Category: church and state

Do White evangelicals have a delusional persecution complex?

Fred Clark thinks white Christians who lament the loss of their religious liberty are delusional sociopaths.  Moreover, he says a recent study by the Barna Group confirms his worst fears.

Timothy George, pictured to the left, is singled out as a particularly delusional sociopath.

Timothy George is currently the dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University, a Southern Baptist School i Birmingham, AL.  Prior to that, George was a highly respected church history professor at Southern Seminary in Louisville and the leader of a new breed of Baptist Calvinists who would influence the theology of Al Mohler, the current president of Southern Seminary.

I have only met Dr. George on a single occasion.  He delivered a paper at Southern in the early 1990s and I was asked to give the response, probably because no one else wanted the job.  The Seminary was in the process of being taken over by conservative evangelicals and professors who publicly decried the revolution knew they would be summarily fired once the new crew, led by a thirty-three year-old Al Mohler, had the institutional reins firmly in hand.

Do men like George and Mohler qualify as sociopaths?  I don’t think so.   (more…)

Mitt, Moochers, and Mormonism

Mary Barker is a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s campus in Madrid, Spain as well as at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas.  She is also a product of Utah’s Mormon culture, a socio-religious world she understands intimately.

In this piece written for Religion Dispatches she explains how Mitt Romney’s Mormonism shaped his “severe conservatism” but why his faith also provides a foundation for a merciful vision of American community.  The two sides of Mormon spirituality help explain why Utah backed the New Deal and voted Democrat up until the 1950s when the civil rights movement and fear of international communism sparked a retreat into the world of John Birch paranoia that is still evident in the rantings of Glenn Beck.

Mitt, Moochers, and Mormonism’s “Other” Legacy

Growing up with Mormon narratives—a two-part memoir and reflection on the good, the very bad, and a dreamed-for future.

By Mary Barker

There are many stories on which a Mormon is raised: narratives of the elect, America and the Constitution, the latter days, and free agency—all of which play a role in Mitt Romney’s “severe” conservatism. The bombshell release of video in which he trumpets his disdain for moochers, and reveals a remarkably casual approach to Middle East politics, all resonate with the Calvinist heritage of Mormon theology, as well as with principal Mormon narratives. But Mormonism also holds the seeds of a decidedly progressive politics—a possible Mormon liberation theology.

Does Romney’s religion matter? It’s a question that has been asked many times this election season. My answer, below, is in two parts, as I journey from End Times theology (the “latter days”) through Mormonism’s radical social and political past.


I grew up at the end of the world. As a Latter-day Saint, I made my debut just before the final curtain. During my youth, rumors circulated about neighbors and boyfriends whose special “patriarchal blessings” prophesied that they would never taste of death. That fairly clearly set the limit on time. The rebellious Sixties just confirmed what the Cold War had already shown us—that we were in a final showdown with evil that would only get worse until the second coming of Jesus which is now. (more…)

Why Paul Ryan doesn’t have an Ayn Rand problem

By Alan Bean

Now that Paul Ryan is Mitt Romney’s choice for VP, you will be hearing a lot about Ayn Rand, probably not enough to impact the election, but a lot.  Many will ask how a devout Catholic and family man can lionize a woman who despised God, rejected the “altruistic” teaching of Jesus, and called the family an artificial and unnecessary creation.

The easy answer is that Paul Ryan doesn’t really like Ayn Rand at all.  In fact, he is now saying that he rejects her atheistic philosophy without reservation.

For the tiny handful of Christian conservatives who may have been concerned about a potential VP embracing the religion of Antichrist, that should suffice.  There simply aren’t enough voters in our brave new America who know enough about Ayn Rand’s glorification of reason and selfishness, Roman Catholic ethics, or the teaching of Jesus to see a problem.

Ryan’s recent protestations of love for Rand’s economic philosophy were the stuff of romance.  In 2005, Ryan told the Atlas Society:

There is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism than through Ayn Rand’s writings and works . . . I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are.  It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff . . . The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.

It’s hard to disavow an endorsement like that.  Either he was lying in 2005, or he is lying now.  Fortunately for Ryan, it doesn’t matter.


The rebirth of Christianity

The Emperor Constantine

By Alan Bean

This marvelous essay by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove captures the spirit of our times perfectly.  I grew up within a mild form of Canadian evangelical Christianity that prided itself on being neither fundamentalist (like the Bible Schools that dotted the Canadian prairie) nor liberal (like the compromised United Church of Canada).  Try as I might, I have never been able to whip up much enthusiasm for conservative evangelicalism, liberal Protestantism or the bland halfway house religion that wanders, lost, agitated and afraid, between these two poles.

Like so many others, I loved Jesus but didn’t care much for his Church.

Wilson-Hartgrove’s reflections immediately brought to mind a slim volume called The End of Christendom, Malcolm Muggeridge’s Pascal Lectures at the University of Waterloo in 1980 (the year Nancy and I began our first pastorate in Medicine Hat, Alberta).

“Christendom,” Muggeridge assured his audience, “is something quite different from Christianity, being the administrative or power structure, based on the Christian religion and constructed by men.  It bears the same relation to the everlasting truth of the Christian revelation as, say, laws do to justice, or morality to goodness, or carnality to love . . . The founder of Christianity was, of course, Christ.  The founder of Christendom I suppose could be named as the Emperor Constantine.” (more…)

At war over the culture war: Dionne and Gerson go toe-to-toe

By Alan Bean

When two columnists working for the same newspaper address the same subject (the culture war and the contraception debate) you can learn a lot.  Michael Gerson accuses Barack Obama of sustaining our endless American culture war by forcing a conservative Roman Catholic Church to conform to “the liberal values of equality and choice.”  In Gerson’s view, the Catholic Church is an inherently conservative, indeed ‘illiberal’, institution.  Gerson endorses a pluralistic view of America in which a variety of civic organizations, some liberal and progressive, others illiberal and traditional, co-exist in a free society.  But this dream of a pluralistic America is being thwarted by an inherently intolerant “liberal” view of American life in which every individual and institution is expected to conform to the liberal values of equality and choice.  By forcing illiberal Catholic medical providers to provide free contraceptive services to their clients, Gerson alleges, the Obama administration is rejecting the pluralistic vision of America and stoking the fires of culture war.

Gerson believes it is a mistake to antagonize conservative institutions because, unlike their liberal counterparts, they encourage 

The habits of good citizens — attributes such as self-control, cooperation and respect for the law — don’t emerge spontaneously. They are cultivated in families and religious congregations. The health of liberal political institutions is strengthened by the success of traditional institutions, which often teach values that prepare individuals for the responsible exercise of freedom.

In Gerson’s view, Obama moved to the left on immigration and gay rights because he is an ardent culture warrior who disrespects the views of American conservatives.

Then comes E J Dionne, a progressive columnist who, unlike the evangelical Gerson, happens to be a living, breathing Roman Catholic in good standing.  Dionne agrees that Obama’s initial handling of the contraception issue was ham-handed and out of character.  Dionne’s Obama is no champion of the liberal view of America.  At his core, the president is an even-handed pragmatist who is generally eager to negotiate with his ideological opponents.

In fact, Dionne reminds us, six years ago Obama complained that

There are some liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word ‘Christian’ describes one’s political opponents, not people of faith.

Sounds a lot like Michael Gerson, doesn’t it.  Obama dropped the ball on the contraception issue, Dionne admits, but was able to self-correct by offering a compromise that was joyfully embraced by Catholic medical care providers.   

Unlike Gerson, Dionne refuses to define the Roman Catholic Church as an inherently traditional or illiberal institution.  The Catholic Church is a pragmatic and pluralistic blending of conservative and progressive impulses.  Dionne says he remains in the fold largely because

When it comes to lifting up the poor, healing the sick, assisting immigrants and refugees, educating the young (especially in inner cities), comforting orphaned and abandoned children, and organizing the needy to act in their own interest, the church has been there with resources and an astoundingly committed band of sisters, priests, brothers and lay people. Organizations such as Catholic Charities, the Catholic Health Association, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Relief Services make the words of Jesus come alive every day.

Moderate Catholics appreciate the president’s willingness to meet the Church half way on contraception and Dionne hopes the conservative wing will tone down its opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage because the American Catholic community is as divided on these issues as the rest of society.

Two views of the Roman Catholic Church; two views of the sitting president.  Who wins?

Dionne gets the best of this dust-up.  The culture war doesn’t separate illiberal traditionalists like a monolithic Catholicism from liberal, pluralism denying, culture warriors like Obama.  Obama has been deeply influenced by both secular liberalism and the traditional values sustained by the Christian Church.  Roman Catholics, like most Christian denominations, are split down the middle over culture war issues like gay marriage, abortion and, now, contraception.  Gerson’s neat divisions don’t fit either Obama or American Catholicism.

If the president has moved off the fence on gay marriage and immigration it’s because he sees no point in placating ideological opponents for whom the word ‘compromise’ has become the vilest of profanities.  Any politician on the right willing to meet the president half way on any contentious issue gets his or her (usually his) mouth washed out with soap in full view of the cameras.

Nice try, Michael, but you didn’t nail it this time.

The politics of having faith and serving in government

By Aaron Graham

This op-ed recently appeared in the Washington Post.  Aaron Graham is lead pastor of The District Church in Washington DC and a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  We originally met through my daughter, professor Lydia Bean, who was a graduate student at Harvard when Aaron studied at the Kennedy School.  I got to know Aaron better when he worked as the lead organizer for Sojourner’s Dallas Justice Revival a few years ago.

The politics of having faith and serving in government

The Washington Post

By Aaron Graham

It breaks my heart today to see how often politics shapes our faith, rather than faith shaping our politics. Over the years the church in America has become so biblically illiterate that we are often being more influenced by cultural and political trends than we are by the Word of God.As a result when we do come to church or read Scripture, we come with our minds already made up. We interpret the Bible through our own ideological lenses, picking and choosing what we want to believe and leaving the rest. This is dangerous, not only spiritually but politically as well.

When faith is reduced to being a subset of politics, it is often used as a political wedge to divide rather than unite us. Or, on the converse, when a particular faith seeks to overtake politics, both are worse off. God’s kingdom is much bigger than one political party or country and can never be fully reflected in a government institution alone.As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in “Strength to Love,” “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.” What our country desperately needs – and our faith demands – is a people who are not withdrawn from the government but are engaged in faithful ways.

We not only need people pushing from the outside, but also serving on the inside to help government fulfill its purpose of restraining evil, promoting justice and working for the common good.

We need more people like Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who learned to faithfully work in the government without selling out in the process.

What made their example so powerful is that they learned how to be good news in a culture that was completely foreign to their own. They were Israelites in exile in Babylon, far from home.

Yet rather than standing on the sidelines and bemoaning their lot in life, they decided to seek the welfare of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. Rather than standing in judgment toward the Babylonians for their significant belief differences they learned to adopt much of the local culture while still holding fast to their core beliefs.

They honored their government leaders, and worked hard to help make the country a better place for all to live in, but also maintained the integrity of their faith. They knew when to risk their lives and when to walk away from power.

When asked to worship a golden statue of the king, they refused even under threat of death. They trusted God and were delivered safe and alive from the fiery furnace.

When another king decreed that prayers only be directed to him, Daniel defied this order, trusted God, and was delivered safe and alive from the lions’ den.

They made a difference not because they had a grand vision to transform society, but because they were committed to doing the small things that made a difference in the long run.

Working in the government can be tough. Washington, D.C. seems to specialize in attracting highly talented, motivated and educated people, only to have them burn out a few years later. The lack of a true community in the city is what pushes many over the edge.

The good news is that there is a group of people, young and old, from different ethnicities that are learning to follow the example of Daniel. Rather than standing on the sidelines and blaming politics they are renewing their commitment to faithfully engage with government, whether that means pushing from the outside or helping build up from the inside.

Rev. Aaron Graham is lead pastor of The District Church and a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Santorum meant exactly what he said

By Alan Bean

Rick Santorum has raised eyebrows with a comment about President Obama’s “phony theology”.  According to the surging presidential candidate, Obama’s worldview is driven by “some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology, but no less a theology.”

Aked to explain this remark on Face the Nation, Santorum said he was referring to the president’s environmental views.  According to an AP article:

The former Pennsylvania senator said Obama’s environmental policies promote ideas of “radical environmentalists,” who, Santorum argues, oppose greater use of the country’s natural resources because they believe “man is here to serve the Earth.” He said that was the reference he was making Saturday in his Ohio campaign appearance when he denounced a “phony theology.”

But when reporters asked for an explanation of the “phony theology” remark immediately after it was uttered, the candidate made no reference to environmentalism, explaining instead that the president practiced one of the various “stripes” of Christianity.

So where does Mr. Santorum stand?  Does he think Barack Obama is a genuine Christian or doesn’t he? (more…)

Why Religion Should Matter When We Vote

By Mark Osler

Should we consider a candidate’s religion when we vote? For many of us, the instinctive answer is “of course not!” To do so seems somehow contrary to the idea of separation of church and state, or prejudiced, or something like that. Examined more closely, though, that instinctive reaction may not be the best answer. Faith influences action, and there is no reason to pretend otherwise when we go to the polls.

The American repulsion to considering faith when voting is in large part rooted in a famous speech given by John F. Kennedy when he was running for President in 1960. Addressing a convention of Baptist ministers in Houston, he defended himself from the accusation that his Catholic faith would lead him to “take orders from the Pope.” There is no doubt that what Kennedy was addressing was prejudice against Catholics. It was a masterful speech, of the sort that makes one wistful for that time. However, it is important to recognize what Kennedy did and did not say.

What he did say, forcefully, was that he would not take orders from the Church, and that he would make his decisions “in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.” (more…)