19 January 2011

Republicans against 'brotherhood'

Republicans don't hate anybody, so Republicans claim. They get accused of "hate speech" all the time because other people are simply too thin-skinned to take criticism in the constructive spirit presumably intended by Republicans. In their own minds, they probably think of themselves as exasperated parents of perpetual adolescents who think you "hate" them if you won't let them do whatever they want or make them do what they don't want. The exasperation is perpetual, too. Another round is being served-up today as Republicans have to answer for comments made by the freshly-inaugurated governor of Alabama in the insufficiently confidential confines of a church. Speaking at the "King Memorial" Church in Birmingham on King Day, Governor Bentley said that whoever has not accepted Jesus as a personal savior is "not my brother." While the executive was generous enough to state that he'd like everybody to be his brother (or sister, presumably), the conditions he sets for siblinghood have alarmed some Jews and Muslims, and should alarm any non-evangelical Christian, Bentley's subsequent insistence that he'll be "governor of all Alabama" notwithstanding.

Bentley was endorsed by Alabama Tea Partiers during his election campaign last year but does not seem to belong to the movement himself. His controversial statement refers back to disputes within Protestant Christianity that well predate the secular Tea Party phenomenon. As a student of the subject, when I hear something like Bentley's remark I recognize it, whether Bentley himself does or not, as a repudiation of the "Social Gospel" that flourished about a century ago, during the Progressive Era, and its ecumenical offshoots. It's specifically a repudiation of the idea of "the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God," the notion that the entire human race forms a moral community toward which we all have obligations. The convergence of ecumenical ideas that downplayed the priority of doctrinal orthodoxy and social consciousness that emphasized service to and empowerment of the poor inspired a reaction among American evangelicals, the fundamentalists among them especially, for whom fellowship was conditional upon adherence to orthodoxy. For them, fellowship was reserved for the saved, and the saved had to be "born again." The implication, especially in response to the social gospel's leftish tendencies, was that Christians owed nothing but the Gospel to people outside the communion. This didn't mean that fundamentalists would refuse charity to the unsaved, but the implication was that charity and other forms of fellowship weren't as compulsory as social-gospel advocates seemed to believe. Given the historical political context of the social-gospel controversy, it is fair to inquire about the political implications of Bentley's disavowal of "brotherhood" with the un-"saved," but judgment should be withheld until the governor clarifies exactly what "brotherhood" means to him compared to "citizenship."

The Alabama brouhaha is an interesting follow-up to a story out of Texas that I only learned about this week. Down in the Lone Star State the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives recently beat back an attempt by fellow Republicans to depose him. Religion became a factor in the contest when one of the Speaker's critics declared that a "Christian Conservative" should lead the legislature. The incumbent Speaker is Jewish, and his supporters saw anti-Semitism in the comment, while the critic, claiming that he didn't even know the Speaker's religion at the time he made the comment, insists that he opposed the incumbent because he was insufficiently conservative, not insufficiently Christian. At the same time, the critic reiterated his belief that "Christian Conservatives" should lead the state, which pretty much nullified all his disclaimers. While the outcome in Texas appears to show that religious chauvinism is a minority phenomenon within the Republican party itself, it remains a substantial and unseemly element within the GOP that seems to belie the claim that there's no "hate" within Republican ranks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, the problem is that they will never admit they hate. They do hate. They spout hate. They breathe hate. But they will insist, beyond all reason, that they don't hate. Even if every action they take is a hateful action - cutting off medical care for the elderly, cutting off welfare for those in direst poverty, attempting to orchestrate legislation to deny homosexuals equal rights. They insist they don't "hate". But then, they feel free to pretty much define words in whatever manner fits the meaning they wish to impart. So I have to assume that, to the right-wing haters, the word "hate" must be defined as "a negative emotion all leftists, Democrats, minorities, homosexuals, socialists, communists and others express, for no justifiable reason, towards us."