Sunday, October 24, 2004

Radicalization & Isolation of American Evangelicals

Fascinating food for thought excerpts from the Oct 2004 issue of Sojourners Magazine, from the Christian organization that originated the "God is not a Republican. Or Democrat" campaign and the interfaith political website.

"Americans have long been 'divided by a common language' from our friends in the Commonwealth. What is new is that evangelicals in the United States are increasingly divided by a common faith from evangelicals elsewhere. The growing divide isn't primarily theological---it is political. Why do US evangelicals tend to hold such a different view regarding a broad range of political issues---including the war in Iraq---than their evangelical counterparts in the Commonwealth?

Part of what has changed the character of American evangelicalism is that leaders of the Religious Right---such as Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye, Pat Robertson and James Dobson---took over the leadership from more moderate evangelicals (as Billy Graham) in the 1980s. When they did so, they fundamentally redefined the key issues in the United States and what the response of the evangelical faithful should be to these issues.

American evangelicals tend to subscribe to a revisionist understanding of the US founding story that encourages them to view the United States as God's unique redemptive agent in the world. Not surprisingly, this view of messianic nationalism makes it very easy for many American evangelicals to support the neoconservative doctrine endorsing the pre-emptive and redemptive use of violence to make the world a better place. Very few evangelicals around the world support either this view of American exceptionalism or this imperial use of pre-emptive violence to 'improve' life on this planet.

Sociologist Donald Kraybill of Messiah College offers an important word for American evangelicals who have allowed right-wing fears and nationalistic dreams---rather than teachings of a biblical faith---to shape their Christian worldview. He wrote, 'When public piety is surging, Christians must be careful to distinguish between the god of American civil religion and the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. The God of Jesus sends the rain on the just and the unjust. This God urges us to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us....for this God, there is no east or west, no political borders, no pet nations.' "

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