The Horror of God’s (Christian) Warriors
More than Jesus Camp, more than Alexandra Pelosi’s Friends of God, Christiane Amanpour’s God’s (Christian) Warriors alternately scared, stunned and infuriated me. Scared because I was reminded once again of the massive commitment of time, energy, and resources the religious right in America has at its disposal–it’s a machine that never rests. Stunned that they have been able to basically take over our democracy and set up a “shadow government,” and yet they remain tax-deductible and unaccountable. And infuriated because of their relentless and unchallenged deception, manipulation, brainwashing of children, and outright hatred of democratic principles.
God’s (Christian) Warriors aired on August 23, 2007 and additional encore airings. I didn’t find any DVDs for sale, except bootlegs on ebay. But this program is a must-watch for any serious proponent of a secular society. If you can’t find a copy, the transcript is here. We have our work cut out for us.
Make no mistake, the evangelicals have hijacked the democratic process. Though former President Carter is optimistic that “the high power of being a fundamentalist has reached its peak and it has passed,” the religious right still regularly swings elections: The 2004 presidential race between John Kerry and George Bush was decided in Ohio. During that election, pastor Russell Johnson ran a religious get-out-the-vote campaign fueled by his opposition to gay marriage.
JOHNSON: 3.3 million people in Ohio in ‘04 showed up to vote for a marriage amendment…
AMANPOUR: It was against same-sex marriage…The measure passed with almost two-thirds of the vote.
JOHNSON: Afterwards we did the surveys. They voted 6-1 for President George W. Bush.
Since Ohio was won by a mere 118,601 votes, we can pretty much credit this specific wedge-issue in Ohio for putting George W. Bush in the white house for 4 more years–with all the attendant consequences for the nation and the world (inaction on global warming, 2 conservative Supreme Court justices, failed strategy in the Iraq war, and new lows for global perception of the United States, to name just a few).
But to really understand this phenomenon, one has to go back to Jerry Falwell, who’s been at this game for over 50 years–and who Amanpour interviewed just a week before he died. Falwell was unrepentant to the end. His Liberty University is busily training a new generation of activists to combat science, as he put it “comparing science and scripture, evolution and the creation,” as well as “legal pit-bulls” (complete with their own mock Supreme Court chamber to practice overturning Roe v. Wade).
He reiterated and elaborated on his statement of blaming 9/11 on America’s cultural values (which he supposedly had apologized for–not):
AMANPOUR: You know, you caused a huge amount of controversy after 9/11 when you basically said that the Lord was removing his protection from America.
FALWELL: I still believe that. I believe that a country that is…
AMANPOUR: And that America probably deserved it.
FALWELL: Here’s what I said, what — no. I said that the people we have no are responsible must take the blame for it…We’re killing a million babies a year in this country by abortion. But I was saying then and I’m saying now, that if we, in fact, change all the rules on which this Judeo-Christian nation was built, we cannot expect the Lord to put his shield of protection around us as he has in the past.
AMANPOUR: So you still stand by that?
FALWELL: I stand right by that.
Which leads me to inject a note of levity here (you can either laugh or cry about statements like Falwell’s, I guess I’d rather laugh). Christopher Hitchens commented after Falwell’s death that “if someone had given him an enema, he could have been buried in a matchbox.” Couldn’t have put it better.
As virulent and pervasive as Falwell’s hatred was, he and others like him represent a cartoon version of religious activism, appealing to the worst instincts of the most bigoted and narrow-minded believers. You know, the kind who grew up going to Jesus Camp. Most mainstream Americans would bristle and dissociate themselves from such unthinking viciousness. But unfortunately, these extremists have the broadest audience, the most money, and make up the power base of the national evangelical organizations. Efforts to moderate the message have been met with hostility.
For example, Richard Cizik, vice-president for governmental affairs of the National Council of Evangelicals, became concerned several years ago after examining the scientific consensus on global warming. He immediately began to preach a gospel of caring for the earth. “He told us to do that, to watch over and care for it, right in the Book of Genesis, right there. It’s caring about issues that will impact millions of people, like climate change.” This stance earned him the ire of “25 other prominent evangelical leaders [who] have called for [his] resignation. They accuse him of using global warming to — quote — ’shift the emphasis away from the great moral issues of our time, notably, the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage, and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children.’”
So lets get this straight: National Council of Evangelicals is calling for the resignation of a man who puts the welfare of the entire planet above their petty fascist agenda to control America’s sexuality!!
This is what I’m talking about when I say these people scare the hell out of me. Because they are extremely committed to their cause, they wield tremendous power, and by taking these kinds of actions they are controlling the future of America and by extension the world. If we want our children to live in freedom, and if we want action on the climate, they must be stopped.
In response to the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2000 amendment of their “statement of beliefs” to worsen discrimination against women, former President Carter publicly broke with the convention. He described the document:
Women must be submissive to their husbands and no woman can be a leader in the church as a pastor or deacon in the church and that women are precluded from instructing men. So those things have been of great concern to me.
So Carter and former President Clinton got together and “formed what they call the celebration of a New Baptist Covenant calling on Christians to focus on issues like poverty rather than on divisive issues like abortion and gay marriage.” Carter outlined their goals: “We have adopted as our guidelines a gospel based on peace and justice and humility and service and love that really helps people who are in need.”
These elements of progress in the American religious landscape are opposed by the extremists at every turn. Another example of this internecine warfare within the religious right is the church of Greg Boyd in Minnesota, who opposed the politicization of religion. Though a committed Christian, he gave a series of six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword.”
In them he asked:
…how is it possible that we went from being a movement of people who follow the messiah, who taught us to love our enemies, to being a movement that celebrates fighter jets, that fuses Jesus’ death on the cross with killing machines?
I am very concerned about the extent to which what’s called the kingdom of the world, the politics of the world, is being fused with our faith, in some cases, almost like a Taliban, an Islamic state, where, you know, it’s like we want to run a Christian society and enforce Christian laws. And my concern is that that is very damaging for the church and it’s also very damaging for society.
He also decried the evangelical focus on sexuality:
But the Bible also says that gossip — in fact, right next to homosexuality, it mentions gossip, and it mentions greed, and it mentions gluttony. In fact, greed and gluttony are — are two of the most common sins, held up in the ancient world as the supreme sins. And they’re frequently mentioned in the Bible, way more than homosexuality.
I never quite understand what sin gradation scale some people go by where they decide that certain sins are worse than other kind of sins, and those are the ones we need to go against.
And he thinks the best way to be “pro-life” is to focus on issues of poverty rather than the divisive politics of abortion.
Boyd lost 1,000 members of his congregation for being too “liberal” and “soft” in his message. He has been vilified on the internet by other evangelicals as a “heretic.” In response, he says he wants a “divorce” from right-wing politics.
Rays of hope such as Boyd are greatly overshadowed by the scandalous demagoguery and high-pitched yelling from the likes of Rick Scarborough, Christian Zionist John Hagee, or the 12-hour-a-day grass roots activism of Danille Turissini of Positive Christian Agenda. Not to mention the cynical machinations of teen-mind-rapist Ron Luce, founder of Battlecry. These people are literally out to realize Boyd’s (and our) worst nightmare.
More than any event in recent history, with the possible exception of 9/11, Amanpour’s documentary has brought me to a new level of awareness. Writing and discussion of philosophy about atheism will not be enough. We are going to have to match the tactics of the religious right, and match their money dollar for dollar. Or get ready to be horrified at the turn our country will continue to take. The Bush presidency was just the start of what they have in mind. Whoever is elected in 2008 will determine the makeup of the Supreme Court as well as America’s all-important response to climate change. I’m hoping Carter was right when he said evangelical influence was on the wane. But given their steely determination to seed the culture with committed and brainwashed zombies with law degrees to control political outcomes in all three branches of American government, I wouldn’t be so sure.
Amanpour has done a great service to the atheist movement. By remaining impartial throughout her presentation, she gained incredible access to a broad spectrum of religious bullies and tyrants, who hung themselves quite nicely with their own words. She didn’t have to say anything. We (and hopefully most of the sensible American people) are allowed to draw our own conclusions–and they are terribly frightening.
She concludes with this admonishment about Christian extremists: “We cannot and should not ignore them. And with this report, we have tried to explain them.”