Posts Tagged “christians”

About a year ago at this time, it looked as though Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, was going to be the Republican presidential nominee. But later, John McCain moved ahead of him and won the nomination. There’s been a lot of speculation as to why Romney collapsed so remarkably, just as the primaries were heating up. RNC chairman Michael Steele has weighed in on this, and his assessment, as reported by Politico, is candid:

RNC Chairman Michael Steele, hosting Bill Bennett’s talk show last week, offered his view that Mitt Romney’s main political problem in 2008 was the bias against Mormons in the Republican “base”:

[R]emember, it was the base that rejected Mitt because of his switch on pro-life, from pro-choice to pro-life. It was the base that rejected Mitt because it had issues with Mormonism. It was the base that rejected Mitch, Mitt, because they thought he was back and forth and waffling on those very economic issues you’re talking about. So, I mean, I hear what you’re saying, but before we even got to a primary vote, the base had made very clear they had issues with Mitt because if they didn’t, he would have defeated John McCain in those primaries in which he lost.

Romney’s well-reported “waffling” on abortion assuredly cost him some votes from among the Religious Right, but I had always suspected that latent anti-Mormonism played a role in the failure of his campaign, too — and it’s nice to hear a GOP insider admit it.

There is a backstory to the matter of Mormonism and its acceptance — or lack of it — by many Republicans. The Religious Right as it exists in the US is mostly a Baptist engine. It was the Southern Baptist Convention that gave birth to groups such as Moral Majority, which although it’s now defunct, really set the stage for the Religious Right as a powerful political institution. The Religious Right now has members from across the spectrum of Christian denominations, to be sure, but it remains primarily controlled by Baptists.

American Baptists in general, and the Southern Baptist Convention especially, have conflicted with Mormons for decades now. Both denominations have some appeal to conservatively-inclined Americans and therefore have long tussled over the same demographics. Longstanding Baptist animosity toward Mormons — largely predicated on the oft-repeated but theologically-questionable claim that Mormons are not Christians — could not possibly have failed to played a role in Romney’s demise.

Among the signals of the Religious Right’s underlying and overriding Baptist loyalties, is the fact that former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee sprang literally from the tail-end of the GOP pack, to become a prime rival to Romney, almost as soon as it appeared he might win the nomination. Huckabee, please note, is a Baptist minister by vocation. There is no coincidence here, and nothing surprising; rather, in the 2008 GOP presidential primaries, we saw the Religious Right remaining loyal to its Baptist roots as long as it could, only falling in line behind McCain (rather than Romney) as soon as it appeared Huckabee could not win the nomination in spite of his surge.

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The 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birthday is here, and Christians — especially of the Protestant fundamentalist sort — are gleeful about it. His career and teachings anticipated by a few centuries what would eventually become modern Protestant fundamentalist Christianity, even if it lacks one of his own primary principles, predestination. Some — like Henry G. Brinton, writing in USA Today‘s Religion blog, believe his life has a lot to say to Americans. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry at his raging ignorance of who and what John Calvin really was and what he really did. Here is some of what Brinton had to say:

The Protestant Reformer, born 500 years ago, could teach us a thing or two about fiscal idolatry, diplomacy and democracy. But would we listen?

At times of crisis, we look to our leaders to find just the right words, just the right tone, and just the right insight and wisdom to guide us through the tumult. Yet often, the wisdom has been there all along, if you just know where to look — or rather, when to look. Say, about 500 years ago.

John Calvin, the Protestant Reformer who was born in 1509, could have seen the global financial meltdown coming from a mile — or mere centuries — away. No, he wouldn’t have foreseen derivatives or credit default swaps or the other financial instruments that would have given even Albert Einstein a migraine. But he knew human weakness. Indeed, we are entering a Calvinistic period in American life, one that is falling into line with the insights and innovations of Calvin. Although often depicted as a stern theologian with a pointed beard and strong views about eternal damnation, Calvin was interested in a wide range of issues far beyond the walls of the church, and his ideas reshaped the economic, political and educational life of the Western world. His perspective can benefit us today, in this time of political change and economic crisis.

Folks, let me be brutally honest with you about Calvin. He was above all else a theocrat.

That’s right … a theocrat. And tyrant. He was invited to help reform the church in Geneva (in modern Switzerland), and stayed long enough not only to reform its church, but to make its church into the city’s government. By 1541 he was essentially the city’s dictator — ruling with absolute authority — and remained so until his death.

During his career he encountered enemies, and he destroyed them methodically. Despite his popularity in Geneva, there was a party opposed to him, which he called “the libertines” (because they believed God’s grace had freed them from ecclesiastical control). He spent years plotting against individual “libertines,” sometimes getting them prosecuted for what might otherwise have been minor infractions — and in a couple of cases, for fabricated infractions — until their resistance to him was worn down.

Yeah, real nice Christian there, eh?

Perhaps Calvin’s shining moment came in his dealings with another ecclesiastical reformer — though of a different sort than Calvin himself — Michael Servetus of Spain. The two had conducted a brief debate via correspondence, which lapsed after Calvin gave up on it, having decided Servetus was an outrageous heretic (mainly because the Spaniard was anti-trinitarian). Servetus, trying to re-establish contact with Calvin, in 1547 offered to venture to Geneva himself to resume their debate in person. Servetus’s own problems with the Church, plus Calvin’s failure to grant him safe-conduct, meant this visit was put off for several years.

But in 1553 Servetus finally did arrive in Geneva — and Calvin made sure that was the end for him. Servetus was arrested, and Calvin arranged for him to be prosecuted by one of his few remaining “libertine” opponents. Since the city of Geneva itself, by then, was pro-Calvin and decidedly anti-Servetus, the libertine had no choice but to press the matter … but Servetus was popular elsewhere in Europe, and having to prosecute him jeopardized the libertines’ relations with other cities. Late that year, Servetus was condemned and burnt at the stake, and the libertines’ fortunes fell further.

Calvin, you see, used one opponent to destroy another, forcing them to damage each other, and leaving him standing even taller. Yes, indeed, that is the sort of Christian John Calvin was.

Getting back to Brinton’s ignorant lauding of this reprehensible man:

Finally, democracy itself owes a debt to Calvin because he established a form of church government in which clergy and lay leaders had equal power.

Again, there is little to nothing “democratic” about Calvin. He wedged a synod of clerics into the city government and arranged for it to gather increased authority, as an interim step in getting himself into a position of absolute power over the city of Geneva (because once this synod was in office, they chose him as a leader, and the rest — as they say — is history). Brinton thus assigns Calvin a motive he simply never possessed.

As a matter of fact, there was nothing unique or novel about the government structure Calvin designed … it was patterned after the Estates-General of France (his homeland, please note). Thus, Geneva’s government under Calvin was no more “democratic” than the Estates-General had been in France, where it had been an arm of the monarchy, not of democracy.

As I said initially, it’s to be expected that modern Protestant fundamentalists rally around Calvinistic Christianity, and hold up its founder, John Calvin, as a saint to be emulated. But they do this only because they know next to nothing about him other than that he was a rigid fundamentalist Christian whose teachings presaged their own.

Far from being the “ideal Christian,” Calvin was a crass manipulator who maneuvered to get people killed because they got in his way and made him look bad. He also engineered a takeover of the Geneva city government, by careful, years-long planning, and by pitting foes against each other. There is nothing “Christian” about such a person. Not one thing. To celebrate his 500th birthday, is an insult to Christ, not an homage to him. Brinton and his ilk ought to be ashamed of themselves.

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There’s been some furor over the pregnancy of 17-year-old Bristol Palin, daughter of newly-named Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Alaska’s governor. While it certainly is hypocritical of Gov. Palin — a “family-values”-type and card-carrying member of the Religious Right™ — to berate the rest of the country for its “lack of values” while not looking to the values of her own family, a more significant example of hypocrisy has come to light in the remarks of James Dobson, chairman of Focus On The Family and current commander-in-chief of the armies of the Religious Right™ (as reported by ABC News):

Being a Christian does not mean you’re perfect. Nor does it mean your children are perfect. But it does mean there is forgiveness and restoration when we confess our imperfections to the Lord. …

The media are already trying to spin this as evidence Gov. Palin is a “hypocrite,” but all it really means is that she and her family are human.

First, it is not true that Gov. Palin is a “hypocrite” only in “spin”; she truly is a hypocrite, and factually so. Second, the Dobster separates Christians’ hypocrisy from that of others; that is, because Christians are Christians — he wishes us to believe — they are allowed to be hypocrites!

Unfortunately for the Dobster, Christians do not, in fact, get any sort of “free pass” when it comes to hypocrisy. If anything, hypocrisy is one of the things Jesus himself most enjoined them against! The Dobster needs to reread his Bible, specifically the following verses:

• Matthew 6:2-16
• Luke 6:42
• Romans 12:9

These are by no means the only scriptural passages which expressly, clearly, and unambiguously forbid Christians to be hypocrites … but they are more than enough to refute the “special exemption” that Dobson claims for Christian hypocrites.

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In northern India there’s a bit of a contest underway between two “religions of peace” in Orissa state. On the one side there’s Christianity, of “turn the other cheek” fame (cf Mt 5:38-42 & Lk 6:27:31), and on the other hand we have Hinduism, which gave us Mahatma Gandhi, who famously used passive resistance to force the British Empire out of India. These two famously peaceful factions are engaged in a bloody struggle to determine which is the truly peaceful religion:

Authorities issued shoot-at-sight orders and police staged marches Wednesday in Orissa’s Kandhamal District, the region worst-hit by violence between Hindus and Christians.

Kandhamal is a primarily tribal area, where Christian missionaries have worked for decades. Almost 20 percent of the district’s people are Christians.

The clashes erupted after the killing of a Hindu leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, and four others on Saturday by unidentified armed men. The Hindu leader had been leading a drive to reconvert local residents from Christianity to Hinduism.

Since then, angry Hindu mobs have attacked and damaged churches, Christian homes and an orphanage. Some of the victims were burned to death, when rioters set fire to their homes.

Police say rival groups from both communities have attacked each other with axes, sticks and guns, despite a curfew. New clashes occurred Wednesday.

What a marvelous way to celebrate the non-violence inherent in both these ancient religions.

Really, need I say any more?

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