American Fundamentalists are hearing two gospels and we are being told to have a split personality. Sometimes we are told to be like Casper while other times we are told to be like the Emperor from Star Wars. And, oddly enough, one can enable the other.
The good news is that, as individuals, we are commanded to be like Casper—that is we are to “be kind to every living creature.” Why? Because we are to treat others how God treats us. How did God treat us? God, by sending his Son, showed kindness to his enemies—that includes us. Whether the object of our benevolence is friend or foe, God’s mercy to us compels us to care for others.
But something gets lost in the translation when we kind and compassionate individual Christians get together to become a Christian nation; we become mean and intolerant. And the all important question becomes why? How can the whole become far less than the sum of its parts?
Some have proposed that our puritanical attitudes toward sex provide a negative energy that we take out on others. That might be true to a degree for some. But perhaps an additional explanation can be seen in the writings of Martin Luther. In his book “On The Jews And Their Lies,” besides his horrific anti-Semitism, Luther gives us an important peek at the mindset of Christians who attempt to rule a country. Luther said that if his fellow German Christians allowed Jews to misrepresent Christ as he saw it, then they joined the Jews in their sin. Therefore, according to Luther, the Christian society of his day would have to punish the Jews for their non-belief to prove themselves to God.
At this point, we should note that Christians are creating a perfect pressure cooker when they attempt to rule a nation. The heat comes from a Christian’s desire to prove his or her righteousness. The pot is the Christian nation that provides neither relief nor escape for the non-Christian. This means that as Christians show their intolerance for sin, non-Christians both resent and resist which causes conflict. That, in turn, puts Christians in the role of showing even greater intolerance which in turn creates greater conflict and so on and so on.
Ironically, Christians don’t realize that when they try to force unnecessary rules on a nation, they cause both non-Christians and themselves to sin. First, they give non-Christians non-religious reasons to reject the Gospel by making non-Christians react to control issues. Second, by putting themselves in the position of proving themselves to God, these Christians stop showing the same mercy to others which they receive from God.
One only needs to review the history of some of Christianity’s greatest champions to see how this logic has played out. Again, if we read part 11 of Luther’s book “On The Jews And Their Lies,” Luther suggested that Jewish synagogues and schools be burned, their houses destroyed, that they be threaten with loss of “limb” and even “life” if they teach their religion, and that Jews were to be banned from using highways and that is just for starters. Calvin approved of burning people at the stake in Geneva. And the Puritans not only slaughtered Indians, they punished and even put to death Quakers.
How do Christians escape feeling guilty for such a horrific history? We do so by focusing on how good we are as individuals. Remember that as individuals, we are kind and compassionate--hopefully. And we reason that if we are gracious to others as individuals and we are trying to save non-Christians from their sins when creating a Christian nation, then our means can't possibly be wrong but rather must be necessary and even merciful. Thus our behavior as individuals enables our cruelty when acting as a nation.
Two points must be made at this time. First, despite the best efforts made by some Christians, our nation is not a Christian nation. And yet, where Christians unnecessarily rub non-Christians the wrong way is when we make small efforts to enforce Christian morality on the nation. Attempts to keep the phrase “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, is just an example here. A more significant effort can be seen in how Christians have tried to keep homosexual marriage from becoming legal. In both cases, those who disagree are not given their rightful space.
Second, some religiously based moral points should become the law of the land. Martin Luther King Jr, because of his religious convictions, campaigned hard to not only demand racial equality, but also to ensure that people were paid fairly. The difference between what Martin Luther King Jr tried to do from what we see some fundamentalists try to do can be best described by saying that King fought oppression while today’s fundamentalists are battling to increase their control over others.
Why we Christians try to force too much of our morality on others is too complex to discuss here. What we often forget is that we have neither any New Testament command nor precedent that encourages us to do so. Rather, in New Testament times, non-Christians lived in a society that gave them space when they disagreed with Christian morality.