in the US. George Whitefield, who came to the US in 1738, was arguably the first successful evangelist; he was also an early marketer of religious ephemera.

The most successful early evangelists were skilled orators and entrepreneurs who were particularly savvy at using communication technologies to publicize their messages. Radio was a very useful medium for early 20th-century evangelists (as well as for advertisers and politicians). Religious leaders such as Aimee Semple McPherson, Charles Fuller, and Charles Coughlin became expert at using mass media to spread religious messages. In the 1930s, Coughlin’s weekly broadcasts reached more than 30 million listeners. In the 1980s, televangelists like Jerry Falwell, Billy Swaggart, and Jimmy Bakker used television to build huge congregations across the nation.

Today, as Lee and Sinitiere point out, evangelicals draw millions of followers by reimagining Christianity, and part of this reimagining has been enabled by the normalization of the entrepreneur: “Through the power of their appeal, rather than the authority of ecclesiastical positioning, [contemporary evangelists] assemble multi-million-dollar ministries and worldwide renown. With weak or no denominational ties, they are ‘free agents’ who make their mark on contemporary American society.” One way contemporary evangelicals “make their mark” is through the efficient use of new communication technologies to distribute their messages, from live streaming online videos of their services, to selling books and DVDs on iTunes, to Facebook pages. Self-branding, for some contemporary evangelists, has become an effective way to promote both themselves and the religious teachings they provide. Since, as I have argued elsewhere, self-branding is becoming a more normative practice in contemporary US culture as a way to craft personal identity, it makes sense for some evangelists to consider themselves “free agents” in a neoliberal marketplace. In other words, it is not simply more sophisticated media technologies, or a shifting capitalist system, or new understandings of individual subjectivities that authorize the emergence of the new evangelists in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. It is all of these elements, along with a more general cultural ethos of promotion, which suggests that branding is an aspect of new media logic that is altering even seemingly unconnected domains (such as religion).

The mass white-collar workplace Moreton details as emerging in the mid-20th-century US is precisely the demographic on which 21st-century advanced capitalism depends, both as a source of labor (itinerant labor, antiunion) and as the locus of racialized fears about immigrant labor (outsourcing, denial of immigration rights). Historically, the church has been an advocate of some state intervention and support—social gospelers, for instance, worked with New Deal policies in the early 20th century. Additionally, various Christian denominations have been community oriented rather than individually oriented. But rather than challenge neoliberal economic practices of “free enterprises” and work toward reestablishing state and federal public policies and practices, Christian “free” enterprise and individual entrepreneurship provide solutions to increased alienation (an alienation that ostensibly is caused partly by a multiracial and multicultural workforce and widening income gaps). The church becomes a site of refuge:

In the vacuum that was left by the eradication of the safety net [public provisions], churches and other faith-based organizations became the pro- vider of last resort. Their family values rendered care a private privilege awarded in defense of marriage, not a mutual social duty of citizens to one another. The irony was that both the corporations and the churches were already public-private partnerships by definition, built with public subsidy and dependent on state nurturance.

Advanced capitalist doctrine is expert in circumnavigating this kind of irony, where the emergence of the private, individual entrepreneur is validated by the state and public-private partnerships. In the context of the religious, individual entrepreneur, this irony manifests not only in the public- private partnerships of the church but also in the practice of spiritual leaders of simultaneously disavowing of capitalism and embracing of its logic. For instance, an immensely popular evangelist, Rick Warren, with an impressive megachurch of his own (the Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, currently the eighth-largest church in the US, averaging 22,000 weekly attendees) strongly disagrees with emphasizing a relationship between God and personal financial success.

As he says, “This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy? There is a word for that: baloney. It’s creating a false idol. You don’t measure your self-worth by your net worth.”  Warren’s comments are another example of how religious leaders purport to use the strategy of capitalism in the name of faith, without capitulating to capitalism’s system of value. This double mobilization maintains authenticity for such leaders; Warren’s statement that Prosperity teaching is “baloney” is another way to articulate it as inauthentic. Yet Warren has also been described being “as much Bill Gates as he is Billy Graham.” Forbes magazine “called Warren a ‘spiritual entrepreneur’” and stated that if Warren’s ministry were a business, it “would be compared with Dell, Google, or Starbucks.” Of course, Warren’s ministry is a business, so it makes perfect sense to situate it alongside Google or Starbucks. His book The Purpose Driven Life is a New York Times best seller and offers a personal guide for individuals to figure out their purpose in life (and despite the first line of the book, which answers this question with “It’s not about you,” it clearly is about you, and buying the book, and following his “Purpose Driven” philosophy).

Warren gave the benediction at President Obama’s inauguration in 2008, and Time magazine named him one of “15 World Leaders Who Mattered Most in 2004” and in 2005 one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.” Also, in 2005 U.S. News & World Report named him one of “America’s 25 Best Leaders.” So while Warren may preach against Prosperity Christianity, he is nonetheless part of a broader pattern of branding Christianity.

Warren and other contemporary evangelists like him, even when not expressing Prosperity Christianity explicitly, demonstrate the various ways in which religion is increasingly understood through the language of the brand. As Linda Kintz argues in her work Between Jesus and the Market, the fundamentalism of Christian ideology works in concert with the fundamentalism of the market, so that “prosperity” preaching provides a space in which the contradictions of “free” enterprise are resolved. That is to say, the practice of branding religion does not merely indicate that religious doctrine is simply communicated and experienced in an economic context. The branding of religion in contemporary capitalism also means that neoliberal ideologies of the individual, the “free” market, and a lessening of state intervention of any kind are increasingly part of religious ideologies. For example, the Prosperity leader Benny Hinn preaches about the specific ways in which God “wants” people to become wealthy. In one of his articles on his website, “Your Supernatural Wealth Transfer Is Coming,” Hinn cites Psalm 35:27: “Yea, let them say continually, Let the Lord be magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant.” Hinn interprets this as “It is God’s will that you prosper!” In this article, Hinn lists six “wealth transfers” that have happened throughout history, offering narratives of biblical figures such as Abraham and Isaac as benefiting materially from God’s will. The seventh person on Hinn’s list in line for a “wealth transfer” is, not surprisingly, “you” (“Next in line for a great wealth transfer is you!”). The key to becoming rich, Hinn tells his congregation, is to pray and spread the word of the gospel.63 Alongside tabs on his website like “spiritual life” and “healing,” Hinn features “financial freedom,” where he gives advice on money management, tithing, and God’s prosperity.

Hinn, like Osteen and other Prosperity preachers, is committed to an ideology of free-market capitalism and has found ways to imbricate this ideology into religious practice. Indeed, as Jonathan Walton points out, too little attention has been paid by religious scholars to evangelists as proselytizers of a particular Christian identity, “an identity defined, for the most part, by theological, cultural and political neoconservatism.” While neoconservatism cannot be collapsed with neoliberal culture, they share similar tenets in terms of a prioritizing of individualism, a privileging of the free market, a distrust in the state—and the way all of these discourses form a national- ist sensibility. As Walton continues, “For the vast majority of televangelists, commitments to hyper-American patriotism, free-market capitalism, and patriarchal conceptions of the ordering of society are regularly transmitted through mass-mediated images and ‘Christian’ discourse.”

If branding in its contemporary form emerges from a kind of fundamentalism of the free market, then this connects to (though does not always neatly map onto) a particular fundamentalism within religion. “Fundamentalism” here indicates not merely a strict adherence to religious doctrine as the truth but also a powerful belief in the set of neoliberal principles that structure contemporary cultural, political, and economic life. The fundamentalism of the free market, in turn, implies not only a strict adherence to capitalist doctrine as the truth (though it is about this kind of observance) but also a loyalty to capitalist logic as structuring principles for everyday life.

As Kintz argues, part of this fundamentalism has been the use of women as spokespeople for a kind of Christianity. Women have helped move fundamentalist religious concerns, once thought to be on the extreme margins, to the mainstream by collapsing these concerns into affective feelings about family, home, and domesticity: “That collapse has also paradoxically helped establish a symbolic framework that returns manliness to the center of culture.” A brief glance at US politics in the first decade of the 21st century demonstrates this, as former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin has efficiently built a self-brand as a religious American woman. In all her roles, as running mate to Republican presidential candidate John McCain, a political pundit for conservative news network Fox News, a spokesperson of the Tea Party, and a reality television star, Palin has clearly proselytized that the moral principles of the right wing in US politics and those of a masculinized religious sentiment can be merged—and merged most effectively in a feminine, preferably maternal, body. The collapse of conservative ideologies into affective, indeed nostalgic, sentiments, especially those of a neoliberal definition of morality, is achieved through the use of conservative women as spokes- people for the nation. This collapse is also the crux of religious brand culture, which retools capitalist strategies and logics into cultural norms.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/books/how-christianity-became-lucrative-brand

Links:
[1] http://nypress.com/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/sarah-banet-weiser
[3] https://nyupress.org/books/book-details.aspx?bookid=5999
[4] http://www.alternet.org/tags/mormons
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/christianity
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/propserity-gospel
[7] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Why the Christian Right Believes It Has Once-in-a-Decade Chance to Impose Its Radical Worldview on America

By CJ Werleman, AlterNet, November 26, 2013  http://admin.alternet.org/belief/why-christian-right-thinks-they-have-once-decade-opportunity-impose-their-radical-worldview

…the Religious Right senses a once-in-a-decade opportunity to impose its radical worldview on America…If the Christian Right sweeps Republicans to control the Senate in next year’s midterms, the anti-secularists will take a big step forward toward their stated ideological goals…to transform America’s secular state into a tyrannical theocracy …the always-mobilized theological tribe will turn out in high numbers in 2014. This means America’s secular state will remain in the balance should the secular left tribe do no better than its impotency in 2010.

Mini-excerpt

…the Religious Right senses a once-in-a-decade opportunity to impose its radical worldview on America…Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. writes, “This era’s conservatives will use any means at their disposal to win control of the courts. Their goal is to do all they can to limit Congress’s ability to enact social reforms.”  … If the Christian Right sweeps Republicans to control the Senate in next year’s midterms, the anti-secularists will take a big step forward toward their stated ideological goals…the likely 2016 GOP frontrunners have a base wish to transform America’s secular state into a tyrannical theocracy …Cass R. Sunstein, author of Radicals in Robes: Why Extreme Right-Wing Courts are Bad for America, writes, “Our courts now represents the most extreme elements of the Republican Party…some of these judges do not hesitate to depart radically from longstanding understandings of constitutional meaning…The end of the filibuster threatens the far right’s stranglehold on our courts….expect the Christian Right to be the party’s primary water carrier in the midterms…the always-mobilized theological tribe will turn out in high numbers in 2014. This means America’s secular state will remain in the balance should the secular left tribe do no better than its impotency in 2010.

Excerpt

…if there are two issues that juice the Christian Right the most, it’s women’s reproductive rights and judicial activism. On the latter, the Religious Right senses a once-in-a-decade opportunity to impose its radical worldview on America…Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. writes, “This era’s conservatives will use any means at their disposal to win control of the courts. Their goal is to do all they can to limit Congress’s ability to enact social reforms.”  The Christian Right, which is the GOP’s most reliable and agitated voting bloc, is obsessed with the courts… If the Christian Right sweeps Republicans to control the Senate in next year’s midterms, the anti-secularists will take a big step forward toward their stated ideological goals. The recent Values Voter Summit demonstrated that the likely 2016 GOP frontrunners have a base wish to transform America’s secular state into a tyrannical theocracy …Truth in Action Ministries recently released a film titled Freedom on Trial… The general theme of the documentary is that Christianity is under attack thanks to liberal “activist judges.” Bork warns that courts are “teaching the people that religion is evil,” while another conservative attorney claims decisions that go against the Ten Commandments will “destroy the country.”..The Republican Party has again demonstrated that nullification and obstruction are ready-made weapons to ensure the courts remain dominated by conservatives. Cass R. Sunstein, author of Radicals in Robes: Why Extreme Right-Wing Courts are Bad for America, writes, “Our courts now represents the most extreme elements of the Republican Party…some of these judges do not hesitate to depart radically from longstanding understandings of constitutional meaning…The end of the filibuster threatens the far right’s stranglehold on our courts….expect the Christian Right to be the party’s primary water carrier in the midterms…the always-mobilized theological tribe will turn out in high numbers in 2014. This means America’s secular state will remain in the balance should the secular left tribe do no better than its impotency in 2010.

Full text

Elections have consequences. The Senate Democrats’ detonation of the “nuclear option” has dramatically raised the stakes for secular progressives in 2014, because if there are two issues that juice the Christian Right the most, it’s women’s reproductive rights and judicial activism. On the latter, the Religious Right senses a once-in-a-decade opportunity to impose its radical worldview on America.

Last week, the Senate voted 52-48 to eliminate the ability of the minority party in the Senate to filibuster executive branch nominees and any judgeship below the Supreme Court by changing the requirements for passage to a simple majority vote. It was a historic move made because there was no other alternative, given the GOP’s unprecedented abuse of the filibuster. In the history of the United States, 168 presidential nominees have been filibustered. Half occurred under all presidents from Washington through to Bush. Remarkably, the other half has taken place under just one president: Obama.

Why such aggressive judicial obstructionism by the GOP?

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. writes, “This era’s conservatives will use any means at their disposal to win control of the courts. Their goal is to do all they can to limit Congress’s ability to enact social reforms.”

The Christian Right, which is the GOP’s most reliable and agitated voting bloc, is obsessed with the courts, and the Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit is the nation’s second most important judicial body, which is why Republicans “gave the game away when all but a few of them opposed Obama’s three most recent appointments.”

Now that Democrats were forced into limiting the filibuster, the Christian Right has its incentive to mobilize for 2014. A simple majority control of the Senate gives it an opportunity to pack the courts with judges straight out of the Justice Scalia mold, who once said that separation of church and state would come under scrutiny under a Supreme Court with a Scalia majority. If the Christian Right sweeps Republicans to control the Senate in next year’s midterms, the anti-secularists will take a big step forward toward their stated ideological goals.

The recent Values Voter Summit demonstrated that the likely 2016 GOP frontrunners have a base wish to transform America’s secular state into a tyrannical theocracy — a nirvana absent gays, liberals, immigrants, Muslims and science books. The right-wing media elites are already doing their bit to gin up the far right’s judicial activists with Rush Limbaugh comparing filibuster reform to rape.

Truth in Action Ministries recently released a film titled Freedom on Trial, which features Robert Bork, the failed Reagan Supreme Court nominee, Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, and Heritage Foundation vice president Genevieve Wood. The general theme of the documentary is that Christianity is under attack thanks to liberal “activist judges.” Bork warns that courts are “teaching the people that religion is evil,” while another conservative attorney claims decisions that go against the Ten Commandments will “destroy the country.”

President Obama’s judicial nominees were being filibustered because they threaten to alter the circuit court’s philosophical balance. The Republican Party has again demonstrated that nullification and obstruction are ready-made weapons to ensure the courts remain dominated by conservatives.

Cass R. Sunstein, author of Radicals in Robes: Why Extreme Right-Wing Courts are Bad for America, writes, “Our courts now represents the most extreme elements of the Republican Party. These reformers include a number of federal judges—radicals in robes, fundamentalists on the bench….some of these judges do not hesitate to depart radically from longstanding understandings of constitutional meaning.” Political analyst James Fallows writes, “Add that to the simply unprecedented abuse of the filibuster in the years since the Democrats won control of the Senate and then took the White House, you have what we’d identify as a kind of long-term coup if we saw it happening anywhere else.”

The end of the filibuster threatens the far right’s stranglehold on our courts. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell warned, “The solution to this problem is at the ballot box. We look forward to having a great election in November 2014.” John McCain warned, “Democrats will regret this.”

For Republicans to take back the Senate, they’ll need to win six seats. Given Democrats will need to defend 21 seats, compared to just 14 for the GOP, and that seven of those 21 Democratic seats are in states that lean Republican, expect the Christian Right to be the party’s primary water carrier in the midterms.

Former Speaker Tip O’Neill liked to say that all politics is local. He was wrong. It’s tribal. The detonation of the nuclear option ensures the always-mobilized theological tribe will turn out in high numbers in 2014. This means America’s secular state will remain in the balance should the secular left tribe do no better than its impotency in 2010.

 


Source URL: http://admin.alternet.org/belief/why-christian-right-thinks-they-have-once-decade-opportunity-impose-their-radical-worldview

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[2] http://admin.alternet.org/authors/cj-werleman
[3] http://admin.alternet.org/tags/senate-0
[4] http://admin.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Indoctrinating Religious Warriors

By CHARLES M. BLOW, NewYork Times, January 3, 2014

Excerpt

In 2009, the gap between the share of Republicans and Democrats who believed in evolution was just 10 percentage points, 54 percent and 64 percent, respectively. Last year, that gap widened to a whopping 24 points because as the percentage of Democrats who believed in evolution inched up to 67 percent, the percentage of Republicans believing so plummeted to 43 percent…news comes via a survey released this week by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project…I don’t personally have a problem with religious faith, even in the extreme, as long as it doesn’t supersede science and it’s not used to impose outdated mores on others. But some people see our extreme religiosity itself as a form of dysfunction.  In a 2009 paper in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, Gregory Paul, an independent researcher, put it this way: “The level of relative and absolute societal pathology in the United States is often so severe that it is repeatedly an outlier that strongly reinforces the correlation between high levels of poor societal conditions and popular religiosity.” But I believe that something else is also at play here, something more cynical. I believe this is a natural result of a long-running ploy by Republican party leaders to play on the most base convictions of conservative voters in order to solidify their support. Convince people that they’re fighting a religious war for religious freedom, a war in which passion and devotion are one’s weapons against doubt and confusion, and you make loyal soldiersThere has been anti-science propagandizing running unchecked on the right for years, from anti-gay-equality misinformation to climate change denials...Pew found that most staunch conservatives were regular viewers of Fox News, preferring the network to any other news source. Fox has helped to ingrain the idea that Republicanism and religiosity are embattled and oppressed, fighting for survival against the forces of secular extremists…The Christians-on-the-defensive stance was front and center in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries…Newt Gingrich…citing “secular bigotry”…This is a tactic to keep the Republican rank-and-file riled up, to divert their attention from areas of common sense and the common good. After all, infidels are deserving of your enmity, not your empathy.•

Full text

In 2009, the gap between the share of Republicans and Democrats who believed in evolution was just 10 percentage points, 54 percent and 64 percent, respectively.

Last year, that gap widened to a whopping 24 points because as the percentage of Democrats who believed in evolution inched up to 67 percent, the percentage of Republicans believing so plummeted to 43 percent… Now, more Republicans believe that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time” than believe in evolution.

This sad news comes via a survey released this week by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.

In fact, this isn’t only sad; it’s embarrassing.

I don’t personally have a problem with religious faith, even in the extreme, as long as it doesn’t supersede science and it’s not used to impose outdated mores on others.

But some people see our extreme religiosity itself as a form of dysfunction.  In a 2009 paper in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, Gregory Paul, an independent researcher, put it this way: “The level of relative and absolute societal pathology in the United States is often so severe that it is repeatedly an outlier that strongly reinforces the correlation between high levels of poor societal conditions and popular religiosity.”

But I believe that something else is also at play here, something more cynical. I believe this is a natural result of a long-running ploy by Republican party leaders to play on the most base convictions of conservative voters in order to solidify their support. Convince people that they’re fighting a religious war for religious freedom, a war in which passion and devotion are one’s weapons against doubt and confusion, and you make loyal soldiers…

There has been anti-science propagandizing running unchecked on the right for years, from anti-gay-equality misinformation to climate change denials.

When you look at white evangelical Protestants, the evolution denialism gets even worse. Only 27 percent of that group believes in evolution. According to a 2011 Pew report, while white evangelical Protestants make up only 18 percent of the population overall, they “make up 43 percent of Republicans who fall into the category of staunch conservatives.”

Pew defines “staunch conservatives” as those who “take extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues — on the size and role of government, on economics, foreign policy, social issues and moral concerns. Most agree with the Tea Party, and even more very strongly disapprove of Barack Obama’s job performance.”

Pew found that most staunch conservatives were regular viewers of Fox News, preferring the network to any other news source. Fox has helped to ingrain the idea that Republicanism and religiosity are embattled and oppressed, fighting for survival against the forces of secular extremists.

There was, for instance, the Fox News-fabricated “War on Christmas” and its fight against the “Happy Holidays Syndrome.” The face of the network’s defense-of-Christmas crusade has been the “Killing Jesus” co-author Bill O’Reilly, who this season declared a victory. In December, he said on his show: “It isn’t a mythical war on Christmas. It’s real, and we just won.”

But Fox is not alone. The Christians-on-the-defensive stance was front and center in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries. During a debate in January of that year, this question from a Virginia man was put to the candidates: “Given that you oppose gay marriage, what do you want gay people to do who want to form loving, committed, long-term relationships? What is your solution?”

Newt Gingrich responded, in part citing “secular bigotry”: “The bigotry question goes both ways, and there’s a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today than there is concern on the other side, and none of it gets covered by the news media.”

There was a sustained round of applause for Gingrich’s statement. So of course, the eventual nominee, the self-proclaimed “severely conservative” eater of “cheesy grits” Mitt Romney, had to ride Gingrich’s coattails by chiming in, “As you can tell, the people in this room feel that Speaker Gingrich is absolutely right, and I do too.”

Last year, the Liberty Institute and the Family Research Council released an updated, 189-page version of a book called “Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America.”

This is a tactic to keep the Republican rank-and-file riled up, to divert their attention from areas of common sense and the common good. After all, infidels are deserving of your enmity, not your empathy.

I invite you to join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at chblow@nytimes.com.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/04/opinion/blow-indoctrinating-religious-warriors.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

How Christian Delusions Are Driving the GOP Insane

By Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet, October 9, 2013

Why aren’t Republicans more afraid? The entire premise of both the government shutdown and the threats to force the government into debt default is that Democrats care more about the consequences of these actions than the Republicans do…A handful of wide-eyed fanatics in Congress have hijacked the party [6]. The Tea Party base and the hard right politicians driving this entire thing seem oblivious to the consequences. It’s no wonder, since so many of them—particularly those in leadership—are fundamentalist Christians whose religions have distorted their worldview until they cannot actually see what they’re doing and what kind of damage it would cause...The Tea Party is actually driven primarily by fundamentalist Christians whose penchant for magical thinking and belief that they’re being guided by divine forces makes it tough for them to see the real world as it is…this latest power play from the Republicans is, in essence, a move from that demographic to assert their “right” to control the country, even if their politicians aren’t in power… In other words, the Christian right has worked itself into a frenzy of believing that if this health care law is implemented fully, then we are, in fact, facing down either the end of American Christianity itself or quite possibly the end times themselves. In comparison, it’s hard to be too scared by the worldwide financial collapse that they’re promising to unleash if the Democrats don’t just give up their power and let Republicans do what they want. Sure, crashing stock markets, soaring unemployment, and worldwide economic depression sounds bad, but for the Christian right, the alternative is fire and brimstone and God unleashing all sorts of hell on the world.

This is a problem that extends beyond just the immediate manufactured crisis… fundamentalist Christianity has been harnessed to promote the notion that climate change isn’t a real problem. Average global temperatures are creeping up, but the majority of Christian conservatives are too worried about the supposed existential threats of abortion and gay rights to care…

 

Full text

Why aren’t Republicans more afraid? The entire premise of both the government shutdown and the threats to force the government into debt default is that Democrats care more about the consequences of these actions than the Republicans do. Republicans may go on TV and shed crocodile tears about national monuments being shut down, but the act isn’t really fooling the voters [3]: The only way to understand these fights is to understand that the GOP is threatening to destroy the government and the world economy in order to get rid of Obamacare (as well as a panoply of other right wing demands). Just as terrorists use the fact that you care more about the lives of the hostages than they do to get leverage, Republican threats rely on believing they don’t care about the consequences, while Democrats do.

So why aren’t they more afraid? Businessweek, hardly a liberal news organization, said the price of default would be [4] “a financial apocalypse” that would cause a worldwide economic depression.  This is the sort of thing that affects everyone. Having a right wing ideology doesn’t magically protect your investments from crashing alongside the rest of the stock market.

The willingness of Republicans to take the debt ceiling and the federal budget hostage in order to try to extract concessions from Democrats is probably the most lasting gift that the Tea Party has granted the country. More reasonable Republican politicians fear being primaried by Tea Party candidates [5]. A handful of wide-eyed fanatics in Congress have hijacked the party [6]. The Tea Party base and the hard right politicians driving this entire thing seem oblivious to the consequences. It’s no wonder, since so many of them—particularly those in leadership—are fundamentalist Christians whose religions have distorted their worldview until they cannot actually see what they’re doing and what kind of damage it would cause. 

The press often talks about the Tea Party like they’re secularist movement that is interested mainly in promoting “fiscal conservatism”, a vague notion that never actually seems to make good on the promise to save taxpayer money. The reality is much different: The Tea Party is actually driven primarily by fundamentalist Christians whose penchant for magical thinking and belief that they’re being guided by divine forces makes it tough for them to see the real world as it is.

It’s not just that the rogue’s gallery of congress people [6] who are pushing the hardest for hostage-taking as a negotiation tactic also happens to be a bench full of Bible thumpersPew Research shows that people who align with the Tea Party [7] are more likely to not only agree with the views of religious conservatives, but are likely to cite religious belief as their prime motivation for their political views.  White evangelicals are the religious group most likely to approve of the Tea Party. Looking over the data, it becomes evident that the “Tea Party” is just a new name for the same old white fundamentalists who would rather burn this country to the ground than share it with everyone else, and this latest power play from the Republicans is, in essence, a move from that demographic to assert their “right” to control the country, even if their politicians aren’t in power.

It’s no surprise, under the circumstances, that a movement controlled by fundamentalist Christians would be oblivious to the very real dangers that their actions present. Fundamentalist religion is extremely good at convincing its followers to be more afraid of imaginary threats than real ones, and to engage in downright magical thinking about the possibility that their own choices could work out very badly. When you believe that forcing the government into default in an attempt to derail Obamacare is the Lord’s work, it’s very difficult for you to see that it could have very real, negative effects.

It’s hard for the Christian fundamentalists who run the Republican Party now to worry about the serious economic danger they’re putting the world in, because they are swept up in worrying that President Obama is an agent of the devil and that the world is on the verge of mayhem and apocalypse if they don’t “stop” him somehow, presumably be derailing the Affordable Care Act. Christian conservatives such as Ellis Washington [8] are running around telling each other that the ACA  will lead to “the systematic genocide of the weak, minorities, enfeebled, the elderly and political enemies of the God-state.” Twenty percent of Republicans believe Obama is the Antichrist [9].Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Kuhner [10] argued that Obama is using his signature health care legislation to promote “the destruction of the family, Christian culture”, and demanded that Christians “need to engage in peaceful civil disobedience against President Obama’s signature health care law”.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops joined in, demanding that the Republicans shut down the government [11] rather than let Obamacare go into effect. The excuse was their objection to the requirement that insurance make contraception available without a copayment, saying ending this requirement matters more than “serving their own employees or the neediest Americans.”

The Christian right media has been hammering home the message that Christians should oppose the Affordable Care Act. Pat Necerato of the Christian News Network accused [12] the supporters of the law of committing idolatry and accused people who want health care of being covetous. The Christian Post approvingly reported various Christian leaders [13], including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, saying things like the health care law is “a profound attack on our liberties” and lamented “Today is the day I will tell my grandchildren about when they ask me what happened to freedom in America.”

Some in the Christian right straight up believe Obamacare portends the end times. Rick Phillips, writing for Christianity.com [14], hinted that Obamacare might be predicted in Revelations, though he held back from saying that was certain. Others are less cautious. On the right wing fundamentalist email underground, a conspiracy theory has arisen claiming that Obamacare will require all citizens to have a microchip implanted [15]. While it’s completely untrue, many Christians believe that this means the “mark of the beast” predicted in Revelations that portends the return of Christ and the end of the world.

In other words, the Christian right has worked itself into a frenzy of believing that if this health care law is implemented fully, then we are, in fact, facing down either the end of American Christianity itself or quite possibly the end times themselves. In comparison, it’s hard to be too scared by the worldwide financial collapse that they’re promising to unleash if the Democrats don’t just give up their power and let Republicans do what they want. Sure, crashing stock markets, soaring unemployment, and worldwide economic depression sounds bad, but for the Christian right, the alternative is fire and brimstone and God unleashing all sorts of hell on the world.

This is a problem that extends beyond just the immediate manufactured crisis. The Christian right has become the primary vehicle in American politics for minimizing the problems of the real world while inventing imaginary problems as distractions. Witness, for instance, the way that fundamentalist Christianity has been harnessed [16] to promote the notion that climate change isn’t a real problem. Average global temperatures are creeping up, but the majority of Christian conservatives are too worried about the supposed existential threats of abortion and gay rights to care.

Under the circumstances, it’s no surprise that it’s easy for Christian conservatives to worry more about imaginary threats from Obamacare than it is for them to worry about the very real threat to worldwide economic stability if the go along with their harebrained scheme of forcing the government into default. To make it worse, many have convinced themselves that it’s their opponents who are deluded. Take right wing Christian Senator Tom Coburn [17], who celebrated the possibility of default back in January by saying it would be a “wonderful experiment”. Being able to blow past all the advice of experts just to make stuff up you want to believe isn’t a quality that is unique to fundamentalists, but as these budget negotiations are making clear, they do have a uniquely strong ability to lie to themselves about what is and isn’t a real danger to themselves and to the world.

See more stories tagged with:

christian [18],

religion [19]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/belief/how-christian-delusions-are-driving-gop-insane

Links:
[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/amanda-marcotte
[3] http://www.salon.com/2013/10/04/gops_fooling_no_one_theyll_always_rightly_be_blamed_for_shutdowns/
[4] http://www.businessweek.com/news/2013-10-06/a-u-dot-s-dot-default-seen-as-unprecedented-catastrophe-dwarfing-lehman
[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/us/a-federal-budget-crisis-months-in-the-planning.html?pagewanted=1&hp
[6] http://gawker.com/the-ten-republicans-who-shut-down-the-government-1440374726
[7] http://www.pewforum.org/2011/02/23/tea-party-and-religion/
[8] http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/wnd-obamacare-will-lead-systematic-genocide
[9] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/03/americans-believe-obama-anti-christ-global-warming-hoax_n_3008558.html
[10] http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/kuhner-liberalism-killing-millions-will-destroy-family-religion-and-civilization
[11] http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/10/07/2743471/catholic-bishops-to-house-shut-down-the-government-unless-we-get-our-way-on-birth-control/
[12] http://christiannews.net/2013/01/07/obamacare-why-christians-must-obey-god-rather-than-obama/
[13] http://www.christianpost.com/news/conservative-christians-warn-american-families-at-risk-after-obamacare-is-upheld-77383/
[14] http://www.christianity.com/christian-life/political-and-social-issues/christians-in-conflict-over-obamacare.html
[15] http://www.snopes.com/politics/medical/microchip.asp
[16] http://www.alternet.org/environment/how-religious-right-fueling-climate-change-denial
[17] http://videocafe.crooksandliars.com/david/coburn-debt-ceiling-breach-wonderful-experim
[18] http://www.alternet.org/tags/christian-0
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/religion-0
[20] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Why We Must Reclaim The Bible From Fundamentalists

by John Shelby Spong, Retired American Bishop of the Episcopal Church, HuffingtonPost.com, 10/13/2011

Excerpt

The contrast between the way the Bible is understood in the academic world and the way it is viewed in our churches is striking…issues and insights, commonplace among the scholars, are viewed as highly controversial and even as “heresy” in the churches. The result has been that the majority of people who have remained in the church have become more and more rigid and fundamentalist, while those who have left have become more and more dismissive of everything, good or bad, about Christianity… there are other ways to view Christianity.

In the world of Christian scholarship, for example, to read the Bible literally is regarded as absurd. To call the words of the Bible “the Word of God” is more than naïve…There are some biblical facts that cannot and should not be ignored, if Christians really value truth… Christianity is, I believe, about expanded life, heightened consciousness and achieving a new humanity. It is not about closed minds, supernatural interventions, a fallen creation, guilt, original sin or divine rescue. I am tired of seeing the Bible being used, as it has been throughout history, to legitimize slavery and segregation, to subdue women, to punish homosexuals, to justify war and to oppose family planning and birth control. That is a travesty which must be challenged and changed…

Full text

The contrast between the way the Bible is understood in the academic world and the way it is viewed in our churches is striking. I know because in my life as a priest and a bishop I have both served typical congregations and been privileged to study and to teach in some of the best known Christian academic centers in the world. In academia I discovered that issues and insights, commonplace among the scholars, are viewed as highly controversial and even as “heresy” in the churches. The result has been that the majority of people who have remained in the church have become more and more rigid and fundamentalist, while those who have left have become more and more dismissive of everything, good or bad, about Christianity. We also now have a crop of writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchen, who have totally demolished the fundamentalist approach to God with their clever and penetrating books, yet they are seemingly unaware that there are other ways to view Christianity.

In the world of Christian scholarship, for example, to read the Bible literally is regarded as absurd. To call the words of the Bible “the Word of God” is more than naïve. No modern person can still believe that a star can wander through the sky so slowly that wise men can keep up with it, that God actually dictated the Ten Commandments — all three versions, no less — or that a multitude can be fed with five loaves and two fish. No modern person understanding genetics and reproduction can believe that virgins conceive, nor can those who understand what death does to the human body in a matter of just minutes still view the resurrection as the resuscitation of a deceased body after three days. Biblical scholars know that the accounts of the crucifixion read in Christian churches on Good Friday are not eye witness reports, but developed interpretations of Jesus’ death based on a series of Old Testament texts selected to convince fellow Jews that Jesus “fulfilled the scriptures” and thus really was the “messiah.” These issues and many others are assumed in the world of biblical scholars, but are viewed by many church-goers, together with the vast majority of television evangelists and radio preachers, as attacks on divine revelation that must be resisted in order to save Christianity. They thus, knowingly or unknowingly, join in a conspiracy of silence, ignoring truth when they feel they can and viewing biblical scholars, strangely enough, as the church’s ultimate enemy. At the same time secular critics attack what Christian scholars know is nonsensical about both the Bible and Christianity and act as if they have discovered something new.

There are some biblical facts that cannot and should not be ignored, if Christians really value truth. For example, the time separating when Moses lived (ca. 1250 BCE) from when the stories of Moses were written in the Bible (ca. 950 BCE) is about 300 years, representing 15 generations of oral transmission. Can anyone knowing this continue to be a literal believer? The gospels were written 40 -70 years after the crucifixion, which means that most of what we read about Jesus in the Bible was handed down orally for two to three generations before one word of it achieved written form. The gospels were also first written in Greek, a language which neither Jesus nor his disciples spoke or wrote! How can anyone claim “inerrancy” for such material? Other facts well-known in the academy, but seemingly unknown outside by either believers or critics, are that scholars can find no evidence that miracles were associated with the memory of Jesus before the 8th decade of the Christian era, that there is no mention of the virgin birth anywhere before the 9th decade and that the narratives of the ascension and Pentecost did not appear until the 10th decade. The New Testament does not agree on such basic issues as the identity of the twelve disciples or the details of Easter. Why has none of this been made available in churches or been discovered by those who pose as the church’s secular critics?

The New Testament also introduces us to a group of characters who are far more likely to be literary creations than they are to be literal. Was Judas Iscariot a figure of history? I do not think so. There is no mention of him in any source before the 8th decade. Paul, writing between 51 and 64 CE, appears never to have heard of the tradition that one of the twelve was a traitor. In addition to that, every detail of the New Testament portrait of Judas can be located in other traitor stories in the Hebrew Scriptures. If a major figure like Judas is not real then what about such lesser characters as Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman by the well, Lazarus, miraculously raised from the dead four days after being buried, or even the “Beloved Disciple?” All of them, I now believe, were created to illustrate a theme.

It was fascinating for me in writing this book to explore the scriptures from these perspectives by journeying through the entire biblical landscape from Genesis to Revelation. That enabled me with both integrity and conviction to challenge the literal assumptions of the past and to open the biblical story to new levels of understanding that I believe are profoundly real. Who would have thought, for instance, that Hosea’s domestic life would illumine his understanding of the love of God; or that Amos, a keeper of sycamore trees in the village of Tekoa, would be the one to redefine God as justice? The book of Jonah is seen as a readable mythological tale, deliberately designed to hook its audience emotionally in order to break them out of the bondage of prejudice. The book of Job explores the universal theme of why innocent people suffer. There is great stuff in the Bible that needs to be opened in new ways.

Christianity is, I believe, about expanded life, heightened consciousness and achieving a new humanity. It is not about closed minds, supernatural interventions, a fallen creation, guilt, original sin or divine rescue. I am tired of seeing the Bible being used, as it has been throughout history, to legitimize slavery and segregation, to subdue women, to punish homosexuals, to justify war and to oppose family planning and birth control. That is a travesty which must be challenged and changed.

I wrote “Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World” to do precisely that.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-shelby-spong/why-i-wrote-re-claiming-t_b_1007399.html

The Zimmerman Acquittal: America’s Racist God

by Anthea Butler, ReligionDispatches.com, July 14, 2013

Excerpt

…The lamentation of the African-American community at yet another injustice, the surprise and disgust of others who understand, stand against this pseudo-god of capitalism and incarceration that threaten to take over our nation. While many continue to proclaim that the religious right is over, they’re wrong. The religious right is flourishing, and unlike the right of the 1970s, religious conservatism of the 21st century is in bed with the prison industrial complex, the Koch brothers, the NRA—all while proclaiming that they are “pro-life.” They are anything but…As a historian of American and African-American religion, I know that the Trayvon Martin moment is just one moment in a history of racism in America that, in large part, has its underpinnings in Christianity and its history. Those of us who teach American Religion have a responsibility to tell all of the story, not just the nice touchy-feely parts. When the good Christians of America are some of its biggest racists, one has to consider our moral responsibility to call out those who clearly are not for human flourishing, no matter what ethnicity a person is. Where are you on that scale? I know where I am.

Full text

The not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman case has me thinking a lot about a book I first encountered in seminary, Is God a White Racist?, by the Rev. Dr. Bill Jones. As a budding seminary student, it took me by surprise. Now, as a wiser, older professor looking at the needless death of Trayvon Martin, I have to say: I get it.

God ain’t good all of the time. In fact, sometimes, God is not for us. As a black woman in a nation that has taken too many pains to remind me that I am not a white man, and am not capable of taking care of my reproductive rights, or my voting rights, I know that this American god ain’t my god. As a matter of fact, I think he’s a white racist god with a problem. More importantly, he is carrying a gun and stalking young black men.

When George Zimmerman told Sean Hannity that it was God’s will that he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, he was diving right into what most good conservative Christians in America think right now. Whatever makes them protected, safe, and secure, is worth it at the expense of the black and brown people they fear.

Their god is the god that wants to erase race, make everyone act “properly” and respect, as the president said, “a nation of laws”; laws that they made to crush those they consider inferior.

When the laws were never made for people who were considered, constitutionally, to be three-fifths of a person, I have to ask: Is this just? Is it right? Is God the old white male racist looking down from white heaven, ready to bless me if I just believe the white men like Rick Perry who say the Zimmerman case has nothing to do with race?

You already know the answer: No.

The lamentation of the African-American community at yet another injustice, the surprise and disgust of others who understand, stand against this pseudo-god of capitalism and incarceration that threaten to take over our nation.

While many continue to proclaim that the religious right is over, they’re wrong. The religious right is flourishing, and unlike the right of the 1970s, religious conservatism of the 21st century is in bed with the prison industrial complex, the Koch brothers, the NRA—all while proclaiming that they are “pro-life.” They are anything but. They are the ones who thought that what George Zimmerman did was right, and I am sure my inbox will be full of well-meaning evangelical sermons about how we should all just get along, and God doesn’t see race.

Please send them elsewhere.

As a historian of American and African-American religion, I know that the Trayvon Martin moment is just one moment in a history of racism in America that, in large part, has its underpinnings in Christianity and its history.

Those of us who teach American Religion have a responsibility to tell all of the story, not just the nice touchy-feely parts. When the good Christians of America are some of its biggest racists, one has to consider our moral responsibility to call out those who clearly are not for human flourishing, no matter what ethnicity a person is. Where are you on that scale? I know where I am.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/antheabutler/7195/the_zimmerman_acquittal__america_s_racist_god

The Spiritual and Political Warfare of the New Religious Right

by Bill Berkowitz for Buzzflash at Truthout, July 9, 2013

Excerpt

As many of the pre-Reagan era Religious Right leaders retire and/or die off, beware of the new breed. Lou Engle is one of the new breed…the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), the charismatic evangelical political and religious movement that he has come to personify, has made such a splash that it threatens to drown out the more traditional voices of the Christian Right….Rachel Tabachnick wrote in a long essay titled “The Christian Right, Reborn: The New Apostolic Reformation Goes to War,” in the Spring 2013 issue of Political Research Associates’ The Public Eye… “Engle has staged more than 20 similar rallies, and each has attracted tens of thousands of participants to stadiums across the United States. He and his organization have also become deeply involved in U.S. politics, especially in anti choice and antigay organizing,” …What the movement is really after is “to unify evangelical and all Protestant Christianity into a postdenominational structure, bringing about a reformation in the way that churches relate to one other, and in individual churches’ internal governance.” Engle calls for massive “spiritual warfare” that will result in a complete worldwide “political and social transformation”: “The revolution begins, they believe, with the casting out of demons, Tabachnick states…Demonic activity has caused the downfall of society, both at home and abroad. “The sources of demonic activity can include homosexuality, abortion, non-Christian religions, and even sins from the past.” …To achieve its goals, the NAR aims to have its apostles seize control over every important aspect of society, including, the government, military, entertainment industry and education.” If the NAR falls short of world denomination, it intends, as a minimum, to “turn America back to God.”…

Full text

As many of the pre-Reagan era Religious Right leaders retire and/or die off, beware of the new breed. Lou Engle is one of the new breed. Although Engle has been kicking around for more than a decade, it is only in the past few years that he and the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), the charismatic evangelical political and religious movement that he has come to personify, has made such a splash that it threatens to drown out the more traditional voices of the Christian Right.

In 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that George W. Bush would be president, Lou Engle saw it as the answer to his prayers. A few months before the election, Engle had held an all-day prayer event in Washington, D.C., that drew approximately 400,000. Although Engle’s prayer rally wasn’t as magnetic or media buzz-worthy as when the Promise Keepers drew nearly one million to the nation’s capital three years earlier, it could be seen as Engle’s coming out party.

(The Promise Keepers is a still extant conservative Christian men’s organization whose membership and attendance at its stadium and arena events soared in the 1990s, and, due to internal squabbles, subsequently plummeted to earth in the first decade of this century.)

“The prayers of the faithful were answered when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Bush v. Gore decision, giving the election to George W. Bush,” Rachel Tabachnick wrote in a long essay titled “The Christian Right, Reborn: The New Apostolic Reformation Goes to War,” in the Spring 2013 issue of Political Research Associates’ The Public Eye. For the NAR, the DC rally was just the beginning of a more public political journey that has allowed it to become one of the most important and yet least understood religious/political movements in the country.

Since that first rally, “Engle has staged more than 20 similar rallies, and each has attracted tens of thousands of participants to stadiums across the United States. He and his organization have also become deeply involved in U.S. politics, especially in anti choice and antigay organizing,” Tabachnick, a PRA research fellow who has over the past several years become one of the nation’s leading experts on the New Apostolic Reformation, reported.

None other than the venerable Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, one of the Christian Right’s flagship entities, and a long-time culture warrior, credited Engle with bringing out the troops for a rally at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego one week before Election Day in 2008, and making a huge difference in helping pass Proposition 8, California’s anti-same-sex marriage initiative. According to Tabachnick, “Engle’s organization mounted a radio campaign and sent out email and phone blasts in support of Proposition 8, and he urged attendees to be martyrs for the cause.”

Journalist and Talk2Action co-founder, Bruce Wilson described Engle as “the unofficial prayer leader of the Republican Party.” He has been called a “radical theocrat,” and the Southern Poverty Law Center has said that he says he can occasionally “venture into bloodlust.”

Engle, a New Apostolic Reformation leader, has helped build a movement that has veered away from what we have come to know as the “traditional” Christian Right. It “is rooted in Charismatic Christianity, a cross-denominational belief in modern-day miracles and the supernatural.” It emerged from neo-Pentecostal movement of the 1980s and “spread to Roman Catholics and mainline and evangelical Protestant churches in the United States and worldwide.”

According to Tabachnick, the NAR embraces women and minorities, and is particularly focused on youth, “sponsoring youth events that look more like rock concerts than traditional church services.” Its “stylish leaders dress in casual clothes, encourage fasting and repetitive chanting as a means of inducing altered mental states, and use sophisticated media strategies and techniques to deliver their message.”

It’s not all style over substance as the NAR’s “most prominent leaders and prolific authors claim to be creating the ‘greatest change in church since the Protestant Reformation,’ and they describe themselves as modern-day prophets and apostles.”

What the movement is really after is “to unify evangelical and all Protestant Christianity into a postdenominational structure, bringing about a reformation in the way that churches relate to one other, and in individual churches’ internal governance.”

Engle calls for massive “spiritual warfare” that will result in a complete worldwide “political and social transformation”: “The revolution begins, they believe, with the casting out of demons, Tabachnick states. “NAR training materials claim that communities around the world are healed of their problems — experiencing a sudden and supernatural decline in poverty, crime, corruption, and even environmental degradation — once demonic influences are mapped and then purged from society through NAR’s particular brand of ‘spiritual warfare,’ which is sometimes referred to as ‘power evangelism.’”

Demonic activity has caused the downfall of society, both at home and abroad. “The sources of demonic activity can include homosexuality, abortion, non-Christian religions, and even sins from the past.” According to NAR leaders, “strategic prayer can literally alter circumstances in the temporal world: the spontaneous burning and destruction of religious icons and structures,” Tabachnick noted.

To achieve its goals, the NAR aims to have its apostles seize control over every important aspect of society, including, the government, military, entertainment industry and education.”

If the NAR falls short of world denomination, it intends, as a minimum, to “turn America back to God.”

Why pay any attention to what thus far appears to be a marginally effective political movement?

Tabachnick argues that, “The movement is bringing about profound changes in the character of conservative Christianity and the Christian Right, both in the United States and around the globe.” It is not only “building new institutions, but [it is] creating new networks and alliances among long-established institutions. The NAR’s leaders are methodically transforming the nature of the relationship between congregations and their leaders, creating a much more authoritarian leadership style than has traditionally been true of evangelical Christianity. That shift is central to the movement’s political potential.

“The NAR’s charismatic, authoritarian leaders are well-positioned to reinvent the Christian Right, infusing it with a new wave of energy, expanding its base of support, conducting sophisticated political campaigns, and doubling down on right-wing social and economic agendas — all while giving the Christian Right a new gloss of openness and diversity.”

The “leading theorist” and the NAR’s “most important organizing force” is C. Peter Wagner, a professor of “church growth” for three decades at Fuller Theological Seminary, a nondenominational evangelical seminary in Pasadena, CA. In the 1990′s, Wagner headed up the International Coalition of Apostles, a networking group that “presided over an association of apostles — many of which, in turn, claimed hundreds or thousands of ministries under their leadership.” He “also formed networks of faith-healing ministries, ‘deliverance ministries’ that claim to free people from demon possession, and an inner-circle of leading prophets, in addition to the Wagner Leadership Institute (WLI), a network of training programs in locations across the United States, Canada, and several Asian nations.”

Tabachnick pointed out that the New Apostolic Reformation’s influence does not end at America’s shores: “Engle was featured extensively in God Loves Uganda, a documentary about U.S. evangelical conservatives’ antigay influence in Uganda, where the infamous Anti-Homosexuality ‘Kill the Gays’ Bill was first introduced in 2009.”

The NAR might have reached its pinnacle in the summer of 2011 when 30,000 people attended a prayer rally in Houston, Texas. Promoted heavily of Texas Governor Rick Perry, then a leading contender for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, the rally featured several NAR leaders, “apostles and prophets who had for years remained under the radar were suddenly subjected to scrutiny from the media.”

“Exposed to this scrutiny, NAR’s leaders publicly distanced themselves from some of their more radical ideology. Webpages were removed and websites were amended to explain that the NAR’s apostles are either not Dominionists, or that the term simply means to gain influence in society.”

This increased scrutiny may have led to a retreat of sorts, but certainly not to surrender.

http://truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/item/18074-spiritual-political-warfare-new-religious-right

What Do We Mean By ‘Judeo-Christian’?

 By Shalom Goldman, Religion Dispatches, January 21, 2011

Religious conservatives have, to varying degrees of controversy, been issuing online voting guides for “concerned Christians” for a while now, but this past election saw something new: a national “Judeo-Christian Voter Guide.” …although the use of “Judeo-Christian” seemed to signal a message of cooperation and ecumenicism, it was really a cover for an attack on the values of the Enlightenment, the very values that enabled Jews to enter Western societies…

Full text

Religious conservatives have, to varying degrees of controversy, been issuing online voting guides for “concerned Christians” for a while now, but this past election saw something new: a national “Judeo-Christian Voter Guide.” The guide’s homepage, which features a map of all fifty states and a ‘note to clergy’ urging them to “Please click on your state to find a voter’s guide that will best fit your congregation,” connects the seeker to like-minded organizations who’ve already drafted area-specific guides. The presence of links, exclusively to conservative evangelical organizations like the ACLJ and Liberty Counsel, make the guide’s politics self-evident (though there’s no identifying or contact information and the site was registered with a service that conceals the identity of those who registered it).

As one who identifies with the “Judeo” part of Judeo-Christian, I felt invited to click on my home state of Georgia to see whom I should vote for. The links directed me to Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum and the American Family Association—a major player on the Christian right whose issues with racism and abuse Sarah Posner recently wrote about on RD. These groups, and numerous others, have moved from describing the values they fight for as “Christian” to “Judeo-Christian”—which is intended, presumably, to sound more inclusive.

Along with other students and scholars of Judaism I had to come to realize that this irksome and quintessentially American term had considerable political value, if no intellectual or spiritual weight. Like many members of my academic generation I had been influenced by theologian Arthur A. Cohen’s brilliant essay “The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition” (first published in Commentary in 1969), in which Cohen pointed to the theological impossibility of a Judeo-Christian tradition. Referring to the origins of Christianity in its Jewish setting, Cohen pointed out that:

The Jews expected a redeemer to come out of Zion; Christianity affirmed that a redeemer had come out of Zion, but that he had come for all mankind. Judaism denied that claim.

A few years after the essay’s publication, Israeli Orthodox Jewish Theologian Eliezer Berkovitz put it even more succinctly:

Judaism is Judaism because it rejects Christianity and Christianity is Christianity because it rejects Judaism.

Behind these refutations was the bloody history of European Christian persecution of Jews. In a 1963 lecture to German theologians, Richard Rubinstein noted that “for almost 2000 years an honest Judeo-Christian encounter was all but impossible in Europe… Only in modern times has a beginning been made toward real communication… A tolerated Judaism can never achieve real encounter with Christianity.”

In the 1970s I thought, somewhat naively, that such refutations by Cohen, Berkovitz, Rubenstein and others would discourage the use of “Judeo-Christian”; that by now the term would have fallen out of use. On the contrary, by the 1980s presidents were using the phrase and by the 1990s presidential campaigns were depending on its appeal. As essayist Sarah Deming noted recently: “the insidious thing about words is that the act of decrying them promotes their usage.” Being that the term is now ubiquitous, perhaps a look back at the history of “Judeo-Christian” is in order.

Popularized by liberals

The first recorded uses of the term “Judeo-Christian” were in England in the 1820s, though it was used quite differently than it is in today’s political rhetoric. The term was first coined by protestant missionaries who used it to refer to those Jews who had “seen the Christian light” and chosen baptism, though it took more than a century for “Judeo-Christian” to enter the general lexicon.

The term was actually popularized by liberals at the newly-founded National Conference of Christians and Jews who, concerned about the rise of American nativism and xenophobia during the Depression, sought to foster a more open and inclusive sense of American religious identity. Prominent protestant clergy who were members of the NCCJ’s National Council eschewed efforts to convert Jews—a somewhat radical stance that, along with a determination to change entrenched attitudes towards non-Protestants, alienated many conservative Christian groups.

Liberal Jews, meanwhile, led by the leaders of the Reform movement, welcomed the effort, while most Orthodox Jews rejected the term and all it implied. To more traditional Jews “Judeo-Christian” seemed to suggest a new hybrid, one that threatened to erase important distinctions between religions as the classical Jewish tradition had warned against.

For Maimonides, the 12th century rabbinic scholar and one of the most important figures in the history of Judaism, there was no possibility of a “Judeo-Christian tradition.” Christianity, in his understanding may have had a positive function in world history insofar as it brought monotheism to the pagan world, but for Jews Christian ritual was a form of idolatry. “The Christian peoples, in all of their varied sects, are worshipping idols and their holidays are forbidden to us,” he wrote, while Islam, though a “mistaken” religion in his view, is monotheistic, and thus cannot be construed as idolatrous.

Almost 900 years later Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the early 20th century thinker respected by most Orthodox Jews and revered by Religious Zionists, had similar sentiments. Like Maimonides, Kook saw Christianity as akin to idolatry, writing that “with Christianity and its concepts one should share nothing, not even what seems good or beneficial… It is only by distancing oneself from Christian concepts, and by implementing the absolute refusal to gain any benefit from that world of ideas, that our own intellects and sense of self will become purer and stronger.”

With the swing to the Right of the 1950s, American conservatives began to deploy “Judeo-Christian” in the fight against “Godless Communism.” Senator Barry Goldwater contrasted “Judeo-Christian understandings” with “the communist projection of man as a producing, consuming animal to be used and discarded.” Since then, “Judeo-Christian,” like most religious terminology, has been deployed most effectively by political conservatives.

In the 1970s Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority called for a return to Judeo-Christian values, implying that these values were an American standard that liberals had weakened. Falwell also included in the Moral Majority statement of purpose a call for unconditional support for the State of Israel, a state whose establishment or “rebirth” he and many fellow evangelicals saw as a sign of God’s hand moving in history.

Evangelicals and Jews become partners

Today, it’s commonplace for the Christian Right to invoke the idea of “Judeo-Christian values,” and for America to once again become “one nation under God.” Overlooking the pesky fact that that phrase was only added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, they insist that both the Christian and Jewish traditions were essential elements in the thought of the Founding Fathers.

Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute has even claimed that the Puritans were honoring the Jews of their day by giving their children biblical names—a patent absurdity to historians of Colonial America who point out that it confuses Puritan emphasis on Old Testament ideas with admiration for Jews. But for both Christian and Jewish conservatives historical accuracy is easily swept aside in favor of current ideological needs.

By the late 90s Falwell’s notion of a “return” to Judeo-Christian values was adopted by the rest of the religious right whose leadership was determined to inculcate this idea in the next generation. “Generation Joshua,” founded in 2003 to get home-schooled children involved in politics, coordinates closely with the Republican Party. Its mission statement, according to Hannah Rosin’s 2007 book, God’s Harvard, is: “to ignite a vision in young people to help America return to her Judeo-Christian foundations.” To the faithful, the biblical reference in the organization’s name is crystal clear. Their own generation, who brought the religious right to power, was the generation of Moses, the Lawgiver. When Moses was gone, his follower Joshua carried on the job.

Despite the use of Judeo-Christian in its mission statement, the popular Generation Joshua website is more explicit and honest about its religious orientation: “We seek to inspire everyone of our members with faith in God and a hope of what America can become as we equip Christian citizens and leaders to impact our nation for Christ and His glory,” a mission unlikely to appeal to many American Jews, whatever their political persuasion.

Today, terms like “Judeo-Christian tradition” and the claim of American exceptionalism have become a staple of the rhetoric of presidential candidates. In the 2008 campaign, John McCain said, “The number one issue people should make selection of the president of the United Sates is ‘Will this person carry on the Judeo-Christian tradition that has made this nation the greatest experiment in the history of mankind?’”

In his recent critique of American religious illiteracy, religion scholar Stephen Prothero sees the political use of “Judeo-Christian values” as generating ignorance of any specific religious tradition:

This new political theology helped religious conservatives gain political power, but this power came at a price since, under the gentleman’s agreement struck by the Moral Majority with culturally conservative Catholics and Jews, anything specifically Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish had to be checked at the door.

“Gentleman’s agreement” seems too mild a phrase for some of the strange arrangements emerging from this consensus. The Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman, for example, tells of a mid-90s encounter with Jerry Falwell after the ADL had criticized Falwell for referring to the U.S. as a “Christian nation.” At first reluctant to consider the criticism, Falwell told Foxman that he could see how “Christian nation” could be misunderstood. “From now on,” said Falwell, “I intend to refer to America as a Judeo-Christian nation, which describes our heritage accurately.” In his account of this conversation, Foxman was mollified by Falwell’s response. Evangelicals and Jews could now serve as partners.

When Jerry Falwell died in 2007 Foxman eulogized him as “a great friend of Israel,” indicating that he, along with the leaders of other major Jewish organizations, seemed to have taken the implications of this ‘Judeo-Christian agreement’ to heart. Today, seventeen years after that encounter, its import and implications are clearer.

In the post 9/11 world of the Bush Presidency, American Islamaphobia flourished and “Judeo-Christian” has become a term of exclusion, rather than inclusion. The implication in the current context is that the U.S. can accept Jews into the social contract (or at least those Jews who embrace “traditional values”), while Muslims, who “killed us on 9/11” in Bill O’Reilly’s phrase, are permanently excluded.

Thus, in 2010, Foxman’s “Anti-Defamation League” was able to demand that an Islamic community center be moved from its planned site in downtown Manhattan. The “reasoning” presented by the ADL statement on the issue depended on Foxman’s linking Holocaust memory to the memorialization of the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

Do Conservative Evangelicals—and the ADL—need to be any more explicit about excluding Islam, and Liberalism, from the American consensus? It seems so. Between 2005 and 2008, Dennis Prager, the West coast media personality who identifies himself as an Orthodox Jew, published a 19-part series on “Judeo-Christian Culture.” In his introduction Prager wrote that:

[O]nly America has called itself Judeo-Christian… but what does Judeo-Christian mean? We need to know. Along with the belief in liberty—as opposed to the European belief in equality, the Muslim belief in theocracy, and the Eastern belief in social conformity—Judeo-Christian values are what distinguish America from all other countries.

Reading Dennis Prager sent me back to Arthur Cohen’s 1969 essay. Scanning a text I’d read many times, I was reminded of Cohen’s point that although the use of “Judeo-Christian” seemed to signal a message of cooperation and ecumenicism, it was really a cover for an attack on the values of the Enlightenment, the very values that enabled Jews to enter Western societies. Cohen wrote that “we can learn much from the history of Jewish-Christian relations but the one thing we cannot make of it is a discourse of community, fellowship, and understanding.”

Shalom Goldman is Professor of Hebrew and Middle Eastern Studies at Emory University. His new book is Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews, and the Idea of the Promised Land (UNC Press, January, 2010).
http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/politics/3984/what_do_we_mean_by_%E2%80%98judeo-christian%E2%80%99_