« Jonah "Da Pretzel" | Main | A Stupid Way to Lose 11,000 Soldiers »

July 30, 2006

The Separation of Church and Hate

Shakes here...

The NY Times profiles a conservative evangelical preacher, the Reverend Gregory A. Boyd, who's getting fed up with the unholy alliance between conservative Christianity and conservative politics. He’s written a book called The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, which is based on a series of six sermons entitled "The Cross and the Sword." The sermons, which he gave before the last presidential election, "said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a 'Christian nation' and stop glorifying American military campaigns."

His megachurch congregation was not totally pleased.

By the time the dust had settled, Woodland Hills, which Mr. Boyd founded in 1992, had lost about 1,000 of its 5,000 members.

But there were also congregants who thanked him—those who feel relief from the burden of expectation that being a Christian necessarily means being a Bush supporter, and those who are increasingly concerned that the conflation of religion and politics is doing a disservice to both.

"More and more people are saying this has gone too far — the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right," Mr. McLaren said. "You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people. Because people think, ‘Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about ‘activist judges.’"

Spot-on. Jesus has been hijacked as a political operative by people who have forgotten that the separation of church and state was designed to protect the church as much as the state. Christianity’s central figure cannot be redesigned as a gun-toting, gay-bashing, flag-draped ideological icon without fundamentally and inexorably altering the religion itself—particularly how it is regarded by those outwith its margins. Christians who don’t want to be associated with the reimagined Jesus have a right—and an obligation—to denounce his being co-opted into the spokesman for Überpatriot Dominionism. Christian Supremacists are rebranding Christ, and hence Christianity. This is nothing if not a marketing war.

Understandably, it’s a game that Christians who don’t regard Jesus as a mascot don’t want to play, but the Christian Supremacy movement in America is a business. Millions and millions of dollars are raised every year by people professing to preach The Word in exchange for a few dollars (and a few more, and a few more) in the collection baskets, but all they’re really doing is selling a product—a way to cope with a changing world that robs bigots of their undeserved dominion, that tells them they really, at long last, must share equality with non-Christians, the LGBT community, strong women, minorities, and immigrants in the public sphere. They are losing control they were never meant to have, and Christianity 2.0 sells them the righteous anger and victimhood they need.

In these desperate people, the hate peddlers have found a ripe market for their wares. The hungry buyers come to the churches and the political rallies with money burning holes in the pockets of their sensible trousers, and they leave satiated, their bellies full of (self-)righteous indignation, with a determination to spread the word about the radical homosexual and feminist agendas, and a keen eye for the slightest proof that their suspicions about the dastardly fags and feminazis and liberals and brown people who threaten their way of life are all true. This is a booming business, and Falwell, Dobson, and Robertson have learned to roll out their product as efficiently as Ford and his Model-Ts.

And when a minister like Boyd fails to deliver, 20% of his congregation goes elsewhere in search of their fix.

Hate, like anything else in the American capitalist utopia, can be a splendid business, as long as there are enough interested buyers with cash in hand—and hate flogged under the auspices of religion has the added bonus of being a tax-free enterprise. It’s no surprise that Christ-cloaked bigotry is a booming industry. To Christian Supremacists, Jesus is just a logo; he doesn’t define their message any more than the Swoosh writes Nike’s mission statement. But, like any recognizable symbol to clamoring consumers, he confers upon the brand a status with which generic models just can’t compete. Your athletic skills are infinitely better with a famous insignia on your shoes, and your intolerance is remade as virtue with a savior lending his name for the dropping.

Christians who refuse to let Christ be claimed for such purposes are, whether willfully or not, the competition. (Something men like Boyd, who’s turned his views into a book for purchase, surely are beginning to recognize.) And all the rest of us, who have a vested interest in protecting our country against the ascendancy of Christian Supremacists, are consumer advocates, tasked with pointing out the flaws in their product—and questioning the existence of truth in their advertising.

July 30, 2006 | Permalink


Wow, very well put.

Posted by: Steve Mudge | Jul 30, 2006 1:18:31 PM

Great title!

Posted by: Alex F | Jul 30, 2006 3:07:25 PM

I couldn't agree with you more, but you leave out one important point. A lot of the support for right-wing "Christianity" comes from people displaced by the loss of the manufacturing economy, who have seen their incomes slide and their benefits disappear. Unlike the people you describe, these folks have legitimate grievances. Unfortunately, the Republicans--the same party that pursues the economic policies that produce this misery--have been successful at distracting these people with hot-button cultural issues. This is potentially very fruitful territory for the Dems, but they haven't done a very good job so far getting their economic empowerment message across to people like these.

Posted by: Rebecca Allen, PhD, ARNP | Jul 30, 2006 3:14:19 PM

Great post, Shakes. I have thought that there is a connection between the rise of the fundies and the increasing number of non-religeous people, according to a 2001 survey no religeon was the fastest growing response. I'm one of those who went to church while growing up but wandered away in college. Now when I look at Christianity all I hear from is the fundies. There may be tolerant religeous leaders who have more a important message than gays/abortion/stem cell research bad but I haven't heard from them.

In the end it is the fundies that will be responsible for the increasing number of people leaving Christianity. Or rather "I didn't leave Christianity, it left me"

Posted by: Fledermaus | Jul 30, 2006 4:31:46 PM

Odds are, the Rev. Jerry, Rev. Pat, and Rev. James have plans for that church. Shocking plans.

If they can allegedly finance religious war in Lebanon between Christian, Jewish, and Muslim militias, what's to stop such a trio, directly or indirectly, from pursuing such monkey business against non-conformists here?

Don't forget. As Colbert I. King of The Washington Post brought out in 2001, Rev. Pat's company had poured tens of millions of dollars into Charlie Taylor's regime in Liberia to obtain mineral rights. Taylor was shipping black diamonds through Sierra Leone to fund his army of 14-year-old drug addicts with AK-47s and machettes.

Do you really believe such fervor in the name of (insert deity brand) is not possible on our shores?

Anyone ever hear of Eric Rudolph?

Tim McVeigh?

Posted by: Mark | Jul 30, 2006 7:16:20 PM

God, as to above post, I hope I am VERY VERY INCORRECT.

Posted by: Mark | Jul 30, 2006 7:17:23 PM

Here's another religious story from the New York Times on July 29. Turns out, the Times picked up this story two years after it first started.

July 29, 2006
Families Challenging Religious Influence in Delaware Schools

GEORGETOWN, Del. — After her family moved to this small town 30 years ago, Mona Dobrich grew up as the only Jew in school. Mrs. Dobrich, 39, married a local man, bought the house behind her parents’ home and brought up her two children as Jews.

For years, she and her daughter, Samantha, listened to Christian prayers at public school potlucks, award dinners and parent-teacher group meetings, she said. But at Samantha’s high school graduation in June 2004, a minister’s prayer proclaiming Jesus as the only way to the truth nudged Mrs. Dobrich to act.

“It was as if no matter how much hard work, no matter how good a person you are, the only way you’ll ever be anything is through Jesus Christ,” Mrs. Dobrich said. “He said those words, and I saw Sam’s head snap and her start looking around, like, ‘Where’s my mom? Where’s my mom?’ And all I wanted to do was run up and take her in my arms.”

After the graduation, Mrs. Dobrich asked the Indian River district school board to consider prayers that were more generic and, she said, less exclusionary. As news of her request spread, many local Christians saw it as an effort to limit their free exercise of religion, residents said. Anger spilled on to talk radio, in letters to the editor and at school board meetings attended by hundreds of people carrying signs praising Jesus.

“What people here are saying is, ‘Stop interfering with our traditions, stop interfering with our faith and leave our country the way we knew it to be,’ ” said Dan Gaffney, a host at WGMD, a talk radio station in Rehoboth, and a supporter of prayer in the school district.

After receiving several threats, Mrs. Dobrich took her son, Alex, to Wilmington in the fall of 2004, planning to stay until the controversy blew over. It never has.

The Dobriches eventually sued the Indian River School District, challenging what they asserted was the pervasiveness of religion in the schools and seeking financial damages. They have been joined by “the Does,” a family still in the school district who have remained anonymous because of the response against the Dobriches.

Meanwhile, a Muslim family in another school district here in Sussex County has filed suit, alleging proselytizing in the schools and the harassment of their daughters.

The move to Wilmington, the Dobriches said, wrecked them financially, leading them to sell their house and their daughter to drop out of Columbia University.

The dispute here underscores the rising tensions over religion in public schools.

“We don’t have data on the number of lawsuits, but anecdotally, people think it has never been so active — the degree to which these conflicts erupt in schools and the degree to which they are litigated,” said Tom Hutton, a staff lawyer at the National School Boards Association.

More religion probably exists in schools now than in decades because of the role religious conservatives play in politics and the passage of certain education laws over the last 25 years, including the Equal Access Act in 1984, said Charles C. Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, a research and education group.

“There are communities largely of one faith, and despite all the court rulings and Supreme Court decisions, they continue to promote one faith,” Mr. Haynes said. “They don’t much care what the minority complains about. They’re just convinced that what they are doing is good for kids and what America is all about.”

Dr. Donald G. Hattier, a member of the Indian River school board, said the district had changed many policies in response to Mrs. Dobrich’s initial complaints. But the board unanimously rejected a proposed settlement of the Dobriches’ lawsuit.

“There were a couple of provisions that were unacceptable to the board,” said Jason Gosselin, a lawyer for the board. “The parties are working in good faith to move closer to settlement.”

Until recently, it was safe to assume that everyone in the Indian River district was Christian, said the Rev. Mark Harris, an Episcopal priest at St. Peter’s Church in Lewes.

But much has changed in Sussex County over the last 30 years. The county, in southern Delaware, has resort enclaves like Rehoboth Beach, to which outsiders bring their cash and, often, liberal values. Inland, in the area of Georgetown, the county seat, the land is still a lush patchwork of corn and soybean fields, with a few poultry plants. But developers are turning more fields into tracts of rambling homes. The Hispanic population is booming. There are enough Reform Jews, Muslims and Quakers to set up their own centers and groups, Mr. Harris said.

In interviews with a dozen people here and comments on the radio by a half-dozen others, the overwhelming majority insisted, usually politely, that prayer should stay in the schools.

“We have a way of doing things here, and it’s not going to change to accommodate a very small minority,’’ said Kenneth R. Stevens, 41, a businessman sitting in the Georgetown Diner. “If they feel singled out, they should find another school or excuse themselves from those functions. It’s our way of life.”

The Dobrich and Doe legal complaint portrays a district in which children were given special privileges for being in Bible club, Bibles were distributed in 2003 at an elementary school, Christian prayer was routine at school functions and teachers evangelized.

“Because Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, I will speak out for him,” said the Rev. Jerry Fike of Mount Olivet Brethren Church, who gave the prayer at Samantha’s graduation. “The Bible encourages that.” Mr. Fike continued: “Ultimately, he is the one I have to please. If doing that places me at odds with the law of the land, I still have to follow him.”

Mrs. Dobrich, who is Orthodox, said that when she was a girl, Christians here had treated her faith with respectful interest. Now, she said, her son was ridiculed in school for wearing his yarmulke. She described a classmate of his drawing a picture of a pathway to heaven for everyone except “Alex the Jew.”

Mrs. Dobrich’s decision to leave her hometown and seek legal help came after a school board meeting in August 2004 on the issue of prayer. Dr. Hattier had called WGMD to discuss the issue, and Mr. Gaffney and others encouraged people to go the meeting. Hundreds showed up.

A homemaker active in her children’s schools, Mrs. Dobrich said she had asked the board to develop policies that would leave no one feeling excluded because of faith. People booed and rattled signs that read “Jesus Saves,” she recalled. Her son had written a short statement, but he felt so intimidated that his sister read it for him. In his statement, Alex, who was 11 then, said: “I feel bad when kids in my class call me ‘Jew boy.’ I do not want to move away from the house I have lived in forever.”

Later, another speaker turned to Mrs. Dobrich and said, according to several witnesses, “If you want people to stop calling him ‘Jew boy,’ you tell him to give his heart to Jesus.”

Immediately afterward, the Dobriches got threatening phone calls. Samantha had enrolled in Columbia, and Mrs. Dobrich decided to go to Wilmington temporarily.

But the controversy simmered, keeping Mrs. Dobrich and Alex away. The cost of renting an apartment in Wilmington led the Dobriches to sell their home here. Mrs. Dobrich’s husband, Marco, a school bus driver and transportation coordinator, makes about $30,000 a year and has stayed in town to care for Mrs. Dobrich’s ailing parents. Mr. Dobrich declined to comment. Samantha left Columbia because of the financial strain.

The only thing to flourish, Mrs. Dobrich said, was her faith. Her children, she said, “have so much pride in their religion now.”

“Alex wears his yarmulke all the time. He never takes it off.”

Posted by: Mark | Jul 30, 2006 7:20:14 PM

Here's a chilling response from Nedd Kareiva of something called the Stop the ACLU Coalition that was posted on March 2 of this year:


Here's Mr. Kareiva's frightening money paragraph about the Delaware case:

"This case is a good time to introduce our "Expose the ACLU Plaintiff" project and here'is how it goes. When an individual, group or even church (yes, there are churches that support the ACLU) is using the ACLU (or similar groups like Americans United, People for the (Anti) American Way, Freedom from Religion Foundation and American Atheists) to facilitate removal of a cross, the 10 Commandments or other religious symbols or the ceasing of prayer from a school or government entity, we want the community to know about it. We will start with the Dobrich family which is largely responsible for this case being taken. We are offended that the Dobrich's want to impose their atheism at the expense of the vast majority of community members who aren't offended. We will let all of Delaware know who used the ACLU to sue this school district."

I refuse to print the next paragraph and strongly discourage this website from so doing. It appears Mr. Kareiva has borrowed a page from the Malkin Book of Devious Deeds.

Scary thing is, Mr. Kareiva calls himself a "religious man."

Is this how (the deity of your personal belief) would have used the Internet?

Posted by: Mark | Jul 30, 2006 7:26:51 PM

I really get the dichotomy about a famous Jew and liberationist being cited as a Savior by people who never understand rejecting religous authority in favour of social conscience and generosity is the flag they're flying under.
Nothing like yelling "freedom" while trying to impose ever-increasing centralization of authority. Protest that and you'll be called "communist". It's somewhat like the old joke about having a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent.

Posted by: opit | Jul 30, 2006 7:36:12 PM

Wait a minute here. Since when do Jews believe in heaven anyways? There is no heaven in the Jewish faith. So why does this Jewish woman give a damn about Christians talking about a "path to heaven thru Jesus" when they clearly reject any heaven to begin with?

Posted by: joe blow | Jul 30, 2006 9:10:13 PM

If the United States is supposed to be about free speech, then why the hell does anybody have any right to force legal grounds to restrict speech based on religion?

That means Jewish folks should have no legal recourse to limit Christian dialog in schools, and it also means that Christians have no legal recourse to try and ban a Muslim Imam, for example, from giving an opening message at a graduation ceremony.

Posted by: joe blow | Jul 30, 2006 9:13:18 PM


On your first point, I think you are mistaken. Jews have varied views on many things, but it is not unusual for that belief to include an afterlife. It differs a bit, here and there from the Christian heaven and hell, but it's similar enough. Besides which, I know even atheists can be offended by being told they'll go to hell. Believe it or not, people catch on that those sharing that information aren't always doing so in a "loving, Christian" kind of way.

And the day that a Muslim Iman is invited to say the prayers at a graduation ceremony, we can have a conversation about whether this is freedom of religion. Heck, in many of these places, I'm sure they'd have a problem if a Roman Catholic priest started off on the Rosary.

Posted by: Magenta | Jul 30, 2006 9:35:39 PM

So why does this Jewish woman give a damn about Christians talking about a "path to heaven thru Jesus" when they clearly reject any heaven to begin with?

Is this a serious question?

If the United States is supposed to be about free speech, then why the hell does anybody have any right to force legal grounds to restrict speech based on religion?

Well, by this logic, laws about harassment, threats, and all kinds of stuff like that are equally unconstitutional because they too are examples of free speech.

That means Jewish folks should have no legal recourse to limit Christian dialog in schools...

"Freedom of religion" does not mean "freedom to do anything you feel like to anyone as long as you say it's in the name of God". Plenty of examples even more extreme than what happened to the Dobriches should be obvious.

Posted by: Cyrus | Jul 30, 2006 10:21:23 PM

If the United States is supposed to be about free speech, then why the hell does anybody have any right to force legal grounds to restrict speech based on religion?

By a startling coincidence, the ACLU defended a student who wanted to quote the Bible in some yearbook. They won. The law and the ACLU object to religion if and only if it comes from an authority wearing the mantle of the State.

Posted by: Omar K. Ravenhurst | Jul 31, 2006 1:59:08 PM

We are offended that the Dobrich's want to impose their atheism

I guess to Mr. Kareiva, Jews might as well be Atheists. Bravo Mr. Kareiva, for making yourself sound like the ass that you in fact are.

Posted by: Adrock | Aug 1, 2006 12:07:20 PM

Reminds me of a similar story in Alabama a number of years back -- I wish I knew how it turned out:


Chilling charges from the Jewish family that claimed their children had been hounded by public school representatives and students as well:

=== === ===
One teacher, in response to Mrs. Willis' plea, explained "If parents will not save souls, we have to."

The following are examples of the religious persecution suffered by the Willis children and the entanglement of the Pike County school system with religion. Included in the lawsuit are:

--The Willis children were forbidden to wear Star of David lapel pins. The teacher claimed the Star of David was a gang symbol. Other children in class were wearing crosses.

--The Willis children were forbidden to participate in physical education class while wearing their yarmulkes.

--Two of the Willis children have been physically assaulted by their classmates because of their religion. On one occasion one of the children was beaten by five or six other students.

--Swastikas have been drawn on their lockers, bookbags and jackets. Their yarmulkes, worn on High Holy Days, have been ripped off their heads and used to play "keep away."

--The children are constantly taunted with jeers such as "Jew boys" and "Jewish jokers." These verbal assaults are particularly venomous after blatantly Christian assemblies. Teachers and administrators have done nothing meaningful to stop these acts of cruelty and threats to physically safety, although they have repeatedly been made aware of them.

--The Willis children were ordered by teachers to bow their heads during Christian prayers, even though the teachers knew the children were Jewish . On at least one occasion a teacher physically forced one of the children to bow his head during the delivery of a prayer in an assembly. The prayer was explicitly Christian. The teacher knew the child was Jewish.

--A vice principal disciplined one Willis child for disrupting class by requring him to compose an essay on the subject "Why Jesus Loves Me."

--One Willis child was sent to wait in the hall during the distribution of Gideon bibles. Classmates called the child names as she left the room. A Gideon representative tried to force the child to take a copy of the Gideon bible and held a cross in front of her face when she explained she did not want one because she was Jewish. The child ran screaming back into the classroom, asking her teacher for help. The teacher did nothing.

--Religious, overtly Christian, classroom activities and assembly presentations are common in the Pike County system. Events like "Birth of Jesus" plays at assembly and "Happy Birthday Jesus" parties in classrooms make the Willis children feel like second-class citizens.

--One local minister, brought in to make a presentation at a school assembly, told the students that anyone who had not accepted Jesus as his or her Savior was doomed to hell. The Willis child in the audience left to jeers from her classmates. She suffered nightmares for weeks.
=== === ===

Posted by: blog responder | Aug 10, 2006 4:30:39 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.