Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Christian Nation Myth Revisited

Despite the fact that he's Catholic and evangelicals have been historically suspicious of Catholics, Rick Santorum has managed to do something Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman, and Newt Gingrich failed to do: win the hearts of the Christian Right. How? By focusing on social and conservative issues, such as marriage, family, and abortion (and paradoxically, contraception, something evangelicals are typically not against), and by his bulldogged campaigning that has left the others in the dust. Unlike Romney, whose Mormonism is even more suspicious, Santorum is delivering the goods for Christian conservatives, including the cry to revive our nation's Christian heritage.

At one of his campaign stops in Louisiana, he pitched his message to 1,000 strong at the Greenwell Springs Baptist Church. At one point, the pastor delivered a message that summarizes the movement's motivation (and that evening's theme) and why they are now pinning their hopes on Santorum: "This nation was founded as a Christian nation," he said. "If you don't like the way we do things, I've got one thing to say: Get out! We don't worship Buddha. We don't worship Muhammad. We don't worship Allah. We worship God. We worship God's son Jesus Christ." [1]

Hmm... does that sound American to you? In Confessions of a Bible Thumper, I relate how I always wrestled with such claims and how I discovered the myth of a Christian nation. The Christian Right rewrites history ignoring the historical evidence that clearly shows our founding fathers to be a conglomerate of Christian progressives (most would be considered liberal heretics by the Baptist Church audience!) and students of the Enlightenment, with a slim minority being what we would call evangelical Christians. And would they make such assinine statements, that those of other faiths should just get out? Hardly! This pastor, and Santorum's association with his church, reveals a disturbing, familiar theocratic theme: Only those who worship our way, or at least only those who like our "Christian" way of governing, are deserving of citizenship.

There were two other statements that revealed this pastor's narrow-minded bias. He said, "We don't worship Muhammad." Well, who does? Last I checked, Muslims don't either. Worshiping Muhammad would be heresy to them. He also said, "We don't worship Allah." Are you sure, pastor? Last I checked, Arab Christians, who believe the same as you do, worship Allah. "Allah" is merely the Arabic term for God. So, yes, you actually do worship Allah, sir. You just don't know it!

I had hoped with the work of moderate evangelicals like Mark Noll (In Search of Christian America) and Gregory Boyd (The Myth of the Christian Nation), this kind of talk would be scarce by now. But no, the fallacy continues and apparently is the rallying cry of Santorum and his supporters. God help us. I welcome your comments.

[1] Time Magazine, April 2, 2012, The New Christian Right, page 33.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The New Spiritual Paradigm: Not Church

I recently cracked open the newest issue of Time magazine, which displayed the words “10 Ideas That Are Changing Your Life” on the cover, and was pleasantly surprised one of those ideas mirrors one of the major themes in my book: Many believers need to be saved from the church. The article explained how American society is experiencing a shift in its concept of spiritual community. More and more people, without rejecting God, are leaving the institutional church and rethinking “religion.”

Time’s article calls the number four idea “The Rise of the Nones,” the Nones being the now 16 percent of the population who say they have no religious affiliation. That percent does not correlate with the 4 percent of Americans who identify as atheist or agnostic, meaning 12 percent of these “Nones” are still believers. Their hunger for spiritual meaning and connection is still strong. Many have fled the doctrinal battles, hierarchal control, and spiritual abuse happening inside the church to create grassroots Christian communities, often meeting in homes.

There is an irony to this phenomenon. This movement of Nones and Not Church (what one Sunday gathering calls itself) is worlds closer to the original intention of what New Testament writers called ekklesia, in Greek, or what is commonly translated “church,” than what fundamentalist, evangelical, and Catholic churches have become. In Confessions of a Bible Thumper, I explain (as does author Frank Viola) that a more historical and linguistically accurate reading of the Bible does not support our modern concept of church.

I’m excited about this trend. I believe a Not Church movement has begun. A movement that exposes controlling churches and denominations, such as Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), which I was apart of in another life (and whose abuse is thankfully gradually being exposed here and here) and Mars Hill Seattle, whose recent extreme “church discipline” case was reported by KOMO 4 News Seattle. Moreover, I would hope, it would be a movement that funnels energy and money into fighting poverty and oppression, pursuing social justice, and simply loving others unconditionally (Jesus stuff), rather than building ego-driven empires that too often control the flock, idolize the Bible, and canonize doctrine. As I say in my book, the models for such communities are endless, way beyond simply a home church movement. I welcome your comments.