Republican Senators Rand Paul (Ky.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) were in Des Moines last week to be the keynote speakers at “Rediscovering God in America,” an evangelical conference of over 400 pastors and their spouses organized by David Lane, an activist and founder of the American Renewal Project.
According to Lane, “the goal” of the Renewal Project “is the mobilization of pastors and pews to restore America to our Judeo-Christian heritage and re-establish a Christian culture.”
Cruz preached that “the book of Isaiah tells us, ‘My people perish for lack of knowledge’ … and the prophet Ezekiel charged us: ‘Son of man, you are a watchman for the house of Israel’.” Paul called for a revival of Christian values, adding the conservative crowd-pleaser of “not one penny” for countries “burning our flag.”
Of course, the hope of imposing a religious ideal upon society through politics is nothing new. A couple months ago, a North Carolina bill that pushed for Christianity to become the official religion of the state was killed. Around the same time, a poll showed that one-third of Americans want Christianity to become the country’s official religion.
The mixing of religion and politics confuses the roles both play in society and hegemonistic political agendas like these belie a deep fear of American diversity. They also leave me with some puzzling questions.
What form of Christianity would be acceptable?
Consider the Economic Values Survey released last week by the Public Religion Research Institute in conjunction with the Brookings Institute, which shows that America's dominant religion (Christianity) is far from being united in its theological, political, and economic views.
The study, based on a “newly developed religious orientation scale that combines theological, economic and social outlooks,” discovered “that 28 percent of Americans are religious conservatives, 38 percent are religious moderates, … 19 percent of Americans are religious progressives,” and “15 percent of Americans are nonreligious.”
Additionally, “23 percent of Millennials (ages 18-33) are religious progressives, while 17 percent are religious conservatives. Among Millennials, there are also nearly as many nonreligious (22 percent) as religious progressives. Conversely, 12 percent of the Silent Generation (ages 66-88) are religious progressives, while 47 percent are religious conservatives. One-in-ten (10 percent) of the Silent Generation are nonreligious.”
If some form of a politically conservative Christianity is legislated, it would definitely not represent the majority of American Christians, let alone Americans in general.
Does anyone remember the English Civil War?
The strong mixing of religion and politics never ends well. Puritan parliamentarians believed that English kings and queens made the Church of England too Catholic; that same royalty saw these parliamentarians as too religiously and politically conservative. This, as you might guess, led to war and a century of religious oppression, resolved only by increasing toleration. It is to avoid these very mistakes that there is separation of church and state in America.
Lastly, if a religion’s values and beliefs are worthy of following, then why do its adherents have to resort to such strong-arming?
Doesn’t matter if you’re a Christian or Muslim, would it not be better to demonstrate that your religion makes sense through healthy conversation and a good life? Maybe it takes a little longer than a bill or the other tools of politics, but voluntary religion requires no laws, only the recognized merits of the religious system proposed.
It is not that I don’t understand the desire to share a worldview one deems valuable with others, but enforced religion is only enforced hypocrisy. Coercive politicking to spread a religion only verifies that its adherents, no matter how much bravado they conjure up at a conference preaching to the choir, ultimately have little faith in it.