I predict that the slow falling away of a whole generation of evangelical young people from fundamentalist faith – and not a few older folks like me too – has just been exponentially accelerated. Thank you Jesus! Thank you Ted Cruz! The shutdown has not only laid bare the stupidity of the right wing hostage takers running and ruining the Republican Party, it’s also exposed fundamentalist American religion to the harshest light of day as never before.
The root cause of the shutdown is the evangelical religious right. Intransigent theology, myth-based literalism of biblical interpretation and fact-free politics, crafted as a reaction to social change is at the heart of the fiasco we’re witnessing. It’s not about the economy stupid, it’s all about our embattled competing views of God.
The emergent, convergent progressive and generous theology of the more liberal and tolerant Christians is slowly seeping into the evangelical/Catholic mainstream. You can teach at Moody Bible Institute and drink beer now! Even the new oddly sane pope likes gays and wants to accept women who have had abortions. But humanistic decency has been invading the inner space of religious people’s souls in fits and starts—up to now. The universal view of salvation and diversity-friendly view of what it means to follow Jesus has faced the opposition of the guardians of old time religion suspicious of any believers who don’t root for the damnation of the “lost.”
That “them” and “us” view is the same one that, once translated into politics, manifests itself as the 80 Tea Party congressmen and their hardcore represented by 40 men who would rather take the economy and nation down than compromise.
I grew up in a reformed Calvinist missionary household where the dirtiest word in the English language was “compromise.” The Schaeffer family was a holy nation of six—Mom, Dad my three sisters and me. We and we alone stood for truth. Dad had left several denominations over issues of theological compromise. In the 1980s one of my brothers in law, who had given his life to Dad’s ministry of L’Abri Fellowship, was forbidden to teach in the work any longer because his view of the Bible was no longer trusted as sufficiently in favor of an “inerrant” Word of God. Dad was willing to push out his favorite and most liked son in law to avoid theological compromise.
You can’t understand the radical hostage-taking right in Congress today outside of the context of the evangelical battles with the very idea of compromise. Sure, there are a handful of Ayn Rand/groupies and libertarians thrown in and sure the Koch brothers are following their own agenda in financing the demise of the US government, but none of these folks represent the true base of the Tea Party/Republican Party: white evangelical conservatives who have been in a decades old fight with the world are that base.
This group is losing its children to the “None” column in polls, as in none as the answer to questions of religious affiliation. And the cracks are already there in the evangelical monolithic edifice as seen in the rise of the convergent/emergent/Wild Goose Festival/”liberal”/inclusive/gay friendly movement represented at its best by people like writer and speaker Brian McLaren.
But once in a while movements are handed unexpected breaks, a sort of leapfrog of process. So are individuals. For instance my book Keeping Faith about my son’s service in the Marine Corps was just sitting there until Bush declared war on Iraq. Then all of a sudden it was “hot” and became a New York Times best seller. I even was interviewed by Oprah. The Republican right’s ’debacle in Congress, the racist overtones of old white guys bent on stopping the black man in the White House at any cost, and the resulting death march to doom, all in the name of no compromise, is redolent of change. This war too will spin off unexpected winners. The emergent/convergent movement is about to clean up.
When the dust settles the generational divide between the sort of people trying to maintain the evangelical status quo that Christianity Today magazine and Franklin Graham represent, and their aging white southern base and these people’s children and grandchildren will have grown into a gaping irreparable fissure. The reason is that the sheer unworkable bigotry, stupidity, foolishness of the religious right translated into policy (of sorts) is so self-evidently suicidal that this shutdown event will color a whole new generations’ level of intolerance for intolerance.
The twenty-something daughter of the local pastor watching her dad watching Fox News’ version of echo chamber reality used to just think her parents were silly. Now their clinging to a fact-free existence is costing her future, or at least risking it. She’s about to see her parents’ beliefs — both religious and political — as demented and costly.
Another unintended small (but important to me!) consequence of the shutdown is that the Republicans are repeating what happened to my book Keeping Faith. Same thing– different war. Ted Cruz is turning my new book And God Said, “Billy!” into a bestseller. Since religious delusion is at the heart of the American crisis, and since Billy! is the most thorough exploration of right wing religious delusion that’s been written – at least by a former religious right nutjob insider who can also write a funny book – they’ve just paid my electric bill…
The present crisis has created an urgent need to answer this question: “Who ARE these people?” And God Said, “Billy!” is a good answer. Even the people rejecting the religion of their parents still have a deep spiritual hunger. And that’s the path of eventual soul-searching my character Billy takes, and it lands him first in jail, then on the doorstep of a monastery. That’s where Billy meets sanity in the form of an abbot who tells him that Billy’s only path back to reality from religious delusion — and maybe to God — is for Billy to become an atheist. As such Billy! represents a whole generation of younger Christians about to show up on the doorstep of the progressive inclusive churches.
The shutdown will shape memory and attitudes and harden them in favor of a future where the black and white categories of exclusion just look plain evil. Try hanging onto a generation of young smart people who have John Boehner stuck in their brain as the poster boy for what their parents say they believe!
I predict that the wind down of what could be called the Billy Graham/Christianity Today slick empire-building traditional evangelical fundamentalist domination of the evangelical movement has just been accelerated dramatically. Ten years from now ask that thrifty-something former Southern Baptist why she isn’t raising her kids in an evangelical church, and why she either is a None or going to the local emergent/convergent get together led by a lesbian couple. I’ll bet you that somewhere in her story about her journey away from literalistic insanity to inclusive spirituality will be an embedded deep memory of these weeks of shutdown.
Put it this way if the shutdown was a soccer match: Score ONE for TEAM Brian McLaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Rachel Held Evans, Krista Tippett, the Wild Goose Festival, Shane Claiborne, Eric Elnes, Tony Jones, Tony Campolo, Paul Rsushenbaush and Rob Bell and a big fat ZERO For TEAM Boehner, the Republican right and to their evangelical/fundamentalist facilitators.
So thank you to the Tea Party and John Boehner for helping accelerate the pace of sanity invading the churches not to mention your helping make And God Said, “Billy!” the # 1 book in Amazon’s Kindle “Political Humor” category for the last three weeks.
Obama is going to win this battle. Kids will get healthcare, irrespective of the vindictive right and grow up to go to no church at all and/or to a progressive body. They will marry their gay partner, if they want to, probably in a liturgical setting presided over by a woman priest, maybe even a next generation Nadia Bolz-Webber. And they will read my book to figure out why they can’t talk to their mothers.
Thank you Tea Party! God bless you Fox News!