A tragic thing has happened in the last century of American Christianity. It has been hijacked. Not by slick televangelists, sex-abusing priests or careless clergy, but by politics and the media.Somehow, over the last several decades, mainstream Christianity has become the poster child of right-wing propaganda.
Last week, I was flipping through the television channels when I came across a program called “A Nation Adrift” running on Trinity Broadcasting Network, one of the national Christian networks. The program basically accused Franklin D. Roosevelt, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Supreme Court of being unAmerican and pawns of the Communist Party. It went on to decry the moral crisis the nation has been in since the removal of prayer, Bible teaching and the Ten Commandments in public schools. It seemed to advocate a day before secular humanists and socialists destroyed the nation (i.e. a time when blacks and Jews were being lynched by the hundreds in the South – though, of course, that aspect was never mentioned).
I’ve heard such rhetoric before from the likes of the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nation and Archie Bunker from “All in the Family”, but I didn’t expect to hear it from a prominent Christian television network whose signal goes worldwide. It seems to me that, if a religion is trying to gain more converts, it should showcase some of the more enlightening aspects it has to offer, not attempt to appeal to narrow-minded bigots’ intent on returning to a time full of hypocrisy and communist witch hunts.
Unfortunately, for many when the word Christian is mentioned, what immediately comes to mind is some intolerant, fundamentalist image at odds with the central message of the Christian faith.
The ironic linkage of Christianity with right-wing propaganda goes back to the early 20th century when an influx of immigrants threatened American identity. Historian Eric Foner describes the process of Americanization as the “conscious creation of a more homogeneous national climate,” in his book “The Story of American Freedom.” Thus, to offset the influence of Catholicism and Judaism, among others, a narrowly focused Protestant religion was promoted as American Christianity, indeed it practically became the national religion. So-called American values became synonymous with the Christian religion, forging a Faustian deal that has been nearly impossible to unravel. The cross, to some, symbolized the sacrifice for the sins of all mankind, but for others – indeed, many in power – it symbolized Anglo-Saxon, American identity.
Thankfully there came a brief reminder of progressive Christianity during the Civil Rights movement. The idea of Christianity as a liberal, revolutionary movement harkened back to the days of the Second Great Awakening when anti-slavery, women’s rights and child labor reform were aligned with a religion dedicated to social change.
Unfortunately, the fervor and idealism of the Civil Rights era waned, and the conservative, American-Christian movement came back with a vengeance. You know the leaders of this movement, and you know the kind of power they have now and have held for the better part of 100 years.
It is time that for an alternative view of Christianity to be re-presented to the rest of the country.
I firmly believe that many, in fact most, American Christians actually do hold more progressive, alternative views than have been let on by the media. Sadly, whether because of fear or plain laziness, they will not let their voices be heard. And, unless their voices are heard, the same kind of misrepresentation that has dominated the political arena and the media will continue to the detriment of Christianity, not only in this country, but in the rest of the world.
Erick Raven is a first year graduate student in the school of education from Grand Prairie.