Richard Hughes continues his series of articles in the Huffington Post, The Christian Right in Context: Building a Christian America, with a clear statement of his bias. By saying that “There have always been Christians who have resisted religious pluralism and diversity,” he assumes that religious pluralism and diversity are the sine qua non of biblical Christianity, as if the emphasis of biblical Christianity and Progressive Liberalism are of the same root. But they are not. Consider the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). Nonetheless, Hughes works to braid Christianity and multiculturalism into a single strand that comports with a liberal spin of American history.
By thanking the Constitution that rabid, fundamental, even Al-Qaeda-like Christians could not impose their narrow-minded and archaic practices—not mere views but the imposition of ancient biblical law—upon America by “coercion or the force of law,” he reveals his disgust with and lack of understanding of genuine Christianity. Therefore, he argues, Christians had to use the only weapon left to their disposal—persuasion—to try to accomplish their dastardly desires. It is not that Christianity, nor I, have anything against persuasion per se, but that Hughes paints it as the last means available for Christians to use to try to “force” their neighbors to give up common sense, rather than the Christians’ first and only means of ordinary evangelism. Indeed, persuasion is even the very means of governing this great democratic republic that our American Founders gave us. Political debate is about persuasion. Yet, he insinuates that Christians are not to engage in persuasion in the public square!
He cites three historic efforts by Christians to use persuasion in the public square and brands them all as religious revivals: the Second Great Awakening (1800s–1830s), the Fundamentalist Controversy (1920s-1930s) and what I will call the Reagan Revolution (1980s-today). The oversimplification of this historical approach to American history boggles the mind. That a serious academic would conflate fact and opinion so carelessly in order to ride a favorite hobby horse (liberalism) at the expense of historical accuracy speaks volumes about the world in which we currently live—and the state of academia.
The truth is that much good and much evil came from the Second Great Awakening, which was fueled by an historically heretical theology. So, to call it “Christian” is only partly true because it freely used Christian nomenclature but eschewed Christian orthodoxy. It produced a mixed crop of genuine Christian faithfulness and genuinely Christian social institutions, but at the same time strengthened the heresies of humanism and liberal social institutions.
Hughes writes that as a consequence of the Second Great Awakening “many now viewed allegiance to the Christian faith, embodied in a Protestant denomination (it made no difference which one) as part and parcel of American patriotism.” This is most certainly true, but it does not represent a good thing with regard to Christianity, but rather provides evidence for the apostasy of those who held (and continue to hold) such an idea as an element of Christian faith. While there is nothing wrong with being a Christian and being a Protestant, much is wrong with conflating the two loyalties. Hughes’ analysis is fine as far as it goes, but it is significant because he fails to apply it equally to the political Left. What he fails to say screams from the page.
He is saying that the Christian Right has no right claiming that civil government should be a tool for the Christianization of America. He goes on to argue that the values of the Christian Right should not steer the state. However, he also argues that there were other consequences of the Second Great Awakening that concerned social justice and poverty, which must be understood as Christian or biblical values, as well. These Social Gospel values are now being trumped by the political Left as objective values that must be inculcated by civil government. What began in the Christian church, various institutions of social care (hospitals, orphanages, elder care, etc.), have been coopted or usurped from the voluntary participation by Christians and church institutions to the mandatory imposition of these same things through the tax funded structures of civil government by the political Left. Let me see if I understand him correctly: when the Right gets involved in civil government, it poses a problem to liberty, but when the Left gets involved, it is an expression of universal responsibility. I’m not arguing against the values of social justice and charity on behalf of the Right because the Right is not opposed to justice or charity. Rather, the issues are who should provide it and who should receive it?
Granted that slavery should have never been part of America, but it was very much a part of the Old World. So, when Old World people came to America they brought it with them. But it was not just white Europeans who supported slavery. African tribalism regularly enslaved other African tribes, and Muslims have always supported slavery. The impetus to abandon slavery came from Christians, not African tribespeople or Muslims. And Hughes rightfully acknowledges this fact by reminding us that it issued from zeal of the Second Great Awakening for social reform.
Where the European Reformation worked for church reform, the Second Great Awakening worked for social reform. And because the Second Great Awakening also opposed the established American churches, it turned to the only other vehicle of social reform available—civil government. Thus, the social reformers who inherited the zeal of the Second Great Awakening—the Social Gospel Movement—shifted the responsibility for various social institutions like hospitals, orphanages, retirement care, etc. from the churches (and families) to the civil government. Thus, what was rightfully and traditionally a function of church and family has increasingly become a tax burden for civil government. This shift of social responsibility from church to state is the fruit of the theological heresies of the Second Great Awakening.
Why make such a shift? Because more and more Americans had abandoned their churches and/or families in pursuit of the American Dream. The early Western Frontier was no place for families, and without the social support of family life and responsibility, historic churches had difficulty taking root in the society. The American religious wars spurned by the Second Great Awakening produced new churches for the New Light (Lite) Christians who had a passion for being passionate, but who at the same time ground up traditional family and church relationships to produce various sorts of “spiritual” affinity groups, organized around ideas rather than kinship.
The “core meaning of America: liberty and justice for all” has not been undermined by Fundamentalism, as Hughes suggests, but by the cancerous growth of civil government. What has been undermined by Fundamentalism is not the core meaning of America, but the core meaning of Christianity: faithfulness and charity. And the instrument of that undermining has been the unprecedented growth of civil government at the expense of self-government, family government and church government. The error of the social justice doctrine is the overemphasis of civil government by the underemphasis of the other institutions of government. It lacks the biblical balance of multiple jurisdictions.
Hughes goes on to say that “industrialization that occurred both during and after the Civil War contributed to unthinkable levels of grinding poverty in cities throughout the northern part of the United States.” To say that modern industrialization brought poverty to America is most certainly false. The reality is far more complex. Nonetheless, American industrialization brought the greatest growth of economic wealth and development that the world has ever known. This, however, does not mean that there was no poverty in America. But the shape of the larger, more general curve of economic development does not illustrate human poverty, but wealth and individual advancement.
It also facilitated corporate greed and the abuse of workers as cost cutting measures were instituted in order to develop gargantuan American companies. However, to suggest that corporate greed is synonymous with Christianity is absurd. The categorization that “‘Christian America’ rejected (the) efforts of the working poor and found the unions as threatening as the immigrants themselves” is again full of bias and false innuendo. Because most people were Christian at the time the majority of people in any group were Christian, but that does not mean that whatever the group did was an expression of Christianity. Labor unions were undoubtedly begun by people who professed Christianity, as were the bulk of corporations. But those same labor unions who organized to protect their wages and working conditions, those whose have inherited the labor unions themselves, were threatened by immigrants.
Churches were not threatened by immigrants! This was a time of unparallelled evangelism. Christianity was busy welcoming immigrants into their congregations and/or helping to support new churches. Christianity has always been an evangelical movement that is passionate for growth and development. So, to suggest that Christians were threatened by immigration is nonsense. Sure, there were differences of belief and behavior. But Christians as a group have more in common with one another than they do with unbelievers.
The “radically new world view, predicated on evolutionary assumptions, (that) began to undermine both the ideal and the reality of a ‘Christian America’ involved the nationalization of public (read: governmental, tax funded) education. The central engine of this Darwinian worldview was public education, which had become an instrument of civil government. Prior to this time, public education was synonymous with Christian education. Public education was begun by Christians to serve Christian purposes. Thus, public education became a divisive wedge in American society, dividing children from their parents and unbelievers from believers.
Darwin’s theory of evolution functionally replaced God as the source of life itself. It undercut the very first verse of the Bible and cast a serpentine shadow onto all of God’s Word in the name of science and progress. Science itself was literally changing the very environment in which people lived, as if science had godlike powers of creation. The newness and great successes of science swayed many Christians and their ministers to rethink their most basic beliefs about the Bible and God. Science, in its infancy, seemed to contradict the Bible. Reconciliation and harmonization would need to wait for the maturity of science and technology, when Newtonian Physics would give way to Quantum Mechanics and Nuclear Physics. Yet, Hughes seems to be stuck in the conundrums of an infantile science.
Many of those new understandings that had their genesis in the early 20th Century came from Sigmund Freud, a atheist Jew who was a self-confessed hater of God and the Bible. The revolutions in psychology that were produced by Freud and his followers were not new light into the human condition and treatment, but were actually resurgent shadows of darkness and despair from the pre-Christian past. Freud introduced deviant sexuality as the cure for moral repression of sin—and called it progress. And if that isn’t unbelievable enough, the really unbelievable thing is that people believed him. In the name of human maturity and development Freud augured for the advent of adolescent sexual morality and the release of the passions that threaten civilization itself in the name of progress.
Hughes’ acknowledges that the “Second Great Awakening was in sync with the spirit of its age,” which if you know anything about the Bible is not a good thing. That a Christian revival would promote the spirit of the age as opposed to the Spirit of Christ, and would do so in the name of Christ, is horrifying—but true. The spirit of the age was that the kingdom of God and the establishment of American democracy were synonymous. Again, the fact that well-meaning Christians would even think that such conflation of church and state was itself a Christian ideal is disturbing.
The Bible has always taught the separation of church and state. Even in ancient Israel the kingly and priestly casts were separate. But what is more disturbing is that Hughes blames Fundamentalism for standing against such heresy. On the one hand, Hughes argues for the separation of the Right from the state, but not the separation of the Left from the state.
The optimism of the Second Great Awakening was built on the antinomianism of the spirit of the age and its love of sin—in the name of Christianity, of course! And the pessimism of the Fundamentalists was actually the reassertion of the biblical doctrine of sin in the face of rampant social depravity. Unfortunately, Fundamentalists did—and still do—pine for the past. Unlike Shariah-minded Muslims who want to return to the morality of a 7th Century Persia, too many theonomy-minded Christians want to return to the morality of a more progressive 17th Century Europe. But when compared with the progressives of today, who want to return to the morality of an early Sodom (sometime prior to the birth of Isaac, which was 1712 B.C.E.), the Fundamentalists seem practically reasonable. Unfortunately, history does not flow backward. And besides, the good-old-days never actually were as good as anyone remembers them.
Hughes goes on to suggest that one of the significant differences between the Second Great Awakening and the Fundamentalist Movement was that the SGA worked to unite the country while the FM worked to divide it. It is true that religion both unites and divides. It unites believers and divides them from sinners. Religion (common beliefs and assumptions about reality) is the only thing that unites people. And sin is the primary thing that divides people. The most basic Christian understanding is that the world is awash in sin and Christ came to save people from it. Thus, the world is awash in separation and division, but Christ came to unite people by separating them from their sin.
The SGA moved Christian values into the public square and created social institutions to support them. As a result, more people experienced the love and care of Christ. But the theology of the SGA was insufficient to tie the blessings of Christ to the Person of Christ. So, people (unbelievers and confused believers) began to think that they could extract social principles from the Bible and apply them helter skelter to society apart from Christ, as if Christ didn’t need to be personally involved in the giving of His blessings. In other words, unrepentant people got a taste of Christian social service and liked it. They liked it so much that they brought those social services under the wing of civil government so they could be paid for with taxes and so that everyone, regardless of belief or repentance, could enjoy the blessings of Christian social service.
The Fundamentalists, on the other hand, reasserted the theology that teaches that Christ’s blessings go with right belief and repentance, because right belief and repentance are the very things that animate Christians to service. And without them, neither the call nor the passion for service exist. And without the service, the blessings dry up. We see this today as we reap the fruit of the application of biblical social principles apart from personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That fruit manifests as people wanting the benefits of biblical social principles but not the responsibilities of right belief, repentance and service. People want to be blessed, but they don’t want the only God who actually bestows blessings. The fruit is the entitlement mentality that is driving the world to the brink of financial ruin.