I've long felt that the current, nearly total identification of evangelicals with the Republican party was tenuous and oddly out of step with its fundamental principles. Not just on the basis of the clear imperatives Jesus gave to side at all times with the less fortunate and less powerful, but also because Christian doctrine so emphatically rejects so many key elements of conservative politics, such as judgmental moral relationships, support of political establishment, and political participation in general.
I know this first hand because I was brought up in evangelical churches and even considered entering the ministry when I was a young adult. Now, of course, I'm your typical thoroughly secularist urbanite. But ironically, what pushed me away from Christianity was the frightening realization that many of these people were more concerned with having their worldview and moral and political opinions affirmed, than with actually following the gospel. I began to question my faith because it seemed so impotent--so incapable to raising questions in its followers minds about the dissonance in their commitments to the gospel with the political alignments they'd made. If this religion was being used to legitimize hypocrisy and what essentially amounted to persecution of those not like them, whatever the virtues of the basic tenets of that religion, there must have been something wrong with it on a deeper level.
If I had to venture a guess at an explanation for this, it seems that evangelicals are for whatever reason the kind of people who are incapable of recognizing the possibility that their political alignments are not completely reconcilable with their religious beliefs.
In the news today, we can observe two different responses to the President's re-election, one that profoundly supports my old conclusions, and one that suggests I might have been too quick to judge. Follow me after the break.
The L.A. Times is reporting today that a coal company called Murray Energy is laying off 150 workers, in direct response to President Obama's election. Their chief executive, Robert Murray, links the decision to the election and claims to be acting on behalf of God.
Robert Murray, chief executive of Murray Energy Co., the largest privately held coal company in America, blamed the layoffs on President Obama -- and, by extension, the voters who elected him -- in a memo to employees.It's difficult to tell what to make of this. The company apparently employs around 3,000 workers in total, which suggests that this was probably a planned layoff anyway. But what is truly horrifying here is that this man has chosen to disrespect these workers by turning their misfortune into a political football, and not only that, but also to invoke God as justification for this cowardly act. It's the kind of odd human obliviousness we saw demonstrated in a different context in the Mourdock debate. You just wonder what sort of community these people live in that makes them think this is appropriate behavior.
“The American people have made their choice,” Murray said in what he called a prayer that he delivered at a staff meeting at which he discussed the layoffs. The prayer was first made public by the Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register. “We are a country in favor of redistribution, national weakness and reduced standard of living and lower and lower levels of personal freedom.... The takers outvoted the producers.”
Reduced demand for coal, slumps in coal prices and looming pollution regulations have converged to cause the destruction of the coal industry, Murray said.
“We must totally go into survival mode and generate all the cash that we can from whatever we still have left that can help us,” he wrote in a memo to his staff.
The layoffs occurred at three Murray Energy subsidiaries: Seven employees were let go at Kanawha Transportation Center, 54 were laid off at American Coal, and 102 were laid off at UtahAmerican Energy.
“Lord, please forgive me and anyone with me in Murray Energy Corp. for the decisions that we are now forced to make to preserve the very existence of any of the enterprises that you have helped us to build,” Murray said in the prayer, which he delivered to about 50 staff members in a private meeting Wednesday afternoon.
On the other hand, the Times is also reporting today on a surprisingly hopeful interview with the leader of an organization that most of us around here consider a genuine political enemy.
As the head of Focus on the Family, Jim Daly might be considered one of the nation's leading culture warriors — a title that certainly applied to his predecessor, James Dobson, who founded the organization and built it into a powerhouse of the conservative evangelical movement.By all means, read the rest of the article. But in the end, while Daly's statements are undeniably hopeful, it's doubtful they would provide very much comfort to those unfortunate workers being laid off in part, it appears, because of his organization's longstanding willingness to provide political cover to hypocrites like Robert Murray.
And, to be sure, Daly threw the considerable resources of his organization — which fiercely opposes abortion and same-sex marriage — behind the campaign to defeat President Obama, paying for millions of mailers that listed the presidential candidates' positions on issues that were important to “values voters.”
In the aftermath of the election, however, Daly is willing to say things that few conservative evangelical leaders are likely to say. He believes, for instance, that the Christian right lost the fight against same-sex marriage in four states in part because it is on the losing side of a cultural paradigm. He says the evangelical community should have been considering immigration reform years ago, “but we were led more by political-think than church-think.”
And, along the same lines, he argues that evangelicals have made a mistake by marching in lock step with the Republican Party.
“If the Christian message has been too wrapped around the axle of the Republican Party, then a) that's our fault, and b) we've got to rethink that,” he said in a telephone interview, which followed a preelection interview in his office in Colorado Springs, Colo.
These are controversial views in Daly's world, and he concedes that some of them have stirred anger among some of his fellow conservative Christians. But Daly, who exudes preternatural cheerfulness, said he believes that evangelicals need to win over friends, not make more enemies, and that the results of the election underlined the need to reach out to people with whom they have disagreements — including Obama — and seek common ground.
“Maybe we've been looking in the wrong direction and we've got to be more ecumenical,” he said. For years, he said, evangelical conservatives were content to persuade the Republican Party to adopt their principles on social issues.
“I guess that's all good, except when you don't win elections,” he said. He added: “I think what we've got to do in the Christian community is be far more humble ... and not call it a war, a culture war.”