There are some things I just do not understand.
We are a religious nation; polls say that America is predominantly Christian, with some polls saying the percentage of Christians here is as high as 93 percent. (http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=90356&page=1) And…again according to polls, about 25 percent of all Christians are Evangelical. (http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/) What does “evangelical” mean? An article in Atlantic captured the lack of real clarity which surrounds the term: “To the pollster, it is a sociological term. To the pastor, it is a denominational or doctrinal term. And to the politician, it is a synonym for a white Christian Republican.” (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/12/evangelical-christian/418236/)
In that same article, Evangelist Billy Graham, asked long ago what an evangelical was, replied, “Actually, that’s a question I’d like to ask somebody, too.” Back then, the article points out, someone defined an evangelical as “anyone who likes Billy Graham.” Technically, since the word “evangelicalism” derives from the word “euangelion” which means “good news,” and the “good news” of Jesus the Christ was that Jesus was sent to earth to save all of humankind, it seems that any and everyone who calls oneself a Christian ought to be “evangelical.” For this writer, an “evangelical” is anyone who knows what the Gospels say and who follows the directions of Jesus the Christ. The powerful message of Jesus was that God loved everyone.
Lisa Sharon Harper, in her book The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can be Made Right, gives a historical origin of evangelicalism: in the 1860s, Charles Finney preached a revival, espousing the need for people to love God and to be faithful to the words and will of God, over everything else – including slavery. Harper says that when the sermon was over, even as people wiped tears from their eyes, Finney “thrust a pen into their hands and forced them to add their names to the abolitionist movement.
Fast-forward in American history when, as industrialization took hold, some people did well and others did not. Poverty became a mark of having little to no character; if one was poor it was because he or she wanted to be poor. As economies grew, so did the divide between the haves and have-nots, and the term “liberal” came more and more to be associated with those who believed in using government to use the powers of central and local government pragmatically and constructively…to secure order, economy, free-market conditions and self-improvement.” (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/02/the-origin-of-liberalism/283780/)
There was already a rumble going on in this nation, stemming from slavery and the dispute about whether or not it was right, and “of God.” There was a resentment on the part of the South toward the federal government, which, said Southerners, had no right to interfere in their way of life, i.e., slavery. Finney and the abolitionists might have felt slavery was wrong, but not everybody felt that way…and more and more, people turned to Scripture to justify their beliefs – either for or against slavery. Fundamentalists launched a movement in the 1900s and moved their emphasis of Christianity away from America’s social problems to personal piety. The goal of Christians was to get into a personal relationship with Jesus and to look at the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. Fundamentalists could “do” the Gospel by their missionary work, which had an “over there” emphasis, in this writer’s opinion. Fundamentalists went “to all the world,” helping people in other countries who were poor and destitute, all the while feeding them a Gospel which seemed to be further and further away from the inclusive Gospel that Jesus taught.
It was not the role of government to get into things, to bother established ways of life, or to challenge existing mores and customs. Conservatives believed that there should be less government, not more. Conservatism began to emerge as a political movement during and after the French Revolution. It has always provided a tension between itself and the belief that it was the way the world should be run.
How did Conservatism become aligned with evangelicalism? And did the two terms together erode the interpretation and understanding of Christianity as espoused by the Gospel? Ironically, it seemed to have been born with the presidency of Jimmy Carter, who unabashedly said he was a “born-again Christian.” The term was adopted by the political Right – Conservatives – and we saw the aegis of such organizations as the Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority.
But these new organizations seemingly did not have Jesus at their center – though they said they did, at least not the Jesus who believed in justice for “the least of these.” These organizations wanted to have an impact on culture and society; they saw a decline in values they held dear, and much of that decline, they seemed to feel, was because of “big government.”
Big government believed in using the government to help “the least of these.” Conservatives did not. In fact, in spite of their allegiance to Jesus the Christ, their political bent seemed as distant from the values of Jesus as could be. They did not like the expansion of government that came after World War II. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” did not impress them, even though that New Deal kept many Americans alive and in the work force.
Are governments prone to help the poor, the elderly, the sick? Are they prone to help people of color, women, or children? It seems not. It seems that because of the lack of desire or maybe a desire of resources, state and local governments can only do so much, but they have an aversion to “giving away” resources to people whom they think are in their positions in life through something they have done or not done.
What is a Conservative, really? Who are Conservatives interested in? Ironically, it seems that in terms of ideology, they are in line with the writers of the U.S. Constitution, who never believed that government was for “all of the people,” but was for wealthy, white, male, heterosexual Christians.” As the government has moved farther and farther away from that ideal, Conservatives have gotten louder and angrier.
But …who do they care about? Who matters to them? As a point of discussion, Republicans, Conservatives …are itching to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They seem to be more concerned with making sure insurance companies can continue to make big profits off the backs of …the least of these. Conservatives, many of whom are evangelical Christians, seem to not care about the struggling masses in this country. Evangelical Conservatives seem to be OK with racism, sexism, and militarism. They seem to believe that those who are destitute – are there because they want to be, Jesus and the Gospel notwithstanding.
Am I wrong?
The Rev. C.T. Vivian says “you cannot be a Christian and be racist.” To that, I would add you cannot be a Christian and dismiss anyone – women, gays, the physically and or mentally challenged. The good news always meant to me that everybody matters and that people who love God …have a moral duty to help those who need help.
But if American Conservatives are largely evangelical Christians, and if “evangelicalism” is for politicians, a synonym for “white, Christian Republican,” what do we have here? Is it fair for Conservatives of that bent to call themselves Christian, or has there developed a strain of Christianity which ought to be named and recognized as such? Should there be a strain of Christianity which has as core values racism, sexism, militarism, materialism…in spite of the words of Jesus the Christ? And if that is the case, ought they call themselves Christian at all?