In America the history of Christian hatred and bigotry has often taken the form of “respectable” organizations such as the Southern Baptist (who were formed expressly to give religious support to the defense of slavery), the Ku Klux Klan (widely considered a patriotic, ‘Christian’ organization during its heyday), followed by the White Citizens Councils, and now the Family Research Council and the American Family Association. These two latter ‘Christian’ organizations are listed as certified hate groups – along with the KKK and the Aryan Nations – yet still generate widespread ‘Christian’ support, masquerade as Christian organizations, attract conservative politicians – including Donald Trump, and regularly are invited to speak to media as representing ‘Christian’ values. They are, in my opinion, modern day white-collar versions of the Ku Klux Klan. Yet GOP politicians continue to cozy up to them.
All religions pay tribute to kindness, but for some reason this does not always translate well. Neither fundamentalist Islam nor fundamentalist Christianity is known for being kind and loving. Research shows a major drop in religious affiliation and attendance in the US in recent years, and many who have left the church attribute this to a sense that political Christianity, much like political Islam in the Middle East, is lacking in grace and kindness. Rarely does political Christianity in America appear concerned with poverty, despite widespread high poverty across the deeply religious South (or the repeated concerns for the poor stressed by Jesus himself). Nor does political American conservative Christianity address issues of racism, justice, or fairness. Some of the most vocal opponents of healthcare for the poor are ironically, self-described American Christian evangelicals, despite Jesus’s repeated compassion for the sick and the poor. It’s as though religious fundamentalist are reading a different bible. Instead, American Christians are too often associated with strident political views that harm the poor and the sick, for opposing science education, for creating largely white private religious schools with taxpayer funds (vouchers), and for advocating for legal discrimination against fellow citizens who happen to be gay. The religious right in America has actually argued that the Bible advocates for tax cuts for the rich, for free enterprise without any real restraints, for unrestricted gun laws, opposed worker safety and environmental laws, and against health care for the poor.
Not surprisingly, Christians from other countries often tell me they find America’s religious right to be lacking in grace and kindness. American Christianity’s odd support for the ‘prosperity gospel’ lends credence to the view of many Europeans that American Christians are materialistic and self-absorbed. Jesus wants you to have a big house and lots of possessions while millions starve of hunger? It is an odd belief for a religion whose founder was poor and who argued that the rich would have a hard time getting into heaven. Is it any wonder young people are leaving the church in record numbers? If Christianity is not seen as kind and loving than it is doomed.
American Christians can do better.