by Chris Hedges (This is an article by Chris Hedges that no major publication will print.)
Chris Hedges, whose column is published Mondays on Truthdig, spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years. He holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School . Please see the rest of his Bio at the bottom of this article.
Dr. James Luther Adams, my ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School , told us that when we were his age, he was then close to 80, we would all be fighting the “Christian fascists.”
The warning, given to me 25 years ago, came at the moment Pat Robertson and other radio and televangelists began speaking about a new political religion that would direct its efforts at taking control of all institutions, including mainstream denominations and the government. Its stated goal was to use the United States to create a global, Christian empire. It was hard, at the time, to take such fantastic rhetoric seriously, especially given the buffoonish quality of those who expounded it. But Adams warned us against the blindness caused by intellectual snobbery. The Nazis, he said, were not going to return with swastikas and brown shirts. Their ideological inheritors had found a mask for fascism in the pages of the Bible.
He was not a man to use the word fascist lightly. He was in Germany in 1935 and 1936 and worked with the underground anti-Nazi church, known as The Confessing Church, led by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Adams was eventually detained and interrogated by the Gestapo, who suggested he might want to consider returning to the United States . It was a suggestion he followed. He left on a night train with framed portraits of Adolph Hitler placed over the contents inside his suitcase to hide the rolls of home movie film he took of the so-called German Christian Church, which was pro-Nazi, and the few individuals who defied them, including the theologians Karl Barth and Albert Schweitzer. The ruse worked when the border police lifted the top of the suitcases, saw the portraits of the Fuhrer and closed them up again. I watched hours of the grainy black and white films as he narrated in his apartment in Cambridge .
He saw in the Christian Right, long before we did, disturbing similarities with the German Christian Church and the Nazi Party, similarities that he said would, in the event of prolonged social instability or a national crisis, see American fascists, under the guise of religion, rise to dismantle the open society. He despaired of liberals, who he said, as in Nazi Germany, mouthed silly platitudes about dialogue and inclusiveness that made them ineffectual and impotent. Liberals, he said, did not understand the power and allure of evil nor the cold reality of how the world worked. The current hand wringing by Democrats in the wake of the election, with many asking how they can reach out to a movement whose leaders brand them “demonic” and “satanic,” would not have surprised Adams . Like Bonhoeffer, he did not believe that those who would fight effectively in coming times of turmoil, a fight that for him was an integral part of the Biblical message, would come from the church or the liberal, secular elite.
His critique of the prominent research universities, along with the media, was no less withering. These institutions, self-absorbed, compromised by their close relationship with government and corporations, given enough of the pie to be complacent, were unwilling to deal with the fundamental moral questions and inequities of the age. They had no stomach for a battle that might cost them their prestige and comfort. He told me that if the Nazis took over America “60 percent of the Harvard faculty would begin their lectures with the Nazi salute.” This too was not an abstraction. He had watched academics at the University of Heidelberg , including the philosopher Martin Heidegger, raise their arms stiffly to students before class.
Two decades later, even in the face of the growing reach of the Christian Right, his prediction seems apocalyptic. And yet the powerbrokers in the Christian Right have moved from the fringes of society to the floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Christian fundamentalists now hold a majority of seats in 36 percent of all Republican Party state committees, or 18 of 50 states, along with large minorities in 81 percent of the rest of the states. Forty-five Senators and 186 members of the House of Representatives earned between an 80 to100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian Right advocacy groups - The Christian Coalition, Eagle Forum, and Family Resource Council. Tom Coburn, the new senator from Oklahoma , has included in his campaign to end abortion a call to impose the death penalty on doctors that carry out abortions once the ban goes into place. Another new senator, John Thune, believes in Creationism. Jim DeMint, the new senator elected from South Carolina , wants to ban single mothers from teaching in schools. The Election Day exit polls found that 22 percent of voters identified themselves as evangelical Christians and Bush won 77 percent of their vote. The polls found that a plurality of voters said that the most important issue in the campaign had been “moral values.”
President Bush must further these important objectives, including the march to turn education and social welfare over to the churches with his faith-based initiative, as well as chip away at the wall between church and state with his judicial appointments, if he does not want to face a revolt within his core constituency.
Jim Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family, who held weekly telephone conversations with K arl Rove during the campaign, has put the President on notice. He told ABC's “This Week” that “this president has two years, or more broadly the Republican Party has two years, to implement these policies, or certainly four, or I believe they'll pay a price in the next election.”
Bush may turn out to be a transition figure, our version of Otto von Bismarck. Bismarck used “values” to energize his base at the end of the 19 th century and launched “Kulturkampt”, the word from which we get “culture wars,” against Catholics and Jews. Bismarck 's attacks split the country, made the discrediting of whole segments of the society an acceptable part of the civil discourse and paved the way for the more virulent racism of the Nazis. This, I suspect, will be George Bush's contribution to our democracy.
DOMINIONISTS AND RECONSTRUCTIONISTS
The Reconstructionist movement, founded in 1973 by Rousas Rushdooney, is the intellectual foundation for the most politically active element within the Christian Right. Rushdooney's 1,600 page three-volume work, Institutes of Biblical Law, argued that American society should be governed according to the Biblical precepts in the Ten Commandments. He wrote that the elect, like Adam and Noah, were given dominion over the earth by God and must subdue the earth, along with all non-believers, so the Messiah could return.
This was a radically new interpretation for many in the evangelical movement. The Messiah, it was traditionally taught, would return in an event called “the Rapture” where there would be wars and chaos. The non-believers would be tormented and killed and the elect would be lifted to heaven. The Rapture was not something that could be manipulated or influenced, although believers often interpreted catastrophes and wars as portents of the imminent Second Coming.
Rushdooney promoted an ideology that advocated violence to create the Christian state. His ideology was the mirror image of Liberation Theology, which came into vogue at about the same time. While the Liberation Theologians crammed the Bible into the box of Marxism, Rushdooney crammed it into the equally distorting box of classical fascism. This clash was first played out in Latin America when I was there as a reporter two decades ago. In El Salvador leftist priests endorsed and even traveled with the rebel movements in Nicaragua and El Salvador, while Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, along with conservative Latin American clerics, backed the Contras fighting against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the murderous military regimes in El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile and Argentina.
The Institutes of Biblical Law called for a Christian society that was harsh, unforgiving and violent. Offenses such as adultery, witchcraft, blasphemy and homosexuality, merited the death penalty. The world was to be subdued and ruled by a Christian United States. Rushdooney dismissed the number of 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust as an inflated figure and his theories on race echoed Nazi Eugenics.
“The white man has behind him centuries of Christian culture and the discipline and selective breeding this faith requires...,” he wrote. “The Negro is a product of a radically different past, and his heredity has been governed by radically different considerations.”
“The background of Negro culture is African and magic, and the purposes of the magic are control and power over God, man, nature, and society. Voodoo, or magic, was the religion and life of American Negroes. Voodoo songs underlie jazz, and old voodoo, with its power goal, has been merely replaced with revolutionary voodoo, a modernized power drive.” (see The Religious Right , a publication of the ADL, pg. 124.)
Rushdooney was deeply antagonistic to the federal government. He believed the federal government should concern itself with little more than national defense. Education and social welfare should be handed over to the churches. Biblical law must replace the secular legal code. This ideology remains at the heart of the movement. It is being enacted through school vouchers, with federal dollars now going into Christian schools, and the assault against the federal agencies that deal with poverty and human services. The Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives is currently channeling millions in federal funds to groups such Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing , and National Right to Life, as well as to fundamentalist religious charity organizations and programs promoting sexual abstinence.
Rushdooney laid the groundwork for a new way of thinking about political involvement. The Christian state would come about not only through signs and wonders, as those who believed in the rapture believed? , but also through theestablishment of the Christian nation. But he remained, even within the Christian Right, a deeply controversial figure.
Dr. Tony Evans, the minister of a Dallas church and the founder of Promise Keepers, articulated Rushdooney's extremism in a more palatable form. He called on believers, often during emotional gatherings at football stadiums, to commit to Christ and exercise power within the society as agents of Christ. He also called for a Christian state. But he did not advocate the return of slavery, as Rushdooney did, nor list a string of offenses such as adultery punishable by death, nor did he espouse the Nazi-like race theories. It was through Evans, who was a spiritual mentor to George Bush that Dominionism came to dominate the politically active wing of the Christian Right.The religious utterances from political leaders such as George Bush, Tom Delay, Pat Robertson and Zell Miller are only understandable in light of Rushdooney and Dominionism. These leaders believe that God has selected them to battle the forces of evil, embodied in “secular humanism,” to create a Christian nation. Pat Robertson frequently tells believers “our aim is to gain dominion over society.” Delay has told supporters, such as at a gathering two years ago at the First Baptist Church in Pearland , Texas , “He [God] is using me, all the time, everywhere, to stand up for biblical worldview in everything I do and everywhere I am. He is training me, He is working with me.” Delay went on to tell followers “If we stay inside the church, the culture won't change.”
Pat Robertson, who changed the name of his university to Regent University , says he is training his students to rule when the Christian regents take power, part of the reign leading to the return of Christ. Robertson resigned as the head of the Christian Coalition when Bush took office, a sign many took to signal the ascendancy of the first regent. This battle is not rhetorical but one that followers are told will ultimately involve violence. And the enemy is clearly defined and marked for destruction.
“Secular Humanists,” the popular Christian Right theologian Francis Schaeffer wrote in one of numerous diatribes, “are the greatest threat to Christianity the world has ever known.”
One of the most enlightening books that exposes the ultimate goals of movement is America's Providential History , the standard textbook used in many Christian schools and a staple of the Christian home schooling movement. It sites Genesis 26, which calls for mankind to “ .have dominnion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over the cattle and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” as evidence that the Bible callls for “Bible believing Christians” to take dominion of America.
“When God brings Noah through the flood to a new earth, He reestablished the Dominion Mandate but now delegates to man the responsibility for governing other men.” (page 19). The authors write that God has called the United States to become “the first truly Christian nation” (page 184) and “make disciples of all nations.” The book denounces income tax as “idolatry,” property tax as “theft” and calls for an abolish of inheritance taxes in the chapter entitled Christian Economics. The loss of such tax revenues will bring about the withering away of the federal government and the empowerment of the authoritarian church, although this is not explict in the text.
Rushdooney's son-in-law, Gary North, a popular writer and founder of the Institute for Christian Economics, laid out the aims of the Christian Right.
“So let's be blunt about it: We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.” (Christianity and Civilization, Spring, 1982)
Dominionists have to operate, for now, in the contaminated environment of the secular, liberal state. They have learned, therefore, to speak in code. The code they use is the key to understanding the dichotomy of the movement, one that has a public and a private face. In this they are no different from the vanguard, as described by Lenin, or the Islamic terrorists who shave off their beards, adopt western dress and watch pay-for-view pornographic movies in their hotel rooms the night before hijacking a plane for a suicide attack.
Joan Bokaer, the Director of Theocracy Watch, a project of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy at Cornell University , who runs the encyclopedic web site theocracywatch.org, was on a speaking tour a few years ago in Iowa . She obtained a copy of a memo Pat Robertson handed out to followers at the Iowa Republican County Caucus. It was titled, “How to Participate in a Political Party” and read:
“Rule the world for God.”
“Give the impression that you are there to work for the party, not push an ideology.
“Hide your strength.
“Don't flaunt your Christianity.
“Christians need to take leadership positions. Party officers control political parties and so it is very important that mature Christians have a majority of leadership whenever possible, God willing.”
President Bush sends frequent coded messages to the faithful. In his address to the nation on the night of September 11, for example, he lifted a line directly from the Gospel of John when he said “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.” He often uses the sentence “when every child is welcomed in life and protected in law,” words taken directly from a pro-life manifesto entitled “A Statement of Pro-Life Principle and Concern.” He quotes from hymns, prayers, tracts and Biblical passages without attribution. These phrases reassure the elect. They are lost on the uninitiated.
CHRIST THE AVENGER
The Christian Right finds its ideological justification in a narrow segment of the Gospel, in particular the letters of the Apostle Paul, especially the story of Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus in the Book of Acts. It draws heavily from the book of Revelations and the Gospel of John. These books share an apocalyptic theology. The Book of Revelations is the only time in the Gospels where Jesus sanctions violence, offering up a vision of Christ as the head of a great and murderous army of heavenly avengers. Martin Luther found the God portrayed in Revelations so hateful and cruel he put the book in the appendix of his German translation of the Bible.
These books rarely speak about Christ's message of love, forgiveness and compassion. They focus on the doom and destruction that will befall unbelievers and the urgent need for personal salvation. The world is divided between good and evil, between those who act as agents of God and those who act as agents of Satan. The Jesus of the other three Gospels, the Jesus who turned the other cheek and embraced his enemies, an idea that was radical and startling in the ancient Roman world, is purged in the narrative selected by the Christian Right.
The cult of masculinity pervades the ideology. Feminism and homosexuality are social forces, believers are told, that have rendered the American male physically and spiritually impotent. Jesus is portrayed as a man of action, casting out demons, battling the Anti-Christ, attacking hypocrites and castigating the corrupt. This cult of masculinity brings with it the glorification of strength, violence and vengeance. It turns Christ into a Rambo-like figure; indeed depictions of Jesus within the movement often show a powerfully built man wielding a huge sword.
This image of Christ as warrior is appealing to many within the movement. The loss of manufacturing jobs, lack of affordable health care, negligible opportunities for education and poor job security has left many millions of Americans locked out. This ideology is attractive because it offers them the hope of power and revenge. It sanctifies their rage. It stokes the paranoia about the outside world maintained through bizarre conspiracy theories, many on display in Pat Robertson's book The New World Order . The book is a xenophobic rant that includes vicious attacks against the United Nations and numerous other international organizations. The abandonment of the working class has been crucial to the success of the movement. Only by reintegrating the working class into society through job creation, access to good education and health care can the Christian Right be effectively blunted. Revolutionary movements are built on the backs of an angry, disenfranchised laboring class. This one is no exception.
The depictions of violence that will befall non-believers are detailed, gruesome and brutal. It speaks to the rage many believers harbor and the thirst for revenge. This, in large part, accounts for the huge sales of the apocalyptic series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. In their novel, Glorious Appearing , based on LaHaye's interpretation of Biblical Prophecies about the Second Coming, Christ eviscerates the flesh of millions of non-believers with the mere sound of his voice. There are long descriptions of horror, of how “the very words of the Lord had superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin.” Eyes disintegrate. Tongues melt. Flesh dissolves. The novel, part of The Left Behind series, are the best selling adult novels in the country. They preach holy war.
“Any teaching of peace prior to [Christ's] return is heresy.” said televangelist James Robinson.
Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, instability in Israel and even the fighting of Iraq are seen as signposts. The war in Iraq was predicted according to believers in the 9 th chapter of the Book of Revelations where four angels “which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released to slay the third part of men.” The march towards global war, even nuclear war, is not to be feared but welcomed as the harbinger of the Second Coming. And leading the avenging armies is an angry, violent Messiah who dooms millions of non-believers to a horrible and painful death.
THE CORRUPTION OF SCIENCE AND LAW
The movement seeks the imprint of law and science. It must discredit the rational disciplines that are the pillars of the Enlightenment to abolish the liberal polity of the Enlightenment. This corruption of science and law is vital in promoting the doctrine. Creationism, or “intelligent design,” like Eugenics for the Nazis, must be introduced into the mainstream as a valid scientific discipline to destroy the discipline of science itself. This is why the Christian Right is working to bring test cases to ensure that school textbooks include “intelligent design” and condemn gay marriage.
The drive by the Christian Right to include crackpot theories in scientific or legal debate is part of the campaign to destroy dispassionate and honest intellectual inquiry. Facts become interchangeable with opinions. An understanding of reality is not to be based on the elaborate gathering of facts and evidence. The ideology alone is true. Facts that get in the way of the ideology can be altered. Lies, in this worldview, become true. Hannah Arendt called this effort “nihilistic relativism” although a better phrase might be collective insanity.
The Christian Right has fought successfully to have Creationist books sold in national park bookstores in the Grand Canyon , taught as a theory in public schools in states like Alabama and Arkansas . “Intelligent design” is promoted in Christian textbooks. All animal species, or at least their progenitors, students read, fit on Noah's ark. The Grand Canyon was created a few thousand years ago by the flood that lifted up Noah's ark, not one billion years ago, as geologists have determined. The earth is only a few thousand years old in line with the literal reading of Genesis. This is not some quaint, homespun view of the world. It is an insidious attempt to undermine rational scientific research and intellectual inquiry.
Tom Delay, following the Columbine shootings, gave voice to this assault when he said that the killings had taken place “because our school systems teach children that they are nothing but glorified apes who have evolutionized out of some primordial mud.” (speech Delay gave in the House on June 16, 1999 )
“What convinces masses are not facts,” Hannah Arendt wrote in Origins of Totalitarianism, “and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system which they are presumably part. Repetition, somewhat overrated in importance because of the common belief in the “masses” inferior capacity to grasp and remember, is important because it convinces them of consistency in time.” (p.351)
There are more than 6 million elementary and secondary school students attending private schools and 11.5 percent of these students attend schools run by the Christian Right. These “Christian” schools saw an increase of 46 percent in enrollment in the last decade. The 245,000 additional students accounted for 75 percent of the total rise in private school enrollment.
THE LAUNCHING OF THE WAR
Adams told us to watch closely what the Christian Right did to homosexuals. He has seen how the Nazis had used “values” to launch state repression of opponents. Hitler, days after he took power in 1933, imposed a ban on all homosexual and lesbian organizations. He ordered raids on places where homosexuals gathered culminating with the ransacking of the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin . Thousands of volumes from the institute's library were tossed into a bonfire. Adams said that homosexuals would also be the first “deviants” singled out by the Christian Right. We would be the next.
The ban on same sex marriages, passed by eleven states in the election, was part of this march towards our door. A 1996 federal law already defines marriage as between a man and a woman. All of the states with ballot measures, with the exception of Oregon , had outlawed same sex marriages, as do 27 other states. The bans, however, had to be passed, believers were told, to thwart “activist judges” who wanted to overturn them. The Christian family, even the nation, was under threat. The bans served to widen the splits tearing apart the country. The attacks on homosexuals handed to the foot soldiers of the Christian Right an easy target. It gave them a taste of victory. It made them feel empowered. But it is ominous for gays and for us.
All debates with the Christian Right are useless. We cannot reach this movement. It does not want a dialogue. It cares nothing for rational thought and discussion. It is not mollified because John Kerry prays or Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday School. These naive attempts to reach out to a movement bent on our destruction, to prove to them that we too have “values,” would be humorous if the stakes were not so deadly. They hate us. They hate the liberal, enlightened world formed by the Constitution. Our opinions do not count.
This movement will not stop until we are ruled by Biblical Law, an authoritarian church intrudes in every aspect of our life, women stay at home and rear children, gays agree to be cured, abortion is considered murder, the press and the schools promote “positive” Christian values, the federal government is gutted, war becomes our primary form of communication with the rest of the world and recalcitrant non-believers see their flesh eviscerated at the sound of the Messiah's voice.
The spark that could set it ablaze may be lying in the hands of an Islamic terrorist cell, in the hands of the ideological twins of the Christian Right. Another catastrophic terrorist attack could be our Reichstag fire, the excuse used to begin the accelerated dismantling of our open society. The ideology of the Christian Right is not one of love and compassion, the central theme of Christ's message, but of violence and hatred. It has a strong appeal to many in our society, but it is also aided by our complacency. Let us not stand at the open city gates waiting passively and meekly for the barbarians. They are coming. They are slouching rudely towards Bethlehem . Let us, if nothing else, begin to call them by their name.
Chris Hedges, whose column is published Mondays on Truthdig, spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.
Hedges was part of the team of reporters at The New York Times awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. He also received the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism in 2002. The Los Angeles Press Club honored Hedges’ original columns in Truthdig by naming the author the Online Journalist of the Year in 2009, and granted him the Best Online Column award in 2010 for his Truthdig essay “One Day We’ll All Be Terrorists.”
Hedges is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute in New York City and has taught at Columbia University, New York University and Princeton University. He currently teaches inmates at a correctional facility in New Jersey.
Hedges began his career reporting the war in El Salvador. Following six years in Latin America, he took time off to study Arabic and then went to Jerusalem and later Cairo. He spent seven years in the Middle East, most of them as the bureau chief there for The New York Times. He left the Middle East in 1995 for Sarajevo to cover the war in Bosnia and later reported the war in Kosovo. Afterward, he joined the Times’ investigative team and was based in Paris to cover al-Qaida. He left the Times after being issued a formal reprimand for denouncing the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq.
He has written eleven books, including “Death of the Liberal Class” (2010), “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009), “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” (2008) and the best-selling “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” (2008). His book “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. In 2011, Truthdig and Nation Books published a collection of Hedges’ Truthdig columns called “The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress.”
Hedges holds a B.A. in English literature from Colgate University and a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard University. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif. Hedges speaks Arabic, French and Spanish and knows ancient Greek and Latin. In addition to writing a weekly original column for Truthdig, he has written for Harper’s Magazine, The New Statesman, The New York Review of Books, Adbusters, Granta, Foreign Affairs and other publications.
My personal evolution to become part of The Christian Left — or, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Practice the Golden Rule”
So Roger, you're on the "Left". Let me guess, you're a dyed-in-the-wool raving liberal '60s hippie?
I consider myself a member of The Christian Left (both generally, and with this organization) too, and while of course there's always a lot more complexity and nuance on both ends of the spectrum than labels like "right" or "left" might paint it, there are clear distinctions too.
I know of plenty of sincere Christians, including some ministers, who align very strongly with the values of love, compassion, and mercy that The Christian Left champions — and in the case of the ministers I'm thinking of, who have also taken a vocal stand against the "religious Right" — yet who also may either draw the line at some other social issues (abortion and same-sex relationships seem to be the Big Two bogeymen, usually), or maybe have a different approach to some things (say, healthcare) than others do on the political "Left". And they might also be uncomfortable with identifying themselves with the term "Christian Left". (Part of that also stems from the social and political baggage, as some see it anyway, that comes with the catchall term "left", which I trust open dialogue will clear up in time.)
And of course, there are those on the "Right" too, who don't march in quite the lockstep on every issue that a lot of public voices might give the impression they do. I grew up religiously and politically conservative — though, this was in the 1960s and '70s, before "the Right" began its headlong lunge toward ever-further-right polarization and hardcore ideology — and it was exactly over the Right's growing "hardcore-ism" in the 1980s (both politically and religiously) that I began standing more and more at arms' length from what called itself "conservative", and not keeping in step with them.
Eventually (in the early '90s), I found myself at a wonderful church, whose pastor was one of those I mentioned earlier, who took an outspoken stance against the religious Right (which was his background, as well — and he's the son of a prominent pastor who heads a large, conservative denomination), although at the same time he was one of those who wouldn't consider himself on the "Left". He just didn't see that the Christian "Right" was actually following Jesus, whom they said they wanted to follow — not when you compare their acts, words, and attitudes to his, anyway.
Yeah, all that's interesting, but The Christian Left takes on a bunch of political issues, like public healthcare, that the Bible never talks about, right?
Finally, the protracted national debate over healthcare a few years ago shocked me as I listened to the ever-more-openly callous position that both the political and religious Right dug into, and it forced me back to review the abundant biblical passages (I've been a 35-year Bible student, and went through an excellent, conservative graduate theology school) concerning care for the poor, ill, or oppressed.
To my real dismay, I found that for decades I had practiced denial ignoring the very obvious stance of the Bible: that it IS very much part of government's responsibilities to care for the poor and needy (as it is also everyone's responsibility to help, of course); I had simply always believed what I'd been told in my youth, that "the Bible's commands to help the poor are directed at individuals or the church, not at the government" (and, trusting those who taught me that, I never questioned it). Jeremiah 22 and the first half of Proverbs 31 are but two of very many passages that bluntly state government's responsibility to help the poor.
The answer was so clear as to make me ashamed that I'd denied it for so long: it is absolutely part of government's direct job to care for the poor (including, in this case, those who can't afford healthcare for themselves or their families), for the direct reason that the Golden Rule is a responsibility for all people to practice toward all others, and of course every act or policy of government is not only enacted by people, but has real effects on the real lives of other real people.
That, if anyone asks, is the central reason that governments are NOT exempt from responsibility to practice the Golden Rule ("In everything, do for others what you would want them to do for you", Mt 7.12 and Lk 6.31). Government "of the PEOPLE, by the PEOPLE, for the PEOPLE [and an observer who heard Lincoln give the Gettysburg Address noted that he emphasized the word "people" all three times]" — remember that? There's no abstraction in government: whatever government does has direct impact, sooner or later, on people, an impact that people in government are accountable to take thought for, "in everything".
That sounds very ethical and idealistic, and all. But what about being "fiscally responsible"?
"Fiscal responsibility" or "accountability"? Fine; as long as consideration for the direct and immediate impact on people is put first. Will a "fiscal accountability" measure first have a direct impact of threatening more people's livelihoods, homes, ability to feed their families, to afford healthcare, to keep from getting ill or dying sooner? Then that gets taken care of first — that's where "responsibility" should show up first, as care for people. The nation is "we the people", not "we the financial bottom line" (which is what emphasis on putting "fiscal accountability" first ends up making it into).
Long-term impact is vital too, of course; but trumpeting a policy's alleged long-term impact, when the immediate impact is real hardship and agony for people, ends up valuing natural selection (as even some conservative voices are now saying openly: "These are tough choices, and some will suffer, but ...") over genuine care for people. "We the people", by the way, implies a concern for one another, to stand together as one, not an Ayn Randian, pseudo-Darwinian national policy of "survival of the fittest".
Care for the poor, the sick, the needy? Yes: that's a responsibility for people in government to extend to ALL the people in the nation they serve. There's no excuse to skirt around that.
But, that means taxes! I don't want the government taking my money ...
And since, in a free country, We the People ARE the government, and our taxes are our contributions to a pool of funds to be used for the common good (contrary to a lot of conservative objections, taxes are not "the government taking" anything, which is the most common right-wing canard to dodge that) — then for example when it comes to an issue like healthcare, the only clear solution is for our (democratically agreed-on) taxes to support a program of national healthcare, the public healthcare that other developed and prosperous nations provide to all their citizens (and, of course, to add or expand other social safety nets besides healthcare). I appreciate the view of my friends in Canada, who are (rightly) appalled at the callous selfishness they see in America, and whose typical view on healthcare is, "We see our taxes as our gift to one another, to help one another out." That, if you ask me, sounds a lot more like what a "Christian nation" would be (since there are a lot of people on the Right who insist that's what America is or is supposed to be). "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fufill the law of Christ [his command, "Love one another, just as I have loved you", Jn 13.34]" (Gal 6.2).
So have I gone through my own evolution to become part of The Christian Left? You bet I have. Now I'm joining with thousands of others (as of this writing, The Christian Left on Facebook counts more than 26,000 members) to call the Christian Right, Middle, or Anywhere Else, to just do what they say they want to do: follow Jesus.
Love one another. The Golden Rule. Carry each other's burdens. The "least of these".
Oh yes, and speaking of his views on the poor and needy, those who say they want to follow him might keep this in mind: "'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger, or needing clothes, or sick, or in prison, and did not help you?' He will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me'" (Mt 25.44-45).
People matter. Our care for them, for the "least", for those who cannot provide for themselves, matters. If we want to live in a society where we believe "We the People" are what comes first — and if those who say they want to follow Jesus care about actually having the same care for others that he does (let's hope they do) — then the values of The Christian Left (which, we are glad and privileged to find, are also held by very many of our friends there who are NOT Christian, or not religious at all!) are values that our whole society should be sharing.
"We the People": the Golden Rule, not survival of the fittest.
Article by featured blogger Roger Smith, who also blogs at Roger's Shrubbery
We get letters like this all the time. We also get shorter similar comments on the Facebook page every day. We thought we'd share them with you. It's the reason we come to work every day. Thanks so much for being a part of our community. We couldn't do it without you. Before we started this page, we felt the same way you did: Alone.
"Thank you, God, that I am not alone. A person in my life tells me I can't be Christian unless I believe the Christian Right, and I don't. I knew that person was wrong, and I love them. I am just so thankful to know I don't have to carry a torch of hate in my heart to be saved. I don't have to hate anyone to talk and walk with my Lord. I don't have to condemn others to be forgiven. The tenants of that teaching are not the teachings of my Christ! I will not fear the messages of hate because my God is with me. God has answered a prayer and lifted a burden from my heart. Thanks be to Jesus and glory to God. Finding this site gave me reason to rejoice."
October 17th, 2011
Here's another one:
"Re: Your Facebook and Website
Where have you been all of my life? I read your website here for the first time and this is how I have felt all of my adult life. We on the left need to start speaking out about the incorrect version of what it means to be a Christian. So many people think it is the cheap, quick, selfish way of becoming "born again." They are told it saves their souls and perhaps a baptism of sorts is a requirement (not convinced of this). The deeds and actions they lead and the statements they make are far from Christ like. I of course fail to be completely Christ like as well however. We as a nation have forgotten about social justice and the common good of man kind. In fact I believe our nation is about as far from a "state of grace" as it can be because of it.
I think we as the Christian Left are asking people to do what is difficult (help the poor, turn the other cheek, love your enemy, give up material excesses, forgive, be humble, etc.), and the Christian Right is asking people to do what is simple: get dipped in water and you’re good to go. That’s why our road is much more difficult and will never be as popular. However, we still need to reveal the real truth of Christ and his teachings."
January 4th, 2011
By Charles Toy
“I’m sick and tired of trying to measure up to your expectations! It's impossible! You’re God! You have all the power! You’re perfect! You live in perfection! I live in this s--t-hole! You have no idea what it’s like! No idea at all what it’s like to be me!”
That’s what I said to God 21 years ago. I was angry and I was having a MAJOR pity party.
A voice spoke to my soul. I didn’t hear it with my ears. I heard it loud and clear in my spirit.
“Yes I do know what it’s like to be a human being. I became one. I know exactly what it’s like.”
I could not have come up with that at that particular time and in the frame of mind I was in.
It was all I needed to hear. God had delivered the perfect message to me when I needed Him most. My spirit was calmed immediately.
The next week-end I went to a Baptist men’s retreat for the week-end. Unbeknownst to me, there was an author speaking at the retreat, Jeff VanVonderen. He had just written a book called, “Tired of Trying to Measure Up.” Imagine that. The very words I had said to God days before. I bought the book at the retreat and read the entire thing. Again, it was exactly what I needed to hear.
There's an old saying: "Was it a coincidence, or was it God? It was probably God." Amen to that I say.
I still get mad at God sometimes, but he’s patient with me that way. After having a handful of experiences like the one I just described, it’s pretty hard for me to doubt Him.
Does he do these things in your life? I bet he does. Sometimes we just have to be willing to listen.
by Keith Goss
Doing the right thing can be very lonely. Think of all the prophets throughout history. They had their backs up against the wall. To say that they were between a rock and a hard place would be an understatement. Often their own families were against them. Their own religious and societal institutions were sometimes rejecting them. They were called crazy. Jesus’ own mother persuaded him to come home and get some rest because the townsfolk thought he was going nuts. It’s there in the Bible.
Martin Luther King’s fellow clergymen often said, “Calm down Martin. You’re going to ruin the cause. Don’t speak out against the war (Vietnam). That’s crossing the line. You will lose a lot of people.” The very President he was negotiating with in the White House had his brother Bobby, the Attorney general, wire tap a lot of the hotels and motels Martin stayed in during the struggle. Martin knew it. This stalwart practitioner of nonviolence would be beside himself when sometimes his followers broke out in violence and hatred. Malcolm X severely criticized him. So did Stokely Carmichael. Many said he was not aggressive enough. Others countered that he was too incendiary. But despite that he was a fragile person like the rest of us, he had a strong faith in God and the nonviolence of Jesus which kept him going.
I often think of what Progressive Christians are up against these days. Right wing pastors foisting a Gospel of merit and rugged individualism on the public, and that being virtually the only version of Christianity covered by the media. Charismatic health and wealth gospelers incessantly asking for people to send them money, and then claiming that they are so wealthy because they are blessed by God.
Stories like Jerry Falwell spewing that 911 was punishment from God for homosexuality, feminism and the actions of other groups of human beings that he hated. The Westboro Baptist family protesting at funerals with hellish signs and abject hatred dripping from their words. Pat Robertson telling us that natural catastrophes are punishment from God and Sarah Palin wrapping the cross in the flag by promoting her own brand of xenophobia. These distortions seem to be all that is appearing in the press.
It’s enough to make a Christian want to cry out: “This is not what it’s supposed to be all about! Where is the love in this?” Indeed, where is the Christlike love? It is a very lonely time for us. We need to get together in spirit and encourage one another that the love and sacrificial motives of Christianity are still alive. That cheap grace will not reign. That Christ still wants us to reconcile and work for social justice. That sometimes, a lot of times, we can use government and social institutions to help those who are hurting precisely because the love of Christ overcomes the cold bureaucracy that Conservatives seem to be so paranoid about.
At this time in history, being a progressive Christian, emphasizing the good things that the left can do, seems like an insurmountable obstacle to overcome. But we have the grace of Jesus. We have one another, and that is why it is so comforting to have a place like The Christian Left to come and visit in spirit once in awhile. To know that there are other people out there who conclude like us that there is something terribly wrong with what is advertised as Christianity today. People who want to be assured that they are not wrong about taking up the cross. About discipleship. About not being self righteous and condemning everyone. About accepting everyone unconditionally with love no matter what.
We are broken people and we fail a lot. And that is why we can let go and put our trust in Christ and let him show his love through us, whether it be through a person to person encounter or government legislation. Whether it be through a charity or a chance encounter with a fellow human being (and yes, animals too). That is a message that many who are hurting want to hear. And that is a message that Progressive Christians can exhibit: Progress is helping others who hurt because we genuinely care and we hurt ourselves. It’s not offering someone a formula for salvation and then advising them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps come what may. We speak by our actions. Let’s all be broken together, love one another and search to help others who are broken and look to the one who was broken for us on the cross. And we don’t need to search far because they will be those who we come across everyday of our lives. As The Apostle Paul said: love conquers all.
by Mike George
This page [The Christian Left] is sooo important. The message has been skewed worldwide, IMHO. I think it's very unfortunate that nobody understands true Christianity.
Many folks base Christianity on what they see and hear from conservative preachers, which I feel is the antithesis of Christ’s teachings.
They also tend to try and ram it down people’s throats, making people feel uncomfortable and awkward.
The travesties of organized "Christianity" such as pedophile priests and money begging preachers make most folks think its all a scam; but Christ is not the scam. It’s the perpetrators doing the scamming in the name of Christ.
When I watch these conservative preachers on TV, they’re not preaching Jesus. They’re preaching the old testament, or talking about conservative politics, and they rarely mention Jesus ... What’s up with that???
It makes me wonder if many of these so called preachers are really luciferians deceiving folks on purpose. There’s a lot of speculation on that. I tend to believe that, because look at how the majority of Americans look upon Christianity. They have at best a skeptical view of it. Many despise it. Some so hate the false messages and molestations and money grubbing, they are avowed atheists.
False teachings are quite powerful and affective at tarnishing true Christianity. I’m not judging conservative Christians. They should believe whatever they want to believe, but I think they missed the point totally! Maybe on accident; maybe on purpose. Maybe they got hoodwinked or scammed into believing false teachings; or, maybe they got lured by the devil into believing false teachings.
Besides the obvious, that Christ is true salvation and everlasting life, He was also about helping the needy, especially the children, the poor, the sick, the hungry. He was about redemption. One could be absolved of sin, and start anew. He CARED ABOUT PEOPLE.
I do not see this from the conservative side at all. They care about MONEY. Jesus didn't care about money. He said to give it all away. He said that it is impossible for a rich man to enter heaven. Yet so many Christians chase after riches and wealth. Why??? I could see becoming rich to help those in need. That makes sense. Like Bill Gates, he’s giving his entire fortune away. I think he got the message, but most don’t.
Jesus' other main purpose was forgiveness; to not fight back; to be meek; to fight anger and hatred with love and enlightenment; to seek peace at all costs. He was a complete genius, and most everybody who dared to debate him lost because his wisdom superseded their seemingly rational rationales.
Let us not forget. Jesus was about LOVE. LOVE for God, and your brothers and sisters; and your enemies; and strangers; and those who could care less about you; and those of other faiths, and those of no faith. We are ALL brothers and sisters!
If everybody loved everybody the way Jesus loves everybody, there wouldn't be any more wars, or hunger, or hatred, or cruelty. We would be living something close to heaven on earth.
About TCL Blog
We’re not about Dogma here. We’re just Christians who think the political and Christian right-wing have their priorities wrong.
Charles Toy is the founding member of The Christian Left. We're sure you will enjoy his passion as well as his wit. Guest bloggers featured often.