Thursday, May 05, 2005


Chris Hedges, author of War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning (an excellent book), and of the article in the current Harpers' Magazine, is on "Democracy Now!" as I type. Hedges' father, as he says, was a Presbyterian minister, and he himself holds an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School. He is making an excellent argument that the "Dominionists" (who, apparently, take their name from the King James version of Genesis 2, where humanity is told to "take dominion" over all the earth) are a political, not a religious, movement.

The Rev. Joseph Phelps, pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, (and a graduate of Southern Theological Seminary, in the '70's), which church held a "counter" "Justice Sunday" service which 1000 people or so attended, is also on, and he gives me use for a word I learned in elementary school. As Rev. Phelps points out, the founders of this country were "disestablishmentarians." That is, they were against creating an "established" church.

Moehler told "Justice Sunday" that they were calling on people "merely to be moral, we want them to be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Because we don't just need instruction, we need salvation." He tied that sentiment directly to the federal judiciary, whom he said held control over much of what is important to this nation. Not satisfied, he makes clear, to control the administrative and legislative branches of government, he was exhorting people of a similar mind to seek control over the judiciary branch, as well. It is not unreasonable, to pick up on a point from the previous point, to call such language intolerant, or to focus on the issue of tolerance. What Lewis Lapham said, in that quote, was: "we err on the side of folly if we continue to grant the boon of tolerance to people who mean to do us harm in the conviction that they receive from Genesis the command ‘to take dominion over the Earth,’ to build the Kingdom of God, to create the Christian nation. The proposition is as murderous as it is absurd ...” What Mr. Lapham is complaining about there is not the activities of a Martin Luther King, Jr., or even necessarily the political candidacy of a Pat Robertson. Mr. Robertson sought political power, and Dr. King sought to change the injustice of American society. What Mr. Lapham identifies is not the error of trying to bring the kingdom of God to earth (we can have a fine theological argument, in fact, on precisely what that kingdom of God is: whether it is imminent or present, to come, coming, or already come). The concern voiced by Mr. Lapham is for "people who mean to do us harm," and do so "in the conviction that they receive from Genesis the create the Christian nation." What these people seek is not merely political power, but absolute control; and an absolute control based on absolute religious beliefs.

When Albert Mohler says the line isn't drawn at morality, but at salvation, he means a very particular, very narrow theological position, one shared by a tiny segment of the world religion of Christianity. Mr. Hedges writes from his experience at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention, and he makes it clear that the issue for the supporters of "Justice Sunday" is not the filibuster, or the appointment of a few bad judges, but winning a battle of good over evil. Whether that battle even has any theological validity is another question; whether we are called to fight it, and win it, on God's behalf, is the question before us. That is another issue, as Reinhold Niebuhr argued in Moral Man and Immoral Society, that I may take up for myself, but I cannot impose it on society at large. What we are seeing, in fact, is the last gasp of "Christendom," but we should not prolong its death throes by quibbling over distinctions about "tolerance."

This is not a Christian nation, and should not be. If Christ ever intended to rule as a temporal leader, then his death was indeed a failure. There can be no other way to understand it. As Rev. Phelps says, Rev. Mohler and his allies want to rewrite American history. They are antidestablishmentarians. They seek the establishment of a "Christian nation." And one of the crucial questions will be: whose Christianity? That of Benedict XVI? Of the Jesus Seminar? Of Shelby Spong, Jerry Falwell, Marcus Borg, Matthew Fox? Which kingdom of God do we establish? The basiliea tou theou of Luke? Or the basiliea ton ouranon of Matthew? Or do we follow John's gospel, where Jesus says his kingdom is not of this world? Do we build the Civitate Dei of Augustine? Do we adhere to the natural law of Aquinas, or do we teach our children that the law of America is based on Mosaic law, as one man said this morning in a story on NPR?

As Mr. Hedges points out, the group behind "Justice Sunday" is not promoting the personal salvation of an evangelist like Billy Graham. They are using that theological position as a sword, a political tool, to gain political power. I can respect, while I reject, the position of a believer that my salvation depends on accepting his or her version of religious doctrine. What I cannot respect, and must reject, is anyone seeking to use religious doctrine as an excuse to take political power, and to wield it over me and my family in the absolute sense so clearly intended by this group.

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