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Christian Fundamentalism Is Weakening Force In Politics

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Christian Fundamentalism Is Weakening Force In Politics

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks at a campaign event at Lakeside Plastics in Oshkosh, Wisconsin March 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich

In the waning days of March, a scandal has engulfed the Alabama State Capitol as Gov. Robert Bentley fired his top cop, who then turned around and accused the governor of having had an extramarital affair. The controversy engines hit high gear with the release of a salacious audiotape, in which the governor is overheard telling his listener how much he loves her and enjoys touching her breasts.

For all the inevitable handwringing and headlines, though, the accusations of Bentley’s romantic dalliance with a staffer — long-rumored in Alabama political circles and seemingly confirmed when his wife of 50 years filed for divorce in 2015 — are unlikely to damage his political standing. Nothing to see here, folks.

Except this: The disgrace of Bentley — a churchgoing, Bible-thumping moralist — is just one more gaping hole in the mantle of sanctimony that has afforded the Christian right a special place in American politics for the last 40 years. Though you will still occasionally hear rhetoric from the campaign trail that purports to espouse Christian values, fundamentalist Christianity — at least as a potent voting bloc — is pretty much a spent force in GOP politics.

If you have any doubt about that, just survey the current GOP presidential field, which is led by the narcissistic, non-Scriptural, thrice-married hedonist Donald Trump. Ted Cruz bet his presidential run on his bona fides as a true believer in the fundamentalist strain of Christianity, which emphasizes church attendance, public prayer and a narrow-minded moral code (at least for public consumption). But in primary contests so far, Trump has at least held his own with conservative churchgoers.

That’s the only thing about Trump’s baffling rise that prompts me to say a couple of hallelujahs. I don’t mourn the passing of fundamentalist Christianity as a commanding force; its adherents have done little to advance moral or ethical values.

With a precious few exceptions, they don’t promote social justice, or work to eliminate poverty, or campaign for compassion toward the “stranger” — immigrants. Instead, they have tried to impose their mean and rigid religious beliefs on public policy, misinterpreting the U.S. Constitution and misunderstanding the civic underpinnings of a pluralistic democracy.

Their enthusiasm for Trump underscores what has always been true about that group: They have strong nationalist and authoritarian impulses; they’re xenophobes; they’re averse to social change. There is also, among some white fundamentalist Christians, a strong whiff of racism.

It helps to remember the early days of the late Jerry Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority in 1979 and arranged a marriage of convenience with the Republican Party. As pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, he railed against the 1954 Supreme Court decision that desegregated public schools and denounced the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a “Communist subversive.”

Falwell abandoned that rhetoric after he became a nationally prominent figure, but he didn’t abandon his right-wing views on race. His foray into national politics began when the federal government moved to revoke the tax-exempt status of the white-only private schools — “seg academies” — that sprang up in the wake of public school desegregation. Falwell had started his own seg academy in Virginia.

Given the animating passions of Falwell’s followers, it’s no surprise that so many conservative Christians have made a seamless transition to Trump. They had already shown themselves to be flexible on their principles, so long as their politicians continued to support the policies that were really important to them. Those include contempt for the poor, suspicion of Muslims, and a nationalist rhetoric that insists on dominance on the world stage.

Bentley has hewed closely enough to that line to make it unlikely he’ll pay any price for his alleged affair. (For the record, Bentley has stated, unconvincingly, that he has not had any “physical” relationship with the staffer.)

For example, the governor supported the state’s extremely harsh law aimed at illegal workers, even though it originally included a provision (since struck down by a federal court) making it a crime to “transport” an undocumented immigrant. Some critics pointed out that could punish a good Christian who offers an immigrant a ride to church.

Neither Bentley nor his supporters minded a bit.

(Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks at a campaign event at Lakeside Plastics in Oshkosh, Wisconsin March 25, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich

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Cynthia Tucker Haynes

Cynthia Tucker Haynes, a veteran newspaper journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, is a Visiting Professor of Journalism and Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Georgia. She is also a highly-regarded commentator on TV and radio news shows.

Haynes was editorial page editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper for 17 years, where she led the development of opinion policy. More recently, she was that newspaper’s Washington-based political columnist. She maintains a syndicated column through Universal Press Syndicate, which is published in dozens of newspapers around the country. Besides winning the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007, Haynes has also received numerous other awards, including Journalist of the Year from the National Association of Black Journalists.

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23 Comments

  1. Dominick Vila March 26, 2016

    The only truth between the Christian values, especially the moral precepts advanced by the born again,evangelical, crowd and the reality of their lives is the dichotomy between what they purportedly believe in and the way they conduct their lives.
    In my opinion, they use Christianity to deflect attention from inhumane and, sometimes, immoral behavior that is the exact opposite to the teachings of Christ.
    Their overt hatred of Spanish-speaking people, the way they treated African Americans until not so long ago (and sometimes even now), their repulsion of gay people, the way they generalize the crimes committed by a group of zealots not too different from themselves, and accuse an entire culture for the crimes committed by a few, the demeaning way they treat women, and their refusal to narrow the financial gap between those who have it all, and the majority of Americans, has very little to do with Christianity and a lot to do with Fascism and a heavy dose of theocratic totalitarianism.
    Make no mistake, however, the born again and evangelical crowd is alive and well in the South and the Bible Belt…and both Cruz and Trump are well aware of that, and are playing the immoral minority like marionettes.

    Reply
    1. TZToronto March 26, 2016

      You’re so right! If Cruz were truly a Christian, he would be telling the masses of true believers that what they are supporting (the various hatreds you have listed) is very Un-christian and that they should be caring for and accepting the poor and the stranger, not despising them and threatening them with exclusion and deportation. But no, he spouts what the true believers want so much to hear, that which validates their twisted view of what a Christian is and believes. Add to that Cruz’s elevation of twisted Christianity above the Constitution that he has sworn to protect and defend, and you see the depths to which a criminal mind will sink to obtain power. At least Trump makes no pretence of bring anything other than the narcissist he’s always been. He’s saying many of the same things Cruz says, but he’s not wrapping himself in Jesus’ burial shroud.

      Reply
    2. anothertoothpick March 26, 2016

      Of all the things that devide the south from the rest of the country the first one has got to be fervent christianity

      Reply
      1. Independent1 March 26, 2016

        Please add the word ‘fake’ there before ‘christianity’. I notice you didn’t capitalize it which helps; but any semblance between “true Christianity’ and what is idolized by those who adore the GOP has no merit and is purely coincidental (and more akin to Devil worship).

        Reply
        1. anothertoothpick March 27, 2016

          I absolutly agree, and thanks for noticing the small “c”.

          Reply
  2. FireBaron March 26, 2016

    “Christian Conservatives” appear to be anything but Christian. Instead of the open, loving church preached by Jesus and his Apostles, they practice an exclusionary cult that focuses on the “Person” of Jesus, but instead of His teachings, they tend to follow the Old Testament. The statement made by Jesus (and this is not a direct quote, but from memory) “I come not to overturn the law, but complete it” allow them to use the harsh rhetoric of “It’s us versus everyone else!” If you aren’t a part of their small circle, your faith is questionable.
    These individuals denounce the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of Constantinople, the Coptic Pope, and many other mainstream religious leaders as apostate, heretical and even have claimed them to be various incarnations of the Anti-Christ. Why? Because they aren’t members of some exclusionary group that idolizes whoever is on the pulpit as the only true holy person in the universe!

    Reply
    1. Daniel Jones March 26, 2016

      I’ve almost certainly alluded to this, but Berke Breathed summed up the smug hogwash of the “fundy” in one of his Bloom County strips, during the “Penguin Lust” arc: When asked how they could turn on Opus so savagely, Hodgepodge and his buddy just smirked out how they’d heard how he who is without Sin should cast the first stone–“So we *CAST* that mutha!!”

      Reply
    2. Buford2k11 March 26, 2016

      I believe that part of all this is covered by Mathew 7:15, Beware of False Prophets and False Teachers…etc…we have been experiencing this very thing…even if one is not prone to this dogma, it is real…quite a few of these folks have always struck me as these types…Wolves in Sheep’s clothing….and the rubes eat it up…

      Reply
    3. Wayneo March 26, 2016

      Many if not most of the radical religious right are not followers of Christ but want-to-be followers of the Old Testament. And even then they pick-and-choose only parts of it. I think they have never read or studied the New Testament nor the Old Testament in its entirety.

      Reply
      1. FireBaron March 28, 2016

        But they love the Revelations of John, and the Pharasaic letters of Paul.

        Reply
    4. Independent1 March 26, 2016

      The really sad part in all this is that fake Christian GOPers like Cruz, Rubio and many others are not only making America look bad to virtually the entire world, their corrupt form of Christianity, which is totally counter to what Jesus taught, is driving away or keeping large blocks of millennials and even others from in many cases joining any religion.

      Reply
      1. 1standlastword March 27, 2016

        If what you say is in fact the end result of their charlatanry then I applaud it!!

        I enjoy imagining a world without religion!

        Reply
        1. Independent1 March 27, 2016

          I won’t disagree with that. Organized religions do not practice what the Bible says, they practice their distorted interpretations of the portions of the Bible they feel they can live with and even use to attract others to their misguided beliefs.

          Reply
  3. charleo1 March 26, 2016

    The reality for the frustrated Fundamentalists is, we, the majority are, in law, and by preference a secular society. That by and large, and in vast majorities Americans see the interconnecting of religious dogma, with the power of the State, as the perfect receipt for institutionalized oppression. And the quickest way to lose those liberties we hold as so essential to the basic concepts of democracy itself. We can also witness first hand the tyranny, corruption, death, and destruction of those societies in the Middle East, and elsewhere, that have gone the way of a State empowered Theocracy. And of course, we see it’s perfectly evident, no good has come of it. That no other conclusions may be drawn of it. And how thankful we feel then, that the Founders of our Nation in their wisdom, sought to makes sure as was possible, that future generations were protected by the Constitution from that kind of tyranny, and loss of individual freedom, such institutions had for centuries inflicted on the citizens of their former homelands in Europe. It was the reason they fought a revolution, and now called themselves Americans. Could anything be as uniquely fundamental to America? To calling oneself an American, as the belief in the vital separation of Church and State? If so, it would be hard to name it.

    Reply
  4. HowardBrazee March 26, 2016

    There are Christians who have fundamental values similar to those of Jesus Christ as described in the Bible. Their values are very contrary to the values of the Religious Right – but they still are fundamental.

    Reply
    1. charleo1 March 26, 2016

      Good point well worth remembering, Howard. I’m being caused to feel as though whenever I identify myself as a Christian, I must add the disclaimer. Oh no, not those Christians!

      Reply
  5. elw March 26, 2016

    As long as humans have hormones and a heart, you will never be able to turn sex and love into something evil, no more than you could get anyone to live without food. Fundamentalists are not demons any more than a starving person is when they grab food that does not belong to them. I almost felt sorry for the guy, he sounded like a teenager in love for the first time. The fundamental fact is that any religion that goes against natural instincts is doomed to fail in the long run. That is why when people start talking about sin – I run. My code is simple, trying not to hurt those around me, be honest, and do not take something that is not mine and respect that other have the right to be who they are.

    Reply
  6. 1standlastword March 26, 2016

    Organized religion has always sought inroads into government and as the author illustrates it attempts to contaminate secular government by running candidates with a faith initiative and unadulterated religious biases to be enacted into laws.

    GWB’s faith based organizations and Obama’s continued support of them are responsible for much of the religious freedom energy we see today.

    I’m convinced that America is heading for a major paradigm shift for the impacts Evangelicals have had on the bastardization of the first amendment in the way they are constantly and so easily able to violate the establishment clause by accessing tax payer funds to run their numerous bigoted programs at the expense of the people they discriminate against with remarkable violence that in some cases puts lives in danger

    Their Jesus told them that they can’t love Mammon and God so what I see is how they continue to forsake their God and crucify Jesus over and over again without even a second thought

    Reply
    1. Siegfried Heydrich March 26, 2016

      Mammon bought out the Christian brand name 1,500 years ago when he cut his deal with Constantine. Though it could have been Satan who bought it, no one has ever really seen the contract, as the RC church regards that as their most closely held secret . . .

      Reply
      1. 1standlastword March 27, 2016

        Spooky aren’t they…these Earth bound humans indulged in their otherworld fantasies!

        Reply
      2. FireBaron March 28, 2016

        Get your timeline right. Constantine’s mother was a Christian. Constantine wanted uniformity among the Christian Community not for love of any dogma over any other, but because dissension among the Christians was resulting in political disruptions. The whole point of the Council of Nicea was to provide a political solution to a religious problem. As for Constantine himself, he remained a pagan until he received baptism on his deathbed, but never renounced his belief in Sol Invictus.

        Considering that his heir went back to that noble Roman practice of persecuting Christians, not much changed by his conversion.

        As to the “Patrimony of Constantine” is now known to be a forgery perpetrated by a Vatican functionary to show a temporal claim for the Roman district for the Bishop of Rome.

        Reply
  7. Siegfried Heydrich March 26, 2016

    Bigotry is falling out of fashion in the 21st century, and the older bigots are driving the millennials away from organized religion by the droves. And sadly, what was once a charitable and moral religion has met the same fate as the republican party – it has been hijacked by grifters, hucksters, conmen, and the kind of riff-raff that preys on the credulous and gullible. The young just aren’t buying into the same codswallop as their elders. Thus, republicans and religion, having bound themselves inextricably together, are dying of the same disease.

    Sic Semper Stultiatem.

    Reply
  8. Elliot J. Stamler March 27, 2016

    Christian fundamentalists are, I agree, slowly on the down slope among the national population. But it will be a while before their political influence dims. The reasons are that first, they are absolute fanatics and won’t give up; second, because they have a vice-like lock on the Republican Party in most places and will be terribly difficult to dislodge from that party dominance.
    As time passes, the unpopularity of their views in younger demographics will depress their power and while it is true people tend to become more conservative with age, that tendency will be both less generally and less on social issues, among what are now the younger cohorts of the population.
    But don’t prematurely count them out…they are the worst and most intolerant people in this large country and since they are convinced that they are God’s appointed saviors, only time will finally render them a fringe element.

    Reply

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