I Survived the Christian Right: Ten Lessons I Learned on My Journey Home

Lesson 5
Don’t Be Seduced by Political Power

I learned one of the warped mindsets of heavily financed political activism is an us vs. them mentality. Today, this attitude continues to fuel the Christian Right in their quest to save America from moral depravity and reclaim it for Christ. Us vs. them mindsets can also be present in left-wing politics, but that is another story.

Within evangelicalism, black-and-white, us vs. them, groupthink is pervasive. I saw that clearly when I was involved in the pro-life movement and Operation Rescue in the late 1980s. The attitude is one of drawing lines: Republican over Democrat, pro-life over pro-abortion, religious America over secular America, etc. But “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”26 Evangelicalism within the Christian Right has always been about taking control, getting the right candidates in, overcoming the enemy (abortion, homosexuals, liberals), legislating the right laws, forcing an abortion clinic to close, and reclaiming America for Christ, all by manipulating the masses through fear and demonization of opponents. If you don’t vote Republican or for this candidate, hell will break loose. If we pass Obama’s health care bill, the government will take over your life and God will judge us for funding abortion and disobeying the Ten Commandments.27

But these are lies, or if you’re inclined to be more gracious, false dichotomies. We live in a pluralistic society. Good politics is about compromise, not taking control. Real influence comes through open-minded persuasion and loving others, not by winning at the polls or banning abortion or suppressing gay rights. Democrats, as much as Republicans, care about decency and values. God works through more than one political party, outside of evangelicalism,28 and in people of other faiths. As comprehensively argued by evangelical author Mark Noll, the historical record is clear that America is not a Christian nation the roots to which we must return.29 Christianity has had both positive (abolition and civil rights movements) and negative (intolerant, legalistic Puritans and endorsement of slavery) influence on our country.

Do not lust for political power and cultural influence.30

[26] Thomas, Cal, Blinded by Might: Why the Religious Right Can’t Save America, page 54

[27] In a prayer cast organized by the Family Research Council on December 16, 2009, Pastor Jim Garlow claimed the health care reform legislation currently being deliberated in the Senate, violated just about every one of the Ten Commandments.

[28] Cox, Harvey, When Jesus Came to Harvard

[29] Noll, Mark, In Search for Christian America

[30] Ballmer, Randall, Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament