Sunday, April 13, 2008

Whoring the Christian Religion For Politics:

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The political sermons of the American Founding collected by Ellis Sandoz are fascinating and enlightening to read, and many of them contain great ideas. Many of them support the notion of political liberty. I likewise support political liberty. Yet, let's not get too caught up in nostalgia. They also reveal that pastors back then have done exactly what the religious right AND religious left do today: whore the Christian religion for political purposes.

David Barton whores the Christian religion in trying to promote the cause of the Republican Party and connect it to Christianity. A quintessential example of Barton's whoring was when the Star Tribune reported him saying “the Bible condemns not only homosexuality but also capital-gains taxes, progressive income taxes, estate taxes and minimum-wage laws.”

Alexander Hamilton likewise whored the Christian religion with his "Christian Constitutional Society" whose original purpose was "to promote the election of fit men," who somehow all happened to be Federalists like him and John Adams, not Democratic-Republicans, like Jefferson, Madison, et al.

Members of the religious left like Jim Wallis and the some of the Emergent Church who argue the Christian religion demands the imposition of the Left's social welfare state likewise whore the Christian religion. And finally, in the ultimate example of whoring the Bible for politics we have Ted Kennedy's "biblical" argument for Federal Hate Crimes Laws which cites Leviticus as positively in favor of protecting sexual orientation under federal hate crimes laws!

But they do nothing new. The ministers who argued from the pulpit on behalf of the American Revolution just as badly whored the Bible and the Christian religion in favor of the American cause.

One of the ways in which Founding era ministers whored was to "read" Founding era Whig and republican ideals into the Biblical record. Samuel Cooper's A SERMON ON THE DAY OF THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE CONSTITUTION is a quintessential example of abuse of the Christian religion in this respect:

Even the law of Moses, though framed by God himself, was not imposed upon that people against their will; it was laid open before the whole congregation of Israel; they freely adopted it, and it became their law, not only by divine appointment, but by their own voluntary and express consent....the Supreme Ruler himself had not established their polity without their own free concurrence, and that the Hebrew nation, lately redeemed from tyranny, had now a civil and religious constitution of their own choice, and were governed by laws to which they had given their solemn consent.

Cooper makes the Hebrew God sound something like Rousseau's legislator (to use Gregg Frazer's example) a God who would submit His laws to the people for their approval and acceptance. But this is not what the Bible teaches. Rather, the Biblical record in no uncertain terms shows that God unilaterally burdened His people with the law of Moses without their consent or approval. And the notion that people must "consent" to the laws which will rule them is entirely a Whig or 18th Century republican ideal, not a biblical idea. Samuel Langdon likewise did something similar in his sermon entitled THE REPUBLIC OF THE ISRAELITES AN EXAMPLE TO THE AMERICAN STATES where he, apparent from the title, "read in" 18th Century republican ideas to the Biblical record. What Langdon, Cooper, and many other of these ministers did was the functional equivalent of Ted Kennedy's invocation of Leviticus in support of Federal hate crimes laws that protect "sexual orientation."

One conservative fundamentalist minister who seems immune to the whoring temptation is John MacArthur of Grace To You. I don't at all personally agree with Calvinistic fundamentalist theology. As I've noted before the traditional Christian notion of Hell is I think a terrible idea. And if true, it's far worse than atheism (that nothing exists after the grave). It makes the Bible into "bad news" not "good news," with a silver lining that you can escape the terrible fate that the overwhelming majority of humanity including many of your loved ones ultimately will face. Further in reading the Bible I have a very hard time believing many of the texts which, to me, seem self-evidently unbelievable are the inerrant, infallible Word of God.

But, despite my personal disagreements with MacArthur's religious beliefs, out of all of the notable, prominent, present day religiously conservative theologians (Robertson, Falwell, Mohler, Dobson, etc.) he posits a method that by far best keeps traditional Christian orthodoxy pure and immune from the political whoring temptation. Listen to him speak against the Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United For Separation of Church And State. And note MacArthur's literal understanding of Romans 13 which holds just as Paul did, contra America's patriotic preachers, that the pagan Roman government was ordained by God and one to which believers should submit. Barry Lynn, the uber-theologically liberal Christian counters with what seems far more in line with the political sermons of the American Founding that likewise tended towards a "cafeteria" method that ignored or otherwise explained away inconvenient biblical texts. Ironic in that Barry Lynn wants to prevent ministers from speaking out on political issues altogether, lest they lose their tax exempt status. And I think he's wrong on this account. But I understand the concerns. There is a tradition of such ministers speaking out on political issues, and unfortunately whoring the Christian religion.


A Christian Prophet said...

I see it just the opposite. I see Obama attempting to sell materialism in the name of Christianity. See: "Christianity is Far From Government Socialism."

Jonathan said...

I likewise think many of the Founding era preachers tried to sell Whig and republican ideals in the name of Christianity.