What Christians Care About?

In a post from October, I wrote that evangelical Christianity in America today has become “a set of right-wing political talking points” and lamented:

Regrettably, the Christians who understand how the aggressive drive for secular power is rotting their faith’s foundations from the inside out seem to be outnumbered by those who regard it as an unmitigated good.

There is news on this front that, depending on how one interprets it, may be either good or bad. Take this story, President-elect of Christian Coalition resigns:

The Reverend elected to take over as president of the Christian Coalition of America said he will not assume the role because of differences in philosophy.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, of Longwood’s Northland, A Church Distributed, said Wednesday that the national group would not let him expand the organization’s agenda beyond opposing abortion and gay marriage.

…Hunter, who was scheduled to take over the socially conservative political group Jan. 1, said he had hoped to focus on issues such as poverty and the environment.

The Christian Coalition, a political advocacy group founded in the 1980s by Pat Robertson, is no longer nearly as powerful as it once was. Once one of the most influential religious right organizations in the country, it has now greatly declined in influence and has been largely supplanted by organizations such as James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. It is struggling to pay millions of dollars in debt and has seen several of its state chapters split off, and where it once employed a dozen lobbyists on Capitol Hill, today it has only one employee in D.C. Nevertheless, their name is still well-known among Christian conservatives, and they can plausibly claim several hundred thousand members.

There are two ways to interpret this news. One is the standard way, that religious right organizations have once again shown their fanatical and bigoted obsession with other people’s private sexual behavior, while refusing to pay any attention to issues where their effort might actually improve the lives of real people in need. And it cannot be denied that there is much truth in this view. However, there is another viewpoint that strikes me as more hopeful: that someone chosen to be president of the group opposed this single-minded focus and wanted them to broaden their effort to issues that really matter. Though this attempt did not succeed, perhaps the fact that it was made at all is a good sign.

On a similar note, consider this story, 3 Christian Groups Move To Condemn Gay Sex:

Faced with rising public acceptance of same-sex relationships, three U.S. Christian denominations are taking strong measures this week to condemn homosexual acts as sinful.

The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, meeting in Baltimore, declared Tuesday that Catholics who minister to gays must firmly adhere to the church’s teaching that same-sex attractions are “disordered.” Catholics with “a homosexual inclination” should be encouraged to live in chastity and discouraged from making “general public announcements” about their sexual orientation, the bishops said.

The largest Baptist group in North Carolina, meanwhile, moved to expel any congregation that condones homosexuality, adopting a policy that allows the Baptist State Convention to investigate complaints that member churches are too “gay-friendly.”

And on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a mainline Protestant denomination with about 3 million members, will put a minister on trial for conducting a marriage ceremony for two women.

Again, this story can be interpreted in two ways. One is, again, that Christian groups are showing their obsession with issues where no harm to anyone is at stake. The article notes that the newly adopted Baptist anti-gay policy is the first time in the church’s 176-year history that membership has been contingent on any specific public policy litmus test. Again, it cannot be denied that many churches, for whatever bizarre reason, consider what people do in their bedrooms to be by far the most important issue in the world, and that this outlook is revealing of their tyrannical and authoritarian desire to control the lives of others and impose their warped views of acceptable personal conduct. (Meanwhile, no congregation or minister, as far as I know, has been expelled for doing too little to help the poor.)

On the other hand, even if the authoritarians are still in charge, it is encouraging to see that there is resistance developing to their aims. Fifteen Catholic groups supporting the inclusion of gays objected to the bishops’ policy, while hundreds of Baptist delegates voted against the anti-gay proposal, and another Presbyterian minister put on trial for a similar “offense” was acquitted earlier this year. Clearly, these authoritarian goals do not have the full support of all members of their respective religions. Whether this is due to a backlash provoked by their overreaching, or whether these liberals have always been there and are only now finding their voice, that is good news either way. Although there is much to strongly criticize religion for, I would much rather have these religions butt out of people’s bedrooms and redevote themselves to social justice so that we would not have to criticize them.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.