The Separation of Church and Hate

The NY Times profiles a conservative evangelical preacher, the Reverend Gregory A. Boyd, who’s getting fed up with the unholy alliance between conservative Christianity and conservative politics. He’s written a book called The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, which is based on a series of six sermons entitled “The Cross and the Sword.” The sermons, which he gave before the last presidential election, “said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a ‘Christian nation’ and stop glorifying American military campaigns.”

His megachurch congregation was not totally pleased.

By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.
But there were also congregants who thanked him—those who feel relief from the burden of expectation that being a Christian necessarily means being a Bush supporter, and those who are increasingly concerned that the conflation of religion and politics is doing a disservice to both.

“More and more people are saying this has gone too far — the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right,” Mr. McLaren said. “You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people. Because people think, ‘Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about ‘activist judges.’”
Spot-on. Jesus has been hijacked as a political operative by people who have forgotten that the separation of church and state was designed to protect the church as much as the state. Christianity’s central figure cannot be redesigned as a gun-toting, gay-bashing, flag-draped ideological icon without fundamentally and inexorably altering the religion itself—particularly how it is regarded by those outwith its margins. Christians who don’t want to be associated with the reimagined Jesus have a right—and an obligation—to denounce his being co-opted into the spokesman for Überpatriot Dominionism. Christian Supremacists are rebranding Christ, and hence Christianity. This is nothing if not a marketing war.

Understandably, it’s a game that Christians who don’t regard Jesus as a mascot don’t want to play, but the Christian Supremacy movement in America is a business. Millions and millions of dollars are raised every year by people professing to preach The Word in exchange for a few dollars (and a few more, and a few more) in the collection baskets, but all they’re really doing is selling a product—a way to cope with a changing world that robs bigots of their undeserved dominion, that tells them they really, at long last, must share equality with non-Christians, the LGBT community, strong women, minorities, and immigrants in the public sphere. They are losing control they were never meant to have, and Christianity 2.0 sells them the righteous anger and victimhood they need.

In these desperate people, the hate peddlers have found a ripe market for their wares. The hungry buyers come to the churches and the political rallies with money burning holes in the pockets of their sensible trousers, and they leave satiated, their bellies full of (self-)righteous indignation, with a determination to spread the word about the radical homosexual and feminist agendas, and a keen eye for the slightest proof that their suspicions about the dastardly fags and feminazis and liberals and brown people who threaten their way of life are all true. This is a booming business, and Falwell, Dobson, and Robertson have learned to roll out their product as efficiently as Ford and his Model-Ts.

And when a minister like Boyd fails to deliver, 20% of his congregation goes elsewhere in search of their fix.

Hate, like anything else in the American capitalist utopia, can be a splendid business, as long as there are enough interested buyers with cash in hand—and hate flogged under the auspices of religion has the added bonus of being a tax-free enterprise. It’s no surprise that Christ-cloaked bigotry is a booming industry. To Christian Supremacists, Jesus is just a logo; he doesn’t define their message any more than the Swoosh writes Nike’s mission statement. But, like any recognizable symbol to clamoring consumers, he confers upon the brand a status with which generic models just can’t compete. Your athletic skills are infinitely better with a famous insignia on your shoes, and your intolerance is remade as virtue with a savior lending his name for the dropping.

Christians who refuse to let Christ be claimed for such purposes are, whether willfully or not, the competition. (Something men like Boyd, who’s turned his views into a book for purchase, surely are beginning to recognize.) And all the rest of us, who have a vested interest in protecting our country against the ascendancy of Christian Supremacists, are consumer advocates, tasked with pointing out the flaws in their product—and questioning the existence of truth in their advertising.

(Crossposted at Ezra’s place.)

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