On March 19th, the Pennsylvania Pastors Network hosted U-Turn: A Conversation with Pastors on Society, Culture, and Leadership at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. As mentioned in a prior post, I spent the morning observing U-Turn, where I listened to talks by David Barton of Wallbuilders, George Barna of the Barna Group, and others. With the exception of Sandy Rios, all the speakers were men, and with the exception of Joseph Green, overwhelmingly white.
A common theme among the talks was that the U.S. had fallen away from its founding biblical principles, and that fundamentalist Christians needed to reclaim the country for Christ once again. To achieve this goal, pastors were to become politically active and disciple their flocks toward conservative political ends. In essence, U-Turn was about rallying fundamentalist evangelical pastors to get their congregants politically active for conservative causes. With the 2016 election just twenty months away, U-Turn was well-timed.
Several hundred people were in attendance to hear speakers describe the alleged fallen state of our culture. I walked into the auditorium in the middle of an introductory talk by Sam Rohrer, president of the American Pastors Network. Rohrer claimed that God created civil government as an instrument of his authority, and that the Bible contains content relevant to government issues. Christians must speak the truth in the public square, he told the audience. God has raised people up, but if we want to accept God's blessing, we must do "God's will, God's way", he asserted.
Pastors and politicians are both leaders, even though politicians often see religious leaders as merely a "conduit" for votes in "nice territory", Rohrer said. While "jurisdictional difference" distinguishes pastors and politicians, both have similar duties as leaders. The message, it seemed, was that pastors must be prepared to guide their congregants into political matters.
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After a short video promoting the Pennsylvania Pastors Network, Paul Blair of Reclaiming America for Christ took the stage. I cringed at Blair's "machine gun" style of preaching, since he spoke so quickly and loudly that it was difficult to digest what he was saying.
In a talk entitled "The Pastor's Impact: A Biblical Perspective", Blair claimed that it's easy to see why America is in its current condition. Only 9% of born-again Christians espouse a "biblical worldview", while many other Christians have embraced a "postmodernist" worldview, he insisted. Americans have accepted "Platonic Greek" ideas that compel them to keep Jesus in church and outside of other areas of their lives, he argued.
"Civil liberty and religious liberty travel as a pair," Blair told listeners, warning them that to lose one is to lose both. Shortly after the birth of the Christian church in the Book of Acts, Christians experienced persecution throughout history, only enjoying full freedom in the United States, he claimed. Blair listed the Catholic Church as a historical force that oppressed Christians, and I found the fact that he did not consider Catholicism to be a form of Christianity revealing.
"Look back in biblical history. We see the birth of the church in Acts chapter 2, and by Acts 4, we see the church suffering persecution, first by the Sanhedrin, then by the pagan Roman Empire, then by the Holy Roman Catholic Empire during the dark ages, down throughout the centuries. Even around the world today, we're seeing Christians beheaded and impaled and crucified because of their faith. Only in America, and only for the last two-hundred years have we been able to enjoy both civil and religious liberty. We're not the rule. We're the exception to the rule."In his haste to depict Christianity as an oppressed victim, Blair ignored instances throughout history when Christians (and yes, Catholics are Christians) were politically and socially dominant.
Blair painted a paranoid picture of the government, warning listeners that public education and Common Core were governmental means of controlling the population. He argued that for a dictatorship to take root, it must exercise iron-fisted control over education, media, and conscience. Is this a not-so-subtle jab at President Obama? I wondered.
"Understand that for any tyrannical dictator to enforce his tyrannical control over your person, he must first assume control over your mind. So in order for a dictatorship to be established, first thing they're going to do is nationalize education. Folks, the Bible says its up to the parents to train up their children in the way they should go, but the government seeks to nationalize education. Hello? Common Core? The next thing [is that] they have to control the media, so they can control the flow of information into what you believe the truth is that's out there. And then, finally, you also gave to remove any religious liberty. You cannot have freedom of conscience. Because you cannot have the ability to disagree with the government. Whatever the government chooses to do must be right."Blair listed two variations of government tyranny: "atheistic communism", in which the government bestows rights and determines what is right and wrong, and theocracy, in which disagreeing with leaders is condemned as both heresy and treason. To escape from such tyranny in the form of a state church, the Pilgrims came to America on board the Mayflower, he noted. The Pilgrims sought civil and religious liberty and understood that God established home, church, and civil government, he argued.
The United States was established with a "biblical worldview" in mind, Blair claimed, listing three biblical principles on which America was supposedly founded. First, the purpose of the government is to ensure the good of the people. Quoting Romans 13:1-4, he argued that the purpose of government is to punish evil and protect good, not to oppress. Next, a written constitution laying out the law for everyone is vital, he said. Rule with the consent of the governed is a godly principle, he added. Finally, Blair emphasized that an absolute standard of truth exists as defined by the will of God. While humans are free to legislate laws, no human law should contradict the will of God as set out in scripture, he insisted. According to Blair, same-sex marriage laws contradict God's will.
"Is there anywhere in the Bible from Genesis 1 to Revelations 22 that tells you what the speed limit on Broadway should be? No, no. So that area is free for man to legislate and determine what is a safe yet effective speed for driving down Broadway. However, what is the definition of a marriage? One man, one woman. Who said so? God did!" [Audience applauds]I sighed at Blair's tired and familiar arguments. The Religious Right's insistence that America is a Christian nation founded on biblical principles ignores the fact that Enlightenment ideas, not biblical ones, shaped the formation of the U.S. Cherished American rights such as freedom of religion did not spring from the Bible, a fact Blair ignores.
While discussing the history of the Constitution, Blair ranted against the Supreme Court, same-sex marriage, the federal government, and public schools in an effort to defend state rights. The federal government is supposed to be bound by rule of law, but it doesn't honor its boundaries because the people are now "sheep" now. "Judge Roy Moore is a hero!" he proclaimed.
"What happens if the federal government tries to assume more power than what the Constitution gives them? Oh, I know what we've been taught in school. We're supposed to go and pray and beg before the Supreme Court that they will rule 5 to 4 in hopes of allowing the states to continue to determine what natural marriage is. Folks, that is not what the Constitution says... The states are supposed to hold the federal government accountable. We're the ones that created the federal government, not the other way around! Ladies and gentlemen, understand we are not three hundred and eighteen million people ruled by a little dictator in Washington D.C. and nine attorneys in black robes. We are a union of sovereign states that delegated by compact few and designed responsibilities to the general government to take care of the general welfare of the whole. They don't have the right to exceed the limited powers that we gave them ... We have been trained in our government-controlled schools to worship at the altar of the federal government."On screen, Blair had prepared a "summary of 2014", listing alleged signs of governmental failure, including national debt, NSA spying, Obamacare, Common Core, "discrimination" against the Tea Party, "discrimination" against Christians on military bases, abortion, and same-sex marriage. Blair raged against same-sex marriage, warning the audience that their ability to practice job discrimination against gays was in imminent danger.
"If the court rules that homosexual marriage is natural and normal, and you have to support it, then they will be putting your choice of sexuality, which is behavior, on the same plane as your gender, which you're born [with], or your race, which you're born [with]. And as a Baptist minister, for example, I can discriminate in my hiring practices. For example, I don't have to hire anybody who's a non-Baptist because I am a Baptist minister. However, it would be illegal for me to say, 'I'm only going to hire white Baptists.' That would be discrimination, would it not? And it would be. But if they legitimize homosexual marriage and put it on the same plane as race, then I also won't be able to discriminate against hiring only heterosexual Baptists. Gentlemen, this is the camel's nose underneath the tent. This line cannot be crossed."The solution to America's problems will not come from trusting politicians, he argued. Christians must be informed, and pastors must disciple their flocks. Pastors are to make sure their flocks hear the gospel, equip them to share the gospel, and educate them in a "biblical worldview", he emphasized. To this end, Blair encouraged listeners to watch videos from the Truth Project and plugged several fundamentalist apologetics websites, including Answers in Genesis.
Blair's "Nehemiah Strategy" was a vision in which the church would reclaim the community, communities would reclaim the city, cities would reclaim the states, and states would reclaim the nation. "Let's reclaim America for Jesus Christ," he concluded.
Blair's hypocrisy was breathtaking. While cultivating the myth of Christian persecution in America, he saw nothing wrong with oppressing gays. While raging against a supposedly tyrannical government, he saw nothing wrong with government encroachment on LGBTQ rights or reproductive rights. The federal government, LGBTQ community, and educational system were cast as scapegoats in his narrative, reduced to boogeymen who stifle believers.
Paul Blair, like many Religious Right commentators, seemed outraged that the U.S. government fails to obey the will of fundamentalist Christians. Blair envisioned an America by and for fundamentalist evangelicals, with little thought for millions of progressive or mainline Protestants, Catholics, or non-Christians. The spirit of democracy, in which all citizens have a voice and everyone's basic rights are to be protected, was lost on him.
The essence of Blair's talk seemed to be that fundamentalist Christians should be outraged by the current state of their country and politically "reclaim" the land. However, fundamentalists share that land with others groups, and those groups will not be silent.
Stay tuned for more posts on talks by David Barton and George Barna! To read additional commentary, visit the following link.
Right Wing Watch: Pastors Network: America Going Down the Tubes, Needs Pastors To Call Down Fire