Saturday, October 4, 2008

The 'Jesus Vote' Turns Away From Tradition

On January 23rd, 2008, George Washington University played host to an unusual gathering of Christian groups from around the nation. Members of the National Association of Evangelicals, Sojourners, and the Christian Coalition met to discuss the changing political landscape and the role that Christians needed to play in the new era being ushered in.

Not completely a congenial meeting, some new age Christians, along with many of the traditional Republican evangelicals, argued in favor of voting for the Democratic ticket in the upcoming election. Old style stalwarts would not be swayed by the arguments, which ranged from pointing out the corruption taking place among the Republicans, to the hypocrisy of the Republican stance against gay marriage while many of their numbers were being outed in public.

Others felt that the evangelical base, the Robertsons and the Dobsons of Christendom, had led the entire Christian entity in America down a road they weren't sure they should be heading down, with some openly saying that the public postures taken had actually led to a decline in church memberships.

The arguments made by many of the meeting goers was that the Christian community would be better served if they diversified their message. Claustrophobic was the catch word of the day, with pastors from different denominations saying that the past 20 years have forced a negative picture to emerge on American Christian due to a narrow minded focus on gay marriage and abortion issues. Although never saying they would give up trying to convince others of the righteousness of their cause, most at the convention said they wished to branch out and return to the work that Jesus had ordered of them. Mainly, feeding the poor, helping the homeless, taking care of the sick, and actually trying to help others understand the Bible. Fierce debate ensued among the different factions, with the meeting breaking up with everyone agreeing to disagree.

It was after this interesting gathering that Beliefnet conducted a non scientific survey of Christians and those who identify themselves as conservative Republican Christians. What they found was stunning to the core of the Republican base. While 41 per cent of those polled said they would vote Republican come November no matter what, 40 per cent said they were voting Democratic, with 19 per cent undecided. Panic set in among the old time Dobson/Robertson factions, and a nationwide effort has been in place for months now to try to reign in the rogue Christians. But the effort is failing. Many Christian voters are furious with the Republicans and the pick of Sarah Palin, as well as John McCain's erratic behaviour, has what Church of Christ pastor Joel Hunter calls "caused the Republican Party to forfeit 50 years of conservative Christian loyalty."

Hunter, a leader within, and former president of the Christian Coalition, explains that the evangelical movement fell prey to certain entities within their ranks who allowed political ambition to divert Christians away from trying to include the many, but instead has concentrated on hate and the exclusion of the few. Feeling at odds with the preachings of those who wish for the American Christian community to concentrate on hot button issues, many Christians such as Hunter are seeking to expand their message to be more inclusive of those who have been turned away by the old guard.

But the hard right conservative core isn't going down without a fight. As word spreads in many churches across the land of a new vision for how Christian America should go forward, the old guard desperately tries to throw a monkey wrench into the mix. On evangelical television shows, the factions that wish to spread the message of love are labeled 'misfits' who are lost. Those who want Christians to serve the poor, tackle the issue of AIDS, work on immigration and social injustice issues are dismissed by the old Christian right as 'loonies' who don't understand the Word of God.

The tactics are not working though. If anything, statements like that are driving more Christians, especially younger ones, away from the Republican pro-rich, pro-corporation stance, and into the arms of more liberal positioned churches, and more importantly, the Democratic Party. Amy Archibald, who is a student at an evangelical university sums up the feelings of many Christian youth. She says "I think it's a new movement starting. Most of us would never blindly follow the old Christian Right anymore. James Dobson has nothing to do with us." In some cities across the country, New Christians are taking to the streets to try to let people know that not all of those who believe in Jesus are corrupt windbags who are in it for the power and the money.

Others are outright angry at the Republican Party's 2008 campaign style. They don't believe a word they say, and are frustrated with the many, many lies that are being repeated, even when they are proven false. And the choice of Sarah Palin as McCain's Vice Presidential pick sealed the deal for enough Christian voters to claim they are voting for the Democratic ticket this year. Says Joshua Crelmer of Youth for Christ " It was an insult to the intelligence of every Christian in America that they would try to fool us like this. We see the pick of the Alaskan Governor by the Republican Party as an attempt to placate us, when what we want is substance."

Indeed, within the Beliefnet poll is the telling story beyond who identifies with which Party. In a series of questions dealing with issues confronting today's Christians, a full 85 per cent of respondents said they didn't really care very much about the stance on gay marriage or abortion. The number one issue was the economy, followed by ending the Iraq War, caring for the poor, ending government corruption, stopping the government from torturing people, and seeking term limits for those in Congress. Very much the opposite of what the old guard finds important.

And so, when one contemplates what will happen next month, and Americans worry that Christian America will walk in lockstep with the Republicans once again, let your fears whisper away into the air. because the New Christian America that has emerged over these past couple of years has seen the abuses of power, the refusals to cooperate with the laws of our land, and have seen the law breaking being aided and encouraged by the so called leaders of the Christian far right extremists. The New Christian America is angry and fed up with the injustice of the Republican years of giving all of America's wealth to the rich and allowing the poor and the middle class to go under. And they are ready to make that anger felt by the Republican Party by either voting for the Democratic ticket or for no one at all. Now, that's progress..............

1 comment:

Hamster said...

As a non Christian I would like to say that my view of defined by the evangelical movement is that it is..anti abortion, anti gay, pro gun, pro war, anti liberal, pro conservative.

I don't know much about the Bible but my view of Christ is much different. A man of peace, who taught man to be loving and tolerant of others, to care for the less fortunate etc.

But when I look at churches today and I have a difficult time even believing that Christ and the Christian church share the same philosophy.

Why would I want to belong to a group that promotes intolerance and hypocrisy?