Monday, August 22, 2016

Peter Montgomery on How Right-Wing Christians Justify Support for Trump; Frederick Clarkson on Dominionist Agenda Hidden in Plain Sight in U.S. Right-Wing Christianity

One of several reasons I have found it difficult to blog here of late is that the ongoing discussion of Donald Trump's candidacy in the U.S. has pulled me into rather intense daily discussions on Facebook and Twitter of issues like the influence of race matters in the 2016 elections and the role religion is playing in the elections.

By the time I come to this blog, after I've been engaged in those quick back-forth exchanges, I'm exhausted. So much is happening so quickly in this volatile election cycle in which it's impossible to predict what new clownish event will slouch toward the American political stage today, that I can barely keep up.

It's not the kind of election cycle that lends itself to thoughtful analysis, is it? It's an election cycle that requires constant reaction, and that in itself ought to concern us. What kind of culture have we created when the careful use of words and the development of complete sentences and whole paragraphs appear beside the point as a reality-show television star who can't hobble together a meaningful sentence grabs headlines in his race to the White House? How do you talk coherently about what in and of itself defies verbal analysis and reason?

Over the weekend, a reader of Bilgrimage in Australia emailed to ask if I had seen Peter Montgomery's outstanding essay last week at Right Wing Watch enumerating 25 arguments given by religious right leaders to justify their support for Trump. I had, indeed, seen this essay when it came out last Wednesday, and I shared it the next day on Facebook and Twitter.

Since a reader of Bilgrimage has encouraged me to share it here, I'm now doing so. I recommend this essay, with its astonishing rundown of twisted-pretzel rationales for offering Christian support to Trump's candidacy. Here's what I said as I shared it in my Facebook circle last week:

God does love a Strongman (like Himself). And Mr. Trump has an Elijah mantle, a mantle of government anointing, a Cyrus anointing, and a breaker anointing. Plus, as Michael Wear notes, "disliking Hillary Clinton is basically a supplement to the Nicene Creed for many evangelicals." 
American Christians spewing out all of this toxic nonsense to "anoint" a toxic, far-from-Christian, presidential candidate are surely bringing their faith into ill repute.

Peter Montgomery followed up on this essay with an interview with Amanda Marcotte at Salon in which he notes the following:

A lot of the religious right leaders, when they say "Christian," they don't really mean all Christians. They're talking about a subset of Christians that share both their theological worldview and their right-wing politics. 
So when they say they're speaking for Christians, they don't see themselves as speaking for all United Methodist Christians like Hillary Clinton. We've seen this for Barack Obama, too, who is a Christian who spoke openly about his faith during the campaign and as president. And yet we still, thanks to the right-wing media, have a ridiculous number of people in the country, mostly Republicans, who believe Obama is a Muslim. It's why we have people on this list talking about Hillary Clinton as channeling the spirit of the Antichrist.

At the website of Political Research Associates, Frederick Clarkson has just published an outstanding (and well-researched) essay that helps explain this religious-right conflation of "Christian" with right-wing politics.* Fred looks at the powerful dominionist strand hidden in plain sight in American Christianity at present — hidden in plain sight, in part, because the mainstream media continue to refuse to acknowledge that it's there, to discuss it, or to note the ties of leading political actors in the country to the dominionist movement. This allows the hard Christian right to capture the term "Christian" for itself and for its theocratic reading of Christianity, while mainline Protestant traditions such as Hillary Clinton's United Methodist tradition or Barack Obama's United Church of Christ tradition are treated as something less than real Christianity — Christianity watered down to an ineffectual, doctrinally lite emphasis on doing all the good one can in every place one can and every way one can for as long as one can.

As what I just wrote suggests, the U.S. Catholic bishops and centrist Catholic commentators who run interference for the bishops in the public square contribute to the problem of defining mainline Protestant traditions, with their strong emphasis on social justice activism, out of the definition of Christianity in the U.S., while justifying the extremist theocratic views of right-wing evangelicals who opt for a dominionist interpretation of American Christianity.

Here's Fred Clarkson on what dominionism is all about:

Dominionism is the theocratic idea that regardless of theological camp, means, or timetable, God has called conservative Christians to exercise dominion over society by taking control of political and cultural institutions. The term describes a broad tendency across a wide swath of American Christianity. 

Read Fred's essay, and you'll see that many of those religious-right rationales for Christian support for Donald Trump come right out of the dominionist playbook: e.g., Trump has a "Cyrus anointing" as a pagan leader (à la King Cyrus in the bible) to break things up (that "breaker anointing") on behalf of the Strongman God using him as if Trump is a wrecking ball in Strongman God's hands. 

As Fred also notes, dominionism is being increasingly reframed as (and disguised as) "religious freedom" in American cultural and political life. While the founders of the American republic envisaged religious freedom as the right of individual religious groups to practice their faith without molestation while respecting the beliefs and values of others in a pluralistic democratic society, contemporary American Christians enthralled by dominionism want to use "religious freedom" as a cudgel to beat up anyone (including other religious believers) who disagrees with their religious and moral views regarding hot-button issues like same-sex marriage.

Fred cites (by way of Rachel Tabachnick) an interview that leading dominionist Peter Wagner gave to a New Apostolic Reformation conference in 2008, in which he declared the following: 

Dominion has to do with control. Dominion has to do with rulership. Dominion has to do with authority and subduing, and it relates to society. In other words, what the values are in Heaven need to be made manifest here on earth. Dominion means being the head and not the tail. Dominion means ruling as kings. It says in Revelation Chapter 1:6 that He has made us kings and priests—and check the rest of that verse; it says for dominion. So we are kings for dominion.

There are no queens in this worldview — no female leaders of nations (despite Miriam singing along with Moses as the Hebrew people crossed the Red Sea, an indication, biblical scholars tell us, that she led the people out of slavery along with Moses; despite Esther; despite Judith; despite Mary, the mother of Jesus, around whom the church gathered in the cenacle as it was born in the pentecostal event, etc.). See Bryan Fischer on this point. Strongman God wants kings to subdue the earth because Strongman God is — surprising, isn't it? — very much like the men who imagine themselves as strongmen who do all the talking in the world about who God is and what "He" wants.

By all means, watch the video at the head of this posting, and note the interview with a woman supporting Trump who flatly states that a woman should not be president.

Again, as you hear the preceding description of the dominionist agenda and think of where U.S. Catholic bishops have placed their moral weight in American religious life, and where they continue to do so with events like their Fortnight for Freedom, I suggest that you might begin to entertain the conclusion that the U.S. Catholic bishops are far more comfortable with a dominionist-theocratic reading of Christianity than with, say, a Wesleyan reading of Christianity that focuses on doing all the good one can in all the ways one can everywhere one can for as long as one can.

Fortunately, not all evangelical or Catholic Christians are willing to betray the Christian tradition in this way — to make it captive to a right-wing theocratic political agenda: as various news reports (e.g., this one by Hannah Tooley from Premier) noted this past weekend, a group of Canadian Catholic and evangelical leaders have just published an open letter expressing opposition to Rev. Franklin Graham's plans to sponsor a "Festival of Hope" in Vancouver next spring.

Their statement says,

Rev. Graham is a polarizing figure. His ungracious and bigoted remarks have the potential to generate serious negative impact on the Christian witness in Vancouver. 
We … denounce the frequent incendiary and intolerant statements made by Rev. Graham, which he unapologetically reiterates.

I think it's fair to say that what these Canadian Christians are rejecting is quite precisely Franklin Graham's dominionist-theocratic agenda for Christianity today.

Finally, as Matthew Sheffield reminded us in a Salon essay this past weekend, the Christian churches are paying a horrendously high price at this point in history for their poisonous conflation of the Christian gospel with right-wing theocratic politics: young people are leaving the churches in record numbers because of this betrayal of the gospel and this ugly political debasement of the Christian tradition, with its determination to knock gay** people back and to attack women seeking equal rights.

Sheffield writes, 

In the past several years, many trees have been felled and pixels electrocuted in the service of discussion about the impact of Hispanics on the American electorate. No one knows for sure which way they’ll vote in the future but everyone is interested in discussing it. Curiously, though, an even larger political shift is taking place yet receiving almost no attention whatsoever from political reporters — the emergence of post-Christian America.

As he notes, fewer Christians means, simply put, fewer Republicans, since some leading brands of Christianity in the U.S. (white evangelicalism, wide swathes of white Catholicism, wide swathes of white mainline Protestantism) have equated being Christian with being Republican, being Republican with being Christian.

What Sheffield calls growing "irreligion," I'd be inclined to call "anti-religion." People, especially millennials, have grown sick and tired of the conflation of faux Christianity with certain political stances and causes that always and predictably seem to target vulnerable minority groups. They're reacting to the debasement, the distortion, the misrepresentation of authentic Christianity, and are flatly rejecting the faux version of Christianity — not necessarily Christianity and religion in itself, though the ultimate result of this trend is that Christianity itself will eventually die on the vine in the U.S., in institutional terms, unless it refuses to let itself be reborn in a way that makes its message of good news more accessible to the culture than right-wing theocratic readings of Christianity can do. (And I do completely understand and defend those who also reject religion altogether, when all they have seen of religion is the demonic face it often presents to the world.)

*The article will also be published in the summer 2016 issue of Public Eye.

** Gay = LGBTQI.

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