I do feel some temptation to make a big deal out of another evangelical and fundamentalist crusade that's blatantly anti-Biblical as well: public prayer. Ever since the Supreme Court ruled that government-sanctioned public prayer involving captive audiences was coercive and an impermissible establishment of religion, so many churches have been fighting tooth and nail to get that little perq back. Perhaps they should have consulted Jesus first? As quoted in Matthew 6:5-6, He said, "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." In fact, all of Matthew 6 is worth reading to get a broad understanding of this point: if you're practicing your religion in front of others to be seen, heard, or whatever by them then God isn't having any of it. But I won't make a big deal out of this now, because truthfully it doesn't fit the grand narrative of this piece, namely the Republican takeover of the churches. No, this was more an example of the Republicans seeing a parade go by and rushing to get out in front of it. It may actually be the only thing the Republican party has changed their opinions to go along with the fundamentalists on. Too bad for them both, come Judgement Day, that the thing they agreed stands in direct contradiction to what Jesus said.
Now that I've had my say, there are two obvious questions about this sermon series, this lengthy rant, this extended diatribe that are entirely fair to ask, that I know that most of you want to ask, that I anticipated from the start. First of all, why should I care, why do I care? And secondly, what should you, or I, or anyone do about this?
It's a fact of my biography that if it weren't for a fundamentalist high school that I attended from September 1974 to May 1978, the aforementioned Dr. Stormer's private school Faith Christian Academy, I probably never would have amounted to anything in life. While I was in the public schools, I was coasting ... and still blowing the curve. The Hazelwood School District's schools, teachers, families, and students lived in a culture of deep antipathy towards all-out effort at anything other than (a) team sports and (b) making and wasting money -- in that order of descending importance. When I got to Faith Christian Academy, it wasn't the faculty or the staff that knocked me out of that mindset. It was my fellow students. Can you believe that? It goes beyond that. The first two fellow students to ask me, with obvious emotional concern, why I wasn't trying to do my best were a basketball star and a cheerleader. At Faith Academy, because of how they were almost all raised, because of the cultural norms of people who put their kids into private schools (even tiny little low-prestige ones like Faith), even the kids knew that trying to learn all you could and excelling in scholastics to the best of your ability was something any sane, healthy person would want to do.
And it was in that environment that I first encountered fundamentalist theology. It was hardly my first encounter with Christianity. My first encounter with Christianity came at a United Churches of Christ neighborhood Sunday School at the age of 4, where they were trying to teach us to recite and memorize the Apostle's Creed. I refused to memorize it until it was explained to me. The Sunday School teacher thought that was inappropriate. I'm not sure, truthfully, that she understood it herself. To her it had become just what Jesus decried in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 6, "vain repetition" of "much speaking" to be heard of men. I hated it. I refused to have any part of it. I stood by my guns and insisted that my parents remove me from that Sunday School, and I got my way. I never darkened the doors of another church for any reason until age 14. But theology, especially theology that takes the written Scriptures seriously ... that's something altogether different. That's a thing of beauty, a thing of elegance, perhaps the most beautiful game of verbal logic ever invented, a system of knowledge with its own rules and procedures as simple to lay out and as delightfully complex in operation as any fractal. I'll still debate Christian theology at the drop of a hat, I still love it, even though (as I've said in part elsewhere) I consider monotheism itself to be toxic to human freedom and many of the the distinctive doctrines that separate Christianity from other religions to be potentially toxic to decency and sanity. To me, it's a game. And when I'm playing a game, it really pisses me off to see other people cheat. And it pisses me off even more to lose to a cheater, let alone an army of cheaters.
And that's what this is really about, as you might have guessed. It took the Republicans and their faux-Christian Satanic puppets in the evangelical and fundamentalist ministries forty years to sell their lies to people, to tell their lies so often and to suppress dissent so broadly that hardly anybody left alive remembers the true Gospel. They did it to remove any hint of true Christian feeling from the American electorate if that Christian feeling would be an obstacle to a Republican majority; that's not a theory, that's a reported fact by an eyewitness and participant. But as we saw in the exit polls last month, they finally succeeded. The real reason that George Bush won that election is that for the first time since the Civil War, the Republicans are the majority party. OK, technically, they're a plurality; roughly one third of the electorate does not identify with either political party. But of the people who showed up to vote on national election day in 2004, a measurably greater number of them self-identified as Republicans than as Democrats.
Now, the Democrats have done their own damage to themselves, shot themselves in the foot with the electorate in their own ways, and eventually I'll get around to going off on my party for (to preview the topic) the way in which they made themselves a party specifically for losers. But if that were all there were to this, I wouldn't be quite so angry, quite so worked up. Because if all that was going on here was that the Democrats and the Republicans had a nationwide, multi-generational debate over values, over policies, over who can be trusted and the Republicans won fair and square, then that would be that. As H.L. Mencken said, "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard." Vox populi, vox Dei. But that's not what happened. The Republicans played a trump card that moved the debate out of the marketplace of ideas. They got their boot-licking lackeys in the pulpits to lie, and lie, and lie so often and so long that almost nobody remembered the truth. They added a new 11th Commandment to the supposedly inalterable word of God: "Thou shalt not vote for a liberal." They managed to persuade enough voters, not a majority but enough, that no matter what their best interests were, no matter what they thought was best for the country, no matter what they themselves thought was morally right, if they voted against the Republican candidate then they were an enemy of God Himself. And with the majority of the Bible-preaching pulpits in America subborned to that Satanic lie, how were those people to know any different?
(If they internalize Republican values and go on to practice contempt for the poor and unfortunate, not that all of them will but those that do, then if the Bible is true their ignorance won't save them on Judgement Day, and they ... you ... will still burn. It was all right there in the Book in plain unmistakeable language to read.)
And you know what? I'm not the only person who knows this. Yes, there are wishy-washy liberal so-called-Christian theologians who earn the public's contempt by running away from the Bible, by embracing every spiritual fad that comes down the pike, by treating all paths to holiness as equal. They preach this in front of a public that still believes the Bible, and are stunned to find themselves treated like parriahs; how dumb can they be? Nonetheless, you don't see the earlier-mentioned Donald Miller running away from the Bible. He's willing to be a parriah in the false churches (and yet sell 100,000 copies of each book) by standing up and preaching and writing the true gospel. Nobody ever accused retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong of running away from the Bible; he preaches to the condemnation of the Pharisees and the hope of renewal of Jesus' own faith every week, and he does it solidly from the Bible. But for every published voice, I wonder how many people there are like this woman:
"My pastor kept asking us to pray for George Bush to win," a Georgia woman told me last week, "and most folks seemed to go along with it. So I just kept quiet and secretly prayed for the other side."I saw that quote in an article at FirstAmendmentCenter.org that was forwarded to me over the news wires, I think probably through Google News, right after the election, and that anonymous woman's dilemma pierced me to heart. And the title of that article by FirstAmendmentCenter.com's Charles C. Haynes? "Christian-Republican alliance: Faustian bargain?" And that was the crack that opened up the whole dam. Because I realized, in the context of what he was saying, that what Dr. John Stormer had described to me about the 1964 Republican National Convention's anti-communist caucus meeting really meant that "Faustian bargain" wasn't merely an allegory this time. The leaders of Bible-based Christianity, by throwing out or obfuscating the plain words of the Jesus Christ in the Bible and subsituting politically inspired doctrines antithetical to the gospel, had done just that: to save their lives, they made a literal deal with the Devil. And because they sold that poor woman's church out from her, quite possibly even before she was even born, she sits in her pew where she wants to be, in a Church that promises to teach the Christian scriptures. She hears her pastor preach emnity towards Christ's teachings. But maybe she thinks she's the only one who thinks so. Or else she doesn't want to make a fuss. Or else she lacks courage. Or more likely, she values whatever vestige of true spirituality and pure religion she can find in that church, and doesn't want to lose it by making an enemy out of the converts to the false gospel, by opening her mouth and giving them a reason to hate her. She is the real reason why I wrote this, and I'll probably never even know her name.
What is there to do about it? I wish I knew. It won't be we secularists or Pagans who lead false Christians back to Christ. We've no credibility, and too obvious a self-interest. Still, if you make these arguments (or deliver them) to people who claim to think for themselves, who read the Christian scriptures for themselves, and ask that person if they or their pastor can find anything in the scriptures to disprove what I've written, perhaps you can wean them back to a true Gospel. Maybe they'll even thank you for it ... until they find out what happens to the pink monkey in a cage full of brown monkeys. As I think it was Spider Robinson who said, "In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is in for a hell of a ride."
But you know, I already knew a lot of these arguments when I was a fundamentalist myself. Knowing didn't help me. Even hearing them from the horses' mouths, from Dr. Stormer and from graudates of Dallas Theological Seminary, I knew that the fundamentalist arguments about birth control, abortion, prophylaxis, gay rights, and especially rock and roll were specious arguments, mere personal opinions not binding on anybody else who had freedom of conscience. I found a pastor who toed the public line to the minimum and who had a support structure of elders and volunteers in his church determined to keep it a true Christian church. (The pastor was one of the two most spiritually enlightened men I have ever met in my life, Richard "Rick" Bovey. It was a true privilege to meet him and study under him.) What happened to us? The "conservatives," the Republico-Christians, suspected us from the get-go. They organized conspiracies of silence to freeze as many of us out as they could. They then engineered a coup d'etat within the church, rammed through a slate of pseudo-Christian right-wing elders who ousted the pastor himself. No dissent from the Republican party line was to be tolerated ... not even private, secret, suspected dissent. It was not enough for them to control what was taught, it was their clear agenda to police thought crime as well. Those of us who quietly took stands for the true gospel tried to do so in a way compatible with Biblical guidelines, like the ones in Galatians 6:1 and in Matthew 18:15-17. I can't say that it won't work for you; but I do know that when we tried it back in the early 1980s, all it did was make us easier to marginalize. Against such stresses, is it terribly surprising that Christ-preaching Christians are threatening schism, even sometimes following through with it as happened with the Baptist General Convention of Texas' break-away from the Southern Baptists? All I know is that if the true words of the Bible are to be heard over the din of the false gospel, somebody is going to have to be called to preach them.