Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The strange world of a current liberal fear: Is America becoming a theocracy?

Last Sunday at Cascade Hills, we talked about a central idea in the book of I John: that what we believe to be true drives what we do. It's obviously important, then, to seek out and thoroughly explore what is true, and equally important that we consciously shape our actions to line up with that truth. As part of my sermon, I mentioned a quote from Adam Kirsch from the New York Sun: "All of America's great strengths - our diversity, tolerance, pragmatism - finally depend on our ability to keep public reason and private belief strictly separate. [more]" I went on to mention that Kirsch is attempting to protect the concept of separation of church and state, but that such thinking has gone far beyond mere separation. In today's culture, it is easy to see that (Christian) faith is not welcome in any public sphere. Any value or moral stance, and certainly actions that derive from those values, that has root in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is simply inadmissible at the social gathering, the marketplace, the courthouse, or the congressional floor.

Given this current cultural reality, I am utterly mystified by the fears that America is somehow becoming a theocracy espoused in some political realms. I mentioned this a while back in another blog post inspired by reading The Nation. I have since seen the proliferation of titles on display near the entrance of Borders:
American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century; The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right’s Plans for the Rest of Us; and others. The centerpiece of this new genre of literature is the equating of the Bush administration with the Mullahs and Ayatollahs of Jihadist Islam (and thus the fun picture at the head of this post.) Here is a sample of the genre, written by Rabbi James Ruddin (who is the American Jewish Committee's senior interreligious advisor):
“All government employees—federal, state and local—would be required to participate in weekly Bible classes in the workplace, as well as compulsory daily prayer sessions,” as would employees of any company or institution receiving federal funds. There would be a national ID card, identifying everyone by their religious beliefs, or lack thereof—and “such cards would provide Christocrats with preferential treatment in many areas of life, including home ownership, student loans, employment and education.” Non-Christian faiths would be tolerated, “but younger members . . .would be strongly encouraged to formally convert to the dominant evangelical Christianity.” Gay sex would be prosecuted, and “known homosexuals and lesbians would have to successfully undergo government-sponsored reeducation sessions if they applied for any public-sector jobs.” Political dissent would be squashed, religious censors would keep watch over the popular culture, and “the mainstream press and the electronic media would be beaten into submission.”
Once again, the clear-thinking folks over at First Things have explored and soundly answered the sort of thinking behind this trend. While I am still flabbergasted that anyone could seriously entertain these silly fears, at least now I see how silly they really are.

No, America is not a theocracy, has never been one, and is not becoming one. Yes, those who profess to walk in the way of Jesus and to know the truth that He reveals--should we not allow that truth to inform every area of our actions, including those actions we claim for ourselves as people who constitute a democratic society? Should we not allow what we believe to be true to drive what we do?

But even if that were true of all Christians who are also Americans, there would still be no worry of becoming a theocratic society, since the way of Christ is foolishness to the world of secular America and a stumbling block to our culture, for it is the way of the cross. Ours is not a kingdom of legislative victories and cultural imperatives, ours is the Kingdom of the Crucified One, the One who overcomes by laying down His life for those who hate Him. Ours is the way of Jesus.


Tim Lewis said...

People will grasp at anything. George Bush can't turn us into a theocracy simply based on the fact that he'll be out of office in two years. It's people like this that proliferate the "seperation of church & state" when it is meant to be the protection of church from the state. They're shooting themselves in the foot.

ted said...

It has always perplexed me somewhat that there are people who think that we need to have only believers in positions of power. It's as if they think that God's will cannot be achieved by God's power alone, that somehow He needs us to get it done. They also seem to think that a believer is not capable of falling prey to temptations that come with said positions of power. I'd be curious to hear David and Saul's opinions. Or even Uriah's.

The tribes of Israel were a nation of sorts that was ruled, not just by believers, but by God's chosen children. Did that help them on a personal level in regard to their own obedience to God?

I'm of the opinion that it's better to have a government that calls itself Godless, that way I feel better about bad-mouthing it.

Tim Lewis said...

Besides, I thought you were out of town. Why are you posting on your blog?

Alan said...

It doesn't help the conversation when a sitting President claims he hears directly from God on how to prosecute war in our time. It doesn't help when Pat Robertson pontificates on suggesting that perhaps we ought to assasinate the President of Venezuela. It doesn't help when Jerry Falwell preaches that 9/11 is the result of sin in our country. It doesn't help when folks in Colorado protest at funerals of slain soldiers stating that they died because there are homosexuals in the military and at home.

The conversation is overreaching at times, but when a Congress claims religious moral authority while bowing to greed and power one stops and wonders.

This is not necessarily first steps to creating a theocracy, but it is more like using religion to further fortune and power. The founding fathers of our country were concerned enough about it to not establish state churches like what was present in Europe.

I am not willing to submit to a Catholic Pope, I surely would not to a Protestant Pope.

There is however a greater fear and that is the elevation of the religion of economics. Money is the god of this nation. It isn't a godlessness of liberalism transforming this country, but an idolatry of wealth promoted by people who like to enlist Jesus as their favorite philosopher. It surely is not pleasing to Him.

We'll be visiting Sunday baring unforseen circumstances.

Alan said...


The actual circumstances was that church and state were joined in Europe. The church had the force of the state to enforce it's dogma on the population. The church gave cause to the state for a myriad of undertaking, including religious wars. The church had civil authority to punish even to death those that would not submit to church authority.

The uproar at the start of the current Iraq war was something along the lines of our fundamentalists can beat up your fundamentalists.

George Bush hasn't left office yet, and he has been setting precedent that the Constitution is what he says it is. We are one more terrorist attack away from a suspension of elections and a declaration of martial law. It happened in Berlin in the 1930's. There is some signs that Congress may finally be pushing back. For the most part of the last 6 years they have been asleep at the wheel.

Dwayne Hilty said...

Interesting conversation. I guess I'm always intrigued at how Christendom throughout history has been misconstrued to be symbolic of governmental or nation-state power, when in fact, the Gospel seems to be the epitome of powerlessness and the giving up of personal preferences.

Those who fear the onset of a possible theocracy are concerned about power. It seems like they are afraid of losing the power or dignity that they feel they have. Flip the coin and it seems like a big concern in popular, evangelical Christianity with the rise of "liberalism" (whatever that is) is about power. They see our national identity in jeopardy and believe that legislation (or political power) will solve the problem.

It seems to me that those who follow Christ can bank on a few things in America: Our cause is not really about power, unless you wish to speak of God's ultimate power over evil, and in terms of a "bank account" of power in this country, our account is growing smaller every day. In other words, we better get used to the notion that we will have less and less power in our culture.

Having said that (wow this is getting long), I wonder what living out and bringing about God's kingdom reign would look like among a community of faith that chooses to do so without dominating it upon unbelievers would look like?

Tim Lewis said...

This is starting to sound something about what I said around communion about the power of God in Jesus. When Jesus was killed, the powers and principalities (the Roman government & the Jews) thought they had exercized their power over him. When Jesus rose from the dead, he exercized real power over the real powers & principalities of sin & death.

Josephus coined the term "theocracy" in reference to the Jews, but did the Jews in the 1st century have power in the Roman government? Not really, they only pointed fingers at Jesus saying he was claiming to be Lord, when everyone knew that "Caesar is Lord". What about our current government? Is an organized church or religion controlling the government and if not, is it close? Or, is our government claiming to be under the direction of God? I don't think so in either of these. I think Bush is too busy playing on his ranch these days.

I think dad is right in that the god of money reaches into way too many people's lives, and this is where the church needs to live by example and give some difficult teaching to people. Unfortunately, there are way too many rich pastors that aren't willing to give up everything. The power of the living Christ is enough to make all the difference.