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Public Theology: The Christian Religious Right is Wrong
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The Christian Religious Right is Wrong
The Christian religious right maintains a hierarchical, authoritarian, punitive, isolationist system of values, theologically as well as politically.

The statement below on why the religious right is wrong focuses on the role of authority in social life. It is part of the Lift Every Voice project. We encourage readers to visit their website for much more information.


Currently, the most easily recognized public religious voice is that of the Christian religious right. The Christian religious right maintains a hierarchical, authoritarian, punitive, isolationist system of values, theologically as well as politically. Its values, assumptions, and policies are inadequate, not only to a faithful Christianity that values the world as a blessing from God, but also to life in a pluralistic democracy and a world in which international cooperation is essential to American security and safety. The rigidity and narrowness of the Christian right is, finally, too self-deceptive, weak, and dangerous to move America forward.

This prominence of conservative Christianity has been well supported by conservative foundations. For over 25 years, they have generously funded religious think-tanks such as the Institute for Religion and Democracy, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, the Institute on Religion and Public Life, the Faith and Reason Institute, and the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Grants totaled $7,620,000 in 2003 alone.

The Right-Wing Agenda

These think-tanks seek to promulgate the impression of a nationwide moral decay, attacking especially affirmative action, the equality of women, reproductive rights, and justice for lesbians and gays under the guise of "family values." They seek to instruct citizens in the ethical basis of capitalism. The think-tanks support the organizing activities of right-wing religious groups, including those within mainline Christian denominations, in an effort to move these denominations rightward theologically and politically. Right-wing groups have pushed for policies that use religious organizations to distribute government assistance funds and have sought to affect public policy and to evangelize for conservative Christianity.

The Values of the Religious Right

The religious right is grounded in a hierarchical ladder of power, which supports the exercise of authority as in itself moral. In this hierarchical, patriarchal ladder, God the all-powerful father confers power on his surrogates. The hierarchy of power is moral, i.e., the moral order is the natural and divinely determined order. Thus, God has moral authority over people. People have moral authority over nature. Adults have moral authority over children. Men have moral authority over women. It is moral for those with authority and power to reward obedience and punish disobedience.

Fathers must teach children discipline and build their character through paternal uses of authority and power because life is a struggle for survival and sin always threatens life. Becoming an adult means to learn sufficient self-discipline, which requires obedience to authorities who use discipline to punish sin. George Lakoff, in "Moral Politics," uses metaphors of family to describe differing political values. He attributes a strict father family to conservative politics, a metaphor theologically embedded in the values of the religious right.

Obedience to authority begets self-discipline and success in life, a just reward for acting within this moral system. Being self-disciplined means to make commitments, to adhere to them, and to avoid the many temptations to sin. A strict father ensures that a child becomes such a person.

Success, therefore, is a moral sign of having been obedient and having become self-disciplined, evidence of which is found through winning in the competition of the marketplace. Competition reveals who is moral and has merit, i.e., who will succeed. Rewards given to those who do not earn them through competition are immoral. They violate the system by removing the need for obedience to authority and the incentive to become self-disciplined. Competition, therefore, is moral because it determines merit. Constraints on competition are immoral. Interference with the pursuit of self-interest threatens the foundations of the strict father moral framework because it interferes with the pursuit of success.

The Political, Ethical, and Social Implications of Right-Wing Christianity

The strict father model of society asserts that those in authority must maintain order, by sustaining and defending the system of authority itself, using their authority to protect those under authority. Strict fathers work for the benefit of those under their authority and must use discipline to produce the right kind of people. By doing so they demonstrate moral strength. To fail to exercise adequate authority and strength is to succomb to evil.

A person subject to authority who presumes to know better than the authority figure what is good for her or him violates the system and is, by definition, sinful. Moral boundaries pertain to deviation from the norms of prescribed behavior. In addition, authorities must appear to act in the best interests of everyone subject to authority by using power to punish or reward.

A strict father ethical system requires retribution or punishment, rather than restitution, for harming someone or for violations of moral authority. Persons reveal their characters by their actions, and knowing their characters allows authorities to determine whether people are good or evil.

Since the strict father moral system itself is right and good and does battle with the forces of evil, it cannot possibly be wrong and still function as a moral system. Opponents of the moral system itself are, therefore, wrong. If they tried to overthrow the moral system, they would be engaging in an immoral act. The moral system itself must be defended above all.

The Religious Right is Unfaithful to Jesus Christ

The moral system of the Christian religious right is blinded by its worship of power. This is a dangerous blindness. To privilege the moral authority of the powerful supports authoritarian, totalitarian systems, theologically as well as politically. The right-wing reliance on the morality of authority prevents the Christian right from discerning the immoral actions of those in power. The protection of the wealthy and powerful is not the religion of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, who proclaimed his mission to bring good news to the poor, to liberate the oppressed, to heal the sick and brokenhearted, to set captives free, and to proclaim the love and forgiveness of God to all people. Christians faithful to Jesus Christ will be supported in countering right-wing Christianity through Lift Every Voice!

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Date Added: 9/10/2004 Date Revised: 9/10/2004 9:58:46 PM

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