In visting my family at Christmas in Ohio, a hotbed of Evangelical Christian American ideology if ever there was one, I noticed a remarkable shift in the attitudes there this year. On previous trips, I had been simply bullied back to New York. The Religious Right was on the rise, and nothing was going to stop it. Now, however, it appears that having scaled that mountain of political power and surveyed their new domain from the top, the Religous Right are catching a glimpse of themselves they can't quite stomach.
Perhaps they caught a clear reflection of themselves in the placid lake below, or perhaps it is indeed just really lonely up there, I don't know. But I do know that the bombastic arrogance and in-your-face confrontation I had experienced in Ohio over the previous 4 years or so has given way to something much less assertive...something bordering on a mix of self-disgust and desire for approval. It's expressing itself in such a way as to suggest that having gained all that power, the Religous Right now wants to be loved as well, or forgiven, it's hard to tell. One clue that it's a desire to be forgiven comes in The New York Times Op-Ed by Charles Marsh today:
In the past several years, American evangelicals, and I am one of them, have amassed greater political power than at any time in our history. But at what cost to our witness and the integrity of our message?
Recently, I took a few days to reread the war sermons delivered by influential evangelical ministers during the lead up to the Iraq war. That period, from the fall of 2002 through the spring of 2003, is not one I will remember fondly. Many of the most respected voices in American evangelical circles blessed the president's war plans, even when doing so required them to recast Christian doctrine.
Marsh offers some damning criticism of Evangelical leaders who enthusiastically supported the war and illustrates how they trampled Evangelical doctrine in order to do so:
The war sermons rallied the evangelical congregations behind the invasion of Iraq. An astonishing 87 percent of all white evangelical Christians in the United States supported the president's decision in April 2003. Recent polls indicate that 68 percent of white evangelicals continue to support the war. But what surprised me, looking at these sermons nearly three years later, was how little attention they paid to actual Christian moral doctrine. Some tried to square the American invasion with Christian "just war" theory, but such efforts could never quite reckon with the criterion that force must only be used as a last resort. As a result, many ministers dismissed the theory as no longer relevant. [...] The single common theme among the war sermons appeared to be this: our president is a real brother in Christ, and because he has discerned that God's will is for our nation to be at war against Iraq, we shall gloriously comply.
Marsh concludes with an even more damning assessment, implying that in the end this was simply a way of buying access to the White House:
What will it take for evangelicals in the United States to recognize our mistaken loyalty? We have increasingly isolated ourselves from the shared faith of the global Church, and there is no denying that our Faustian bargain for access and power has undermined the credibility of our moral and evangelistic witness in the world.
Perhaps that's what I noticed in Ohio...a growing sense of shame. Evangelical Christianity turns on forgiveness, instant born-again type forgiveness, in fact. But with the war dragging on, that kind of forgiveness isn't coming fast enough to appease their conscience perhaps. If I'm honest, I have to admit, I don't mind seeing them squirm a bit. They were anything but generous on their ascent. But that's not very Christian of me, I know. Let's hope they can reconcile their conscience with their political ambitions before the next war.