In the last forty years or so, conservative Christian ideology surged to the forefront of American culture. In an arc ranging from Jerry Falwell to Ralph Reed to Franklin Graham, the face of conservative Christianity has been enormously white, pandemically virile and potently political.
Through it all, moderate Christians have stood in relative silence watching their namesake religion waved like a black flag from a pirate ship. Progressive Christians have been slightly more vocal, and with the advent of social media actually found channels by which to challenge the backward contentions of conservative Christianity.
But it has not been enough to keep a huge chunk of the country from falling victim to a predatory branch of the faith that has fomented dangerously false ideas. These included the widespread apocalyptic fervor centered around predictions of the End Times extrapolated from the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation. There is also the greed-soaked contentions of the so-called Prosperity Gospel and its steroid-level injection of motivational speaking. Finally, there is the belief that despite its propensity for legislating against civil rights, courting racism and acting like bullies on every issue it confronts, the Republican Party in America is supposedly the true representative of God’s wishes on this earth.
Conservative Christianity has sided with the bullies of this world because it suits the Crusading mentality of its aggressively militaristic past. Despite all sorts of past failings and ancient travesties in the Middle East, Christian Conservatives still see that region of the world as some sort of pathway to heaven.
Symbol of sacrifice
The true narrative of the Bible is that conservative religious zealots are never the true path to anything. Jesus did every damned thing he could to educate the Chief Priests of his day, and they still tossed him over to the Roman for crucifixion. That symbolic sacrifice of self and speaking truth to the politically powerful should ring true with real Christians. But Christian conservatives refuse to see themselves in the warped power structure of the Pharisees or the demands of the Romans, whose Emperor was considered a god.
If Christian conservatives can’t recognize themselves and their abuse of power and twisted Gospel in the biblical narrative, then it means the modern role of Jesus falls to someone else. That should be the more liberal (and thus more Christlike) wings of the Christian Church.
Taking up the mantle
Thankfully the Catholic Pope Francis is taking up that mantle. Tellingly, his statements on the real meaning of Christianity have been met with resistance from both religious and political conservatives throughout the world. Pope Francis has had to fire the most zealous and troublesome conservatives under his authority. He also fired those priests and cardinals whose consumptively grand habits were direct imitations of those conservatives priests back in Jesus’ day who wandered around in elegant dress while spewing false righteousness at every turn.
But what the Christian Church really needs is a revolution from within. That is, liberals and moderates must take up the cross and engage in direct theological confrontation with conservatives that have turned the Christian faith into a political ideology focused almost completely on denial of modernism, science and cultural change.
The reason this has not happened is likely to do with job security. Thousands of good Christian servants in this country do great things for their local flocks and the world at large. But without more radical confrontation of the conservative dogma dominating public discourse in America, pied pipers such as Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson will continue to lead millions of authoritarian lemmings over the edge of theological cliffs to a daily spiritual drowning.
But if organizations such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America do not speak up more soundly on behalf of the true liberal heart of faith, this nation does not stand a chance in the face of the fascist conservatism that has evolved around authoritarian brands of religion. That will have been a sacrifice of opportunity when it is needed most. Where, for example, is the public voice of the Lutheran Bishop, the closest thing Protestants have to a Pope? Is the public relations department of the ELCA that bad that we can’t hear from a good Protestant in line with the heritage of Martin Luther himself?
All about money
Perhaps this is all about membership and money, and challenging more conservative sects within the ELCA could result in splintered relationships and abandonment? Well, so be it. The Disciples of Christ wandered dirty streets recruiting believers from scratch. And if they were confronted by those who would not hear them, Jesus instructed them to brush the dirt off their feet and move on.
Whether moderate and liberal Christians have the guts to speak out and challenge the false doctrines of conservative Christianity or not is a question for the ages. These are historic times. One wonders if intelligent Christians with a heart for Jesus actually have the guts to stand up to hardline zealots who care only to win the day and the favor of the rich and powerful of this world.