Earlier generations of fundamentalists and evangelicals conveniently ignored the social dimensions of Jesus’ message and heaped condemnation on the heads of these men and women for promoting a “false gospel” which they claimed deviated from historic Christianity.
But the new evangelical “political gospel” is even more a departure from the tenets of the Christian faith.What is this “other gospel”? I call it the “political gospel.” Adherents of this new gospel are vehement critics of the “social gospel” of the early 20th century, a doctrine that linked the kingdom of God with the improvement of human life in this world.
Although some may object to the theological underpinnings of the social gospelers, their intentions were beyond reproach since they grasped the importance of bringing the teachings of Jesus to bear upon helping those who were the weakest and poorest in society. Earlier generations of fundamentalists and evangelicals conveniently ignored the social dimensions of Jesus’ message and heaped condemnation on the heads of these men and women for promoting a “false gospel” which they claimed deviated from historic Christianity.
But the new evangelical “political gospel” is even more a departure from the tenets of the Christian faith. Its doctrines are few and simple.
(1) The emphasis is solely on the individual—each person is responsible for his or her own destiny. You work hard, look out for yourself, maintain your integrity, and earn your way. You are not responsible for the deeds of anyone but yourself. The sins we commit are individual ones and they must be confessed to God. One has no obligation to the larger society other than preach the salvific gospel and the ethic that presumably will flow from this. Evils in society result from individual misbehavior. There is no such thing as structural sin.
(2) Traditionalist conservatism determines the “values” that are promoted, and they are always defined in terms of individual, personal morality. Moral values are primarily sexual concerns, like abortion and homosexuality. They talk about “life” issues, but these only refer to the beginning and ending of life. There is little concern for the quality of life or the preservation of life between these two points in human existence. Other values emphasized are: traditional gender roles of male domination and female submission; marriage as that of one man and one woman but with little attention given to spousal abuse or divorce; and upholding the dominant role of Christianity in public life.
(3) In economic life neo-liberalism prevails. The “market” is deified and must be allowed to operate free and unfettered. Adherents have a childlike faith in the forces of the marketplace, and vehemently oppose the efforts of workers’ organizations as well as governmental action to regulate the economy. It is unthinkable that the market may operate unjustly and victimize the poor and other powerless groups who have no ability to manipulate its workings. There is no place for intervention in the economy to assure every person a good paying job, adequate food, clothing and housing, and medical care.
(4) American exceptionalism is unquestioned. The U.S. nation-state is glorified and other countries are expected to yield to it. The civil religion requires that America be seen as a “nation under God,” one which he “blesses,” and its God is one in whom “we trust.” The flag is a religious symbol, and any abuse of it is “desecration.” American history is rewritten to become “Christian history,” the story of a people chosen by God and who honored him in the past, but now need to repent of their sins. Displaying the Ten Commandments in public settings reminds Americans of their heritage under the law of God.
(5) Just war militarism is central. America only goes to war when it has to. Americans engaging in military action can do no wrong, because they fight for righteous causes. The current “war on terror” is a just war and we must “support the troops,” regardless of where they are or what they are doing. We must never question our leaders as they are responsible to God. We can only have peace through strength, and the government should silence critics of the Iraq War because they are disloyal to America. No consideration is given to peacemaking and disarmament. This gospel bears no resemblance to the teachings of Jesus.
Richard V. Pierard is professor of history emeritus, Indiana State University and Gordon College, and lives in Hendersonville, N.C.