Your first letter reminded me of a discussion I had with some close friends in early 2003. I was ranting about how misguided I felt Christians were in their politics–poverty a side issue, racial justice a non-issue, and hatred too common a trait. One of my friends encouraged me to hold off on saying anything public because I needed to be more positive in my story, less angry and more broken.
The unsolvable mystery of faith is trying to figure out why two days later I had the car crash and tumor diagnosis, and why it all happened in the earliest hours of Palm Sunday Morning.
The book is direct fruit of the whole experience. The hurdle I had to overcome, however, wasn’t so much what to say about the Bush White House. It had more to do with whether I could tell the true story of how I ended up in religious conservative politics–a girlfriend’s abortion in college–and whether I could honestly depict the hatred I developed so that by mid-1992 when watching Pat Buchanan’s Houston convention speech, I spewed these words to a college friend who questioned Buchanan’s speech: “At least he is not some gay lover from Arkansas.”
As I wrote in the book, I couldn’t believe those words came from my mouth, and as I recounted them in the book, I felt sick. I feel sick now because that hatred is so antithetical to the love of the Jesus I follow now and purported to follow then. But I had to write them as confession, as repentance, and as warning to others not to follow my path of confusing Jesus with politics.
As I read “The Conservative Soul”, I couldn’t help but identify with so much of what you talk about regarding Christian fundamentalism–the insularity, the profound insecurity and need to present everything as airtight. Of course, as you point out, that isn’t faith at all; it is dogma.
But I think you may define “Christianism” too broadly. For while it applies to whatever it is that I had become and to the vast majority of the self-appointed “Christian” political power brokers, I do not think that it applies to those Christian leaders most well-regarded in the Christian community–Billy Graham and Rick Warren, to name just two–and to the scores of millions of Christians with an orthodox theology as enunciated in something like the Nicene Creed.
Is it possible that when you talk about Christianism you really mean those Christians who have sold out to the idol named “politics” and to those practitioners of “natural law” (who you describe in your book) who may or may not be operating from a Jesus-centric attitude?
I know what I was–a fundamentalist in the worst sense of the word. But I also know what I have become–a broken man embracing the life that Jesus promises and trying to believe his love for me. And I think (hope?) that most Christians in America are more like who I am and not who I was.
Christian political leaders? Well, that is another story.