Saturday :: Sep 2, 2006

The Next Martin Luther?

by pessimist

History remembers Martin Luther for, among other things, daring to oppose the temporal enrichment of corrupt popes. His brave stand, considering what happened to others who opposed the Papacy, inspired many to question whether the faith they followed hadn't become too corrupt.

Might it not be time to question whether the religion of Falwell and Robertson has become as corrupt of that of the Borgia Popes?

Hallalujah! There IS A God! And she has seen fit to inspire an evangelical to come forward with testimony we progressives and liberals have been longing for:

Christian right has hijacked his faith, evangelical says
by Pamela Miller, Star Tribune
September 02, 2006

Most Americans have never heard of Randall Balmer, professor of religious history at Barnard College (at Columbia University in New York) and author, but it's possible that someday he'll be seen as a key figure in the history of evangelical Christianity. Balmer argues that the religious right has hijacked evangelical Christianity and entered an unholy union with conservative Republicans, an assertion that has infuriated some evangelicals and won emotional praise from others.

I mourn the fact that, in the eyes of many Americans,
the gospel, the "good news" of Jesus Christ,
has become captive to right-wing politics.

Thank The Maker! Redemption from Republican demagogery IS at hand!

In an e-mail interview, author Pamela Miller questioned Randall Balmer about his latest book, Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America: An Evangelical's Lament.

Q What triggered the writing of Thy Kingdom Come ?

A It's fair to say that the book was conceived in anger, but it was written, I assure you, in sorrow.

I awoke on Nov. 3, 2004, the day after the re-election of George W. Bush, with something like a hangover -- and I hadn't been drinking. I had to decide at that point whether to retreat into my very comfortable life as a tenured professor or to try to do something to change this country's ruinous course.

What rankled me most, even more than the outcome of the election itself, was the widespread assumption on the part of my fellow evangelicals that it was something akin to a sin to vote for anyone other than the incumbent, a man whose policies, in my judgment and despite his protestations of faith, are morally bankrupt.
Q The book takes the religious right to task on almost every hot-button issue in America today. Some readers might conclude that you are a liberal Democrat and not at all a traditional evangelical Christian. How would you respond to that?

A I've been accused, for example, of writing a brief for the Democratic Party, when, to the contrary, every reference to the Democratic Party in Thy Kingdom Come is critical.

I am a traditional evangelical Christian in that I honor the teachings of Jesus as well as the noble legacy of evangelical activism in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Evangelicals throughout most of American history engaged in political and social activism on behalf of those on the margins of society.

I'm thinking here of the antislavery movement, the temperance crusade (a progressive cause in the 19th century), public education [a far cry from today's evangelical attitude toward it - ed.], advocating equal rights for women and trying to mitigate the effects of predatory capitalism around the turn of the 20th century.
Only relatively recently,
with the rise of the religious right in the late 1970s,
have evangelicals drifted toward the political right.
So, yes, I am a traditional evangelical; it is the right-wing zealots of the religious right who have hijacked my faith. They have taken the gospel, the "good news" of the New Testament, which I consider lovely and redemptive, and turned it into something ugly and punitive.
Q You predicted that the book would get a very cold shoulder from many evangelicals. Is that happening?

A The general strategy so far has been to lob gratuitous insults and to make snide and unsubstantiated comments. Some have even fabricated quotations.

It's not that I'm above criticism, or that I didn't expect it, especially for exposing the abortion myth: the fiction that the religious right has propagated that it was formed in direct response to the Roe vs. Wade ruling of 1973, when in fact it galvanized as a political movement to defend Bob Jones University [in Greenville, S.C.] and its racially discriminatory policies.

Q Is it your sense that your sentiments are shared by many other evangelical Christians?

A Yes, I think so. And I say that both from the mail I'm receiving and the reactions at public lectures as well as reports from others -- Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Rick Warren, Greg Boyd -- who are standing up to the religious right.

Surprisingly enough, I think it's the environmental issue
that may finally break the hammerlock of the religious right
on rank-and-file evangelicals.
Many of my fellow believers are beginning to sense, almost intuitively, that there is a fundamental contradiction in professing to believe, for example, in intelligent design and refusing to care for the handiwork of this intelligent designer.
With few exceptions, the leaders of the religious right
have been adamant in their defense of corporate interests
at the expense of environmental protection.
In other words, they have sacrificed the created order on the altar of free enterprise. Many evangelicals, especially younger evangelicals, are beginning to challenge that contradiction.
Some evangelicals are beginning to question the religious right on other matters, as well, including ethical issues surrounding the war in Iraq and the use of torture.

In the course of writing Thy Kingdom Come, I contacted eight religious right organizations with a simple, straightforward request to send me a copy of their group's position on the use of torture against those the Bush administration has designated "enemy combatants." These organizations have detailed position papers on everything from stem-cell research to civil unions, but only two organizations replied. Both of them defended the Bush administration's policies on torture. None of the others, to my knowledge, has even yet condemned the use of torture.

I happen to think that's morally reprehensible.

These are people who claim to be "pro-life,"
who profess to hear a 'fetal scream',
yet they turn a deaf ear to the very real screams
of fully formed human beings who are being tortured in our name.

The issue of torture also points out the perils of aligning faith too closely with any one political ideology, political party or (in this case) a specific administration.

As a historian of American religion, my sense is that religion always functions best from the margins of society and not at the centers of power. When it is too closely aligned with the power structure, it loses its prophetic voice.

As I write in the book, I really didn't expect the religious right to climb out of the Republican Party's cozy bed over the issue of torture. But I did think they might poke a foot out from under the covers and perhaps wiggle a toe or two. Sadly, tragically, I was mistaken.

Q What do you believe is the future of the religious right?

A It's impossible for me, frankly, to separate my predictions from my hopes.

I hope the religious right
shrivels up and slithers away in shame
for having so distorted the gospel.
Q You've said in many forums that you are a native-born and passionate evangelical yourself. How have your personal faith and relationship with the evangelical community weathered your work and conclusions?

A I'd be lost and bereft without my faith. I can't imagine life without it. I take the Bible very seriously as the word of God, and I believe in the transformative power of Jesus, in part because I've witnessed that transformation both in myself and in others.

As a person of faith, I decided years ago that I would refuse to allow the canons of Enlightenment Rationalism to be the final arbiter of truth. I elect to live in an enchanted universe where there are forces at work beyond my understanding and control -- and where faith, not empiricism or complex apologetic proofs for the existence of God, serves ultimately as my guide.

My relationship with the evangelical community has been a bit fraught ever since the 1970s, when I started to ask questions about such issues as racism, war and poverty. A lot of evangelicals don't like people who ask questions or who dissent from the party line, so that has placed me at odds with many leaders of evangelicalism and certainly with the religious right.

Hear the respect for those who don't share his faith - a sign of a True Christian:

In a perverse and sort of backward way, I admire people who are atheists -- not because I want to be like them, but because it takes more stamina (or something) than I have to live that way.

I'm breaking in to this interview to ask you to pay special attention to this next section - Ballmer's heroes, and the reasons for them being awarded that status:

Q Who are your heroes in contemporary America? Who are your heroes from all places and eras?

A Heroes are hard to come by these days, especially with such relentless scrutiny from the media, so I'll stick with history and, in the interests of brevity, with American history.

I would dearly love to sit down to dinner with Thomas Jefferson, for example; what an intriguing and complicated man!

Roger Williams is a hero, the founder of the Baptist tradition who recognized, perhaps before anyone else, the perils of too close an alliance between church and state.

William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic nominee for president who would be considered a political liberal by almost any standard today, is a hero, despite the fact that he endured a brutal character assassination at the hands of H.L. Mencken during the Scopes trial.

More recently, I'd have to cite the leaders of the civil rights struggle: Howard Thurman, [Martin Luther] King, Rosa Parks, John Lewis and so many others.

Mark Hatfield, retired [Republican] senator from Oregon, is a hero because he took a courageous early stand against the war in Vietnam and endured the obloquy of his fellow evangelicals.

My father,
a man of deep and profound faith who passed away in 1997,
may be my ultimate hero.

[Balmer wrote about his father, a pastor, in Growing Pains: Learning to Love My Father's Faith, a memoir that won Christianity Today's Book of the Year Award in 2002.]

In closing, Ballmer points out what all True Christians should - the differences between the actions of Jesus as presented in the New Testament, and those of his self-proclaimed followers of the New World Order:

Q What would you most like readers to take away from the book?

A I should be clear about what I'm not saying, because some people have misinterpreted me. I am not arguing that people of faith should refrain from expressing themselves in the arena of public discourse; I happen to believe that public discourse would be impoverished without those voices. The danger is that too close an identification of the faith with a particular political ideology allows the faith to be co-opted. The religious right bears this out.

I want my fellow evangelicals to reclaim their birthright as biblical Christians and assess for themselves whether or not the agenda of the religious right is consistent with the teachings of scripture.

* Would Jesus, who summoned his followers to be "peacemakers" and who invited them to love their enemies, jump at the chance to deploy military forces, especially at the cost of so many civilian lives?

* Is the denial of equal rights to anyone -- women or immigrants or Muslims or gays -- consistent with the example of the man who healed lepers and paralytics and who spent much of his time with the cultural outcasts of his day?

I suspect that when Jesus asked us to love our enemies,
he probably didn't mean that we should torture or kill them.

Now there is a Christian who walks His talk!

Christians aren't the only fundamentalists receiving what has to be a message from the Divine. Allah may well be sending a similar message to right wrongs to American Muslims:

First woman president for largest North American Muslim group

Ingrid Mattson, a Canadian convert to Islam and an Islamic law scholar at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, was elected to lead the Islamic Society of North America — a watershed that the group says signals support for women leaders throughout their community.

Mattson, a married mother of two, earned a bachelor's degree in Canada from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, and a doctorate in Islamic studies from the University of Chicago.

American Muslims have struggled over the proper role for women, debating most recently how far mosques should go in separating men and women during worship and whether women should lead mixed-gender prayer in mosques. Still, women have had prominent roles outside of religious services, founding and leading some Islamic groups throughout North America.

"It's a wonderful message to the Muslim community that Muslim women, who are sometimes seen as less, can rise to these positions,'' Sayyid Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society, said Monday.

There may yet be real peace on earth - if we don't kill ourselves off waiting for it to arrive.

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