Plastic Prefab Christian

"Hypocrisy is the compliment paid by vice to virtue."

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

A more serious question....

This also was posted, with bitter interlinear comments, at I'm reposting it here without these comments, because I intend it quite seriously. It is directed at right-wing Christians of the politically active variety. I would grateful if you would pass it along to any such relatives or friends whom you think might have substantive responses.... The comment button is active, and I will read all such comments and eventually post and interact with any valuable ones that I receive....

To my dear right-wing brothers and sisters in Christ,

It's time we had a talk, which is to say, it's time for another Christian who vigorously disagrees with your theology and political philosophy to try to get it through to you that you all are making big mistakes. Now I understand that "you all" and "your leaders" cannot be assumed to be the same. But you seem to go along with whatever these folks tell you to do because of your apparent belief that the Christian life is comprised of obedience instead of virtue and an independent engagement with your religion. Now, that's not a very flattering way for me to say it, and it might not describe all of you as individuals, a point I am quite happy to admit. So please, keep your mouse away from that "back" button for just a second.

I should say right up front that I am a Christian, and as such I have many faults and hypocrisies of my own. My good friend Dick posted an ironic letter that I wrote last January in response to James Dobson's attack of SpongeBob (see below). I don't want you to think that all I am capable of is bitter sarcasm, or that this open letter is another pointless instance of such irony (I'll leave that to Dick). I am writing sincerely. The main topic of this little missive is the exercise of power in a secular society by Christians; the concrete context of such power which I will address below has to do with gays and lesbians.

The Gospel of Matthew instructs Christians to "go out and make disciples of all nations." Now I hope you realize that "nations" here refers to ethnicities; the Greek word in question (ethne) is often translated "Gentiles," and this is how it should probably be translated in Matthew 28:19. Evangelicals call themselves such because they take this and similar passages of scripture seriously, which is, of course, fine. Evangelism involves proclaiming the good news of Christ's death and resurrection; those who hear the message can either receive or reject it as seems appropriate to them. But even if one goes with "nations" as a translation of ethne, the text cannot be referring, as we understand "nation" to mean, to Rome, or Greece, or Gaul -- or, for that matter, America or Germany or France -- because the ancient world did not have the same concept of a nation-state that we do. It hadn't been invented yet. In fact, it wouldn't be for many more centuries. The early Christians (including Paul) had no hope of converting all of Rome, so they worked on converting as many subjects of the Roman empire as they could. They eventually came to understand themselves as a "third race": neither Jews nor Gentiles but something new: Christians.

You all might have a leg to stand on in your argument that the United States was originally conceived as a Christian nation. I disagree, but I can see how you would draw this conclusion, since most Americans at the time of our nation's foundation were in fact Christians. But let's be clear here, America was never "God's nation" or "the people of God" in the same way that ancient Israel and Jews of all times and places are. America has no contract with God, no Sinai experience, no promises to a physical ancestor Abraham. And our founders make quite explicit that being an American is in no way contingent upon being a Christian; citizenship is open to people of all religions. But at most points in our history, Christians were an overwhelming majority and held overwhelming power.

So your nostalgia for the good ole' days, back when we were a Christian nation and everyone knew it, is really a nostalgia for the days when Christians had all the power and could make laws that criminalize sins like adultery or other forms of sexual misconduct -- in other words, when Christians could tell everyone else what to do.

This brings me to my next point. As far as I know, Christians are never instructed in Scripture (if such a passage of Scripture does exist, by all means enlighten me as to where it is) to arm themselves with secular power and force our moral perspectives on everyone else by laws and by the deprivation of civil rights guaranteed by authorities that do not explicitly appeal to the Bible (the Constitution). You guys are seemingly on a mission to "take America back for the Christians," to turn back the tide of secularization. But converting people to Christianity and forcing people to conform to Christian moral norms by exerting power in the public sphere are not the same thing unless your ideal "Christian society" is what was going on in Medieval Europe.

I freely admit that some sins are also crimes -- murder, for instance. But the legal standard at work to separate the two has to do with the state's responsibility to protect its citizens from harm. Teenagers lying to their parents about why they were out until 3 in the morning might be a sin, but it is not a crime. Perjury or fraud are definitely sins and are also crimes. Saying that all sins are socially harmful is not something that non-Christians are going to take seriously. Why would they? They aren't Christian evangelicals! Lots of sins are legal, and they should be. How else can Christians fulfill Paul's command for the church to be a meaningful alternative to "the world"?

Therefore, in order for you to legitimately criminalize homosexuality -- which is apparently the goal behind efforts to support discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and which is apparently the long-term objective of your leaders -- you have to show not only that it is a sin (a debatable point, although you refuse to admit it) but that it actually harms society. I hear it repeated over and over again that gay marriage presents some sort of threat to heterosexual marriage, but I have never once heard anyone articulate precisely what this threat is. I challenge you to explain to the rest of us why allowing gays and lesbians their right to civil marriage harms the institution of sacred marriage. And, just so you know, repeating the same platitudes and citing Leviticus 18 and 20 and Romans 1 does not constitute an explanation. So get on the phone to James Dobson or the Southern Baptist Convention and tell them that they have some 'splainin to do.

You are free in our culture to tell gays and lesbians that they cannot be part of your churches. You have that right. The efforts of gays and lesbians to protect themselves against hate crimes and legal discrimination and to secure the same rights as couples that heterosexual couples have in no way infringe on your right to object to their sexual behaviors or to ban them from your churches. But when you flex your political muscles to keep gays and lesbians in their ghettos and closets by denying them their equal rights as citizens, you unfortunately come across not as concerned about the decline of morality but as bigots. And this label is fair, because bigotry -- fear! -- is your real motive. If you were really interested in "saving" gays from the "vice" of homosexuality, you be trying to convince them and showing real love and concern for their welfare as human beings instead of shouting in righteous anger about how evil they are through your political spokespersons.

So please, follow the instruction of Paul that I mention in the letter below. Get your noses out of other people's business. Nobody is asking you to approve of homosexuality, just to afford others the rights that you so loudly insist upon for yourselves. Have you forgotten that a threat to the civil rights of any group in this country is a threat to the civil rights of all of us? Or, like the white slaveowners of the south, will you continue the American tradition of gaining rights for yourselves by taking them from others? Jesus says in John's Gospel that outsiders will "know you are Christians by your love." You have failed. Gays and lesbians know you are Christians by your hate. So get off your damned soapboxes and start rethinking what it means to be a Christian in our society. And tone down the rhetoric, for goodness' sake.

But in the meantime here's something you can do: find those Scriptures that instruct Christians to tell everyone else what to do and how to live their lives, and explain clearly how gay marriage harms straight marriage in general and Christian marriage in particular. I'm serious, I want to know.

A letter to James Dobsen re Sponge Bob

The letter below was originally written early this year. It's also posted at

Dr. James Dobson
Focus on the Family

Dear Dr. Dobson,

I saw that you were quoted in the New York Times on January 20th regarding the recent use of the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants in videos advocating the “homosexual lifestyle,” in particular his appearance alongside Big Bird, Barney, Clifford and JoJo in a version of the disco hit “We Are Family.” I share your concerns, and applaud your efforts to expose the conspiracy to promote the socially dangerous tolerance of gays and lesbians in our bible-based, God-loving America. Your spokesperson, quoted in the article, is absolutely correct that such videos constitute “brainwashing” and a “bait and switch.”

I live in constant fear that God will SMITE our beloved country for accepting sexual deviancy, as he did to the wicked Sodomites in the days of Abraham and Lot. That’s why we must take the fight to the faggots, rooting them out of their closets to protect our childen, families, and dogs from their horrifying predations. The people of God must not sit quietly while the forces of secular humanism devour us from within! They are targeting our children, convincing them that gay people are human, that they deserve the right to pursue happiness, that they deserve the right to marry and adopt children (which God and nature cannot give them because of their perversion). We must protect them at all costs.

I agree that the weenies of our faith (but they are not real Christians, after all) make the fatal error of equating tolerance and Godly love, as if one could treat an infection by giving it a hug. No! God’s love is best expressed by the kind of hostility and righteous indignation exemplified by your organization. We are the ones who really understand what Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, that “you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another,” and “to aspire to live, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.” We are the ones who understand what Jesus meant when he said to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”: he meant to fight those persecutors with the love of God, smiting them and humiliating them as he would do, to let those outsiders know what the love of God really is!

Jesus has given us, his holy church in his chosen nation, America, the right and the power to tell others what to do and how to live their lives. And we know that deep down between the lines, Scripture teaches that the ends justify the means, so with clean consciences let’s be God’s scourge of the forces of Satan.

I would like to propose that the best solution to this problem is simply “re-education camps,” run by your God-loving foundation. We must labor endlessly to have our congress enact legislation to gather up all the homos into secure locations to receive the therapies they need to rejoin the human race, including medications, electroshock (especially to their dirty genitalia and anuses), the rack, hot wax treatments, humiliations and, if they do not change their evil ways, the gas chamber. (No doubt the CIA and representatives of the military can give you valuable advice here.) Your group has created a body of scientific research which will no doubt prove invaluable in their re-education, and the eventual eradication of the social disease of homosexuality. I urge you to contact like-minded members of Congress, for example [Sen.] Rick Santorum [R-PA], to start moving this legislation toward a vote as soon as possible. We do not know when the Lord will return on the clouds with fire and punishment! I will pray constantly that God grant this holy task to you and yours, since he could not possibly trust it to any other.

You, sir, are the conscience of our great nation.

May God’s love guide you in your crusade!

Johnny F. M. C.

The inaugural post

Hi. A warm welcome to my first blog ever. I was inspired toward this enterprise by a friend who started a blog,, and who posted some of my writing there. "Big brother watch" has a wicked sense of humor and an interesting proposal for an added Pride Week event, so I encourage you to head over to his page. He's signed up on all kinds of right-wing Christian e-mail lists, and he will no doubt be posting responses to their trash every once in a while.

Some relevant basic data about me: I'm a practicing Christian, a graduate student in New Testament, a news junkie, and an annoyed critic of the way Christianity is being used in Americal political discourse.

About the quote on the banner above: nobody who professes an idealistic religion like Christianity or an idealistic political philosophy like what we find in America's foundational documents can escape hypocrisy. I'm not speaking here of "sin" but of the little (and sometimes not-so-little) betrayals and inconsistencies between what we say and what we do. I am no more immune to this than anyone else, but this does not excuse me (individually) and us (collectively) from self-examination. My political and religious commentary is intended as such.

If this sounds rather serious, I hope an occasional sarcastic letter to James Dobsen (whom I find really irritating) here and there can liven things up.