Whether they know it or not, Donald Trump and millions of angry voters are taking their cues from a Southern Baptist preacher who died nine years ago. When that preacher, Jerry Falwell, decided in the late 1970s to “bring America back to God,” he gave rise to a brand of fundamentalist Christianity that fed directly into the current chaos in American politics. Falwell’s Moral Majority convinced fundamentalist Christians to become politically active. Media mogul Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition organized those same fundamentalists to seize control of the Republican Party one precinct at a time. The Tea Party and those who share its ideas in fact represent fundamentalist Christianity in its latest guise.
In an almost predictable cycle, this abhorrent interpretation of the Christian faith rises up to haunt us, and now, once again, fundamentalism is on the march. Ironically, most of the extremist politicians and their followers probably don’t have any idea of where it all began—or worse, where it all could end. Most might not realize that they are doing the work of fundamentalist Christians whose quietly understated goal (which they are apt to deny) is to replace our democracy (a government of, by and for the people) with a theocracy (a government “under God,” in which biblical law prevails and fundamentalist Christians rule).
Fundamentalism was described by Sir Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of Britain’s Commonwealth, as “an attempt to impose a single truth on a plural world.” That single truth is Christian supremacy. Christian supremacists believe that Christianity is superior to all other religions and that all American cultural and political institutions should be governed by “real Christians.”
“Real Christians,” in this view, are fundamentalist Christians who believe that biblical law, especially Old Testament law, should be read literally by the people and enforced rigorously by the state. Islamic State is a form that fundamentalist Islam has taken in many Muslim nations. We have yet to see what fundamentalist Christianity will look like in our country if it wins this crusade. One thing we know for certain: Fundamentalist Christianity will not tolerate a democracy in which the law requires equal rights and protections for all.
From the beginning of our democracy, Christian supremacy has acted as a destructive force in the evolution of American values. Supremacists misuse the Bible to support various “isms,” including American supremacy (nationalism), male supremacy (sexism), white supremacy (racism), straight supremacy (heterosexism) and military supremacy (militarism). Look again at the endless list of battles that extremists are waging, for example, to end legal abortion or deny LGBT rights or close our borders. Each battle is grounded on the false assumptions of Christian supremacists and their literal reading of the Old Testament texts.
Why, for example, ask for equal pay for women when “God wants women at home caring for their families”? Why regulate banking or tax billionaires when “wealth is a sign of God’s blessing”? Why protect voting rights when incumbent politicians are in power “because God wants them there”? Why take global warming seriously when “the future of our planet is in God’s hands, not ours”? Why advocate gun control when God has ordained that “we protect our families and our nation from the non-whites, the poor, the immigrants, the Muslims, the atheists and all the others who want what is rightfully ours”? Why fight for equal educational opportunity when “on that day when Christ returns our (white) children will literally rule the world”? Why protect abortion rights when “every fetus at conception is a precious child of God”? Why demand equal rights for LGBT Americans when “they are sick and sinful”? Why investigate and prosecute racist police behavior when “black men are inferior and need to be controlled”?
Each time one of these supremacist assumptions becomes law, we get closer to reaching Falwell’s goal of “bringing America back to God.” Unlike Muslim fundamentalists who use bullets, bombs and beheadings to enforce Sharia from the top down, Christian fundamentalists will not overthrow democracy in a military takeover that sweeps out one system (democracy) and replaces it with another (theocracy). The kinder, gentler, Christian extremist seeks to replace democracy with theocracy by undermining our rights and protections from the bottom up, one law at a time.
Late in the 1970s, Falwell not only began this quiet conquest of our political system, he also demonstrated to his fellow fundamentalists how it could be done. Following the wisdom of his media mavens, especially Paul Weyrich and Richard Viguerie, Falwell chose hot-button issues that would arouse his fundamentalist Christian base and at the same time recruit “co-belligerents” who disagreed with Falwell’s religious goals but were equally concerned about the wedge issues because they “threatened family values.” Now, almost 40 years later, some well-meaning Americans who carry posters and shout slogans to end legal abortion or deny LGBT rights or close our borders don’t realize they are Falwell’s “co-belligerents,” playing their part in the slow but steady erosion of a democracy protected by the Constitution.
Wait, before you go…
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at Liberty University in January. (YouTube)
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