19 ene. 2010

Christianity in the USA and the Religious Right

In the USA, the separation of State and Church is just as ambivalent as many of the aspect we have been tackling throughout this curse. I came across with Right-Wing Christianity for the first time on the summer of 2008. I was in Idaho visiting a friend. There I meet the heirs of the Puritans tradition in the XXI Century. I must confess that I was a little shocked for the comments about politics or religion that I heard while I was visiting the Potato State. Of course not everyone was fundamentalist, but I did meet an awful lot of people who were very judgmental with everyone who does not agree with their own worldview. I was there during the Presidential campaign and I cannot count how many times I heard people accusing Obama of being a Commie or a Muslim. Nevertheless, over these years I have learnt many things and now I separate the American-Protestant branch (unlike the Catholic Church it is a very heterogeneous group with lots of denominations so I’m using this as a generic name) and the Religious Right. I would like to comment about both in the following lines.

Everyone should be entitled to practice the religion of their choice. In the United States, this is stated in the Bill of Rights. During my visit on that summer, I had the change to meet several relatives and acquaintances of my friend who were active members on a local church. I even got the chance to meet a pastor and went to a weeding. Most of the people I meet were simply good-hearted people whose sole ambitions were to make a change in their community. They were really polite and welcoming with visitors and I do not think of them as brainwashed. We cannot forget that the main force behind the Civil Rights movement was a Baptist minister, Martin Luther King. We can or cannot agree with his religious views, but it would be really hard to deny the legacy that he has left in the United States. He and many other religious leaders and laymen have made a significant contribution to this country.

However, there is another kind of Christianity, one that is wrong for the simple reason that it meddles religious with politics. This is what is usually called Right-Wing Christianity. In here we can see lots of religious leaders such as Pat Robertson who run for president some years ago, and have made some really judgmental statements during his lifetime; just recently he stated that earthquake-ravaged Haiti has been "cursed" by a "pact to the devil." (Shea 2010).

There are several cases like this that I have heard during these years. Reverend Billy Graham was accused of watering down the gospel because he said on Larry King that no one can determine whether someone is going to hell or not. Jesus Camp, a 2006 documentary, has many examples of this kind. The documentary is a heated discussion about the entanglement of religion with politics in the USA. It is narrated by Mike Papantonio, a non-fundamentalist Christian who runs a radio program. The main protagonist is Becky Fisher, a Pentecostal children minister. Papantonio started his program quoting Jesus and explaining why the religious Right goes against his teachings: he says “there is some new brand of religion out there, that somehow thinks that things have changed since Matthew wrote about Jesus and the sermon on the mount where Jesus told us to be peacemakers, and now everything they do, they say they do it in the name of God, that we need to go to war in the name of God, they say that of all people George Bush is a “holy man” who is been anointed with the job of creating a Christian society not just in America but in the rest of the world” (Ewing and Grady 2006).

Then the focus goes to Becky and how she indoctrinates children in a way quite similar to Muslim Schools in the Arab world. She actually makes this horrible comparison. She says, “They [kids] are so usable in Christianity. If you look at the world’s population, one third of that are children under the age of fifteen. Where should be putting our efforts? I’ll tell you where our enemies are putting it, on the kids. They go to schools in Palestine […] They put grenades in their hands, they’re teaching them how to put bombs […] it is no wonder that those kids are willing to kill themselves for the cause of Islam. I want to see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus as young people are to the cause of Islam […] because we have, excuse me, but we have the truth” (Ewing and Grady 2006).

This is an excellent documentary in order to have a clear picture of the harm that the Religious right can cause in society. Another really controversial episode it is about the Pastor Ted Haggard who appears in the middle of the film. He gives a sermon against homosexuals while at the bottom of the screen there is a subtitle saying, “Pastor Ted Haggard is President of the National Association of Evangelicals, representing millions of people. He talks to President Bush and his advisors every Monday”. It is ironic that the people who oppose gay marriage are usually the same ones who support limited government. However the real irony is that, a year after, Pastor Haggard was accused of having homosexual relationship with young men, consuming crack, and having relationships with male prostitutes (CNN 2009).

This is the reality of the Religious Right in the United States. As I say before, religion is not wrong but its entanglement with politics is something that should be avoided by all cost. George Bush owns big time to these people. I tried to present these fact as objective as possible. We live in a world with many voices, many ways of thinking and respecting one another is essential. Religious has to be practiced in private and not be involved with any public institution. I hope that Christians in the United States realize that and start mimicking the way Doctor King made a difference with pacific manifestations and acts of kindness and love.

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© Pablo Camus
Maira Gall