A reader writes:
I think you and Dreher are missing something here. You are assuming that the Moral Mondays people are just now deciding to take a Christian message into politics, but that’s not what is happening. Their religion has always been in their politics. These liberal Christians are just adjusting their language for a Christian audience.
I grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia as a Christian, though I was not a member of Jerry Falwell’s church. For years I tried to argue with people you would call Christianists about one issue or another using secular sources: scientific studies, statistical analyses, the Constitution, whatever. What I did not realize was that only source that matters to Christianists is the Bible. Their obsession with the Bible (or at least approved translations of the Bible) borders on idolatry.
Eventually I figured out that if I wanted to make a point, I needed to be working from the same source material.
For example, if I wanted to convince Christianists that women were equal to men, I had to point to Deborah, Phoebe, and Junia, not to Thatcher and Palin (though mentioning those two doesn’t hurt). The best way to convince a Christianist that climate change is a problem is to remind her that God gave humanity dominion over Earth and to frame her responsibility for the environment as a Christian duty given to her by God.
You and Dreher assume that liberal Christians have not already brought religion into politics. You are wrong. Liberal Christians have always brought their religious beliefs into politics. Recently though, they have just been making their arguments for their beliefs in secular language, which is important for court battles, but it is not the language Christianists speak. If liberal Christians only use secular terms to make an argument, there is a sizable portion of the population that they will never reach because we will be dismissed out of hand.
Religion is, and always has been, a part of politics for both sides. Remember when Obama referenced being our brother’s keeper in his 2004 convention speech? What about abolition? That was all about what the Bible said, and both sides used the Bible as a source of support for their arguments. These liberal Christians are just using different source material to back up their assertions in order to reach a different audience. If your definition of Christianist is now so broad as to include anyone who cites the Bible as a source in making a political argument, we are, and always have been, a majority Christianist nation.
Yes, we have been. I don’t deny that. And in an entirely Christian context, debating whether this or that verse of the Bible requires this or that response is something no one would object to. But Moral Mondays do not exist in a purely Christian context; they exist in a secular context. And they do so because discussion about policy and politics in America in 2014 takes place within a multi-faith and multi-cultural country. And when you start making political arguments from explicitly religious fiats, you are leaving the entire premise of secular politics behind. You treat non-Christian citizens as if they do not exist. You attempt to persuade them by citing verses of a Holy Book they may well regard as a fairy tale. You are, in fact, legitimizing the very basis for the Christianist right – and their conflation of religion and politics.
If that’s your intent, you are both undermining your ability to make your case to non-Christians or to Christians who do not share the premises of Christianism; and you are fighting on a battlefield where fanatics and extremists will almost always win. The battle between Christianist right and Christianist left is not, after all, evenly matched. The Christianist right would crush their opponents in any fight you can name.
My view remains that all public policy and political arguments should remain in secular terms, appealing to citizens qua citizens as opposed to members of any religious grouping. Yes, of course those of us who are Christians will reach our varied political positions after filtering them through the prism of our faith. But we have a moral duty to translate those positions into wholly secular public arguments. Or risk turning our democracy into a sectarian screaming match. I’d leave that to the Middle East.
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