Sunday, June 05, 2005

Christianizing America

The United States Air Force Academy has been in the news a lot lately, which must be a real source of aggravation in these days of recruiting problems. Sexual harrassment and sexual assault among the cadets was last year's scandal. This year it's the harrassment of cadets who are not sufficiently 'evangelical' in their Christianity.

As noted in the Washington Post yesterday:

THE REPORTS OF the religious climate at the Air Force Academy are unsettling:

A chaplain instructs cadets to try to convert classmates by warning that they "will burn in the fires of hell" if they do not accept Christ. During basic training, freshman cadets who decline to attend after-dinner chapel are marched back to their dormitories in "heathen flights" organized by upperclassmen. A Jewish student is taunted as a Christ killer and told that the Holocaust was the just punishment for that offense. The academy's head football coach posts a banner in the locker room that proclaims, "I am a Christian first and last. . . . I am a member of Team Jesus Christ."

Although this is shocking, it certainly is no surprise. The Commander in Chief has already promised to veto a stem cell research bill recently passed by the House because it conflicted with his "moral values" involving the 'culture of life.'
At the same time, it appears that more progressive Christians are finally getting off the couch to combat the takeover of our government by the Religious Reich. From what I can tell, two separate approaches are being used.

The first approach, ostensibly designed to take back the framing of arguments from the Religious Reich can be represented by Christian Alliance for Progress. The subtitle for this group pretty well reflects its intentions: "The Movement to Reclaim Christianity and Transform American Politics. We turn to God as our spiritual foundation."

The following is the group's statement of principles:

Compassion and Care for "The Least of These"
We follow Jesus' call to compassion and his command to "love your neighbor as you love yourself."

Responsibility and Obligation
We heed the call to take up our cross - to transform our lives, but also to do more: to move beyond the "personal" and to take responsibility in our communities and country.

Justice for All
We stand against powerful systems of human injustice in our world as Jesus stood against them in his.

Equality and Inclusiveness
Like Jesus did among women, tax collectors, Samaritans and others, we reject hurtful exclusionary distinctions between "us" and "them."

Faithful Stewardship
We follow Jesus' call for responsible stewardship - caring protection for the environment and sharing of our worldly treasure.

Right Use of Power
We turn away from fear; we use the power of God that flows through us to protect the innocent and build justice in the world, not to coerce others to our will or force others to accept our vision.

I think this group is mostly on the right track in its reframing of the argument, but I am still uncomfortable with this approach insofar as it still places emphasis on "transforming American politics." Yes, we want political leaders whose morality and ethics parallel that of Jesus, but it is important that we do not place so much emphasis on the religion part that we exclude Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, Atheists, and other non-Christian groups from the conversation and the government.

The second approach, that of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, works from the premise that this nation's founders intentionally separated the government from religion--any religion.

An example of this group's approach involves some activity in Texas:

"The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that a letter and e-mail from Perry's campaign said that Perry backers "want to completely fill this location with pro-family Christian friends who can celebrate with us" and said they might film the event for TV political advertising later.

"This is one of the most outrageous misuses of a house of worship for political gain that I've ever seen," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "It's of highly dubious legality and could put the church's tax-exemption in jeopardy."

A campaign of letter writing and media alerts followed.

In my opinion, this is the approach to take: making certain that the wall erected between church and state be maintained assiduously. This is not inconsistent with Christianity, whose founder advised we "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's."


Blogger ChesapeakeBlue said...

Hi. Nice post. Just a note to let you know that these are not necessarily separate approaches. I agree with the separation of church and state, but also agree with the statement of principles. I want my leaders to express my moral values, in terms of justice and environmentalism, but not codify my religion in a statute. In fact, that would be harmful to my religion as well as my state (as I've been writing about for a while on my blog). I doubt that the other folks at Christian Alliance for Progress would disagree.

12:42 PM  

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