An Observation Re: Fundamentalist Christianity & Politics

I don’t think I’m anti-fundamentalist Christians as people.  I have way too many friends and family whom I love and respect still within that group.  But the movement is taking some very dangerous turns, in my opinion.  This is one thing I’ve observed in recent months that I find alarming. 

In the course of my research I see a lot of articles and blog posts about fundamentalist Christianity.  Having grown up within the fundamentalist Christian paradigm I’m well aware of the “they’re all out to get us” mentality fostered within that philosophy.  Increasing public sentiment is openly turning against fundamentalist Christians.  However, this sentiment has not appeared spontaneously just because “evil hates good.”  Fundamentalists see persecution as affirmation of their godliness.  But the cultural shift against the movement known as “Fundamentalist Christianity” is occurring in reaction to the excesses and arrogance of those who call themselves fundamentalist Christians. 

The primary way fundamentalist Christians have made targets of themselves is through political action.  Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with political involvement; it is a basic right and responsibility of every adult American citizen.  However, fundamentalist Christianity has virtually taken over the Republican party, making politics a “fundamentalist Christian” vs. “non-fundamentalist-Christian” battle rather than a struggle over ideals and how to promote the welfare of our country.  Whether the fundamentalist leaders realize it or not, to everyone outside their rarified atmosphere they have made it all about their own religious particulars.  I know fundamentalist believe they have a mandate from God to control this country with their own brand of right.  This idea is alarming to everyone outside their paradigm.

They don’t see what everyone else can see.  Religion and politics are both power centers.  When one controls the other abuses of power occur.  It goes both ways.  In fact, that was one of the foundational issues in the formation of this country. 

Look at history.  Inside the fundamentalist subculture there is a lot of vilification of the Catholic church, Bloody Mary, and other religio-governmental abuses of religious freedom.  However, they conveniently overlook the fact that this abuse of power is not limited to the groups they see as evil.  The Puritans were just as bloody as Bloody Mary.  John Calvin also burned people at the stake for not agreeing with his theology – stunning religious leader there.  Why do fundamentalist Christians think they wouldn’t be just as guilty of misusing a power platform of their own?  As a religious group they already can’t keep their affairs in order; having them in control of a nation is a very scary thought, regardless of what I may think of some of their specific values.

Another issue I see as far as the dangers of fundamentalist Christians gaining political power is that statesmanship requires particular experience, education, connections and major leadership skills.  Religious values believed to be important to the country are not adequate qualifications to lead a nation!  Religious leaders, especially fundamentalist leaders, tend to be poor leaders when compared to the rest of the real world.  Not many of them could successfully run a large corporation, much less an entire country.  The rate of abuses, embezzlement, imbalanced leadership, etc. in fundamentalist churches is alarming.  Having this general type of person leading the country alarms me (not alluding to any specific accusations; I know of nothing specific against any fundamentalist Christian involved in politics).  Not one member of the “religious right” that has been a front-runner is someone I would trust in that position.  Some of these men I have known up-close (but not personally); others I have seen and heard just enough to know they almost certainly fit the same mold, especially when they uphold the former as role models to emulate.

I don’t think it is wrong for anyone to pursue a career in politics, regardless of their religious affiliation.  What I find alarming is using religious affiliation is an indication of qualification for political leadership and as an important, even primary, identifier.  To me that is obviously backwards, upside down and should be a sign that something is seriously amiss.

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Michigan Pastor James Hatfield Sentenced for Sex Abuse

My thanks to CBS Newschannel 3 for this story.

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A former pastor in Van Buren County will serve time after admitting to a sexual assault.

Pastor James Hatfield used to minister at The Center of Life Church in Paw Paw. It was while he was a pastor there that authorities say he started abusing a girl that was in his care, abuse that began when the girl was in middle school, and continued through high school.

Hatfield later pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault, and Tuesday he was sentenced to at least a year and nine months in prison…

Ineffective Sex Offender Legislation

There is a great blog post about this issue at Sex Offender Issues. I am not copying the article here because I want to make a side point. The blog is very much worth the read. One quote from it —

A 1990 meta-study by the Freedom from Religion Foundation documented that 190 clergy convicted of molesting children were found to have abused 847 victims — some abused hundreds, even thousands, of times — before they were caught. Investigators believe these clergy had actually abused at least 4,000 children.

I would venture to guess that the numbers now, nearly 20 years later, would be significantly higher since the reporting of incidents of clergy sex abuse has increased as a result of the publicity of the sex abuse issue in the Catholic Church. Victims at least have some chance of realizing they are not alone with a secret to keep and that the authorities might actually do something about it if they tell.

I am also very certain the incidence of clergy sex abuse perpetration has not noticeably diminished in the past 18 years. The only church that is making serious attempts to address the issue is the Catholic Church. They are lightyears ahead of Protestant churches on this problem — which is ironic since the public image is still that clergy sex abuse is a Catholic issue because of clergy celibacy. And perhaps this stereotype contributes to Protestant churches’ continued belief that it’s “not that big a problem for us” and thereby excusing themselves (collectively) from taking the definitive and painful steps the Catholic church has had to take to address it. Since there is a tendency among Protestant churches to vilify the Catholic church in the first place, it is easy to classify clergy sex abuse as a problem distinctively characteristic of priests required to be celibate against their nature.

The truth is that clergy sex abuse is at least as systemic in Protestant churches as it is in Catholic churches because it’s not about sex or celibacy. It is about power and, unfortunately, church leadership is a classic “power” position. That doesn’t make every pastor a predator by any remote stretch of the imagination. But it does mean that church leadership is a position that will appeal to a predator — not just because it gives him/her access to prey but because it scratches that person’s basic drive for power.

Just pondering here, what might be some effective sex offender legislation that would affect clergy? There’s a limit to what the law can do without overstepping religious boundaries. But civil authorities could perhaps prohibit an authority figure from holding a job where he/she has oversight of children or their parents (since by having authority over parents he can influence and have access to the children). For instance, a convicted sex offender could not be a school principal, a day-care owner, or a pastor. Does that make sense? I’d love to hear some other ideas, too.