B-b-but … what about all those Christians trying to take over America?!! The ones the left is always warning us against, with their elaborate plans to substitute the Bible for the Constitution. Most Christians, it turns out, turned their backs on the Republicans a few weeks ago and now feel "happy" about life as they envision it under quasi-Democratic leadership.
So says the Pew Research Center, reporting this week that 68 percent of U.S. Christians — including 56 percent of those belonging to white mainline churches (Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, etc.), 60 percent of white Catholics and 84 percent of black Protestants — enjoyed the Democrats’ KO of the Republican Congress. This includes 41 percent of white evangelicals, members of the famous and dreaded "Bush base." The big issues for those Christians who were polled: Iraq, the economy, "values," terrorism.
It may take a while for the news to sink in with some who have warned against the erosion of Mr. Jefferson’s celebrated "wall" between church and state. The news, in fact, is no news. American Christianity is far more complex than it often comes across in breathless reports about parents who admonish their kids: Ain’t no monkeys in y’all’s family line, just good ol’ Adam and Eve in that there Holy Bible. (That faithfully transmitted Christianity is at the very least an intellectually reputable proposition is something you won’t get orthodox secularists — e.g., Richard Dawkins — ever to concede, but that’s a topic for another day.)
In a land of liberty, diversity of viewpoint even among those wedded to the theological view of life comes naturally. Evangelicals seek more public space for religion and more respect for its essentiality. Mainliners look kindly on environmentalism and the ages-old fight against poverty (both of which phenomena capitalism addresses better than government, but you rarely read of that). To the extent that evangelicals and mainliners, with their varying emphases, eavesdrop on each other’s conversations, both are likely to learn something.
The supposed "right-wing Christian" preoccupation with secular politics is the light bulb most in need of replacement. The "religious right" wasn’t right or left, either one, prior to the birth of secular attempts to quiet down religious witness in public life. The "religious right" got mad, not because it woke up one day and decided to take over America, but because the post-World War II explosion of faith ran into dogmatic, and generally successful, challenge on the part of atheists and agnostics like Madalyn Murray O’Hair, supported by "broad-minded" Christians. "Hey, who started this thing anyway?" the right is amply entitled to ask. And to add: If we didn’t start this affray, might it be recognized we have useful things to say?
If it comes to that, then the "right-wing" Christian might beg leave to wonder about the brothers and sisters over on the left and their large and undeniable obsession with shaping politics. Pew tells us that, whereas 30 percent of Christians overall got political information from their churches, 50 percent of black Protestants did. Is someone getting a pass here?
Hands get wrung about creation-sciencers, while hardly a word of reproach gets spoken about the black pastor who turns over his pulpit to whatever combination of Democrats. When black churches in Dallas loaded their congregants onto buses and sent them off to vote (according to individual conviction, you bet!), no yammering, no screeching, no protests came from those Christians supposedly engaged in propping up the tottering wall of church-state separation.
What topic is more complicated than religion, which speaks of origins and ends? Is there wonder in the different perspectives that different Americans bring to the contemplation of such questions? In a way, it’s a pleasure to see non-evangelical Christians stepping up to the plate for their cut at the ball. They don’t like the way Brother Falwell and those Catholic archbishops have been representing the faith? Let’s see how much better they can do when it comes to moral direction and civic inspiration!