In the first chapter of A New Kind of Christianity Brian McLaren recalls how he gradually became increasingly dissatisfied with conservative American Christianity. His summary captures my own concerns about American (and some Canadian) religious conservatism:
“They supported wars of choice, defended torture, opposed environmental protection, and seemed to care more about protecting the rich from taxes than liberating the poor from poverty or minorities from racism.” (7)
Sarah Palin leapt immediately to mind with her flippant petroleum campaign slogan “Drill, Baby, Drill!” and her horrendous, morally repugnant quip that waterboarding is “how we baptize terrorists“. Think about that. Palin has invoked the Christian sacrament of initiation into the community of faith as a metaphor for torturing individuals. And the statement drew raucous applause.
“They spoke against big government as if big was bad, yet they seemed to see big military and big business as inherently good.” (7)
This always struck me as bizarre. Government is supposed to be of, by, and for the people. And yet, one constantly hears rhetoric about shrinking government coupled with a pathological aversion to new taxes, as if that’s the way to “starve the beast” (thanks, Grover Norquist).
While every other developed nation in the world has socialized health care for its population, time and again I’ve heard American religious conservatives strongly oppose it.
Despite all this fear of big government, I hear not a whisper of concern among American religious conservatives about big military, despite the fact that by some estimates the military sucks up more than half of all government spending. And while American Christian conservatives rage against Obamacare, on the whole they are bizarrely silent on government surveillance of the civilian population.
As for big business, Eric Holder recently stepped down as attorney general and returned to his law firm after refusing to prosecute any of the big banks for their role in the financial crisis. Watch this clip from Democracy Now to get a sense of just how outrageous this is. And while we’re talking about corrupt banks, how about the fact that British bank HSBC laundered hundreds of millions of dollars for the Sinaloa drug cartel? Why don’t American evangelicals get angry about that? Why haven’t they even heard about it?
“They wanted to protect unborn human life inside the womb, but didn’t seem to care about born human life in slums or prisons or nations they considered enemies.” (7)
Yup. Consider the case of the approximately half a million Iraqi children who died in the mid-nineties as a result of the Clinton administration imposing strict sanctions to punish Sadam Hussein. In this infamous exchange with Lesley Stahl, then UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright insisted that it was worth it:
In 2004 Democracy Now asked Albright about this infamous response and Albright replied that it was “stupid” and she never should have said it. Unfortunately it isn’t clear whether Albright was merely conceding that she failed to field (that is, deflect) a difficult question, or whether she was thereby renouncing the morality (and political expediency) of government policies that lead to the death of foreign civilians.
Regardless, time and again I have found conservative Christians distressingly cavalier when it comes to government policies and military actions (e.g. drone strikes) that lead to the death of foreign civilians.
When people think Christianity is about support for big military, opposition to socialized medicine and immigrants, and callous indifference to the poor and the environment, it’s no surprise they are leaving the church.