With God on Our Side traces the history of the conservative Christian political movement and seems to suggest the first spark was the Supreme Court decision disallowing institutionalized prayer in the public schools. This notion stumped me. When I was in elementary school, there was no institutional prayer, but I prayed all the time for God to help me traverse all the mundane challenges of the school day. However, in a pluralistic society, I cannot imagine why anyone would want teachers, administrators or even students to lead public school classes in group prayers. Now that I am a parent, I want my husband and me to take the lead in our kids’ spiritual formation—with the support of their Sunday school teacher and our pastor. I simply cannot fathom why the “school prayer” issue would galvanize devout Christians to rally around the Republican Party.
The film also describes Billy Graham’s implicit endorsement of Nixon as a watershed moment for the intersection of conservative Christians with GOP Party politics. However, Jerry Falwell is interviewed in the film and describes that Graham himself would later say that decision was a mistake. After viewing the rest of the film, I was confused why the rest of the prominent conservative Christians interviewed did not learn from that mistake and subsequently refrain from embracing politicians.
The film chronicles the conservative Christians’ short-lived excitement and then complete rejection of Jimmy Carter. This was also confusing to me. They seemed to be convinced of the sincerity of Carter’s beliefs, but dismissed the importance of their common faith in favor of a series of political litmus tests of questionable biblical authority. That rejection of Carter was even more confusing to me as the film describes their embraced of his opponent, Ronald Reagan, in 1980. Reagan was divorced, not even a church-goer and was married to a devotee of astrology. In essence, the conservative Christians chose a secular Hollywood actor with smooth oratory skills over a devout, born-again Christian from the South. I just don’t get it.
As With God on Our Side described the increasingly close alliance with the GOP in the 1980s, I actually began to feel bad for the conservative Christians interviewed. It seemed so clear that they had compromised their most sacred beliefs in vain, and were used by the politicians they supported. The film makes it clear that the Reagan administration wooed conservative Christians prior to elections, but after elections ignored their political agenda in favor of economic policies that were not the concern of the conservative Christians. However, instead of realizing the folly of such a close political alignment, the film shows that conservative Christians in the late 1980s and 1990s turned to new strategies to gain greater political influence and government power. Such efforts culminated in the rise of George W. Bush.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"
He called a little child, whom he placed among them. And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes a humble place—becoming like this child—is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
John 6:15 (New Living Translation)
When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself.
Luke 23:39-43 (Today’s New International Version)
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!"
But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."
Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. "
Jesus answered him, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."