Errors of Fundamentalism: Where the Christian Right Goes Wrong
Before I start, I would like to introduce my background. I was reared up in a very fervent Pentecostal church and for many years, I considered myself an ardent Christian fundamentalist in the mold of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. In my high school days, I was a bible-thumping bible-believing evangelical Christian and was opposed to homosexuality and same sex marriage thinking that it was the government’s job to enforce Bible doctrine. However, this article will definitely reveal that I am no longer amongst the Christian Right and find that many of their positions are inconsistent with constitutional conservatism.
For years, the Christian Right has had an attitude that our American Republic was established to be a Christian nation and unfortunately, they have been engaged in revising history to fit their religious biases. Although many of our founders were devout Christians, they did not exclude other religions or the non-religious from being active in the political system. The man that penned the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, stated that “One’s beliefs or non-beliefs shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.” Jefferson, known to be one of the greatest articulators of American democratic republicanism, also stated that “The legitimate power of government extends to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does no injury for my neighbors to say there are twenty gods or no god.”
Jefferson and many of the other founders would be aghast with the idea of basing civil law upon tenets of Christianity. “Christianity neither is, nor ever was apart of the common law,” our third president remarks. Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli which was unanimously ratified by the Senate in 1797 and signed by another American forefather President John Adams, states that “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion…”
Although through the First Amendment, Christians are freely to worship in America in whatever way they choose, the framers of the Constitution did not meant for the United States to be an exclusively Christian nation. Luther Martin, delegate to the constitutional convention, mentioned that there were efforts to get the convention to formally declare the United States’ fidelity to the Christian religion but those efforts were flatly rejected leaving the door open for individual citizens to choose their own spiritual journey without being coerced or discouraged in either way.
Because of these great men, the United States is a bastion of religious freedom and many religions are able to flourish here ranging from Baptists to Methodists to Jews to Muslims to Buddhists and Hindus and even to agnostics and atheists as well. From its founding, religious pluralism has been a part of what America is and what it always should be.
However in recent decades, certain politically engaged pastors and congregants have crept into the conservative movement seeking to impose their brand of religion upon the entire nation. The father of modern conservatism, the late Senator Barry Goldwater, warned of this, “There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah or whatever one calls this supreme being but like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout the land are not using their religious clout with wisdom.”
The senator’s words could not be more prophetic than the debate over same-sex marriage. The Christian Right continues to cite religious law to oppose the right of their fellow citizens to marry. However, this article has given substantial evidence that our nation’s laws are not founded upon any religious tenet. Therefore it is not the duty of government to enforce or try to imitate religious law because America is freely open to all religious philosophies.
Instead of seeking to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, conservatives should be reminded of Goldwater’s words, “We have succeeded for 205 years in keeping the affairs of the state separate from the uncompromising idealism of religious groups. To retreat from that separation would violate the principles of conservatism and the values upon which the framers built this democratic republic.”