Christians have been metaphorically eating each other ever since the Roman emperors stopped feeding them to the lions. They took the wrong lesson from that early Christian experience. Their tendency toward internecine cannibalism first broke out most publically and memorably with the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. The Protestant Reformation itself split what was left of the original church after it had split in the eleventh century from the Eastern Orthodox folks.
The Protestants took from the sixteenth century split a serious, vengeful, seemingly uncontrollable propensity for disunity in Christ and, today, there are somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 Protestant denominations. In order to maintain their individuality and preserve their existence, they must downplay their commonality and, instead, emphasize the trivial that differentiates them one from another. Pick a topic, any topic. How to baptize—dunk or sprinkle. The Trinity vs. Unitarianism. Transubstantiation—whether communion elements are symbolically or literally the body and blood of Christ. The status and proper role of women vs. the Biblically-based superiority of men. Whether the individual or God is to be in control of procreation. Predestination vs. choice. Whether there are gay children of God or merely straight ones misbehaving through same-gender intimacy. Whether the Bible is literally the inerrant word of God, despite demonstrable contradictions, or something else.
More significant to the current political climate has been the rise of a modern-day brand of evangelical “Christian.” Congregations of these folks spring up on street corners all over the place and grow like a cult around the personality of a “pastor” who lacks any denominational accountability. They are particularly virulent in the political arena but couch their virulence in religious rhetoric. They have reduced to an art form the doublespeak described by George Orwell in his book 1984. By espousing the principle of love for the sinner while hating the purported sin, they give coded permission to treat the sinner much as you would if you, in fact, hated them and not just the sin.
The most disturbing feature of this brand of evangelical “Christian” is their holier-than-thou arrogance. No public figure is pure enough; no one is good enough. In their search for anyone-but-Mitt, they have successively been unable to find an acceptable alternative. One after another candidate has risen and then fallen in the polls. Christ himself wouldn’t qualify; he’d almost certainly be too socialist for them. Mark 10:17. Not to mention the gown, sandals, and hanging out with guys all the time. Newsweek’s conservative columnist, David Frum, got it right when he said recently that the evangelicals won’t give leaders the latitude to be effective leaders.
These folks cling tenaciously to myths about the way things are and not just to the way things should be. They want simple answers to the complex questions of life. They want moral certitude in a real world more accurately characterized by moral ambiguity. They tend to “tell it like it isn’t in no uncertain terms.” Accordingly, they condemn themselves to a life of hypocrisy, reinforced by judging the purported failings of others. They rely heavily on a schizophrenic God of both justice and mercy—the latter for themselves and the former for everyone who disagrees with them. The cheapest way to feel good about yourself is to identify someone with a difference you can condemn or toward which you can feel superior. That exercise, in fact, doesn’t make you better or them worse.
The bad news is that the Republican Party in Iowa has become, essentially, synonymous with this modern-day brand of evangelical “Christian.” That’s largely true of the national Republican Party as well. The good news is that their days as a meaningful political force are numbered. They will be unable to find and preserve the required unity in the political arena that has historically eluded them in Christ. Disunity is endemic to their faith and to their very being. Bon appétit evangelical “Christians.”