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Obery M. Hendricks, Jr., Ph.D. Headshot

Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and the Sins of Ideological Christianity

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In recent years America has watched conservative politicians claim that their policies and political rhetoric are the direct result of adherence to biblical principles, if not the fruit of divine guidance. From George W. Bush's 2003 claim that, "God ... instructed me to strike at Saddam"; to Sarah Palin's public identification of her own political ambitions with the divine calling of the biblical Queen Esther; to Michele Bachmann's claim that she was divinely commanded both to run for Congress and for president; and now Rick Perry's loudly trumpeted entry into the presidential race, strategically choreographed to all but coincide with his sponsorship of the huge prayer rally at which he was "anointed" by some of the most well-known (and most extreme) figures in conservative Christianity -- in these and in numerous other instances, the symbolic actions of right-wing political conservatives unmistakably have been crafted to equate their politics and their policies with divine sanction and biblical faith itself.

Yet the truth is that major aspects of the policy pronouncements and the political rhetoric of conservative politicians have absolutely no basis in the Bible that so many of them claim to be the ground of their politics. In fact, many of their policies are actually in direct opposition to the most foundational principles upon which Judeo-Christian faith and ethics are based. Rather than equally attending to the interests of all persons regardless of wealth or class as the Bible specifically commands from the Exodus forward -- and about which biblical prophets like Amos, Jeremiah and even Jesus himself were especially vehement -- instead conservative policies consistently skew toward the interests of the richest Americans and corporate interests. This is seen in their perennial push to lower income taxes for the rich and to minimize or abolish capital gains and estate taxes altogether, thus benefiting the wealthiest Americans in vast disproportion. It is seen in their obsession to shrink the size of government "so small it can be drowned in a bath tub," without any care that it would gut the government's ability to fulfill the biblical responsibility of governments and their leaders to make provision for the welfare of the poorest and most vulnerable among us. It is seen in their cries that raising taxes on the abundance of the super-rich to save the jobs of thousands of teachers, firemen and policemen, or to fund safety-net programs for the increasingly desperate unemployed and working poor, is an unacceptable abridgment of freedom, if not an exercise in outright theft. And it is seen in their wide-reaching opposition to consumer regulatory protections, when they know full well that corporations more often than not will exploit workers, defraud consumers and recklessly degrade the natural environment when allowed to be accountable to no one but themselves.

Yet, as any serious reader of the Bible knows, these conservative policies and perspectives are soundly opposed by both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament Gospels:
• From Genesis to Revelation, the preponderant biblical voice condemns the vast disparities of poverty and wealth that conservative policies cause and actively maintain. (Note: one of the most foundational of all modern conservative texts -- Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind -- actually declares political conservatism's commitment to maintaining class disparities of poverty and wealth in America.)
• The Books of Moses literally mandate the institution of trade and commercial regulations, which means that the establishment and support of such regulatory protections is mandatory for any society that claims to be built on Judeo-Christian values (as conservatives like Palin, Bachmann, Perry and the entire Christian right-wing enthusiastically affirm America to be).
• When it comes to the size of government, what is mandated is not its size, but its ethical responsibility to care for its constituents' welfare by instituting and enforcing policies that remove all barriers to adequate healthcare, social equality, personal security and freedom, full justice and a decent quality of life for all -- not just for the most privileged few. Thus right-sized government is government that can adequately fulfill these duties. There is no biblical basis for conservative politicians' obsession with ever smaller government.

Clearly, the major policies of the conservative and right-wing politicians today have little in common with biblical faith, no matter how loudly and publicly they proclaim their Christian bonafides. Thus what they so passionately espouse is not biblical Christianity. If ideology is about interests, then what conservative politicians espouse can only be called ideological Christianity: Christianity that is not based upon theological faith, but is instead refracted and reshaped to fit the political interests of conservative politicians and those whose interests they have shown themselves to represent first and foremost, in this case the rich and the super-rich, whose largesse they enjoy and endlessly strive to serve. It is ideological Christianity when they vilify the biblical mandate to care for the poor as Soviet-style "socialism." It is ideological Christianity when they act like what Jesus famously said in the Beatitudes is not "Blessed are you who are poor," but "Blessed are you who are RICH," which they ensure to be true with policies that bless the rich with more riches and anoint them with ever greater control over this nation's wealth. It is ideological Christianity because it speaks only of power to impose its will, never of love or compassion or sacrificing for others.

That is why ideological Christianity is a sin in terms of the faith these conservative politicians claim to hold dear: because it violates the cries of the prophets to protect the poor from the rich, because it rejects the command to care for our neighbors, because it exploits average Americans' sincere faith and deceives them into supporting as their own the interests and political agenda of those who make more money in one week than most Americans will make in a lifetime. And it is ideological Christianity because it wants to keep things that way.
Those who are enamored of Palin, Bachmann, Perry and the coterie of other conservative politicians who claim their proposals follow "Christian" principles have found their reasons to support these politicians. But those who support them because they believe that the policies they represent are consistent with the witness of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament Gospels will have to find other reasons. Because at least in their public lives, these politicians are ideological Christians. And that has nothing to do with faith.

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