Pillorying the Religious Right
The current wave of vilification flowing over those designated as members of the “religious right” carries ominous undercurrents. Elements from the highest levels of authority in America have declared segments of the evangelical Christian community—and others who share a number of basic values in common with evangelicals—a menace to the American way of life. Unfortunately, a majority in the secular media have certified the condemnatory tirades and pandered to the less than honorable political fear-mongering we are now witnessing. While one may not wish to become involved in rebutting such low-road chicanery, the implications are far too serious to ignore. When evangelical Christians are broad-brushed as people who are waging religious warfare against the American culture, conspiring to dictate every detail of personal lifestyles, and oppressing those with alternate views, it can only mean one thing: There is serious trouble ahead. Trouble is inevitable because the accusations being promoted currently are not the usual attacks we have come to expect in this era of “negative campaigning.” No, indeed, there is an acrimonious ring in these charges that will not die after a few hotly contested elections. One cannot escape the conclusion that there is something here that runs much deeper than partisan politics, and unless it is checked immediately and emphatically, it can spawn grievous consequences that few of us wish to witness.
Are there those loosely called “evangelicals” or “fundamentalists” who hold extreme views and make public statements that are an embarrassment, and even an offense, to their spiritual kin? Of course there are. However, I am not implying that such improprieties are the exclusive province of evangelical Christians. Obviously, the same can be said of every other organized religious and non-religious group ever known to mankind. Such intemperate zealotry is a common human frailty that becomes a danger when the excesses of the fringe are portrayed as the norm for a targeted group as a whole.
What the Religious Right is Not
There is a considerable amount of “straw manning” in the case marshalled by liberals who are pillorying the religious right. That is to say, opponents are either misinformed as to the size, efficiency, and solidarity of the evangelical force or are crafting a perception of strength so as to infuse fear into the populace that will serve the liberal agenda. The facts are substantially different than the opponents of the right wish to convey.
No leader, or group of leaders, mandates the way evangelicals vote. Diversity of theological beliefs among those cast within the religious-right frame of reference is considerable and many times is even incompatible. While some leaders may influence people who share their particular values and theological views, they by no means “control the vote.” There is, for example, a sharp division of thought and practice regarding the proper method of participation in political affairs by Christians. For this reason, until the present moral and spiritual crisis stirred evangelicals to embrace political activism, Christians by and large united as denominational bodies to promote the faith, but they left the practice of politics to individual choice and conviction.
There is, therefore, no “united evangelical vote.” The facts will show that, like their less spiritually oriented fellow Americans, thousands of evangelicals are more inclined to vote pocketbook than principle.
Evangelicals are not committed to creating a theocratic political system that will force those with differing views to submit to authoritarian religious politicians. Quite to the contrary, a mainstay of biblical theology is that the only theocracy mankind will ever know will be realized when the Messiah returns to establish His kingdom.
Panic on the Left
Proponents of what has been dubbed the “religious left” are visibly shaken by growing and substantial resistance to the radical social agenda they have brought into the mainstream of American life. These social reconstructionists have been riled by the increasing visibility of informed Christians who are becoming involved in the political process because they wish to do something that will put the brakes on the runaway hedonism espoused by their critics. (Incidentally, getting involved in the political process is precisely what national leaders have urged responsible citizens to do since the republic was founded.) These Christians are now in the political arena in an effort to redirect the reverse culture spin that is forcing radical anti-Judeo-Christian patterns on them, their families, and life in their communities. Thus, to imply, as is being done, that various groups with Judeo-Christian moral and spiritual convictions are devious and dangerous for such acts as informing constituents about the voting records of public officials on issues of mutual concern is beyond the pale of serious argument. Consider the fact that virtually every negative political campaign ad spun by local; state, and national candidates from both parties features the “shabby” voting record of the opponent. Also, the track records of the self-appointed critics of the religious right are, in themselves, enough to discredit their objections.
The plain truth is that the panic on the left is a self-created phenomenon. The growing perception of massive numbers of Christians uniting to express outrage and promote a return to decent standards of conduct within the nation is the direct result of the relentless onslaught by those who are now loudly complaining about mortal danger from the religious right. Their cry has a distinctly hollow sound.
Growing from the Roots
What we are, in fact, witnessing at this juncture is a spontaneous growth from the grass roots that exceeds any single or multiple segment of the religious right. The motivation for the great coming together of evangelicals and others is not a partisan political whim. No, it is millions of people who are beginning to react to the systematic gutting of the values this nation was built upon. They are rebelling against the raucous repudiation of Judeo-Christian standards and values by people who revel in the radical. Having rejected divine standards of belief and conduct, the new-wave humanists who are now in the mainstream are groping to establish a God-free system that will somehow pass for organized society—a sort of compassless commitment to something no one is quite sure of. The “new morality” of a few years ago has become the “no morality” of the 90s. The process of realigning America, in the view of the religious left, is now in the regimentation stage, and the proponents of the new wave have little time or tolerance for those steered by divine absolutes.
The perception of increased political clout by the religious right is enhanced by increasing numbers of Americans who are by no stretch of the imagination evangelicals—for example, politically conservative Jews—expressing their displeasure with the odious erosion of Judeo-Christian culture. These Jews recognize, as do persecuted Christians in other countries, the implied peril at hand when religious minorities are singled out as dangerous subversives. Herein lies a serious potential problem. If, in order to gain short-term political advantage, critics are able to depict the religious right as a malicious body of fanatics controlled by a few kook-fringe malcontents, the residual impact will be devastating. The vast majority of people identified as the religious right are serious-minded citizens who reflect the majority opinion of Americans in general on fundamental questions of decency and morality.
The Religious Right and the Jewish Community
One of the most serious issues at stake in the current furor is the relationship of evangelical Christians and Jews in America. Opponents have cast politically active evangelicals as those who oppose the fundamental concept of separation of church and state, thereby jeopardizing the future of those who differ from fundamentalist Christian agendas. This misconception reflects an attitude that holds grave consequences for both communities.
There is no question that in the evangelical Christian community, Israel and the Jewish people find their most stalwart supporters. Whatever Jews may find to differ with in conservative Christian theology, they cannot fault evangelicals for their convictions about Israel’s inherent right to a homeland in the Middle East and their determination to stand against anti-Semitism in all of its ugly manifestations. This solidarity, a vast majority of evangelicals hold, is rooted in the biblical revelation of Jewry’s proper place in the divine program. Historically, Christians with these commitments have remained firm in their stance toward Jews and Israel, in spite of the theological anti-Semitism common to the ranks of liberal religious elements professing Christianity.
Of equal importance is the fact that after centuries of suspicion and eyeing one another at a not too-respectful distance, some Jewish people and evangelicals are making serious attempts to establish relationships in areas where both hold common interests. This has not been a remake of the old-line ecumenism in which convictions were sacrificed for a facade of unity. Quite to the contrary, relationships are now established, not to see how much we can give up in the name of civility, but rather on the desire for an honest understanding of just who and what we are all about. And although with some members of both communities it is a fragile relationship, it is one better fostered than destroyed.
Thus, for the religious right to become characterized as a menace to the future of American Jewry is most unfortunate. Evangelicals, in the main, are well aware of the excessive statements of a few who, in some ways, may be more conspicuous than others. And the Jewish community can rest assured that those who seem to be calling for a pre-Messianic Christian theocracy for America do not represent the theology or desires of the central evangelical community.
Finally, we have clearly moved into a culturally contentious period when those who share historic Judeo-Christian values are becoming more conspicuous and less appreciated. It therefore should probably not be surprising that we are witnessing a few manifestations that should arrest our attention and provoke serious thought. In spite of all sane reasons to the contrary, anti-Semitism is a persistent problem in the Western world. Here in America, we see some distressing attitudes rising. At the same time, the kind of Christians, and their virtues, that played such a large role in making this country what it is are being singled out as misfits by militants with self-serving agendas. I, for one, don’t believe these are unrelated facts of life. What I do believe is that these realities should bring evangelicals and Jews closer together, not drive us apart.