Send the Bill For the Shutdown to the Evangelicals

Don’t like the shutdown? Send the bill to the evangelicals. People schooled to live in a make-believe magical facts-be-damned world took over the Republican Party. The Tea Party is the pro-life evangelical subculture reborn with a few libertarian nuts thrown in. I’m talking about the bedrock mostly southern and mountain state evangelical conservatives that are anything but conservative. The pro-life, home-school, anti-government far right is the evangelical movement. And it’s radically anti American. Without this movement the 40 extremists in congress who are the radical right of the far right would not have been elected.

As Andrew Sullivan writes:

“But there is something more here. How does one party that has lost two presidential elections and a Supreme Court case – as well as two Senate elections  -   think it has the right to shut down the entire government and destroy the full faith and credit of the United States Treasury to get its way on universal healthcare now? I see no quid pro quo even. Just pure blackmail, resting on understandable and predictable public concern whenever a major reform is enacted. But what has to be resisted is any idea that this is government or politics as usual. It is an attack on the governance and the constitutional order of the United States.”

How did we get here?

Following the election of our first black president, the politics of the Evangelical, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Mormon far right was not the politics of a loyal opposition, but rather the instigation of revolution, which was first and best expressed by Rush Limbaugh when even before President Obama took office he said, “I hope Obama fails.”[1] Mix in a dose of southern racial politics and we had the recipe for a disaster. It is upon us.

Ironically, at the very same time as evangelicals like me — as I used to be — and my late father Francis Schaeffer and home-school anti- government and anti-public school pioneer Mary Pride, were thrusting ourselves into bare-knuckle politics in the 1970s and 80s, we were also retreating to what amounted to virtual walled compounds. In other words we lashed out at “godless America” and demanded political change—say, the reintroduction of prayer into public schools—and yet also urged our followers to pull their children out of the public schools and home-school them.

The rejection of public schools by evangelical Protestants was a harbinger of virtual civil war carried on by other means we face today. All that was lacking back then was hatred of a black man that took the anti-everything fact free class of evangelicals and libertarians to another level of dysfunction. Protestants had once been the public schools’ most ardent defenders.[2] For instance, in the 1840s when Roman Catholics asked for tax relief for their private schools, Protestants said no and stood against anything they thought might undermine the public schools that they believed were the backbone of moral virtue, community spirit, and egalitarian good citizenship.

The Evangelical’s abandonment of the country they called home (while simultaneously demanding change in that society) went far beyond alternative schools or homeschooling. In the 1970s and 80s thousands of Christian bookstores opened, countless new Evangelical radio programs flourished, and new TV stations went on the air.[3] Even a “Christian Yellow Pages” (a guide to Evangelical tradesmen) was published advertising “Christ-centered plumbers,” accountants, and the like who “honor Jesus.”

New Evangelical universities and even new law schools appeared, seemingly overnight, with a clearly defined mission to “take back” each and every profession—including law and politics— “for Christ.” For instance, Liberty University’s Law School was a dream come true for my old friend Jerry Falwell, who (when I was speaking at his school in 1983 to the entire student body for the second time) gleefully told me of his vision for Liberty’s programs: “Frank, we’re going to train a new generation of judges to change America!” This was the same Jerry Falwell who wrote in America Can Be Saved, “I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won’t have any public schools.”[4]

To the old-fashioned conservative mantra “Big government doesn’t work,” the newly radicalized evangelicals (and their anti-abortion Roman Catholic co belligerents) added “The U.S. government is evil!” And the very same community—Protestant American evangelicals—who had once been the bedrock supporters of public education, and voted for such moderate and reasonable men as President Dwight Eisenhower, became the enemies of not only the public schools but also of anything in the (nonmilitary) public sphere “run by the government.”

As they opened new institutions (proudly outside the mainstream), the evangelicals doing this “reclaiming” cast themselves in the role of persecuted exiles and victims of secularism. In my new book And God Said, “Billy!” I examine in depth the paranoid fantasy land of delusion this sort of thinking took me and millions of others into. What they never admitted was what my alter-ego Billy in my book never admits: we evangelicals were self-banished from mainstream institutions, not only because we evangelicals’ political views on social issues conflicted with most people’s views, but also because we evangelicals found ourselves holding the short end of the intellectual stick.

Science marched forth, demolishing fundamentalist “facts” with dispassionate argument. So science also became our enemy. Rather than rethink our beliefs, conservative religionists like me (and “Billy”) decided to renounce secular higher education and denounce it as “elitist.” Thus, to be uninformed, even willfully and proudly so, came to be considered a Godly virtue. And since misery loves company, the evangelicals’ quest, for instance when evangelicals dominated the Texas textbook committees, was to strive to “balance” the teaching of evolution with creationism and damn the facts.

In the minds of evangelicals, they were recreating the Puritan’s self-exile from England by looking for a purer and better place, this time not a geographical “place” but a sanctuary within their minds (and in inward-looking schools and churches) undisturbed by facts. Like the Puritans, the post-Roe (when abortion was made legal) evangelicals (and many other conservative Christians) withdrew from the mainstream not because they were forced to but because the society around them was, in their view, fatally sinful and, worse, addicted to facts rather than to faith. And yet having dropped out (to use a 1960s phrase), the Evangelicals nevertheless kept on demanding that regarding “moral” and “family” matters the society they’d renounced nonetheless had to conform to their beliefs.

In the first decade of the twenty-first century the Evangelical and conservative Roman Catholic (and Mormon) outsider victim approach to public policy was perfected on a heretofore-undreamed-of scale by Sarah Palin. She was the ultimate holier-than-thou evangelical queen bee. What my mother had represented (in her unreconstructed fundamentalist heyday as the leader of an evangelical commune called L’Abri Fellowship) to a house full of young gullible younfg people looking for answers and later to tens of thousands of readers, Palin became for tens of millions of alienated angry white lower-middle-class men and women convinced that an educated “elite” was out to get them.

Palin was first inflicted on the American public by Senator John McCain, who chose her as his running mate in the 2008 presidential election for only one reason: He needed to shore up flagging support from the evangelical Republican anti-abortion base. McCain wanted to prove that he was fully in line with the “social issues” agenda that my father, Dr. C Everett Koop, and I had foisted on our country over thirty years before with our anti-abortion book and film series “Whatever Happened to the Human Race?” Palin lost the election for McCain but “won” her war for fame and fortune and self-appointed “prophetess” status.

The evangelicals like Palin talked of bringing America back to our Christian heritage. Yet the post-Roe anti-abortion evangelicals ignored the Puritans’ actual ideas about government’s biblical mandated role.The Puritans’ theology of government was formed in the context of an embrace of all Christians’ duty to demand the “public good.” This was exemplified by such unquestioned well-established concepts as the “king’s highway,” a common road system protected by the crown (government) and a common law that applied to all. One’s common duty to others was accepted as the essential message of Christian civilization. Public spaces were defended by government in the early New England settlements, just as they had been in England.

What’s so curious is that in this religion-inflicted country of ours, the same evangelicals, conservative Roman Catholics, and others who had been running around post-Roe insisting that America had a “Christian foundation” and demanding a “return to our heritage” and/or more recently trashing health care reform as “communist” and demanding the shutdown of the government in order to overturn this “communist” invention by a “non-American” president, ignored the fact that one great contribution of Christianity was a commitment to strong central government. For instance, this included church support for state-funded, or state-church-funded, charities, including hospitals, as early as the fourth century.

Government was seen as part of God’s Plan for creating social justice and defending the common good. Christians were once culture-forming and culture-embracing people. Even the humanism preached by the supposedly “anti-Christian” Enlightenment thinkers of the eighteenth century was, in fact, a Deist/Christian “heresy,” with a value system espousing human dignity borrowed wholesale from the Sermon on the Mount.

In the scorched-earth era of the evangelical-dominated Republican Party of the “health care reform debates” of 2009 and beyond and now up to and including government shutdown, as a means to demand repeal of the reform, including anti-contraceptive provisions, the evangelicals seemed to believe that Jesus commanded that all hospitals (and everything else) should be run by corporations for profit, just because corporations weren’t the evil government. The right even decided that it was “normal” for the state to hand over its age-old public and patriotic duties to private companies—even for military operations (“contractors”), prisons, health care, public transport, and all the rest.

The Religious Right/Far Right et al. favored private “facts,” too. They claimed that global warming wasn’t real. They asserted this because scientists (those same agents of Satan who insisted that evolution was real) were the ones who said human actions were changing the climate. Worse, the government said so, too!

“Global warming is a left-wing plot to take away our freedom!”

“Amtrak must make a profit!”

“Health care for all is communist!”

Even the word “infrastructure” lost its respectability when government had a hand in maintaining roads, bridges, and trains, let alone providing health insurance coverage to millions. 

In denial of the West’s civic-minded, government-supporting heritage, evangelicals (and the rest of the libertarian right) wound up defending private oil companies but not God’s creation, private cars instead of public transport, private insurance conglomerates rather than government care of individuals. The price for the religious right’s wholesale idolatry of private everything was that Christ’s reputation was tied to a cynical political party owned by billionaires. Today it’s come to the point where people calling themselves followers of Jesus are fighting AGAINST health care for all!

As Andrew Sullivan writes:

“When ideologies become as calcified, as cocooned and as extremist as those galvanizing the GOP, the American system of government cannot work… This is not about ending Obamacare as such (although that is a preliminary scalp); it is about nullifying this presidency, the way the GOP attempted to nullify the last Democratic presidency by impeachment.

Except this time, of course, we cannot deny that race too is an added factor to the fathomless sense of entitlement felt among the GOP far right. You saw it in birtherism; in the Southern GOP’s constant outrageous claims of Obama’s alleged treason and alliance with Islamist enemies; in providing zero votes for a stimulus that was the only thing that prevented a global depression of far worse proportions; in the endless race-baiting from Fox News and the talk radio right. And in this racially-charged atmosphere, providing access to private healthcare insurance to the working poor is obviously the point of no return.

Even though the law is almost identical to that of their last presidential nominee’s in Massachusetts, the GOP is prepared to destroy both the American government and the global economy to stop it… This is the point of no return – a black president doing something for black citizens (even though the vast majority of beneficiaries of Obamacare will be non-black).I regard this development as one of the more insidious and anti-constitutional acts of racist vandalism against the American republic in my adult lifetime… If we cave to their madness, we may unravel our system of government, something one might have thought conservatives would have opposed. Except these people are not conservatives. They’re vandals.”

The evangelical foot soldiers never realized that the logic of their “stand” against government had played into the hands of people who never cared about human lives beyond the fact that people could be sold products. By the twenty first century, Ma and Pa No-name were still out in the rain holding an “Abortion is Murder!” sign in Peoria and/or standing in line all night in some godforsaken mall in Kansas City to buy a book by Sarah Palin and have it signed. But it was the denizens of the corner offices at Goldman Sachs, the News Corporation, Exxon, and Halliburton who were laughing.

Only now in 2013, as the full insanity of the far right stand for “God and country” and against government “intrusion” (health care reform proposed by a black man) hits home, the fat cats are being hoisted on their own petard. The religious right’s religiously motivated foot soldiers have succeeded in installing forty extremists in Congress who aren’t listening to their Wall Street masters any longer and are ready to take us all over the cliff into their imaginary world.

Send the bill for the shutdown to the evangelicals.

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of And God Said, “Billy!” on Kindle and NOOK for $3.99 and in paperback.

[1] On January 16, 2009, Limbaugh told his listeners that he was asked by “a major American print publication” to offer a four-hundred-word statement explaining his “hope for the Obama presidency.” He reported, “So I’m thinking of replying to the guy, ‘Okay, I’ll send you a response, but I don’t need four hundred words; I need four: I hope he fails.’”
[2] See “Moral Education: A Brief History of Moral Education,” “The Return of Character Education,” and “Current Approaches to Moral Education,” http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2246/Moral-Education.html#ixzz0oefKiFH7.
[3] Christian product sales in the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) alone grew to $4.63 billion in ‘06, according to CBA’s research. See <www.cbaonline.org/nm/timeline.htm>;.
[4] Jerry Falwell, America Can Be Saved (Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1979), 17.

About Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer is an American author, film director, screenwriter and public speaker. He is the son of the late theologian and author Francis Schaeffer. He became a Hollywood film director and author, writing several internationally acclaimed novels including And God Said, "Billy!" as well as the Calvin Becker Trilogy depicting life in a fundamentalist mission home-- Portofino, Zermatt, and Saving Grandma.


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