Evangelicals, Politics, and the Kingdom of God

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Recently
by William L. Anderson: A
Tale of Two State-Sponsored Killings

 

 
 

Because the
10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks fell upon a Sunday,
it hardly was surprising that the incident was recognized in many
churches in the United States. Americans are not alone in commemorating
anniversaries of important events, but from what I saw the 9/11
services in many evangelical churches went beyond simple commemoration,
moving into the infusion of Christianity with the American State,
something the ancients once called syncretism.

Before going
further regarding the relationship of American evangelicals with
the U.S. State, I will point out that evangelicals hardly are the
only churchgoers in this country that mix the Kingdom of God with
the Kingdom of Mammon. As one who receives the regular emails from
Sojourners, which tends to represent the thinking of the "liberal"
American churches, I can see how millions of people who are part
of those religious circles are taught that the American Welfare
State IS the Kingdom of God, and that the so-called intention of
any law intended to further that State equates with directives from
the Bible.

(One has to
remember, however, that liberal American churches, while giving
the Bible some sort of mystical authority without really believing
what it says, hold to very different standards of beliefs than do
evangelicals. Theological liberals tend to speak in religious languages
that manage to say a lot of things that reveal little actual belief,
with language used not to describe something, but rather to hide
what liberals do not believe. For the most part, a vision
of a socialist and welfarist America — the original vision of American
Progressives of more than a century ago — has captivated the pulpits
and the seminaries of their denominations. If they believe their
reading of Scripture can be mixed into that vision, then Scripture
is acceptable, and anything else is ignored or described in such
vague terms as to make it meaningless.)

The focus of
this commentary, then, is not upon the theological liberals who
long ago abandoned historical Christianity for Progressive Statism.
Instead, I am looking at the evangelicals who have abandoned historical
Christianity for their own version of Progressive Statism, embracing
the religion of "American Exceptionalism," as though it
were the essence of the Kingdom of God. Furthermore, I realize that
what I am writing will make me very unpopular with people who claim
to be following Christ, but Christianity is not a popularity contest
and I believe that evangelicals have so lost their way when it comes
to matters of Church and State that they are in danger of going
the way of the theological liberals, who have become religiously
irrelevant.

I recently
spent nearly a month in Latvia, a small, Baltic independent country
that was swallowed by the former Soviet Union for half a century.
Although less than 10 percent of Latvians even attend church (apparently,
communism did have its influences over time), those that do go tend
to be quite active, and my wife, the girl we are adopting, and I
went to a relatively new church while we were in that country.

One thing I
noticed was the lack of political influences in that church. There
was no Latvian flag outside or inside the building, even though
there were church flags on the flagpoles, even though Latvians,
like many from the Baltic countries, tend to be quite nationalistic.
(They threw off an oppressor, the U.S.S.R., only two decades ago,
and with very little bloodshed.) There was no mixing of Christianity
and "Latvianism" during the services, which I cannot say
is always the situation in the USA. (My church does not have flags
of any country flying outside or displayed in the sanctuary or elsewhere
in the building, so I must make sure not to make blanket statements.)

Why is that
so? One reason, I believe, involves the religious roots of the United
States. We are fond of saying things like "America was founded
on religious freedom" and the like, although it is clear from
even a cursory reading of U.S. History that while some people did
seek to be able to practice their religion here after being persecuted
in Europe, nonetheless religious freedom on these shores was a spotty
thing.

We also hear
that the USA was founded "as a Christian country," and
I remember hearing a talk from someone who believed that had the
authors of the U.S. Constitution made it clear that this country
was "Christian," that somehow things would be different
today. That really is nonsense; for that matter, a number of European
countries at one time officially were "Christian" nations,
and today none of those things matter, as no place in the world
is as secular as Europe today.

However, the
connection between historical Christianity and the effect
it should have upon the actions of those that govern us was changed
permanently in the United States during the 19th Century,
first with Unitarianism and then with Progressivism. The political
actions of both liberal and conservative "evangelicals"
today are reflective of the secular, state-embracing political philosophies
that rose during the 1800s and early 1900s, not the Christianity
that was practiced by the Early Church, and certainly not of the
Bible.

I cannot emphasize
that point enough. When American evangelicals launch campaigns to
deal with attempts to outlaw the "under God" portion of
the Pledge of Allegiance, they are not preserving religious freedom,
nor are not paying homage to the ideals of liberty that inspired
many of the founders of this nation. Instead, they are endorsing
a pledge created by a socialist who despised the founders of this
country and who hated the views that the framers of the U.S. Constitution
had on law and the state. Indeed, the Pledge of Allegiance is the
antithesis of all of those ideals upon which conservative evangelicals
claim to be supporting and it is collectivist and Progressivist
to the core. Yet, because it has the phrase "under God,"
Christians are willing to engage in what only can be idolatry and
pledge their troth to another god.

Having grown
up in the conservative evangelical subculture and still being part
of it, I have picked up some insights as to why people who believe
in God and who hold to the inerrancy of the Bible have sold out
to the State. The answers are more complicated and nuanced than
one might expect to read in a publication like the New York Times,
which treats evangelicals as though they were alien invaders who
have no right even to exist in our society.

Because I am
dealing with the modern evangelicals, I will not cover the influence
of the Unitarians of the 19th Century, except to say
that they were part of nearly every major advancement of State power,
including the public school movement in Massachusetts, and the Civil
War. Certainly, by the end of the 1800s, the Unitarian influence
began to wane, as theological liberalism took hold in the major
Protestant denominations.

It is not hard
to understand why theological liberals embraced the Progressive
agenda of expansion of State power and the undermining of doctrines
such as natural rights, as well as the viewpoint that law should
be a "positive" force in making people engage in specified
public duties. (This is as opposed to law being a check on those
in power; Progressives wanted the law to advance government power,
not restrain it.)

Liberals
by 1900 had given up on the historical doctrines of Christianity,
including Creation, the Fall, and Redemption through the death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ. Instead, liberals decided that while
they did not believe the Biblical events actually happened, the
purpose of Christianity should be to create a "Heaven on earth"
through social legislation. The "purpose" in life would
be the implementation of "good works," but good works
done through the actions of the State and the "experts"
employed in government bureaucracies.

The
liberals have changed neither their message nor their mission. They
have embraced nearly every totalitarian movement that promised "free
healthcare," including the notorious and murderous regime of
Pol Pot at the height of its terror. Today, they champion environmentalism,
welfarism, and every government program that has been created in
the name of "helping the poor." No matter how many times
government fails and no matter how many times socialist dictatorships
are exposed, the liberals will continue to draw their water from
the same polluted well, and nothing ever will change.

The
evangelicals, however, have taken a different path but have ended
at the doorstep of Statism as have their liberal counterparts. Although
evangelicals did not openly become involved in the modern scourge
of partisan politics until about 1980, they did embrace Progressivism
as tightly as did the liberals, and there are many reasons why that
happened.

First,
Progressives promoted Prohibition, and that was the cause that allowed
the theological liberals and conservatives to break bread together,
although they did not follow exactly the same paths to Prohibition.
The liberals tended to be tied to the wealthy Progressives, such
as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (Rockefeller contributed
much of the money for the construction of the Riverside Church in
Manhattan, which even today is a center of theological liberalism
and leftism. He also was a major supporter of Union Theological
Seminary, which was one of the early seminaries to promote the "Social
Gospel.")

Theological
conservatives, on the other hand, were concentrated among the middle
and lower-income groups on the economic ladder, and they could see
the destructive effects of alcoholism upon individuals and families.
Indeed, the leading evangelist of the day, Billy Sunday, was a major
promoter of Prohibition, although he hardly had the same influence
as did the wealthy Progressives, who believed that making alcohol
illegal would help create a class of people that could be better
directed by the "experts" of the State.

Second, because
the evangelicals (at that time, called "Fundamentalists")
tended to be less-wealthy than theological liberals, the Populist-Progressive
message had a lot of appeal to them, and Progressive politicians
such as Ben "Pitchfork" Tillman and Theo Bilbo were able
to take advantage of their resentment. These men also pitched their
Progressivism in a virulent racism that created a syncretistic Christianity
that built a racially-based foundation of belief. In that set of
beliefs, one could resent people of another race, blame them for
one's own ills, and have it blessed by both the church and the authorities.
(Fundamentalists held onto their racial separatism and were the
last of the Christian groups to admit blacks into their churches
and schools. Many of them cited the non-existent "Curse of
Ham" in the book of Genesis as the basis of their beliefs and
this is not the only time that Fundamentalists have misused passages
of Holy Scripture to push viewpoints that are not Biblical.)

I emphasize
the Progressive Era because this was the time that the modern dichotomy
was set between the Fundamentalists and the Theological Liberals,
and it was the time when the patterns for both groups were determined.
It also is the time when many of the hymns that appear in Fundamentalist
hymnals were written, a time when churches cheered on America's
military ventures in Cuba and the Philippines and in Europe.

Since that
time, both Liberals and Fundamentalists (now under the overall umbrella
of evangelicals, although the term also includes people who would
disclaim any Fundamentalist ties) continue to embrace Progressivism
and outright statism. For the liberals, the State itself functions
as God, or at least it is the main conduit through which God acts.
Evangelicals, on the other hand, have a more complex relationship
with the American State.

As
Laurence
Vance has noted in numerous articles
, the evangelicals (or conservatives
in that camp) tend to have a near-worshipful view of the U.S. Armed
Forces. They also are near-united in having views that abortion-on-demand
not only is evil, but should be outlawed, and most of them who are
active in anti-abortion movements believe the outlawing should be
done via an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (Ron Paul's belief
that an amendment is not the right thing to do, given the constitution's
separation of powers doctrines, tends to be marginalized by the
evangelical conservatives, but more on Dr. Paul later.)

From the Progressive
Era well into the 1970s, the conservative evangelicals tended to
support whatever was "American," although they really
were not tied to either major political party. Southern evangelical
conservatives tended to vote for Democrats (as did liberals), and
evangelicals from the rest of the country were somewhat split. If
there is a ground zero for modern evangelical political involvement,
it came not (as some might think) with the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision
in which the U.S. Supreme Court forced all states to legalize abortion
on demand, but rather the 1976 election of Jimmy Carter as president.

Carter was
the first president in my memory to lay claim to the "born
again" criteria that is essential to the evangelical experience.
Because evangelicals really are a minority in this country, they
tend to grasp onto celebrities, sports figures, and other public
people who say they are Christians. For example, when Gerald Ford
became president after Richard Nixon's resignation, Christianity
Today ran an article asking of there was "A Christian in
the White House" because it was rumored that Ford was a practicing
believer.

Evangelicals
in droves voted for Carter, but they soon were disappointed in him.
For one, the Democratic Party that Carter represented was not the
party that many evangelicals had supported post-World War II. This
was the party of Ted Kennedy and George McGovern. It was the party
of militant support for abortion on demand, and it was the party
of the very intellectuals and Theological Liberals that absolutely
despised evangelicals. While the Democrats did not mind having evangelical
votes for Carter, they let it be known that they did not want these
"religious fanatics" in their party. Thus, whatever evangelical
support Carter might have had, the Democrats deliberately drove
out the conservatives.

Second, the
Carter presidency was a time of high unemployment and high
inflation, and his legacy was one of failure. (I wrote a revisionist
piece on the Carter presidency several years ago and noted that
he did a number of good things during his stay in office, but that
neither he nor the Democrats have wanted to take credit for them
because they involved creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs,
which meant that some people might have become rich in the process.)

Ronald Reagan
was the first candidate of either party to gain the overt endorsements
of groups openly tied to evangelicals. The late Jerry Falwell, then
the president of Liberty University, started a group called Moral
Majority that laid out much of what would be the governing principles
for both Republican and (ironically) Democratic administrations
since that time.

The Religious
Right, as the MM and other such groups were called, wanted to see
more people in prison, a ramped up war against drugs, more overseas
U.S. military ventures, and more powers granted to the police. While
supporting limited individual gun rights and cuts in tax rates,
the Religious Right gave some lip service to limited government,
but in the end the expansion of the Warfare State, the refusal to
cut back on the Welfare State, and the growing moves to support
militarization of the police ultimately resulted in what we have
in this country: the Warfare-Welfare-Police State.

The U.S. prison
population, which stood at about 300,000 when Reagan was elected,
has mushroomed to more than 2.1 million, a quarter of the incarcerated
people on the globe and by far the highest number for a single nation.
Never in the history of the USA has it been easier for someone to
be arrested and charged with a "crime" that not long ago
would not have been considered a legal transgression. Furthermore,
with their slavish desire for state-sponsored executions, and their
view that police and prosecutors should have a "free hand"
to "do their jobs," we have seen an explosion of police
and prosecutorial misconduct for which there is little or no legal
accountability, much less moral accountability.

There are many
reasons for this, but I firmly hold that one of the main reasons
has been the renewed vigor of direct involvement in politics by
conservative American evangelicals. With their rules-based religious
beliefs and their religious devotion to "American Exceptionalism,"
American religious conservatives have managed to create the Police
State that slowly but surely is being turned against them.

I
hardly believe that only conservative evangelicals are to
blame. After all, Paul Krugman and Ben Bernanke are not Christian
conservatives, nor is Barack Obama and certainly not the Democratic
Party. Nonetheless, the Progressive style of governance that is
so destructive has been enhanced by the Religious Right, which looks
for a "law enforcement" solution to nearly everything
and operates upon the mistaken belief that the police always will
do the right thing.

The current
political season does not offer any change. Ron Paul still is reviled
among Religious conservatives, even though he is pro-life and wants
to preserve religious freedom. However, Dr. Paul is not an
adherent to a belief in a magical "American Exceptionalism"
and has strongly criticized American military adventures abroad,
something that never will endear him to the Christian Right.

American liberty
is rapidly disappearing and the Religious Right has played an important
role in empowering the worst among us. This was not supposed to
be the case, but whenever people seek to impose the Kingdom of God
through politically-sponsored violence, the sad results are inevitable.
The United States of America is not the Kingdom of God, nor
is it the "Shining City on a Hill." It is simply a country
whose political leaders decided long ago that individual liberty
should be replaced by collectivism, and the Christian conservatives
were there to answer the call.

October
21, 2011

William
L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him
mail
], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland,
and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig
von Mises Institute
. He
also is a consultant with American Economic Services. Visit
his blog.

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