The Other Religious Right

I am from a family so eccentric, I missed the Religious Right frequently denounced.

Evidently there existed a movement when I was kid that continues to this day interested in power, money, and jingoism cloaking its nefarious plans in Christian jargon.

Christians can have power, but don’t seek it.

Christians don’t love money.

Christians love their country, but not without balance or reason. We are part of a cosmic church.

Growing up my church, and my family, worked to protect unborn children by law, because it was just. We had not dropped this protection, the Supreme Court took it. We certainly weren’t stupid enough to think the law would make people good, but we did think that the law could protect some unborn children.

Periodically, we would step back and examine our motives. Critics were plentiful and happily pointed out our sins. We were proud of Christian leadership in civil rights and sorry some traditional Christians had missed out on the progress. We didn’t want to make that mistake again. When we saw cheesy patriotic stuff, we rolled our eyes.

Schlock happened, but only for the same reason schlock happens on both the right and left: a result of the sin is a human desire to love schlock. This was an overlooked part of total depravity in Calvin. However, it genuinely amused us when the occasional European Christian would bemoan our involvement with politics. They looked like a bad model for anything.

Trust me. We are now in the third iteration of the “post-politics” evangelicalism I remember. It is so predictable, I predicted it at the start of this election year.

The notion that Evangelicals are pawns of the GOP is silly. Most vote GOP because of issues that came to us . . . not issues we sought out.

My church bemoaned the breakup of marriages, hated the objectification of people in porn, and worked for traditional morals in the lives of people. We didn’t want laws that banned evil, but did hope for divorce laws that would favor marriage. We hoped that if a man or woman wanted to avoid porn, the law would make that possible. When Christian morality was assaulted in new ways, we reacted, but mostly to defend the best of what had been.

At our worst, we wanted only the freedom to live our lives as John Kennedy had allowed us to live. I have never met an actual theocrat. We never expected standing up for traditional morality would make us popular. When does that ever happen?

My family had been Republican since Lincoln freed the slaves, so we knew the GOP had problems. We also voted for pro-life Democrats when we moved to neighborhoods were there was no meaningful Republican Party or where the GOP was in the grip of the Gerald-Ford pro-abortion faction. Every once in a while the media would assert we thought God was a Republican. We would pause, consider that we might have become confused, repent, and remember that God is a monarchist, not part of any temporal party.

The entirety of our “political” activity was dwarfed by social service, evangelism, and education. Our church spent thousands more on Christian education than any political activity. Every four years the media would write that the “next generation” of Evangelicals were turned off by our “associating the Gospel with politics” and we would be bemused.

It was hard to get most church members to vote, let alone become the zealots we were pictured to be. I knew some people that were political junkies, I cared enough to dabble in elective politics, but as an interest not because I thought the Bible made me. Mostly political activity would flare up occasionally, but overwhelmingly we would remind ourselves that we were here to make disciples and preach the Gospel.

Obviously some powerful people used us at times for their own money and power. Or did they? We never trusted “princes” or “politicians.” Arguably we used them and discarded them, sometimes too quickly, when they failed. It was rare to meet a Christian fighting to “win.” Mostly, we worked, because we thought it right to do so. Few liked it . . . and we were happy with small victories. My church mostly voted for Reagan and were happy with his governance, but I never met anybody who thought him perfect or who would refuse to criticize him.

I have known people who gave money to television evangelists, but mostly for spreading the Gospel. The evangelists let them down, big time, but my church always contained sensible people pointing this out. Most of our “tithe” went to local work always.

As for the GOP, I feel free to disagree. I don’t like the GOP on “torture.” However, my friends who support “torture” generally do so because they don’t agree that what I see as torture is or because they have utilitarian grounds for it. I have yet to meet someone who supports it, because it is the GOP.

Of course, the comment boxes on blogs, left and right, are full of people who see their Party as Good and the other Party as Orcs, but in real life those folk are rare. I have met them, but I have heard more than one sermon against them. They are, in my experience, marginalized by their own folly. I have known hateful Christians, I have been hateful, and have used (to my shame) and have heard hateful political rhetoric, but have been called to repent all my life by the very church groups that pushed me to get involved.

I am a Christian, and so mostly I am a conservative. I am a Christian, and so on some issues I am liberal. I am Christian, so sometimes I hate what my country does. I am a Christian, so I must love my neighbor, because in heaven I will stand before the throne as an American.

This fall I am going to vote for Mitt Romney. He is not perfect, Obama is not the anti-Christ. My President has done some good things, but on the whole he is not leading the country in the way it seems to me that it should go. Some morality must inform our constitutional order . . . it should be the traditional Judeo-Christian morality that has served us well in our moral progress, but in the end politics will not change hearts.

Most of my time this summer and fall will be spent discussing big ideas and trying to help other people while improving and learning myself. At no point will I or any of my friends be confused:

I am a Christian before I am an American, but I love my country.
I am an American before I am a Republican, but that is the party I have chosen.
I a Republican, believing in its core principles, before I am a Romney man, but he will get my vote.
I will vote for Romney, because he is best able to represent my political values. If the President is reelected, I will be part of the loyal opposition to my President.

None of these things are the most important ideas or attitudes in my life. I have more in common with an Obama voter who is a traditional Christian morally and doctrinally, than a GOP voter who loves money, wealth, and libertine ways.

I was taught these things in my church.

That is the religious right I know and my experience represents that of millions.


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