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 Opinion: Christians Who Must Have A Devil

SpiritualityBy Howard Bess

My roots are in Midwestern Christian Fundamentalism. My family was Baptist and Republican. My father and grandfather believed every word that Joseph McCarthy said about the Communist threat to America. The pastor, who had the most influence over me, was trained at Moody Bible Institute and was an ardent dispensationalist. Franklin Roosevelt was Satan in disguise. At different times Adolph Hitler, the Pope, and Joseph Stalin were named as the Antichrist of the Book of Revelation.

Through the process of college and graduate education, my world view was significantly altered. My roots have left me with an abiding interest in the dynamics of American Christian Fundamentalism. My understanding has turned out to be quite simple. At the heart of American Christian Fundamentalism is a basic religious dualism that is obsessed with a never ending struggle between good and evil. They are obsessed with fighting and must always have an enemy.

This struggle between good and evil is not without Bible precedence. There is no shortage of Bible material that supports this approach to life. The history of Israel is filled with bloody battles with neighbors. The crux of Revelation is the final battle between good and evil with a triumphant Jesus Christ the winner over every opposing force. ...

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There are voices of dissent against dualism throughout the Old and the New Testaments. The final witness is Jesus, the rabbi from Nazareth, who advocated that evil was to be overcome not with a fight but with the doing of good.

During the Great Depression and the World War that followed, enemies abounded and the fight against evil was in vogue. But Christian Fundamentalism had a great problem after the winning of World War II. For a moment Fundamentalists had no devil to engage. A righteous America had won. Joseph Stalin and the Soviet dictators, who followed, solved the problem. World Communism became the world’s great evil.

In the early 50’s Senator Joseph McCarthy convinced millions of Americans that the U.S. government was significantly infiltrated by Communists. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover went on an obsessive hunt for Communists. A young Richard Nixon was elected to Congress by depicting his opponent as a Communist sympathizer. Opponents of racial integration made charges against Martin Luther King Jr. as having Communist ties. The threat of Communism was everywhere. It was in America, but it was also found around the world. Communism completely controlled the Soviet Union, North Korea, China and Viet Nam. In the forefront of the battle against Communism were Christian Fundamentalists. Communists were godless by definition and the enemies of God.

The anti-communist theme suffered a great loss in 1991. The SovietUnion collapsed. The world was changing. China was still communist, but it was a different style communism. Christian Fundamentalism had lost their primary devil. It did not take them long to discover the next enemy.

I had been involved with the struggle to gain gay acceptance in our churches for several years. The movement for acceptance was growing, but progress was slow. Christian Fundamentalists and Evangelicals found the abomination of homosexuality and the gay agenda. The new devil had been discovered. Once the new devil had been named, a flurry of activity developed. I have a whole shelf full of books written during the 90s by theologians, Bible scholars, psychologists, and sociologists. The annual meetings, biennial meetings and the triennial meetings of denominations could not keep homosexuality off their agendas. Ministries to change gay persons to straight persons mushroomed. In 1995 I jumped into the fray and published my own book “Pastor, I Am Gay.” The result was that my church was disfellowshipped by our Alaska state association and I was personally shunned by the local ministerial group.

Christian Fundamentalists have lost their war against the gay population. They have lost on every front. Theologically, Biblically, psychologically, sociologically AND in the opinion polls. The Public Religion Research Institute has just published a summary of 20 years of polling of American public opinion about gay persons. 20 years of polling show that steadily, but surely, American opinion has embraced gay participation in the U.S. military, equal benefits for gay couples, adoption rights for gay couples, and marriage for gay couples. The numbers are most telling among young people.

American Christian Fundamentalists badly needed a new enemy, and they have found their next war. The front cover headline of a recent Time magazine tells the story. “Is America Islamophobic?” With Christian Fundamentalists in the lead, the answer is a reluctant “yes.” Tensions between Christian Fundamentalists and Muslim Fundamentalists have been brewing for years, but the proposal to build a Mosque two blocks from Ground Zero on Lower Manhattan has defined the conflict.

And a tearful Jesus looks and laments “O that they might know the ways of peace.”


The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska. His email address is [email protected].


[31 August 2010]

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