Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thy Kingdom Come by Randall Balmer (Battles Over Schools, Evolution & Environmentalism; Political Expediency & Hypocrisy)

Thy Kingdom Come provides insightful history lessons on a number of hot button issues involving the Religious Right. Balmer describes the growing debate over school vouchers and inadequate financial support for public schools. He goes into great depth to explain the continuing cultural scars to fundamentalists from the humiliation of the Scopes “monkey trial,” as well as the more recent quest for legitimization via the label of “intelligent design.”

Balmer also notes that one would intuitively predict Creationists would be passionate about conserving God’s creation, but that has not been the case in recent years. He explains how the Religious Right came to align themselves with conservative, pro-business politicians that worked aggressively to fight against any legal efforts to protect the environment. He also describes how some Evangelicals are beginning to rebel against this approach based on biblical principles of stewardship.

In his “Conclusion,” Balmer reflects back on the bottom line of the various themes he has explored. He concludes that the Religious Right has distorted the teachings of Christ by ignoring clear teachings on protecting the vulnerable in society and peacemaking in favor of politically expedient themes with flimsy biblical support. He notes the hypocrisies of leaders of the Religious Right including Tom DeLay, Ralph Reed, William Bennett, and Randy “Duke” Cunningham. Balmer concludes that the ultimate aim of the Religious Right is to establish a “homogenous theocracy” analogous to that in seventeenth-century Massachusetts. But historian Balmer describes the lesson of Puritan New England as being clear:

Religion...functions best outside the political order, and often as a challenge
to the political order. When it identifies too closely with the state, it
becomes complacent and ossified, and efforts to coerce piety or to proscribe
certain behavior in the interests of moral conformity are unavailing.

Moreover, Balmer describes the Religious Right as more interested in moralism than morality, and are frankly “frightened by pluralism.” Consequently, the Religious Right is waging war on the First Amendment “in the interest of imposing its own theocratic vision” despite the irony that “no group has profited more from the First Amendment and the disestablishment of religion in American than evangelicals.”

Balmer ends the book with an exhortation to fellow believers:

[t]o reclaim their birthright as evangelical Christians and examine the
scriptures for themselves—absent the funhouse mirror distortions of the
Religious Right. For those equal to the task, I suggest a form of shock therapy:
juxtapose the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), arguably the highest expression
of Christian ethics, with the platform of the Republican Party.

Luke 11:9-10 (Darby Translation)

And I say to you, Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.
For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it will be opened.

John 9: 25, 30, 33

Then he answered, I do not know whether He is a sinner and wicked or not. But one thing I do know, that whereas I was blind before, now I see.
The man replied, Well, this is astonishing! Here a Man has opened my eyes, and yet you do not know where He comes from. [That is amazing!]
If this Man were not from God, He would not be able to do anything like this.

Luke 18:9-14 (The Message)

He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: "Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: 'Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.'
"Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, 'God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'"
Jesus commented, "This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you're going to end up flat on your face, but if you're content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself."

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