Thursday, August 04, 2005

Why the Christian Right is Wrong: Part 2

Who are They?

According to the American Religions Identification Study conducted in 2001, 77% of all Americans call themselves Christians. Although that is down 8% from 1990, that is s startling statistic. If 77% of the population truly held to one kind of belief system, that would be an unbeatable political voting bloc. However, practicality and observation illustrates this to be untrue. The facts are clear that this 77% is comprised of Christians from various backgrounds, theological beliefs, and style of worship. This begs the question be asked: How many and what kinds of Christians from this 77% actually make up the Christian Right? There are plenty of terms to go around for Christians based on a variety of standards. Having said that it is important to realize that there is a Biblical standard of what defines a believer in Christ, and in the interest of remaining as non-judgmental as possible this piece will not delve in to that standard. Based on anecdotal observations and a general understanding of culture American Christians can probably be place in one of the following four categories:

1. Fundamentalist
Extreme in doctrine and applications of Biblical belief. They are somewhat sound doctrinally speaking since they completely believe the Word of God, but they also tend to add to that Word their own sets of rules. Salvation is often times tied to works and behavior not grace. Generally characterized in the culture as rural or mountain folks and being little educated. Politically speaking this group is comprised of Republicans. Denominations usually represented in this group: Southern Baptists, Pentecostal Holiness, Church of God, Assemblies of God, and various small independent churches.

2. Conservative/Moderate
Some would use the term Evangelical here however in the interest of comparison the more neutral labels will be applied. This group is more practical in their application of the Bible. They are generally no less fierce in their doctrinal stances than Fundamentalists but they also tend to understand that for example one alcholic drink does not mean a person has sinned. This group firmly believes in salvation by grace and a distinct salvation moment. Generally speaking this group tends to be educated and also extremely active in mainstream culture, especially within the sub-culture of Christian music, books, etc. Most are regular weekly church attendees. Most of the people in this group are registered Republicans or Independents. Denominations which fit the bill here are: Southern Baptist, American Baptist, Methodists, Lutheran, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Catholics, Assemblies of God, and larger non-denominational churches.

3. Liberal
This group tends to be regular church goers, but are less than inclined to accept the full teaching of the Bible on certain social issues. People in this group tend to follow most of the tenets of Christianity, such as the golden rule, helping the sick and the poor, and following the basic teachings of Christ. However, this group is less inclined to accept the Bible as the whole truth but rather as one of many sources of truth and even express skepticism in reference to many of the Biblical stories. This group tends to be looser with the interpretation of salvation and may even say that God is good and would not send anyone to hell. Since they also tend to be liberal politically they tend to pick and choose between Biblical beliefs and political ideology i.e. rationalizing that homosexuality is not a sin or believing in evolution over creationism. People in this group are generally higher educated, self proclaimed intellectuals, and also African-Americans who seek political progress at the expense of Biblical doctrine. Democrats comprised the greater number of Liberal Christians with Independents and fiscally conservative Republicans also being included in the group. Denominations included in this group are: Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Catholics, United Church of Christ, American Baptists, and many churches in the Northeast, California, and large cities.

4. Nominal
Members of group can actually fall somewhere in the previous three. This group portends Christians who may or may not be regular church attendees. They may believe some of the Bible or all of it. Some in this group tend to use church as a social club and may even be a church official, but there is no depth of application of Biblical values in their lives. Salvation may be assumed by default or there may be that "moment" but it turns out it was not from God. People in this group are often characterized as "Sunday Morning Christians" or members of the "Easter/Christmas Club" since that is the only two times they go to church. The label "Christian" is a cultural label and does not carry any meaning in the way they live their lives i.e. sin likely will always abound. All politcal parties and denominations have people like this in all parts of the country.

If the Christian Right had to be defined based on the above concepts then it would mostly include the first two groups and also a good portion of the last group since people who carry the cultural label of Christian might also tend to be against gay marriage or abortion. Perhaps the easiest definition is the contrast between the Christian Right and the Liberal group from above. Where the Liberal group tends to allow their Biblical belief to be molded by the political ideologies, the Christian Right forms a political ideology based on Biblical belief. In other words a Liberal Christian might say that he thinks homosexuality is OK and as a result the Biblical position on it can be rationalized away. A member of the Christian Right says that homosexuality is a sin and the political process should move towards realizing that Biblical truth by passing laws to that effect.

The Christian Right also uses the term "family value" or "family friendly" which is a euphemism for Christian values and also implies that if you do not agree with their position you are by default anti-family. The most visible proponents of the Christian Right are James Dobson(Focus on the Family), Pat Robertson(The 700 Club), Jerry Falwell(Liberty University), Franklin Graham(Samaritan's Purse), Chuck Colson(former Nixon aid, head of Prison Fellowship), leaders of the Promise Keepers movement, and leaders of the Southern Baptists denomination. The trio of Robertson, Falwell, and Dobson tend to be the most visible and are widely acknowledged as experts on family values and defending Christian values. Their positions and faults will be examined more thoroughly in coming posts.

On concluding note, the people of the Christian Right are mostly true believers who are deeply impacted by the Word of God and have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, believe they are duty bound to spread the Gospel of Salvation, and are looking forward to a eternal life with Him. In terms of intent and desire they are good people. On a personal note, I fall into the Conservative/Moderate group as do most people I know. I believe our faith is true and I make no secret about what I believe. Yet, I do not subscribe to the party line of the Christian Right in many cases. The question that is being asked here is how do these heartfelt Christian beliefs fit into the political process? And given that they have a place in that process how does the Christian Right handle the issues which are encompassed by those beliefs?

Author's Note: While I used denominational names in the above subsets, I was speaking more to the type of church a person in each group might attend not so much that the official stance of said denomination fits that group. For example, the Roman Catholic Church official doctrine is more fundamental than other sects, but in practice many Catholics, discard some of the more stringent views of the Church. The groups above are represented by individuals but organizations as a whole.

It also should be noted that the above definitions are based on observation and are presented in general terms. There are no absolutes here and I know I omitted a whole host of denominations as I opted for the more visible ones. The statements above are not blanket statements but a framework from which we can compare and define who makes up the Christian Right.

Back: Part 1, Introduction
Next: Part 3, Abortion

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