Adam’s Blog

That’s my thing, keepin’ the faith, baby. –Joe Friday

Backwards Christian Soldiers

Posted by Adam Graham on August 12, 2004

America sweated for 37 days while the political world focused on Florida. George W. Bush came to office by the narrowest of margins. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Karl Rove counted on 2 more million Evangelical Christians coming out than actually did.

Beginning with Bob Dole’s uninspiring campaign and the release of the first Left Behind novel in 1996, Evangelical Christians have increasingly withdrawn from the political sphere. In this series of columns, we’ll address this huge social issue in some depth, because the future of this nation will ride on whether this trend continues or abates.

1) The Left Behind Phenomena:

Conservative Christian Political power peaked in 1994. I believe that the largest factor in the subsequent decline is the Jerry Jenkins/Tim LaHaye series along with other End Times novels such as Pat Robertson’s 1996 novel “End of the Age.”

I don’t believe LaHaye and Jenkins, and certainly not Robertson are trying to stop Christians from voting. I think they’re oblivious to the effects of their work. Robertson’s work predicted a “2000: The Tribulation Begins Scenario”. The Left Behind Series tells us that Christ’s return is eminent and going to happen any moment. Now, an honest question must be asked. Why vote in 1996 or 1998 if we’re on our way to the Great Tribulation in Y2K?

The Left Behind series promotes a dangerous eschatology for Christians: Jesus is coming back soon and will take you out of this evil world. The impetus to change the world around us, to actively care about our communities, and to stand up for what’s right has grown dim. Why bother? Jesus is coming back any second. Things are getting worse and worse so that He can take you away from it all. Thus, Christianity has been injected with a dose of fatalism.

Leaving aside the scriptural arguments on the rapture, the behavior of end times dropouts have to be viewed negatively in light of scripture. Matthew 25:13 tells us that we don’t know the day or hour of Christ’s return. In Matthew 24:44, Christ tells the disciples, “for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh.” Now this would seem to exclude a time when there are more end times movies, end times novels, and end times sermons than you can shake a stick at. Also, I would direct them to verse 47 where Christ tells us that the “blessed servant” is the one who his Lord finds doing what he was called to do. This means that the function of the church and the role of Christians in society should not change even if one thinks Christ’s return could be soon. If Christians should have been voting in 1992, they should be voting today.

2) The Ralph Reed factor

One of the most powerful figures in Washington, DC in the mid-90s was Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed who played a large role in the Republican takeover in 1994. In 1997, he stood at the pinnacle of power and resigned. Following his resignation, the Christian Coalition fell apart, and has since fallen from its status as one of America’s great political powers.

The truth about the Ralph Reed regime has rarely been discussed and I think it must be. Mr. Reed’s job was to tame the shrew. You had millions of Christian, Conservative blue collar political activists who cared actively about great issues who in the minds of many leaders needed to be changed into party-line Republicans. Reed’s dedication to Republican causes first was shown when he tried to make the Christian Coalition lobby for the passage of NAFTA.

Reed used his role to become a Washington power broker, and a force to be reckoned with in Republican Party politics. He neutered the religious right quite nicely, so that President George W. Bush had a homosexual speak at the 2000 Republican Convention, while excluding any religious conservative voices and there was little controversy.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) in a Nick News story on the religious right said that Ralph Reed had come to him during the 1996 primaries after Specter had dropped out and offered to work together to make Bob Dole the Republican nominee. This was despite the fact that Dole was perhaps the least Conservative candidate in the race and as everyone learned was a disastrous general election candidate.

Reed’s power came at a price. First, many activists who opened to change American politics were desperately disappointed by a leader who sought only to become part of the status quo and in his personal pursuit of power showed little care for the issues that mattered most to them.

Reed’s Christian Coalition also had a nasty habit of deceiving Christian voters. The Christian Coalition used variable questions on their voter guide. When a pro-life Republican was running, they’d ask the candidates positions on banning abortion. Often, if a pro-abortion Republican was running, they’d leave the ban on abortion off and include a question about something like public funding of abortion in order to make the Republican look pro-life.

Ralph Reed succeeded at making himself a power broker but failed miserably at promoting Christian Conservative goals, and stands as a great reason for the narrow Bush victory in 2000.

3) Republican Leadership

No discussion of the decline of Christian political activism would be complete without examining the treatment of Christian Conservatives by Republicans.

The situation between traditional Republicans and the new Religious Right has been tense for years. Many fallaciously believe that letting a Religious Conservative within one mile of the convention podium guarantees certain defeat after the 1992 Republican Convention when Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan got prime time spots. This has been the big excuse from barring them from the podium ever since.

The War on Terror has become the latest excuse for ignoring Conservative Christians.

I happened to catch Sean Hannity say regarding the concerns of Religious Conservatives who were upset that no major pro-life leader was scheduled to speak at the convention, “Let’s make sure that this country is defended and then you can get back to your intramural stuff later on.”

Anytime someone wants to talk about pro-life or socially Conservative issues for the next fifty years, the war on terror will be the excuse, until they come up with something else. The other favorite is, “Look, we can’t let John Kerry win the election.” Of course, the problem with that is there’s never going to be a Democratic nominee of whom they’ll say, “It wouldn’t be such a big deal if he won, so lets go ahead and stand up for principle.” A thinking Christian Conservative when he asks the question, “When will our issues be taken seriously?” is basically given the answer two weeks from never.

The Republicans’ greatest blunder has been to assume that the religious right is their answers to the Democrats monopoly over the Black community. This philosophy means that you can trash and ignore the religious right’s candidates for political office, give lip service to their issues with no intention of acting on them, and expect them to be your foot soldiers

The problem with religious conservatives in the political sphere is that while they won’t go to the Democrats, they can certainly stay away from the polls and are more than happy to. Politicians forget that if Christians aren’t happy, they won’t hesitate to leave. Consider the fact that the number of denominations in the United States grows steadily each year. The reason for this is that churches split over a point of doctrine (generally minor). If people will change their church with the same thought they give to changing their shoes, what makes politicians believe they won’t leave their political party or at the very least disengage from the political process.

4) Lack of Endurance:

The big issue that lies within the Christian Community is this. Around 25 years after Roe v. Wade, Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson wrote a book called, “Blinded by Might” urging Christians to withdraw from the political sphere. Their main argument is that Political Activism “isn’t working.”

The idea that victory will be quick is absurd. The fight for Civil Rights took 100 years, it took more than 50 years for Planned Parenthood to build support for legalized child-killing. It has taken more than 40 years of constant activism for homosexuals to get where they are today and they still haven’t achieved their goal.
Sadly, endurance and the willingness to fight on against all odds is lacking in most Christians, who prefer ease and comfort to standing up for the right thing.

5) Leadership

The leadership of the Christian Conservative movement has two different characteristics. First, there are those who are merely trying to gain power within the GOP (ala Ralph Reed). Second, there’s a group who are committed to the cause but believe that major goals will never be achieved.

The first style has a disastrous effect and the second is not helpful as the idea, “We’re never, ever going to win” isn’t going to inspire anyone, as it is merely going to encourage the thought that political activism is futile. Why waste time building a political empire that will only aggrandize the leaders of it?

With such visionary duds, no wonder religious conservatives are staying away in droves. There are some leaders who believe Christian Conservatives can win, but lack political skills and money to actually pull off any great plan, thus they are mirror images of the most prominent leaders who have the money and skills but no vision.

6) Pastoral Confusion

Pastors were concerned in the early ’90s about Christians being overly involved in the political sphere. There may have been good cause with some Christians in the early ‘90s. However, the trend is reversing, Christians are dropping out of the political process, and even skipping voting in many cases and what are pastors talking about?

They’re preaching the same thing, warning about how political the church has become while the church has steadily retreated. In the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis warned that the devil manipulates churches to focus on the opposite problem to which their actually having. So, thus while Christians are sitting back for the rapture, pastors find their focus drawn to the dangers of activism.

Conclusion

Thankfully, the Left Behind series is slowly coming to an end even though the authors appear reluctant to kill their cash cow, as they plan an animated version of the first movie and a TV series, as well as several spin-off book series.

The first step to the “Left Behind” problem is to acknowledge that there is a problem. While we should be personally prepared for the coming of Christ, we must not live as if we have no future. Bold pastoral leadership is required to get the church back on track and away from fatalism.

Also the Christian Conservative movement requires leadership that is looking out for the best interests of the movement, not their own interests. While building coalitions is important, the movement must regain its fire and its focus. By blunting the Christian Conservative message, Ralph Reed killed its fire and its reason for being in politics.

It will also require a non-partisan morality that doesn’t condemn Bill Clinton’s infidelity while winking at Newt Gingrich’s, and that doesn’t attack Whoopi Goldberg and John Kerry’s profanity while winking at Dick Cheney’s.

It must also be a non-partisan mentality that cares more about the growth of the movement and the interest of the Country more than the success of the political party. What does this mean? This means, simply put that if the party nominates a National ticket that doesn’t support its values, the movement will walk and decide to make the Constitution Party a national party. It means not just supporting every candidate who has an (R) by their name, but opposing select Pro-abortionists. Christian Conservative groups backing extreme pro-abortionists (like Christie Todd Whitman) has greatly hurt the credibility of the movement and active support must be totally cut-off or it’ll continue to drive pro-life Conservatives away from politics.

They’ll also have to decide this is a battle for the long-haul and commit to a long, hard political road that may take generations. The culture has been deteriorating for at least 80 years and it’ll take a long time to get it back on track, but leadership must believe that it will come back and that in the end we’ll be victorious. Defeatist fatalism remains the greatest enemy.

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