Theocracy, Anyone?

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So I had to share this article from Salon, an excerpt from Michelle Goldberg’s forthcoming book on the rise of Christian nationalism. (Worth the day pass to read). Of course, having worked at Americans United for Separation of Church and State for two years, and the ACLU before that, I already knew about these people and exactly how mentally ill they are. I mean, it’s really sad how distorted their thinking and perceptions are. When I worked at the ACLU people would call and curse at us sometimes; I had more than one person ask me why the ACLU hated Christians and try to convert me. After two years of getting bloodthirsty, venomous e-mails at Americans United, I was done with all that. I moved on to a new job and tried to forget about it. Eventually I almost started to believe that those people couldn’t hurt me, after years of thinking they would have taken me into a field and shot me if they could.

But there has been some debate in the letters to the editor (Salon has a feature where anyone can post a letter responding to an article) about how much of a threat this is. Some people have said, oh this is a small fringe group and they pose no danger to us. Others feel that a fascist takeover is imminent, noting that Germans thought the Nazis were a fringe group as well. Since most of this audience could at least nominally be described as fundamentalist — although I assume that none of you are in any way associated with the tripe described in the book — I thought it might be useful to get your thoughts. Have you encountered anyone in your churches who thinks this way? Do your churches participate in the types of rallies described in the article? Would you chain yourself to the Capitol steps to prevent Roy’s Rock from being removed? Do you know anyone who would? Do you receive (or send) those mendacious e-mail forwards planted by the Heritage Foundation et al. about how the ACLU is conspiring to ban the Bible? Do you know people who actually have read any of the Left Behind books? (Shudder) Will Alabama or South Carolina really secede and try to form a Christian state? How imminent is this threat, really? And also, I think I’ve asked this before but I forgot the answer — is the Church of Christ millenialist, premillenialist, postmillenialist, or none of the above?

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18 Responses to “Theocracy, Anyone?”

  1. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I’ll answer the easy question: Churches of Christ are predominantly “amillenialist” (1000-year reign figurative).

    I think most church folks are kind of like sheep, and I mean that in both good and bad ways. I doubt anything but a very small group are vicious people, but when the combination of busy lives, environment, and Christian political propaganda merge, they believe the ACLU is evil & prayer in schools is good & gay marriage bad & a good Christian should never vote for a Democrat.

    Now before I incur wrath, I’m not saying people can’t come to those very same conclusions after honest consideration. I’m just saying for the most part people just float along with what sounds “right” to them, and these are the things that sound right to most church folks.

    So, no, there’s not a lot of rabid folks in my church. But yes, they will sign email petitions and pass around those sorts of things that can be done in the seated position. I can’t see anyone going so far as to chain themselves to anything.

    I’m not afraid of a theocracy happening in America. I think lots of folks would chain themselves to things to prevent that from happening, not to mention the holes (including Constitutional) in such an idea.

    But I can see where there’s reason to worry about it. And it has sure seemed to creep that direction recently.

  2. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Will Alabama or South Carolina really secede and try to form a Christian state?

    I haven’t read the article, but a big part of me answers this question: boy, I really hope so.

    Let 3 or 4 southern states secede and form their own little country, and allow — heck, encourage — anyone who wants to be part of that kind of country to freely immigrate to it — with the proviso that they have to stay for at least 5 yrs. (assuming the country lasts that long). Also provide financial assistance for those who want out to get out and resettled before the handover.

    Let the wingnuts get all this nonsense out of their system by having to live under the system they think they want. It’d be a states-rights-havin’, gun-carryin’, millenium-usherin’, pre-scientific paradise. For about 3 days. Then it would implode.

    The only real problem it would cause for the rest of us would be making sure we had ironclad border security to keep their violence out of the U.S.

    That’s what part of me thinks, anyway.

    (They could call their country Gwaccvnni.)

  3. Whitney Says:

    Sandi,
    Unfortunately, I don’t have time today to really read the article, but I did skim through. (Also, so long as you click on Salon’s ads, you can read the content for free.)

    A few thoughts.

    1) Moore is a moron.
    2) This sort of grandstanding in churches is uncalled for and distractig from our real goal as Christians and I don’t support it one iota.

    Now, to your questions. (Which I like, by the way.):
    Have you encountered anyone in your churches who thinks this way? Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes. I’m from the South, too. Even as a teenager the grandstanding bothered me (but I didn’t know why) and just gets really under my skin nowadays.

    Do your churches participate in the types of rallies described in the article? No. Our Church is incorporated for tax-exempt purposes and it is written into our by-laws (which were written by a Pepperdine lawyer) that we are to have no official political stance as an organization, including (I think) organizationally-sponsored participation. BUT this does not obviate the fact that we have members who pass around petitions and elders who like to ignore the bylaws and encourage members to sign those petitions. I am one of those annoying people who just doesn’t sign them and reminds people that that stuff isn’t part of what we’re supposed to be doing WHILE WE’RE WORSHIPPING!!! I actually got yelled at during my stint as the most educated church secretary ever when I refused to put a note in the bulletin about a petition one of our older ladies wanted everyone to sign. I just let her yell and then showed her the bylaws and walked away. Her reaction was so unChristian as to just reinforce my belief that politics should never be discussed at the Church-sponsored level. Ever.

    Would you chain yourself to the Capitol steps to prevent Roy’s Rock from being removed? No. Who cares. Are rocks really what we’ve taken to be symbols of our faith instead of our love-filled actions? (Sadly, I know the answer to this.)

    Do you know anyone who would? Yes.

    Do you receive (or send) those mendacious e-mail forwards planted by the Heritage Foundation et al. about how the ACLU is conspiring to ban the Bible? Oh yes, and I delete them. Sometimes, when I’m feeling ornery, I reply with a link to the urban legends website about the fallacy of this junk. I get all sorts of right-wing extremist crap in my mailbox. Now, I know many people who’ve come to their own understanding that these are important issues, but what happens is that they make these their only issues and forget to see the forest for the trees in terms of saving souls and showing Jesus to the world. Well, most of the actions associated with this stuff don’t show Jesus at all. (You know what makes me the maddest, those e-mails that say, “If you love Jesus, you’ll forward this to x number of people.” ARGHHH!!!)

    Do you know people who actually have read any of the Left Behind books? Yes. And what is strange about this is that he Left Behind series is very, um, Baptist. My CofC friends (and I say Baptists, because the series doesn’t really support Biblical principles about the end-of-time, from what I understand) like them because they are thought-provoking about getting your life together now and doing what’s right and not saying, “Oh, I’ll love God tomorrow.”

    Will Alabama or South Carolina really secede and try to form a Christian state? I laughed out loud.

    How imminent is this threat, really? Not imminent. I really think it is a small threat. Loudly voiced. The whole vocal minority thing.

    While this is interesting stuff to talk about, I don’t think you’ll find many on this board who buy into the Church-State marriage. There are only a couple here who haven’t already voiced their belief that separation of Church & State is necessary and a good thing.

    Joe can talk about the whole idea that or country was NOT based on Christian ideals, rather on monotheistic ideals (is this right, Joey?) and how Christians have taken what our earliest leaders said and “made” it Christian. Geesh, I don’t know what I’m talking about. Can you (Joey) please help me. But I’m trying to get to the point across that separation of church and state, while a good discussion, probably won’t be a divisive issue here.

    (By the way, I was in high school when public, school-sponsored prayer was deemed unacceptable, and I whined and cried with the best of ’em. Now I wonder why I couldn’t just say a quiet prayer to God by myself…did the whole world really need to be part of it?)

  4. Joe Longhorn Says:

    Thomas Jefferson was a Theist, but did not prescribe to any particular religion. The influence this had on the framing documents for our nation cannot be understated. The main thing that Jefferson’s Theism led to is the concept that our rights are God-given.

    As far as most of the other “Framers”, they were predominantly Christian.

    When people refer to the United States as a “Christian” nation, they should be speaking demographically. In that sense, we are a “Christian” nation. But our country was NOT established to be a haven for Christianity. It was established to be a haven for freedom tempered by democracy.

  5. Sandi Says:

    Thanks, you all, for your comments, and especially Whitney. This is exactly what I was looking for. I am so far away now from the places where this goes on that I don’t have any information from real people about it.

    When I attended O.S. C of C in the 1980s and 1990s, I do not recall much political talk other than the one incident I mentioned in my first post regarding the anti-gay pamphlet distributed by Roger Burdge (sp?), who was preacher at the time. Of course, I left soon after Bill was elected and long before the 1994 midterm elections, so as to what’s happened since then, I don’t know. I do know that I was called a “cultural elite” to my face by a longtime OSCofC member at my own wedding reception, and I was dimly aware throughout college that anti-Democrat talk was percolating among some members. But all the crazy stuff (on the national stage) has really happened since I graduated from college in 1998.

    I was talking to my childhood best friend (who I met at OSCofC) soon after the 2004 election. She works at Pepperdine, and she told me that the people she works with there were incredibly vicious during the campaign, sometimes with the knowledge that she did not support President Bush, sometimes without. I seem to recall that she told me that more than one person had intimated or stated outright that you would not go to heaven if you voted for John Kerry (or maybe it was any Democrat, the details are a little fuzzy).

    So, like Al noted, people have gotten very politicized in terms of party identification. And what I was wondering is, does that translate at all into being a “true believer” in potential theocracy? If what Al and Whitney are saying is true, then most people say these things and believe these things (ACLU is evil, blah blah blah) in a fairly passive way and there are just a few loudmouths out there who feel more strongly about it than the rest.

    And Whitney, bravo for every time you’ve sent people links to the urban legend website!!! People are so gullible about things like this, believe everything they read, and end up with misdirected anger about something that isn’t even true. And then there are the people who deliberately disseminate untruths in order to further their agendas. I am always shocked by it even though I know I shouldn’t be at this late date. To me, if you can’t promote your point of view honestly, then you really need to rethink it. Getting people to support your cause by deceiving them may be effective, but it is incredibly immoral. Anyhow, I wish that more people receiving these who feel as you do would speak up. I have done it a couple of times when family members were still naive enough to send me such things, and for sure no one appreciates being corrected, but it is so important. You would (or maybe you wouldn’t!) be amazed at the kind of frenzies people work themselves up into over the things they read in e-mail forwards. I got enough vitriol when I was at AU to last me a lifetime.

    I don’t know if I had ever mentioned this before, but AU was co-counsel with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU of Alabama in the Roy Moore case. Our legal director received a really ugly death threat soon after we won the case, which was only a month or two after I had started working there. It was really scary. AU had to hire a consultant to do a full-scale evaluation of and improvements on the security of the building. And too, a large part of my job was responding to e-mails from the public. So I was steeped in this stuff for two years. I think it really skewed my perspective about how prevalent such views are, and that’s part of why I like to ask people who live outside of the East Coast Corridor about it. I didn’t think it would be a divisive topic here at all — I just wanted to get a sense of what’s out there.

  6. juvenal_urbino Says:

    While I generally agree, I’ll quibble a bit, Joe.

    Jefferson was more Deist than Theist. The other Framers were scattered across a spectrum from, say, Thomas Paine (atheist) at one end, to, say, Patrick Henry (hardnosed, established-church-advocating Anglican) at the other. Franklin was pretty close to Paine’s end of the spectrum. Washington seems to be somewhere in the middle; probably more theistic than Jefferson, but not a lot. Madison we just flat don’t know about; we know he was raised Anglican, but he seems to have scrupulously avoided discussing his own religious beliefs (or lack thereof) in public or even in his letters.

    Overall, I’ve found it’s hard to say much of anything definitive about the Framers’ religious beliefs.

    But our country was NOT established to be a haven for Christianity.

    Again, I generally agree, but with reservations. It really depends on whose intentions you’re talking about. This is a problem for all arguments from (or about) “original intent.”

    Patrick Henry, among others, did intend to establish a haven for Christianity. Madison and Jefferson, among others, decidedly did not. We have no idea what the people who ratified the Constitution intended, because we have basically no records of those statehouse debates.

    So, IMHO, any pursuit of “original intent” regarding church & state is doomed to failure. There was no single “original intent.” There’s just enough evidence of the intent of just enough of the relevant people for anybody advocating almost any position to find some historical support for their argument, and wave it around as if it’s decisive.

  7. Capt MidKnight Says:

    After I wrote this, I read Whitney’s excellent post and agree completely. I’d probably be better off letting it go at that, but, just for grins, I’ll post the following “rant” anyway.

    Let 3 or 4 southern states secede and form their own little country, and allow — heck, encourage — anyone who wants to be part of that kind of country to freely immigrate to it — with the proviso that they have to stay for at least 5 yrs. (assuming the country lasts that long). Also provide financial assistance for those who want out to get out and resettled before the handover.

    Didn’t we fight a war over a similar issue some years back?

    I know some of my fellow rednecks believe it’s still going on. A few of them understand, but most of them,with their beer bellies and pickup trucks with rebel flags and gun racks – the ones that glorify the war and what they think was the “Old South” tradition – have not the first clue what it was really like. Should any of these brave, patriotic souls be transported back into a Confederate Army unit in the middle a typical Civil War battle, it would take about 2 seconds for them to wet their collective pants (can’t get away from that bedwetting issue) and run screaming for mama.

    Sorry for the digression. Lost my head for a minute.

    Sandi, I’m truly sorry that some folks who claim to follow the same spiritual leader that I do have been the source of so much grief to you. Regardless of their claims, malicious personal comments have no place in a Christian’s discussions, especially with someone who honestly disagrees with them. Threats of violence should be out of the question.

    These people have been around as long as Christianity. The example of Jesus and his 1st Century followers don’t appeal to their personal ambitions and egos. Somehow, they manage to convince themselves and others that Jesus’ plan for spreading his message is outdated in today’s world – whether that day be the Middle Ages and the Crusades or 21st Century America – and that more aggressive methods are needed. This allows them to step into the political, business, and entertainment world with every bit as “dog eat dog” an approach as any secularist or heathen. They get to promote their own agenda and ego while claiming only the purest of religious motives.

    Al is correct – as ever – in saying that they often convince many “sheep” from many different religious backgrounds. Within this movement, it wouldn’t surprise me to find representatives from most of the “mainline” churches, including the Restoration Movement. When they line up with a political movement, as they are doing now, they really do produce a lot of “strange bedfellows.” In reasonably free societies, they usually remain fringe groups. In other circumstances, like the Roman Church at the fall of the empire or Post WWI Wiemar Germany, they actually come to real power, always with disastrous results.

    I can only speak for myself, but I avoid all petitions, especially Email or internet ones, like the plague, even when I get them from very sincere Christian friends.

    As for the “Left Behind” series, I’m reminded of a line from the movie “OH God!” George Burns, as God, rebukes a famous Televangelist who is trying to use him to raise money on his TV show. George looks at the TV preacher, with his $2,000 suit and his $500 hairdo, and says “You want to get rich? Fine. Go sell Earth Shoes.”
    These guys, and people like them, have been predicting the Second Coming for 2,000 years, and show no signs of giving up. Ironically, one day they will be correct. As for the coming of the Millennium, why Jesus would want to leave heaven and spend 1,000 more years here on earth, especially given his experience the last time, is beyond me – how many times can you go to Disney World, after all – but if he wants to, I’ll be glad to let him. In the meantime, don’t annoy me with all this L Ron Hubbard look alike crap. Like George Burns said, “You want to get rich? Go sell Earth Shoes.”

  8. juvenal_urbino Says:

    And what I was wondering is, does that translate at all into being a “true believer” in potential theocracy? If what Al and Whitney are saying is true, then most people say these things and believe these things in a fairly passive way . . .

    I agree with Al and Whitney — with the proviso that what you, Sandi, might consider theocratic and dangerous, most of those passive believers would not consider theocratic at all and would vote for.

  9. Sandi Says:

    Well, that’s a proviso that swallows the whole rule! I guess what I mean by theocratic is the plain meaning — doing away with our Constitution and democratic government in general and instituting Biblical law. I don’t classify every move to chip away at the church/state wall to be, in and of itself, theocracy.

  10. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I guess what I was getting at, Sandi, was that a thing might be theocratic without effecting a full-on theocracy, and your notion (and mine) of what things are theocratic probably differs quite a bit from Al’s typical parishioner.

  11. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Case in point:

    doing away with our Constitution and democratic government in general and instituting Biblical law.

    In your thinking (and mine), one would have to do away with our Constitution, etc., in order to institute biblical law. I’m not sure the typical member of CsofC would see it that way at all; on their view, one could have both.

    (Maybe it would help if I actually read the article you referenced. Is it about the Dominion Theology/Christian Reconstructionist whackjobs, or more typical Evangelicals?)

  12. Whitney Says:

    I just read this quote in the article:
    All of them, however, have been shaped by dominion theology, which asserts that, in preparation for the second coming of Christ, godly men have the responsibility to take over every aspect of society.

    Doesn’t this defy what the New Testament says about how we’re supposed to win souls? The term “take over” immediately following “responsibility” kind of sends shivers down my spine. Our only “responsibility” in terms of how the world sees us is to tell people our good news (the Gospel) and show Jesus in all we say and do. I never saw the word “take over” in there. I guess I gotta go check me out some Bible Gateway to make sure.

    Any thoughts here?

  13. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Oh, so it is about the Dominion Theology moonbats. Ah.

    So my new short answer, Sandi, is: no, you don’t find that kind of thing in CsofC. (Not to my knowledge, anyway. It’s waaaaaaaaay too Calvinistic for CsofC.)

    If you’re curious, Whitney, look up Rousas John Rushdoony. He’s the fountainhead and theologian-in-chief.

  14. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Didn’t we fight a war over a similar issue some years back?

    I recall something along those lines, Cap’n, but the side that lost seems to have trouble remembering that its views were examined and, to borrow a phrase, relegated to the ash heap of history. They keep fulminating about them as if the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the ensuing constitutional amendments never happened.

  15. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Juvenal
    They keep fulminating about them as if the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the ensuing constitutional amendments never happened.

    Is there an echo in here? I though that’s what I said in the following paragraph – that some of the people who keep the conflict alive today in spite of all that’s happened have no clue as to the times and the society they are so nostalgia about.

    I was also surprised to find that you embrace the Southern side of the critical question that actually brought the sides to blows.

    Let 3 or 4 southern states secede and form their own little country, and allow — heck, encourage — anyone who wants to be part of that kind of country to freely immigrate to it — with the proviso that they have to stay for at least 5 yrs. (assuming the country lasts that long). Also provide financial assistance for those who want out to get out and resettled before the handover.

    This was exactly the attitude that the men in the South who agitated for separation wished Lincoln and the government in Washington would take, namely something like “No matter how foolish and destructive we think their reasons may be, secession is a legitimate right of any state so goodby and good riddance.”

    Given all the problems the Confederacy had – internal and external – it may well have fallen flat on its face if left to its own devices as an independent country within the 5 years you stipulate, but they never got the chance. Lincoln, for his own reasons, felt that preserving the union was his sacred duty, above all others, above slavery or any other issue, and the rest, as they say, is history, and the country was fundamentally changed.

    By the way, thanks for giving me an excuse to swerve the discussion this way, if only for this post.

  16. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I though that’s what I said in the following paragraph

    It is, more or less. What you’d said seemed aim more at the comically rednecked among us, though. I had in mind the ones in Dillard’s suits or Duckhead khakis who get themselves elected to schoolboards or city coucils or statehouses, or even federal houses. (Texas and Mississippi and Kansas delegations, I’m looking at you.)

    The CSA, I think, would’ve had a different set of problems from what a religious wingnut country would experience today. The South’s problem then was largely economic and technological, right?

    The — what, Dominion States of America? — the DSA’s problem would be a total lack of a unifying ideology (what John Rawls calls “overlapping consensus”). Each militaro-religious group would militate that its view be imposed on everybody else, and then they’d all go to killing each other. There just wouldn’t be anything to hold it all together. (Much the same pattern as in the Puritan New England colonies, only obscenely more violent.)

    Swerve on, MacDuff! Swerving is encouraged here’bouts.

  17. Capt MidKnight Says:

    I had in mind the ones in Dillard’s suits or Duckhead khakis who get themselves elected to schoolboards or city coucils or statehouses, or even federal houses. (Texas and Mississippi and Kansas delegations, I’m looking at you.)

    Oh, them good ‘ol boys. Actually, I suspect that most of them just act that way to make sure the “comically rednecked among us” go out and vote for them every election.

    The CSA, I think, would’ve had a different set of problems from what a religious wingnut country would experience today. The South’s problem then was largely economic and technological, right?

    Certainly true, but don’t forget the ideological hurdle they never were able to overcome. The same fierce “State’s Rights” feeling that allowed the pro-secession groups to carry the day in the early state referendums (pre Fort Sumter votes) remained strong after the formation of the Confederacy. This prevented the formation of a strong central government with the power to force the individual states to comply with the measures needed if they were to win. Add to that some minor details like Jefferson Davis’ inability to compromise and/or get along with many in the legislature; his tendency to micro-manage military matters; his blatant favoritism when dealing with some of his generals; and his unwillingness to fire incompetent generals because of personal friendship. Add in an inadequate and constantly struggling and scrounging supply system and a few dozen other lesser factors like a Union blockade of all their ports, and the only reason the Confederacy lasted as long as it did was that the North was even more screwed up, if such a thing was possible.
    By the early Spring of 1862 – barely a year after the war began, the North had an army of almost 100,000 men close enough to the Southern capitol to hear the church bells on Sunday morning. Except for a fortunate Minie’ ball that wounded Joe Johnson so that he was replaced by another general the troops derogatorily referred to as “Granny Lee,” and the panic and paranoia of a blowhard Northern general nic-named “Little Mac,” who was a tiger in training, but turned out to be a wuss on the battlefield, the Civil War might have been a few months long instead of four years.

    You realize, of course, that there is no end to this discussion.

    Your swerve

  18. dancingmoogle Says:

    I was raised in the Church of Christ and that sect then didn’t believe in an earthly 1000 year reign, but an eternal heavenly one. However, I left faith about fifteen years ago and can’t tell you what they believe now.

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