In a previous diary, I gave a personal history of my Christian experience. I chose my title from the name of a TV show of which title I was aware but the show itself I had never seen. Some of the interaction seemed to be plays on the characters and plot of the show, but I didn’t get it. The piece ended somewhere in the early 80s. It seems to me, as kinda fair warning, that this piece has more “in-house” things to say.
As I said, I “became a Christian” in 1977, around the time of the founding of the Moral Majority, though the two events were unconnected. I went to a theologically conservative church and became very involved, being there several times a week and volunteering for several positions. Having grown up in the sixties, I had and still have a fair amount of progressive and anti-establishment ideas and feelings. Though I understood there were people in the church with whom I disagreed politically, it did not cause an issue. There were a couple of awkward moments, like when a friend invited me over for lunch after church and expected me to join right in as he lectured his children on the satanic evil of Rock and Roll, but these things get navigated. Some times with more grace than others, but you get past them.
In my observation, however, that was changing. I make a distinction, part of which I used above. I am conservative theologically (quite orthodox Christian belief in God and Christ; Strong belief in the inspiration of the Scriptures) but liberal politically. It is a distinction which is more common today as people are protesting more that the public culture crusaders do not speak for them. However, in the 70s there was a large swing towards conservative theology being equated with conservative politics - always a staple of Christian Fundamentalism but then becoming almost universal in the Church. With that step came another result: compromise – that essential to living life in a community and an integral part of the American political system – became viewed as exactly the same as Spiritual compromise. The expression I have heard recently is having a Manichean World View. It is the view that there is only Good and Evil and there is no middle ground. And, Good never compromises – won’t ever even converse – with Evil.
So, as the Moral Majority was getting together they asked Billy Graham to join. Rev Graham had mostly had a non-partisan ministry, as he felt he was called to preach the Gospel. In the 60s/70s, however he had been sucked into the Nixon White House to the point where he was no longer “Pastor to the Presidents” but an active participant in the lies and cover-up. Afterwards, he realized his mistake and when he received the invitation from the Moral Majority, he refused to join*. The response from the Moral Majority was to malign Billy Graham and question if he were a Christian! Yes, a battle line had been drawn and when Good (Moral Majority) calls you and you fail to come, there is no place to just say you, for your reasons, are doing something else. You are compromising with Evil. Saying that you do not want to join was greeted as the same thing as denying Christ. **
In another context, being an involved person in my church, I was placed into positions of more responsibility and decision-making. I read a lot anyway, so I picked up some leadership resources. In either Discipleship Journal or Leadership Journal I read an article on making decisions as a church board. The author claimed that all church board decisions must be made unanimously. In his proposal any decision must be worked through by all participants until it was a proposal they could unanimously vote for. I’m not saying you should compromise, he wrote, just come to a place where you all can vote for the proposal. If what he described was not a methodology for compromise, I don’t know what is, and yet he had to disparage compromise as part of his proposal.
To say that that view still has a hold on the Church and public discourse would be an understatement. There is a recent controversy over the writings of a man who wrote on slavery and the Civil War. I don’t want to sink too far into the details, as I am not writing about that, but here is one of the lines from the book. Christians must live or die by the Scriptures, as they stand. … Southern slavery was an example of the kind of sinful human situation that called for diligent obedience to St. Paul’s directives, on the part of both masters and slaves. Because this did not happen, and because of the way slavery ended, the federal government acquired the power to impose things on the states that it did not have before.
Here’s how it ran for me as I read it. Christians must live or die by the Scriptures (Yes), as they stand (Yes) Southern slavery was an example of the kind of sinful human situation that called for diligent obedience to St. Paul’s directives (Yes), on the part of both masters and slaves (um … Yes, depending how much you are going to blame the victim). Because this did not happen, and because of the way slavery ended, the federal government acquired the power to impose things on the states that it did not have before (Wait. What? How did that become a biblical stand for us to live and die for?). In the writer’s critique something which is hardly a biblical stand got snuck in and expressed just matter of factly. Federal government does not impose things on states. Biblical stand? Chapter? Verse? In the writer’s argument, what is essentially a personal preference is put out there not only as the biblical position but the opposite happening (federal government acquiring power over the states) attains the status of God’s righteous wrath on America.
In the end, the writer’s cultural stand of personal choice not only is part of the argument, and placed in the mouth of God, my objection to it places me in the position where the writer says I deny the authority of Scripture. Again, there is no place for discourse as Good does not compromise – or even converse – with Evil (Those who oppose God’s Holy Word).
With the influx of Christian participation in the political structures, there has been a corresponding increase in intolerance and refusal to listen to other sides or even to consider there are other sides. One would think that it should have gone the other way. One contributing factor in this (and I understand there is intolerance on both sides but I am writing of my so-called Christian life and what I have observed and, frankly, I expect more from The Church than this) has been the proliferation of this Manichean world view where on any issue, there is only Good and Evil. The ability to live in community and in a country depends on the ability to navigate the plethora of choices, many of which are truly personal preferences and do not involve the sheer Moral weight of the Eternal Law. Spiritual Compromise is a serious matter and not to be done but not all compromise – in fact very little compromise – is Spiritual and the confusion of the categories (sometimes done deliberately, just to “win”) has done nothing but harm to the country and the Church.
*Unfortunately, we have recently witnessed Rev Graham’s Cultural Crusading and Christian Power-Broker wannabe son “right” this by dragging his dad’s name into all kinds of political mud for his ambition.
**Other examples abound, such as Jimmy Carter was not a Christian (because, one guy told me, his theology was “too Barthian”) Ronald Reagan was a Christian (because, a Baptist minister told me, he wrote a Pro-Life book) George Bush 41 was a Christian (because, a Seminarian told me, the Press hates him so). All-in-all, it was an alphabet game. If your name ended with a (R), you were “in”; if a (D), you’re “out” and either way a contrived excuse follows.