White Christian America is dying

In an interview with the Washington Post, Robert P. Jones, author of The End of White Christian America, says: The American religious landscape is being remade, most notably by the decline of the white Protestant majority and the rise of the religiously unaffiliated. These religious transformations have been swift and dramatic, occurring largely within the last four decades. Many white Americans have sensed these changes, and there has been some media coverage of the demographic piece of the puzzle. But while the country’s shifting racial dynamics are certainly a source of apprehension for many white Americans, it is the disappearance of White Christian America that is driving their strong, sometimes apocalyptic reactions. Falling numbers and the marginalization of a once-dominant racial and religious identity — one that has been central not just to white Christians themselves but to the national mythos — threatens white Christians’ understanding of America itself. [Continue reading…]

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Trump crowds are angry about the demise of America’s white Christian majority

Robert P. Jones writes: On the surface, the answer to why the campaign rallies of Donald Trump have been frequently marked by vitriolic and racist outbursts, harsh rhetoric and even violence is simple: the candidate has encouraged it. But the raw materials Trump has at his disposal have been mined and refined for nearly half a century. Trump is not the source but an igniting spark.

The apocalyptic rhetoric that regularly escapes the bounds of civil discourse at Trump events is fueled by the particular energies that are unleashed when a long-dominant group senses the looming end of its era. Certainly, the boarded up shop fronts of small towns that testify to the disappearance of reliable working class jobs are a critical part of this sense of loss and distress. But the watershed moment that many analysts have missed, and that Trump’s most ardent supporters feel in their bones, is this: During Barack Obama’s tenure as president, the United States has crossed the threshold from being a majority white Christian country (54 percent in 2008) to a minority white Christian country (45 percent in 2015). The passing of a coherent cultural world — where working class jobs made ends meet and white conservative Christian values held sway — has produced this powerful politics of white Christian resentment. [Continue reading…]

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How a biblically illiterate adulterer succeeded in fleecing Christian conservatives

McKay Coppins reports: On July 17, 2015, Donald Trump received a caps lock–heavy campaign memo from one of his advisers containing instructions on how to communicate with a voter species that was especially exotic to the candidate at the time.

“The audience is CHRISTIAN SOCIAL CONSERVATIVES,” the Trump adviser wrote on the eve of the the 2015 Family Leadership Summit in Iowa. “They are open to your candidacy but NEED TO KNOW that their issues are IMPORTANT TO YOU.”

The document — along with several other internal Trump camp memos recently obtained by BuzzFeed News — illustrates just how tenuous the New York billionaire’s connection was to his party’s religious base at the outset of this election cycle. Throughout 2014 and 2015, Trump’s small political team coached him on how to make himself more palatable to conservative Christians.

On the issue of abortion, one memo urged, “Unless you are specifically asked, it is not beneficial to state that you support the exceptions of life of the mother, rape, and incest.” Another suggested that Trump “DEFLECT” any debate questions about school prayer by saying, “I employ thousands of individuals and make sure my employees have the freedom to express their faith however they see fit.” If asked whether he believed in “creationism or evolution,” an adviser suggested the candidate respond, “I believe in both” — and then added in a parenthetical, “(Mr. Trump — we may want to follow up on this.)”

For all his advisers’ best efforts, of course, Trump never did master the language of the religious right — but it has hardly held him back. Not only has Trump succeeded in capturing the Republican nomination, but according to a recent Pew survey, he is also currently polling better among white evangelicals than any GOP nominee on record. This success has dismayed many of Trump’s Christian critics, who have spent much of this year fretting that a biblically illiterate adulterer was fleecing their fellow believers.

But in fact, some devout detractors argue, the real threat Trump poses to the conservative Christian movement may be in just how many of his god-fearing supporters know exactly what they’re getting. Never before has the Republican Party nominated a standard-bearer so nakedly illiterate on religious matters — and so unwilling to even pretend. [Continue reading…]

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How Khizr Khan helped Democrats reclaim religious liberty from Christian supremacists

Mark Joseph Stern writes: Khizr Khan, a Muslim immigrant whose son was killed while serving in Iraq, brought the Democratic National Convention to tears and raucous applause on Thursday when he held up his pocket Constitution and admonished Donald Trump: “Have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.” Khan’s rebuke was, of course, a profoundly moving and very necessary rejoinder to Trump’s rampant Islamophobia. But that powerful moment, as well as Khan’s entire address, also revealed that after years of surrendering the issue to the GOP, Democrats have finally learned how to talk about and present a progressive vision of religious liberty.

Indeed, that very phrase — religious liberty — has become so freighted with discriminatory overtones that I hesitate to use it. The fight for “religious liberty” has come to dominate the Republican Party in recent years, through a series of campaigns that aim to promote prejudiced Christians’ freedom over everybody else’s. We saw conservative advocacy groups persuade the Supreme Court that for-profit corporations have a religious right to discriminate against female employees who wished to access contraception through their own health insurance. We saw Republicans endorse the idea that religious businesses should be able to refuse to serve same-sex couples. We’ve even seen laws that, under the banner of religious freedom, give mental health counselors and medical doctors the right to refuse to treat gay and trans patients.

In a clever act of doublespeak, Republicans have branded these measures “religious liberty” — but, as a federal judge recently pointed out, they really amount of Christian supremacy. (Or, more accurately, conservative Christian supremacy.) This attempt to legally elevate certain Christian beliefs above all others flatly contradicts the spirit and letter of the First Amendment, which was designed to protect religious belief and exercise while preventing the government from directly aiding religion or favoring certain creeds. Republicans’ “religious liberty” battle cry is also painfully hypocritical in light of the GOP standard-bearer’s repeated calls to forbid all Muslims from entering the United States. And a stunning number of Republicans who profess to support religious liberty also believe that the practice of Islam should be outlawed and the religion itself should be criminalized. [Continue reading…]

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Ted Cruz, not Donald Trump, is the scariest candidate standing

By Randall Stephens, Northumbria University, Newcastle

The 2016 Republican primary is now essentially a two-man race. Donald Trump has tallied an astonishing 678 delegates, while Ted Cruz, the dogmatic, far-right Texas Republican, who apparently gets along with no one in his own party, has garnered 423. Even though John Kasich, former governor and the last great hope for moderates, won his home state of Ohio, his candidacy is mathematically dead in the water; his only hope is to pull some remarkable trick at a contested convention.

For Cruz as well, it’s still an uphill battle. But depending on the outcomes of subsequent primaries, other Republican leaders may yet rally to his side. As CBS News put it: “Cruz may be the only candidate who can beat Trump in the delegate count before the convention.”

This is the mainstream party’s worst nightmare. Comedy Central’s Daily Show compared the choice between Trump and Cruz to picking between getting a blood clot or bone cancer, and to listen to the party’s establishment, the clot has so far been getting the most attention. As a Los Angeles Times headline put it, “Cruz is Scary, Trump Is Dangerous”. Jeb Bush memorably called Trump the “chaos candidate”. George W. Bush’s former press secretary, Ari Fleischer, describes Trump as a “wrecking ball”.

South Carolina senator and former GOP candidate Lindsey Graham has decided to back Cruz in a desperate effort to stop the chaos candidate, but even he once compared the decision to choosing between being poisoned or shot by a firing squad. The cyanide capsule seems to have cracked between Graham’s teeth.

[Read more…]

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America’s embattled Christian majority?

In America, 72% of the adult population identify themselves as Christian.

That, to my mind, makes this demographically (though of course not constitutionally) a Christian country.

And yet, among white evangelical Protestants, 70% believe that discrimination against Christians has become as big of a problem as discrimination against other groups!

The persecuted majority?

Do Christians get harassed by the police? Get discriminated against by landlords or employers? Get harsher jail sentences? Suffer any of the other forms of discrimination experienced by many minorities in this country?

Or, do some Christians simply resent living under a democratic constitution that separates Church and State?

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The bitter tears of the American Christian supermajority

Chase Madar writes: The most persecuted minority in the United States is not Muslims, African-Americans or immigrants. It’s our Christian supermajority that’s truly oppressed.

Verily, consider three anecdotes from the past few weeks.

On March 2, three Baptist ministers in Akron, Ohio, arranged for the local police to mock-arrest them in their churches and haul them away in handcuffs for the simple act of preaching their faith. A video was posted on YouTube to drum up buzz for an upcoming revival show. A few atheist blogs object to uniformed police taking part in a church publicity stunt, but far more people who saw the YouTube video (24,082 views), in Ohio and elsewhere, took this media stunt as reality — confirmation of their wildest fears about a government clampdown on Christianity. [Continue reading…]

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Richard Rodriguez on what the Left has lost by rejecting religion

Salon talks to Richard Rodriguez about his new book, Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography:

Let me read a line to you from late in the book, and if you could explain it a little bit. You say, “After September 11, critical division in America feels and sounds like religious division.” Where are you going with that?

Well, it seems to me that there are two aspects of that. One of them is that I think that increasingly the left has conceded organized religion to the political right. This has been a catastrophe on the left.

I’m old enough to remember the black Civil Rights movement, which was as I understood it a movement of the left and insofar as it was challenging the orthodoxy of conservatives in the American South. White conservatism. And here was a group of protestant ministers leading processions, which were really religious processions through the small towns and the suburbs of the South. We shall overcome. Well, we have forgotten just how disruptive religion can be to the status quo. How challenging it is to the status quo. I also talk about Cesar Chavez, who is, who was embraced by the political left in his time but he was obviously a challenge to organized labor, the teamsters and to large farmers in the central valley.

So somehow we had decided on the left that religion belongs to Fox Television, or it belongs to some kind of right-wing fanaticism in the Middle East and we have given it up, and it has made us a really empty — that is, it has made the left really empty. I’ll point to one easy instance. Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. And what America heard was really a sermon. It was as though slavery and Jim Crow could not be described as a simple political narrative; racism was a moral offense, not simply an illegality. And with his vision of a time “when all of God’s children” in America would be free, he described the nation within a religious parable of redemption.

Fifty years later, our technocratic, secular president gave a speech at the Lincoln memorial, honoring the memory of the speech Dr. King had given. And nothing President Obama said can we remember these few weeks later; his words were dwarfed by our memory of the soaring religious oratory of fifty years ago. And what’s happened to us — and I would include myself in the cultural left — what has happened to us is we have almost no language to talk about the dream life of America, to talk about the soul of America, to talk about the mystery of being alive at this point in our lives, this point in our national history. That’s what we’ve lost in giving it to Fox Television.

So here’s the flip side of that. You write about the “New Atheism” emerging from England, catching on here. How is it new and why does it seem like a dead end to you?

It seems to me that the New Atheism — particularly its recent gaudy English manifestations — has a distinctly neo-colonial aspect. (As Cary Grant remarked: Americans are suckers for the accent!) On the one hand, the New Atheist, with his plummy Oxbridge tones, tries to convince Americans that God is dead at a time when London is alive with Hinduism and Islam. (The empiric nightmare: The colonials have turned on their masters and transformed the imperial city with their prayers and their growing families, even while Europe disappears into materialistic sterility.) Christopher Hitchens, most notably, before his death titled his atheist handbook as a deliberate affront to Islam: “God Is Not Great.” At the same time, he traveled the airwaves of America urging us to war in Iraq — and to maintain borders that the Foreign Office had drawn in the sand. With his atheism, he became a darling of the left. With his advocacy of the Iraq misadventure, he became a darling of the right. [Continue reading…]

As an Englishman in America who is frequently reminded that Americans are indeed suckers for the accent I retain, let me add a cultural footnote whose validity I can’t document but about which I am nevertheless convinced.

It’s on the origin of American crassness: it comes from England. Bad taste — we invented it.

From the English perspective, civilization has always been something that came from somewhere else.

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Ret. Gen. Boykin promotes End Times view of war in Syria

Mother Jones: Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, a top executive at the influential Family Research Council, has joined the chorus of religious conservatives touting the Syrian conflict as a prelude to Armageddon. On Wednesday, Boykin appeared on Prophetic Perspectives on Current Events, a talk show hosted by dominionist preacher Rick Joyner (see the video above). The pair discussed a passage in Isaiah 17, which predicts Damascus will be reduced to “a ruinous heap.”

“One of the scriptures that has never been fulfilled and has to be fulfilled before this age can end is that Damascus will be destroyed, never inhabited again,” Joyner explained. “What in the world could cause a city to be destroyed and never inhabited again?” Boykin didn’t hesitate. “One of the ways Damascus could be destroyed, never to be re-occupied, would be through a chemical attack,” he replied. ” So let’s just take a scenario: The Free Syrian Army takes Damascus and Bashar al-Assad is in a desperate mode now…. What would be his final act? Well it may very well be to unload all his chemical weapons on the population center there in Damascus. Destroy the city and destroy it in a way that he just kills maybe millions of people. But the byproduct is that he has residue there that could make Damascus uninhabitable and for a very long time.”

This is not the first time Boykin has embraced the notion that war in the Middle East will lay waste to the Syrian capital—and pave the way for Jesus’s return. He recently wrote an endorsement for Damascus Countdown, a fictionalized account of the looming biblical conflict by best-selling author Joel Rosenberg. And he has spoken at several of Ronseberg’s annual Epicenter Conferences, which explore the Middle East’s role in biblical prophesy.

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The God conservatives worship

Paul Froese writes: In recent decades, “big tent” conservatism has seemed on the brink of collapse, its poles buckling under competing constituencies with “values” voters in one corner pitted against fiscal conservatives in the other. Discussions among academics and media pundits suggest these are two distinct categories of Republicans—the former made up of mainly working-class white evangelicals and the latter historically comprised of higher-income whites. Republican politicians must seek the favor of both special interests, appealing not only to traditional social issues—gay marriage and abortion—but also to economic fare such as reducing government and lowering taxes.

This distinction is central to Thomas Frank’s engaging analysis of the popularity of conservatism in the American Midwest in his 2004 bestseller What’s the Matter with Kansas? Frank championed the narrative that working-class Americans vote against their economic interests, having been lured into the GOP tent largely with what he sees as insincere religious rhetoric. “The people at the top know what they have to do to stay there,” writes Frank, “and in a pinch they can easily overlook the sweaty piety of the new Republican masses, the social conservatives who raise their voices in praise of Jesus but cast their votes for Caesar.”

However compelling this dichotomy may be, it is a false one. As a researcher and social scientist, I have found that economic perspectives are indelibly tied to religious cosmologies. Voters need not choose between God and mammon. Instead, they tend to see their money, the market, and the economy as a reflection of their God.

This finding is a rarity in the annals of social science, where the division between economic and social interests is often reinforced. Pollsters and social scientists think in terms of variables, some measuring economic opinions and others indicating various forms of religiosity. These two are often correlated but their ongoing association is rarely tested directly. Though classical theorists such as Max Weber have famously demonstrated the constant interplay of economic and religious ideologies, contemporary social scientists seldom ask people directly about how their economic position informs their religion, or vice versa. In fact, we often assume that working-class evangelicals struggle to either prioritize their economic interests or remain committed to their religious ethics.

In 2005, I, along with a team of researchers at Baylor, began surveying American religious beliefs, values and behaviors. Last fall, our third installment of the Baylor Religion Survey was released. Our combined research, which included polling from Gallup and dozens of detailed one-on-one interviews, suggests that value and economic concerns are becoming increasingly hard to disentangle. In fact, for many white evangelicals, religious and economic spheres are conceptualized as two sides of the same coin. They describe their worldview as one in which the spiritual and the material are mutually dependent and interactive. And the popularity of this worldview cuts across social class.

This compatibility of social and economic concerns has become apparent, of course, in the Tea Party movement. While Tea Partiers were initially cast as die-hard fiscal conservatives, the movement’s pious rhetoric — along with subsequent polling data — indicated that religious concerns were central to its popularity. Ultimately, the Tea Party movement revealed the extent to which religious and economic beliefs meld in the minds of many frustrated Americans.

To put this more concretely, approximately 31 percent of Americans, many of whom are white evangelical men, believe that God is steering the United States economy, thus fusing their religious and economic interests. [Continue reading…]

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Texas’s war on history

Katherine Stewart writes: Don McLeroy, chairman of the Texas State Board of Education from 2007 to 2009, is a “young earth” creationist. He believes the earth is 6,000 years old, that human beings walked with dinosaurs, and that Noah’s Ark had a unique, multi-level construction that allowed it to house every species of animal, including the dinosaurs.

He has a right to his beliefs, but it’s his views on history that are problematic. McLeroy is part of a large and powerful movement determined to impose a thoroughly distorted, ultra-partisan, Christian nationalist version of US history on America’s public school students. And he has scored stunning successes.

If you want to see a scary movie about this movement, consider taking in Scott Thurman’s finely-crafted documentary Revisionaries, currently making the festival circuit, which records the antics of McLeroy and a hard right majority on the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) as they revise the textbook standards that will be used in Texas (and many other states).

The first part of this documentary deals with the familiar “science wars”, in which one side seeks to educate children in the sciences, and the other side proposes to “teach the controversy” in order to undermine those aspects of science that conflict with its religious convictions. But it’s the second part of the movie where the horror really kicks in. As I explain in more detail in The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, the history debate makes the science debate look genteel. While the handful of moderates on the SBOE squeals in opposition, the conservative majority lands blow after blow, passing resolutions imposing its mythological history on the nation’s textbooks. [Continue reading…]

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Don’t mention the Word of the Lord to the party that loves Jesus

Brad Reed writes: Since this past Christmas season coincided with the final campaign push before the Iowa caucus, every Republican candidate for president worked extra hard to out-pander one another in claiming that God is supportive of his or her particular flat-tax plan.

But you have to wonder watching some of the Republican debates and press conferences if the GOP hopefuls have actually read the New Testament. Say what you will about Jesus, but he didn’t seem like the sort of guy who would support showering rich people with tax cuts, gutting social programs for the poor and middle-class, or launching multiple wars with Middle Eastern countries. Yet these are the sorts of things that his purported acolytes have been endorsing throughout the year, all the while claiming to be Jesus’ number-one fan in the whole world.

In this article we’ll tackle the five most cringe-inducing moments of the GOP primary, where candidates and their supporters have wantonly broken the Lord’s Commandments with seemingly gleeful abandon.

1. Candidates fall all over themselves to kiss the asses of rich people and trash the downtrodden.

Jesus once said that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Well, the Republicans must want to compensate for this by making rich peoples’ time on Earth as heavenly as possible through a wonderful blend of tax cuts and blatant ass-kissing.

The entire Republican economic philosophy can basically be boiled down thusly: Rich people are magical wealth-creating leprechaun fairies who sprinkle their sparkle dust over all of us worthless dirtbags to bless us with the gift of employment. But if any nasty populist ever says anything relatively nasty about rich people, they will vanish from the realm and take their magical job-creating powers with them and none of us will ever work or have food to eat ever again. [Continue reading…]

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