The conclusion to Randall Balmer’s Thy Kingdom Come is both a jeremiad and a plea — a critique of the Religious Right and a basket of suggestions of how evangelicals can move forward. There is no way to sum this up, so let me offer some highlights:
I can’t think of any book recently written that tackles the Christian’s relationship to power that has poked at so many sensitive areas. The discussion of this book has at times been charged, but you’ve all behaved yourself — even when you’ve disagreed. And we have been fortunate enough to have had Balmer himself show up on the blog to clarify and respond. So… keep it up. The big question I ask of you today is not whether or not you think you could nuance Balmer, but whether the big picture is right: Has the RR clamored after power? Has it lost its prophetic voice? Balmer’s book is about that, and I need to remind us to keep that in mind.
He asks what has happened now that the Republicans have gained the power and now that the Religious Right has its biggest ever influence at the political level? This was a provocative section for me. Is what has happened (or not happened) an indication that the RR does not have enough power or that it has a slightly different agenda than Balmer suggests?
Expansion of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
esuA war in the Middle East (which the RR has not opposed but has supported).
Rejigging of Social Security.
A disproportionate consumption of energy continues unabated.
The number of children below the poverty line has increased 12% under Bush.
Supreme Court nominees expand presidential powers and diminish individual rights.
Torture under Bush was permitted and not opposed by the RR.
The Republicans, who have “control” in the House and Senate and White House, have not tried to outlaw abortion.
Here’s the big one. I need to hear this one because I think the evangelical church has lost its prophetic voice. One of the very few who has kept straight on this is Ronald Sider. (Don’t know what Balmer thinks of him.)
“Evangelicalism was still a subculture in the 1980s, but it was no longer a counterculture” (180). (This is a very important theme to this book, and one I agree with.)
He asks, what would America look like if the RR had its way? They would “take the country back to the seventeenth century” and “impose their vision of a moral order on all of society” (181). In other words, Balmer sees the RR to be the 21st Century’s embodiment of American Puritanism. Both groups are frightened by pluralism.
Religion, he argues over and over, is best left at the margins rather than at the seat of power: it corrupts and it becomes corrupted. (This is the point made by Greg Boyd in the post I had Monday.) There is a trend toward anabaptism in the evangelical movement, and I’m thankful for it.
Where to begin? Environmentalism. End torture policies by swallowing up such issues in a consistent ethic of life, including abortion. Embrace the 1st Amendment.
Become a counterculture by following Jesus Christ.