It comes from an unlikely source, but the Washington Post runs a column today by Lisa Miller, senior editor of Newsweek, that nails the hysteria coming from the political and religious left about the threat from the “theocrats” running for the Republican nomination for president. She writes:
Here we go again. The Republican primaries are six months away, and already news stories are raising fears on the left about “crazy Christians.”
The stories raise real concerns about the world views of two prospective Republican nominees. But their echo-chamber effect reignites old anxieties among liberals about evangelical Christians. Some on the left seem suspicious that a firm belief in Jesus equals a desire to take over the world. (The same charge, ironically, leveled at Obama in 2008 by some extremist Christians.)
Not sure what the parenthetical is referring to, but the rest is right on.
This isn’t a defense of the religious beliefs of Bachmann or Perry, whatever they are. It’s a plea, given the acrimonious tone of our political discourse, for a certain amount of dispassionate care in the coverage of religion. Nearly 80 percent of Americans say they’re Christian. A third of Americans call themselves “evangelical.” When millions of voters get lumped together and associated with the fringe views of a few, divisions will grow. Here, then, are some clarifying points.
The numbers of evangelical Christians in America is both inexplicable and infuriating to those on the left who consider evangelicalism a form of either mental illness or retardation. They would do well to heed Miller call for “dispassionate care” in their reporting and advocacy, but I wouldn’t look for it. Many of them are constitutionally incapable of granting intelligence, sincerity, or honesty to anyone with whom they disagree.
Evangelicals do not generally want to take over the world. “Dominionism” is the paranoid mot du jour. In its broadest sense, the term describes a Christian’s obligation to be active in the world, including in politics and government. You could argue, says Molly Worthen, who teaches religious history at the University of Toronto, that the nineteenth and early twentieth century reformers – abolitionists, suffragists, and temperance activists, for example – were dominionists.
Extremist dominionists do exist, theocrats who hope to transform our democracy into something that looks like ancient Israel, complete with stoning as punishment. But “it’s a pretty small world,” says Worthen, who studies these groups.
Christian PR man Mark DeMoss put it this way: “You would be hard pressed to find one in 1,000 Christians in America who could even wager a guess at what dominionism is.”
I’d put that figure far higher, like maybe 1 in 100,000, and half of them are Reformed theologians. In any case, this is exactly right–just because a handful of people want to impose Israel’s national law on America hardly means that all political action by evangelicals can or should be smeared with the kind of broad brush people such as Michelle Goldberg (who, oddly enough, works for the Daily Beast, the “online home” of Newsweek) want to use.
Evangelicals aren’t of one mind. It’s true: in a general election, white evangelicals overwhelmingly vote Republican. But they are an increasingly complex blend of social and fiscal conservatives, and thus, are all over the map in the upcoming primaries. DeMoss, for one, is working to convince evangelicals to vote for Mitt Romney, a Mormon. Doug Wead, an insider in the George H.W. Bush White House, who allegedly coined the phrase “Compassionate Conservative,” is spinning for libertarian candidate Ron Paul.
Of course, the fact that most white evangelicals vote Republican is by itself cause for overwrought hate in some left circles. Black evangelicals, who vote overwhelmingly Democrat, are on the side of the angels, and so given no grief about their political involvement at all.
Christian conservatives in America are not more militant than ever. Pat Robertson, a Christian minister, ran for president in 1988. Unlike Perry and Bachmann, who allegedly have links to dominionism, Robertson was, actually, a dominionist. “There will never be world peace until God’s house and God’s people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world,” he wrote.
To the extent that Robertson espoused something akin to “Dominionism,” it was just one of several crackpot ideas that he held, which is at least part of the reason why his candidacy died a short and unlamented death. As for Perry and Bachmann, we’ll see.
Miller makes clear that there’s nothing wrong with investigating these two candidates political and religious ideas, and putting them before the public (would that more of that had been done to Barack Obama before his election). But the kind of paranoia to which she points does nothing more than continue to poison the political and religious climate, especially when it is done by people with obvious partisan and ideological agendas. Here’s hoping that her colleagues in the media (starting, God willing, with her associate from the Daily Beast) get the message.