“These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own.”
- G. K. Chesterton
I’ve been plodding my way through Kevin Phillips’ “American Theocracy” for about a month now. I first got interested in the book when I saw the author on a C-Span interview. At the same time, I’m also reading Amos Yong’s “The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh – Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology.”
After reading the seventh chapter of Phillips’ work yesterday I realized just how dangerous religious folk, particularly Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, and “fundamentalists” really are. Permit me to explain.
Phillips’s thesis is that a convergence of greedy oil men, “fundamentalist pulpiteers,” and an enormous load of debt are converging, in conspiratorial fashion, to bring about religious rule in the United States and war in the Middle East. All of this is being done to hasten Armageddon and the Parousia.
In his early chapters he takes a swipe or two at the fundamentalists:
“In 1983 James Watt, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the interior, was forced to resign because of pressure from environmentalists who regarded him as hostile to their cause. Part of the suspicion lay in Watt’s conservative religion – he was the first cabinet secretary to belong to the Pentecostal Assemblies of God – and in suppositions that he was preoccupied with waiting for Christ’s second coming rather than with environmental stewardship. This was an early instance of a connection that has since become more controversial, and interest in Watt rekindled in 2001 when his protégée, Coloradan Gale Norton, was named secretary of the interior by George W. Bush. Norton had worked for Watt at the Mountain States Legal Foundation in 1979-1981 and again at the Interior Department. Like Watt, she was seen by the environmental movement as a foe.”
While Phillips did (graciously I assume) note that several major print media did apologize to Watt in 2005 for having misquoted him twenty-three years earlier, he didn’t make it clear what Norton’s critics were troubled by. Association? Her views on Armageddon?
Phillips launches into the deep in chapter seven (“Church, State, and National Decline”). It begins with a prominent epigraph from a 2004 statement by journalist Bill Moyers:
“One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington.”
From there he goes on to cite, chronologically, how Christianity was responsible for just about everything from the fall of Rome to World War I. In the United States, he claims, the movement away from the mainline denominations to the fringes of fundamentalism and Pentecostalism began early in the twentieth century and has now grown to the point it has gathered substantial political power. In one light-hearted jab at the Bush administration he cited a piece from the Washington Post:
“At the General Services Administration, the office-maintenance arm of the federal government, Bush appointees held lunch-hour revival meetings in the front hall, making it seem, in the words of the Washington Post, “more like the foyer of a Pentecostal storefront church.”
I can only assume from what I’ve read to this point that Mr. Phillips would prefer something less controversial to be happening in the halls of government than religious ecstasy. Oral sex and interns perhaps?
To his credit, Mr. Phillips does try to tackle a very big subject – what he sees as the convergence of radical American religion, big oil, and borrowed money. He cites our war in Iraq as the cornerstone of his argument. Greedy oil men want Iraq’s oil. Radical fundamentalist and Pentecostal Christians want to make Armageddon happen. And, it’s all being funded by a mountain of debt.
Now I can’t speak for the oil men, but I can speak as a Pentecostal. One of the things I believe in as a matter of fundamentals is that Jesus is going to one day return to the earth. You may think of me as you like, but I really believe that. Something else I believe along with millions of other Pentecostal Christians is that when He does return it will be in God’s sovereign time. I cannot make it happen. George Bush cannot make it happen. Kevin Phillips cannot make it happen. As Bob Dylan said back in seventy-nine:
“Of every earthly plan that be known to man,
He is unconcerned
He’s got plans of His own to set up His throne
When He returns”
Further, I believe the same things that Christians have believed for almost two thousand years. I believe in the fundamentals of the Nicene Creed:
“We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”
“And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.”
“And we believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And we believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
That statement forms, for me and millions of other Christians, the foundation of our belief. I can even be bold enough to state categorically that this is normative Christianity. I would hope that mainline Christians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, and others believe that statement. To Phillips these fundamentals may seem to be disturbing, but I a millions of my fellows take great comfort in them.
I think what’s really got the burr under his saddle is that religious folk are getting involved in politics. Or, to put it better, the wrong types of religious folk are getting involved. It’s those delusional fundamentalists and Pentecostals who are causing the problems.
If it will help any I’ll reassure him that all we want to do is participate, not rule. As Amos Yong said on our behalf:
“If the genius of Pentecostalism is its yearning to experience afresh the power of the Holy Spirit manifest in the first-century church and if Luke is the author most concerned with, and interested in, the operations of the Spirit, then this convergence should not be surprising. This Pentecostal vision of original Christianity is animated by the conviction that the accounts in the book of Acts (especially) are not merely of historical interest but an invitation to participate in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.”
In other words, many of us want to practice a faith that has meaning. We want to live it out.
Finally, I can assure Mr. Phillips that I’m no conspirator. My views on the current situation in the Middle East are informed as much by my politics as they are by my faith. I’m a Woodrow Wilson Democrat. I’m a John F. Kennedy Democrat. I served in harm’s way back in the sixties because I believed that I had an obligation to the world and the people of Vietnam. Today, as a matter of politics I believe we were, and are still, right to have stopped the brutality of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam’s carnage in Iraq. My views have nothing to do with oil or Armageddon. It had, as I see it, everything to do with right and wrong. I supported what we started out to do. I support it now. And, I’ll support it till the issue is resolved. As a matter of faith I see our work in the Middle East as a noble work. The Christian humanist Erasmus once noted that we are “citizens of the world.” I believe those words. I believed them when Bill Clinton ordered America’s sons and daughters to stop the genocide in the Balkans back in the nineties. I believed them on September 11, 2001 and the days of liberation that followed for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.
While I realize that the United States cannot fix every world problem, I also believe that we cannot ignore them. We are citizens of the world! If this is the type of thinking that makes me see irrational or fanatical to men like Kevin Phillips, I gladly accept the epithet.
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The Nicene Creed