The other political cheek

We, like many, have found ourselves granting a probably-undue amount of time to thinking about the ‘religious right’ of late. Having looked hopefully for this year’s election to break the strangehold in which right-wing politics has held evangelical faith in the US, it was a considerable blow to hear report after report on how ‘evangelicals’ won the election for Bush.

My instinctive reaction was denial, and with reflection I still don’t believe very much of the hyperbole that has surrounded ‘moral’ voting. Certainly gay marriage and abortion were key issues for many voters and there are likely many people who turned out to vote simply because it was their one chance to reconfirm Christianity’s bigotted image (though I suspect they’d phrase it a little differently), but Bush’s win was multi-causal and at least as much the result of the failings of his opponent and the national media as his apparent opposition to gay marriage.

Repeated media reports have reminded me of the fundamental irony of the ‘Christian right’. They don’t talk about Jesus. It’s not difficult for those of us outside of their camp to give plenty of smug reasons why they don’t, primarily that his core message was at best orthogonal and more likely in opposition to theirs. But it does seem more and more apparent that that camp has deified ‘scripture’ above that to which it is supposed to bear testament, with the accompanying hermeneutical gymnastics allowing them to regard slight arguments above sweeping themes.

The Society of Biblical Literature recently published this piece by Mark Allan Powell that, while only tangentially related, reminded me of how rarely churches talk about the context of Jesus’ teaching and its political (in the all-encompassing sense) ramifications. Powell’s piece is a timely reminder that there is a lot more to Jesus-studies than the stark claims offered up by the press through the 90s. He notes that many of the leading historical Jesus scholars of the 90s are now more concerned with exploring the implications of their work than continuing with the technicalities they have so far covered, and perhaps there’s a lesson there for those of us who want to break the religious right’s monopoly:

Let’s talk about Jesus

Maybe, just maybe, if enough of us keep talking about Jesus’ social teachings we can begin to chip away at the right’s propaganda advantage. If their reluctance to talk about Jesus is truly because to do so would be subversive to their cause, let’s force the debate on them. Let’s point out every time one of our churches tries to pull some awfully nice message from the gospels without acknowledging its true subversive power. In the appropriate spirit, let’s go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, and maybe the occupying forces will begin to notice?


  1. Clearly things aren’t half so extreme in this country, and the issues are different in many ways. But the principle’s a good one, I have great sympathy with you here. And I’ve been thinking something along those lines for a while now, that it’s up to ‘moderate’ Christians to talk frankly about faith and socio-theolgy in such a way as to undermine any sole claim by the right, who currently get most public/media attention.

  2. One thing that I found rather curious that I haven’t heard talked about yet is the votes on gay marriages in some states. Four million evangelicals stayed at home in 2000, so what better way to get them out and vote in the Presidential elections than to give them a plebiscite on an issue close to their hearts? It seems mightily convenient that the issue for which there were referendums (including in Ohio) happened to be an issue in which the Republicans are probably more in tune with the masses… I just wonder what difference it might have made.

  3. Thanks for pointing out the “fundamental irony” — not talking about Jesus — that the Christian Right continues to be awash in. A talking point to be sure in coming conversations.

    Bless you friend.

  4. Thanks Geoff. I sensed a very similar sentiment in the first chapter of Dave’s new book. But I want to be clear that I didn’t read that chapter until _after_ I wrote this…