The Study of New Testament Miracles, Part III

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 4 October 2006 0 Comments
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Why are so many of today's Christians so easily drawn away from Jesus'

message of LOVE and into the hateful, judgmental, xenophobic version of

Christianity that targets people who are gays/lesbians, Muslims, ACLU

supporters and others who want to embrace love as a basis for life? What

happened to the Golden Rule Christianity given that in the 1930's, Nazi

Germany engaged more than 400 fundamentalist organizations to fan the flames

for nationalism to help usher in fascism. What can progressives do to fight

the propaganda juggernaut of the Religious Right's adoption of

fundamentalist Christianity to move America into a modern fascism?

The Religious Right's fundamentalists attack on gays today as a "first

target" is reminiscent of what the Nazis did in the 1930's to desensitize

the public and prepare the way for other groups to be targeted.


Your letter makes many assumptions that space does not allow me

to unload but let me assume for the sake of argument that your analysis is

correct. My caution here is that you use loaded words like "hateful,"

"xenophobic," and "juggernaut of the Religious Right," none of which may be

wrong but I am suspicious that they also reveal a lack of objectivity. For

example, I know people who are politically located on the right but who are

not hateful, xenophobic and would be quite surprised to be told that they

are part of a "juggernaut," indeed many of them feel beleaguered and


Yet the fact remains as you have pointed out that one of the

oldest successful political tricks is to identify a "popular" enemy, arouse

the latent hostility among the people against that enemy and bring about a

political victory. You cite the example of Hitler's Nazi party identifying

the Jews with evil, enlisting conservative religious Christians by appealing

to their anti-Semitism and the resulting horror that we call the Holocaust.

While that tactic is always evil and divisive and it always results in

disaster, we need to be aware of the fact that Hitler never actually won a

political majority. The Nazis were the largest minority party in the

Reichstag when Hitler was asked to form a government with the assumption

that it would be a coalition government. However, Hitler used his minority

power to dismiss the Reichstag and to assume the complete power of a

dictator. Secondly, Hitler also had other designated enemies besides the

Jews. He condemned communists, Slavs, homosexuals and others he regarded as

inferior specimens of humanity. He also had a world wide economic

depression to fuel the anger of his voters.

I mention these things because while I deplore the power of

right wing politics in the present administration, and its crude

victimization of homosexual people as part of their political strategy, I

see no reason to think that this will be a successful strategy. I believe

that a majority of the American population, while not necessarily pro-gay,

are in fact unwilling to see homosexual persons victimized or even harassed.

I remind you that when the Bush administration introduced in the Senate a

proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, a measure that

requires a two thirds vote, the Senate not only did not give that measure

the required two thirds vote, it did not even receive a majority vote in

this body that is controlled by the President's party. I think that vote

reflected well the place of that issue in America. There will be no

national constitutional amendment on gay marriage. The tide of homophobia

in America is actually declining with every passing year. This was nothing

but a crude political tipping of the hat to the basest element in the

Religious Right that cannot win majority vote in any forum of a national

religious constituency.

So my confidence is in the unwillingness of the great center of the American

people to be hoodwinked by the politics of prejudice. That does not mean

that those, who like you, see a "targeting of any group in our society" for

anyone's political gain, do not have both the duty and the responsibility,

to say nothing of the right, to challenge that prejudice in the public arena

with both your words and action.

Another factor in the rise of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany was that the

main line churches from Pope Pius XII and the Roman Catholics to German

Lutherans were so consumed with their own needs for that evasive idol called

"unity" that they gave up their prophetic voices and retreated into silence.

Truth must always trump unity when the Church faces the crucial issues in

world history. The heroes of the Church are never the unity seekers. The

heroes are the people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemoeller, Desmond

Tutu, John E. Hines, William Coffin and Martin Luther King, who put their

lives and their careers on the line for the sake of the truth that cannot be


People always want to know where they can find and access that truth. They

do not understand that ultimate truth is not a proposition but a premise.

If the essence of Jesus' message is accurately captured, as I think it is,

in the words of the Fourth Gospel where Jesus says, "I have come that they

might have life and have it more abundantly," then any policy of any

government that diminishes the life of any child of God, based on a person's

being, is opposed to the gospel of Jesus and must be confronted. That

includes racism, sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism. A church that

waffles and temporizes on any one of these issues has no claim on the Christ

they say they serve and must be forced to face the falseness of their own

religious convictions. I still believe that there are sufficient parts of

the Christian Church who stand ready to do that so that we will not sink as

a nation into the debauchery that marked the Germany of Adolf Hitler, though

it is clear to me that we are in a new "Dark Age."

Thanks for sharing your concern.

John Shelby Spong




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