An Open Letter to Christian Conservatives

In a recent article excoriating Sojourners’ Jim Wallis in particular and left-wing Christianity in general, I decried political operatives who masquerade as "prophets." I must admit that I was pleased (and somewhat surprised) with the email response, as I seem to have hit a nerve among people who also do not trust the religious left.

Unfortunately, I believe that I must do more than preach to the choir. And while I have a thick skin, no doubt I need to prepare for some emails from Christian conservatives who are likely to tell me that I have stopped preachin’ and gone to meddlin’. So, I might as well begin with this open letter to Christian conservatives.

The response of the Democratic left to the electoral losses a couple weeks ago — and the propensity of Democrats to blame evangelical Christians have been revealing — and quite pathetic. From Bob Herbert, who has declared that you Christians are such terrible people that Democrats should never want to court them, to Maureen Dowd, whose post-election columns have been as nasty and hysterical as anything I have seen from her, the Democratic establishment has been beside itself in demanding that someone DO SOMETHING about these nasty, terrible evangelicals.

Given the over-the-top histrionics from the Democratic leadership, I am tempted to shake my head in wonder and decry the loss of all sanity from one of this country’s major political parties. Yet, while I believe that Democrats have lost their collective minds, I also am amazed at the idiocy that conservative Christians are willing to swallow from the Republicans. Furthermore, let me warn you that this heady experience of helping tip the narrow margins toward George W. Bush is not going to turn out as you would hope.

More than a year ago on this page, I warned conservative Christians not to become Republican operatives. Yet, within a few days after the election, James Dobson already was demanding that the Republicans accede to all his demands, or in the next election the Christians would vote for someone else or stay home altogether. Keep in mind that Dobson for the past four or five elections has told his listeners that this (that is, whatever election it may happen to be) is the most important election in our lifetimes because it represents a "crossroads."

To be honest, people, I am tired of the "crossroads" talk and wish that your evangelical leaders would come up with a different slogan, just as I am tired of the nonsensical "people of faith" tag you try to place upon yourselves. (Everyone has faith in something, so for Christians to use a blatant political term to describe themselves is ridiculous.) The country did not and will not take a turn towards righteousness with a Bush presidency, nor did Bill Clinton (for all his sexual dalliances while in the White House) turn this nation towards immorality. (Hey, we already had been headed in that direction for a long time; Clinton had nothing to do with it.)

Furthermore, for all of the "moral values" talk, I see no "moral value" in the continuing slaughter of innocent Iraqis. We Christians are fond of quoting Scripture; fine, but let’s remember that Proverbs 6:17 says that one of the things God hates most is "hands that shed innocent blood." (That same passage also tells of how God hates lying; I suspect that much political spin would fall into that category.)

In the aftermath of the election, Bob Jones III, president of Bob Jones University, declared in a letter to Bush that by the Republicans taking this election, God had granted a "reprieve" from our slide into paganism. Now, while I am not particularly pleased with the direction the political classes have tried to lead us for a long time, and the dominant culture in this country is somewhat if not altogether pagan, somehow I do not think that the re-election (or, perhaps we need to say that U.S. voters elected him again, for the first time) of Bush is a blow for goodness and truth.

Moreover, if evangelicals really want to believe that the Bush Administration is the standard of righteousness, then something is desperately wrong with the evangelicals’ standards. Indeed, let us be honest; evangelicals seem to be convinced that they "have arrived" with the latest political wins for the Republicans. Who needs standards of truth and decency when one can win at the polls instead?

May I remind you that to trade the Republican Party for a true Christian witness makes Esau’s choice of trading his birthright and blessing for some red stew an act of stellar wisdom. Republicans (like their Democratic counterparts) are interested in having political power; you are a vehicle for them to grab power, and nothing more.

There is even a larger problem here that is becoming quite apparent. Despite Dobson’s threats to discipline Republicans if they don’t walk the straight and narrow, the rhetoric from the Democrats has made it clear that should that party ever again have the power it had during the first two years of the Clinton presidency, they will make you pay for your votes, and the only way they can do that is to further infringe upon religious liberty. If they ever seize the chance — and certainly they will in future — they will use all of the powers of the state to harass you, and I think you understand it quite deeply.

Unfortunately, conservative Christians have not been the best promoters of liberty. Unlike many of our forebears who led a revolution in the name of freedom, modern Christians have the example of John Ashcroft, who many times has despised his oath of office. Take the drug war, for example. One of the best applause lines at any conservative Christian event is for a politician to speak in support of the drug war. After all, you reason, drugs can do harm to people, so they should be banned, not taking into account the eternal lessons of prohibition.

Yet, do any of you know the extent of the damage of this drug war, and how the wreckage being spawned dwarfs any harm that drugs may cause? Yes, we were exposed to a little bit of this war when some vaunted drug warriors killed the Christian missionary Veronica Bowers and her child in 2001 as they flew over the Peruvian jungle. This time, the Bush Administration was directly responsible for the loss of innocent life, but you excused it as "collateral damage" in this "worthy" fight against illegal drugs.

Beyond this hellish drug war, which (like the war in Iraq) cannot be "won" and can only destroy our liberties — those few we have left — conservative Christians have emulated the worst of the tactics of leftists: embracing the nationalization of policies. The U.S. Constitution laid out a system of checks and balances, including the federal system in which powers were divided between the states and central government. However, like the leftists before them, Christian conservatives have pushed for one law after another that has further broken down these safeguards. There is no other way to spin this one. The fences are coming down and from what I can see, conservative Christians have joined with secular leftists to eviscerate the rule of law.

Keep in mind that when rights are gone, they are gone for good. In order to fight the war on drugs, and to prosecute and punish what is called "white collar crime," a few portions of the Bill of Rights have had to be suspended. Thus, we see the disappearance of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth amendments (or at least mortal damage done to them, since once a constitutional right is breached, the courts — and certainly prosecutors — will only try to wear it down further).

On the civil side, conservative Christians have put out an all-out blitz for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Now, theologically I agree with you, but that is not the issue here. Historically, marriage has been a private affair; in fact, states typically did not even issue marriage licenses until the Progressive Era.

Now, you want to nationalize marriage. Yes, I understand what will happen without such an amendment. Sooner or later, a federal judge will say that the Constitution’s "full faith and credit" clause will mean that all states will have to recognize homosexual marriage, since it already is legal in Massachusetts. Furthermore, I believe that the Supreme Court at some point will sign off on this decision.

Then why am I against a marriage amendment? I’m against it for the simple reason that it will increase bitterness between homosexuals and Christian conservatives — as though things could get any worse — and it is an attempt to impose a national policy where none is needed or appropriate. If states wish to push their own laws regarding homosexual marriage, they should be free to do so. To be honest, I wish states would get out of the marriage business altogether. This country survived quite well for more than a century before it became common for states to regulate marriage, and we would survive again if those laws were taken off the books.

Perhaps I am asking too much. One would hope that people who have talked about freedom of religion all their lives would be willing to do all they can to preserve and protect the free society. Instead, we are treated to authoritarianism, bad theology that affects foreign policy (the Dispensationalist view of Israel), and a hatred and invective that surely keeps us from doing our part to fulfill the Great Commission.