Recently my Facebook feed offered a troubling article from a former member of the evangelical Christian community that caught my attention. As I read it, I grew more and more distressed. No other writing, news headline, or video soundbite in the last four months has given me so much pause as this one.
Why? Because it’s a first-person exposé about the long-term political organizing work in the evangelical Christian community. The writer was raised in a world that organized and socialized its young and old to create a specific vision of an American society in which only the faithful belonged.
How would they create this society? By going to church and praying about it? Or by holding bible classes about the virtues of Old Testament values? Maybe by establishing enclosed camps, a la David Koresh?
No, not at all. All believers of the faith would co-create a very specific American society. They would do this through active public life work in local, state, and national politics.
Evangelical Christian Faith as Political Life
Leaders of the faith, according to the author, have a very specific vision about how Americans should live out their private and public lives. In this vision, both private and public life collapses into an Old Testament Christian-only faith as a way of life.
Such a life, of course, adheres to Old Testament values. For example, the faith calls for a patriarchal society free of non-believers and ungodly people. Who are non-believers and ungodly people? Well, think brown people, LGBTQIA people, yellow people, red people, people with non-English tongues, people with non-Christian religion, and so on.
This is all well and good in a country that affords free speech and freedom of religion. One has the freedom and the right to believe whatever one wants to believe. Believe in Godzilla as the next messiah, it doesn’t matter. It’s a free country, right?
Not quite. At least, not according to these people. In their America, the country is the ark of the faith. Only those of the faith belong in the ark. Freedom goes only as far at the faith allows (which isn’t much).
Of course, I don’t have to tell you how beliefs such as these have the potential to undermine the constitution. At stake are the very tenets that made America a beacon of hope (despite its troubles practicing them) for millions around the world over the last 300+ years. Freedom of religion, separation of church and state, and freedom of speech, are among some of the most important.
The State as the Ark of the Faith
So here’s the part that worries me. As the author reminds us, leaders of the faith have intentionally, with patient and unwavering determination, engaged in a nationally coordinated public life campaign. Their purpose? Occupy political seats of power across the U.S. in order to turn the American state into the ark of the faith. They’ve been at this for the last 30+ years.
Not only have they taken up seats across all state and municipal level political positions. They have succeeded in Congress, too. Does this sound worrisome?
It should, because the folks they support into office aren’t your average, I want to help my community type of folks. Heck they aren’t even the traditional, I want to get rich off of politics folks. Nope, these are true believers. They are on the ark and will do everything in their power to steer that ark towards the true faith.
But that’s not the worse part. In these 2016 elections, they achieved their ultimate goal. They reached the White House. One of their very own, a true believer, is now in the oval office, Vice President Mike Pence.
Maybe I’m over-reacting. I’m not sure. Or maybe the supposed insider in the article is a great fabricator of tales. I don’t know. But what I do know is that much of what the article claims can be verified. Look at public information about extremist politicians across the U.S. You will find they have systematically done everything they can to undermine civil rights, strip away constitutional freedoms, distort American history, and diminish voter access. Looks like the ark is getting ready to become exclusive.
My question to you is, where’s the organized alternative? I won’t even call it opposition, because it’s not so much about that but about a different way of creating community.
Where’s the linked local-to-national work that promotes an alternative, unified, diverse, inclusive, just, and welcoming society? Can you tell me where it is? Who has created the cult of inclusiveness, equity, fairness and common community that intentionally connects everyday people, local and national civic leaders across the U.S.?
Honestly, it’s been sporadic. Sure, there are plenty efforts: the Centrist Party; the Centrist Project; MAYDAY; indivisible; IAF organizations and their counterparts, among others. But these are not driven by the type of culture building apparatus that the evangelical Christians have built. That’s our challenge.
I suspect at the core of folks who push for faith-only universes (where non-believers are intentionally excluded) is this willingness to create their vision by any means necessary. Their extremism is such that if the faith calls for only certain types of people to belong, then the faithful have no problem harming the non-believers in order to exclude them.
This, I think, is the key difference. Folks who are inclusive of difference tend to allow differences of opinion to play themselves out. We (I include myself here) will argue when we disagree, but we won’t seek to control everything and everyone in order to shape the world according to our faith. The result is that we are less organized because we are not willing to coerce people into our worldview by any means necessary.
Creating an Alternative
So what do we do? I don’t have THE answer to this, but I think it’s an important starting point for any progressive or conservative effort that champions constitutional civil liberties and a secular government.
My own response is to find a way to socialize people into actively practicing public life that is inclusive of difference, fair, just, democratic, and open to all who want to be a part of it. Regardless of color, language, religion, political beliefs, sexuality, nationality, etc., we have to intentionally learn how to do public work together.
For me, public work is all the work we do with others to make society better. Most of this work is political, and some of it is simply neighborly. Either way, its civic, which plays out in our public lives, the ones we live everyday when we step outside our front doors.
As we move deeper into 2017, I will begin to openly push my ideas for an active, inclusive public life by inviting you and others to create a community that explores what that looks like on this blog. I would love your help.
I hope that you will join me and my colleagues in creating a more inclusive, just, fair, and democratic society that honors every person’s civil right and ability to succeed, no matter their faith. By intentionally teaching and practicing inclusive, everyday public life principles we can move this country away from the one envisioned by evangelical Christian politics.
I and a small team are creating a new venture that will serve as the launch program for the Center for Inclusive Public Life. As we develop materials for this venture, we would like your opinion and input, so that we can create as good a product as we possibly can before launching at some point in the next 24 months. Be on the lookout for the next blog entry discussing this venture.