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U.S. Christians await president's payback

U.S. Christians await president's payback

Author: Michael Mcateer
Publication: Toronto Star
Date: November 13, 2004
URL: http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&call_pageid=971358637177&c=Article&cid=1100128211065

In the four years after his Electoral College victory in 2000, George Bush rewarded his supporters on the religious right with a National Day of Prayer, the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in the White House, and the diversion of foreign aid funds from overseas organizations that promote or perform abortions. There's no question, says Richard Land of the ultra-conservative 16.3 million- member Southern Baptist Convention, that it was the most receptive White House to evangelical Christian concerns and perspectives of any White House he had dealt with from Reagan on.

With a born-again Christian president back in the White House, the religious right will expect an even more receptive ear from one of its own, given the key role evangelical Christians played in the election and Bush's own brand of political and religious fundamentalism.

Exit polls indicated almost a quarter of the 120 million voters who cast ballots identified themselves as white, conservative "God, family, and country" evangelical Christians. More than three-quarters of them voted for Bush, who claims he speaks to God, believes in the power of prayer, and promotes "cultural change" through faith-based initiatives. It's payback time. Having helped send Bush back to the White House, evangelical leaders are warning they will hold the president's feet to the fire until he delivers

Christian evangelicals are biblical literalists who believe they are divinely called to convert the world to Christ.

Not all are politically right wing. Some are social justice activists and peacemakers. Not all subscribe to the extremist views and tactics of the powerful and growing right-wing American religious fundamentalist movement, but a sizable and frightening number do.

What these fundamentalist Christians want is nothing less than the reconstruction of America into a Christian country rooted in the "moral values" they espouse: a biblically inspired country where abortion is illegal, homosexuality is a crime, sex education in the schools is restricted, prayer in schools is encouraged, and creationism - the belief that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago - is taught in schools.

And having reconstructed America along their lines, they want to export their narrow brand of Christianity around the world. They hope and pray that Bush will help them do it. They may not get all they want, but at least, as Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals puts it, "we have a president, who, as an evangelical Methodist, understands the way we think".

Bush has already indicated he is listening by promising to push for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and by publicly indicating he favours nominating conservative judges to the Supreme Court to overturn the court's 1973 decision legalizing abortion. It's a start, and there may be much more to come as fundamentalist Christians push their "moral values" agenda. America remains a country deeply divided over moral issues, with a government that's united on them, says Mark Rosell, professor of public policy at Virginia's George Mason University, suggesting that Bush now has an almost unstoppable ability to move his agenda forward.

The term "moral values" has become a rallying cry for conservative Christians. Roughly translated, it means opposition to gay and abortion rights, to tolerance of non-Christian beliefs, and to international cooperation. It means an unfettered right to bear arms, unbridled free enterprise, and military might to settle disputes. There's lots of talk of faith, flag and country, but no talk of poverty, social justice, love of neighbour, peace on earth, and the protection of a fragile planet from further degradation.

In the 1950s, during the Cold War, when godless Communism was the reigning evil, Americans changed the slogan on their currency from E pluribus unum (Out of many, one) to In God We Trust. For fundamentalists, this is the vindictive God of the Old Testament who smites his enemies with a mighty sword.

And who better to lead the Christian fundamentalist crusade into the promised land than a born-again Christian who says he speaks for God and believes he has the God-given right to wage an illegal, undeclared, obscene, bloody war in Iraq? A Christian president who does not "nuance war," who does not count the thousands of Iraqi civilians killed or wounded in the carnage. "Either you are with us, or you are for the terrorists," says Bush. "Either you are with us, or you are against God," say fundamentalist Christians. The two terms have a chilling similarity.

Michael McAteer can be reached at MRPMcAteer@aol.com

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