By Andrew Sarchus
the early years of the Reagan Administration, members of the
"religious Right" have performed as the shock troops of the
Republican party’s conservative base. They turn out the vote
from hundreds of church congregations, particularly in the
South and West. So-called "evangelicals" constitute the fastest-growing
segment of the Christian faith, and people identifying themselves
as evangelicals vote overwhelmingly for Republican candidates
and GOP-backed voter initiatives. While most American mainline
churches opposed the Bush Administration’s rush to war in
Iraq, the religious Right lined up solidly behind the hardliners.
Christian conservative rank-and-file members clog talk radio
and letters to the editor with denunciations of "Godless"
liberal plans concerning the environment, education, taxes,
and the Middle East.
While religious Conservatives enjoy thinking it is they who
control the destiny of the Republican Party, the truth is
that GOP leaders are using the religious Right as electoral
cannon-fodder. The GOP power structure will pander endlessly
for votes of middle-class Conservative Christians even as
its policies rob them of their economic and social future.
In truth, the religious Right worships a false God, a God
created by Republican leaders to extract votes in return for…a
mess of pottage.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer coined the term "cheap grace" to describe
a condition where personal sacrifice is not required in order
for one to follow Christ’s teachings. The Republican leaders
have spun this idea for the religious Right so that the personal
sacrifice shall always be from someone else. Republican
"cheap grace" manifests itself in the Congressional vote against
"Partial Birth" Abortion, ardently supported by Conservative
Christians. In effect, criminalizing this procedure poses
no financial or moral burden on the religious Right—the burden
falls on the poor women who lose their right to privacy and
the sanctity of their own bodies. Likewise, the Florida Legislature
and Gov. Jeb Bush invoked "cheap grace" in their recent unseemly
rush to "protect" the life of a woman with no cognitive functions.
The woman’s family, not the politicians or their voter base,
must bear the continuing burden of keeping her alive in a
persistent vegetative state.
After three years of ruinous deficits, the damage done to
the economy by GW Bush and his ideological team is obvious
to everyone. Most members of the religious Right have failed
to benefit (along with the majority of middle and lower-class
Americans) from any tax cuts or "economic recovery". Many
religious conservatives are numbered among the nearly three
million unemployed Americans. Yet Conservative Christians
cling to false beliefs such as Bush being "appointed by God"
to lead the USA in a time of great crises. Pat Robertson declaimed
on his 700 Club that God has told him George Bush will
win re-election in a "blowout", and the shock troops lapped
it up. Why is this so? Perhaps the acceptance of such ludicrous
eschatology has its roots in the religious Right’s long- running
battle against scientific facts that conflict with the "literal"
Bible account of Creation. As countless debates about Evolution
vs. Creationism have demonstrated, when historical evidence
refutes the creationist argument, Creationists declare that
the evidence itself is suspect, that God deliberately deceives
us about nature. The recent flap over creationist books
sold in the Grand Canyon National Park Bookstore is indicative
of the deep antiscientific bias of Christian fundamentalists.
Debates of this sort hark back to the Inquisition, if not
the Dark Ages.
The political ambitions of the Christian Right have been
obvious since Ronald Reagan began courting its constituents
in the early 1970’s. One key objective of the movement seems
to be to define Christianity’s central figure in terms that
can be satisfied only by GOP stalwarts. Cal Thomas, a loyal
pundit and armor-bearer for the Christian Right, recently
penned a column dealing with the Democratic Presidential Candidates
(chiefly Howard Dean) and their attempts to cope with the
perceived "God gap" vis-à-vis the GOP. Gov. Dean was interviewed
by The Boston Globe concerning his religious beliefs
and said he was "a committed believer" in Jesus Christ. Dean
then explained that Jesus sought out those people who were
"left behind" and "fought against the self-righteousness of
people who had everything." Gov. Dean’s comments about Christ
are well-supported by each of the four Gospels. In summing
up his beliefs, Dean said that Jesus "set an extraordinary
example that has lasted 2,000 years…"
Cal Thomas pounces on this last statement like Torquemada
on a suspected heretic. Sooo, Thomas poses to his readers,
the good Governor apparently regards Christ as a mere "example"
of a great teacher, but not (perhaps) as the Savior and the
Son of God! Having previously noted that Dean’s wife is Jewish
and her faith takes "a distinctly different view of Jesus",
Thomas steps away and leaves his reader to infer that Gov.
Dean is, at best, a "political opportunist" out to "bamboozle"
the religious who may have the temerity to consider voting
I believe we may expect many more attacks of this sort by
the Christian Right on the religious sincerity of Democratic
candidates. When confronted with the solid Biblical example
of Christ’s ministry, the arrogant, rich, and self-righteous
persons who now control the Republican Party must inwardly
cringe. Thus the litmus test suggested by Cal Thomas: what
counts is whether the politician publicly says Jesus is Divine—not
whether the politician believes in following what Jesus said,
did, or taught. GOPers from Bush to Sen. Frist to John Ashcroft
are quick to proclaim their belief in Christ’s Divinity. However,
today’s Republican leaders ignore the words of the Apostle
Paul and Thomas a Kempis, who wrote at great length about
Christians living their lives in imitation of Christ—in humility,
honesty, truthfulness, and compassion--all traits conspicuously
missing from GOP leaders. In the canon of Republican Leadership,
publicly stating that one believes in God and Christ trumps
any efforts by "others" to follow Christ’s teachings. This
ploy works with the shock troops of Christian fundamentalists,
even when GOP policies work against their social, environmental,
and economic interests.
As a devout Christian and a United Methodist, I conclude
this essay with a paraphrase of The Dixie Chicks’ Natalie
Maines: I am ashamed that George W. Bush is a member of my
denomination. The current leaders of the GOP are little more
than modern-day money changers in the temple of our Republic.
The Christian Right, blind to the hypocrisies of these leaders,
will no doubt continue to support the GOP and its false God.
Will the rest of us—the majority of those of all faiths—be
able to join together and drive the Republicans from power