April 08, 2006

Hanging out with America's persecuted Christians.

A week ago, I posted at Magpie about 'The War on Christians and the Values Voter in 2006,' a conference that gathered 400 right-wing religious activists and political leaders in Washington DC. Historian Elizabeth Castelli attended the conference, and has written a fascinating and scary article about what went on. [Castelli's specialty, by the way, is the history of Christian martyrdom.]

[The] participants in "The War on Christians and the Values Voter" seemed convinced that Bible-believing Christians are not being taken seriously by the politically powerful, despite the presence of so many of them at the conference. The rhetoric here moves back and forth between incommensurate claims — Christians are persecuted and powerless, on the one hand, but constitute an irresistible and unbeatable majority, on the other. Aligning its point of view with that of God and its actions with God's will, this movement must refuse to engage in political compromise because there can be no compromise when absolute truth or God are invoked. Hence the increasing intemperance of its rhetoric, the exuberance of its commitments, the unshakability of its resolve.

It is a movement that resoundingly denies that it is theocratic, dismissing such a characterization as one aimed at provocatively and cynically linking right-wing politicized Christianity to radical Islamism. At the same time, it is a movement that argues that political, social, and moral life must be solely grounded in scripture -- that there is no tension between the Bible and the founding documents of American political institutions, and that the separation of church and state demands an unacceptable compromise since, "if Jesus is your Lord, he is the Lord of everything," as one conference preacher put it....

Beginning with the premise that there is a war on Christianity, conference organizers and participants were eager to issue calls to arms in response. "We are under spiritual invasion!" intoned Rod Parsley, an evangelist from Ohio. "Man your battle stations! Ready your weapons! LOCK AND LOAD!" (The audience responded to these imperatives with a raucous and exuberant standing ovation.) Parsley also claimed that those Christian churches not sharing the perspective of the Christians represented at the conference constitute "the devil's demilitarized zone," na´vely and fatally embracing "peace at any price...."

But what of the biblical Jesus and his message of nonviolence and nonresistance? As Rick Scarborough explained it at the end of the panel on persecution, all of those demanding gospel values — submission, tolerance, turning the other cheek — are fine in one's private life, but they have nothing to do with the public mission of the church. As for those who draw attention to the gospel's message of nonviolence, this is simply a matter of "the Left using our own tradition against us...."

To a person, the conference speakers and panelists divided the world up into simple binary oppositions, and most were content to demonize everyone who does not stand with them in this "with us or against us" war. The occasional invocations of Christian love, offered usually as a conciliatory afterthought, echoed dimly in a room reverberating with loud and unwavering bellicose righteousness. One speaker offered condescension instead of simple demonization: Janet Parshall, a Christian broadcaster who called herself a "war correspondent in Babylon" and who declared that there has been a war against Christians "since the garden," modulated the rhetoric slightly in two different ways. First, she upped the ante, arguing that the war is not against Christians per se but "against absolute truth and God." Then, she sought to complicate the identification of the enemy by suggesting that people who possess "opposing worldviews" are not themselves "the enemy" but rather "they have been captured by the enemy." What was implied here was that all holders of "opposing worldviews" — secularists, non-Christians of all stripes, gay men and lesbians, feminists, among others — are best understood as prisoners of war, captives in thrall to their captor, victims of an epistemological Stockholm syndrome and in need of liberation and deprogramming.

You'll find the rest of Castelli's article here.

The conference was organized by a group called Vision America, which has the mission to 'inform, encourage and mobilize pastors and their congregations to be proactive in restoring Judeo-Christian values to the moral and civic framework in their communities, states, and our nation.' Their website is well worth checking out if you want to understand what the people who attended the 'War on Christians' conference are thinking, as is the conference agenda.

Via The Revealer.

Posted by Magpie at April 8, 2006 06:34 PM | Religion | Technorati links |