10 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Want To Change the USA
Christianity is, together with Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam, one of the five major religions of the world. While the Christian faithful are found worldwide, Christians are predominantly located in Africa, North and South America and in Europe. While there are (mostly semantic) differences in theology between the main sects of Christianity the majority of modern day Christians are tolerant of each other and of other religions.
From around the late 1800s some Christians felt that their beliefs were threatened by the new theories of evolution. By the 1920s in the USA a sect of Christianity started to emerge that was different from the other forms. Fundamentalist Christianity sought to return to the core, ‘Fundamental’ beliefs the proponents feel are missing from mainstream Christian worship. The ‘fundamentals’ are; Biblical inerrancy (the Bible is correct and should be interpreted completely literally); that Christ was born to a virgin mother; that Christ died to redeem the sins of the world and was resurrected; the miracles of Christ are a historic fact.
With the exception of the first Fundamental these beliefs are not any different to any other Christian belief system. However, the application of the first Fundamental has led Fundamentalists to be extremely intolerant of any Christian who does not share a literal interpretation of the Bible. Fundamentalists are often perceived, due to their actions and outspoken nature, as bigoted, intolerant, unpleasant and evil.
But how does this intolerance manifest? Fundamentalism in the USA is not some small sect, over 10% of the American population self identifies as Christian Fundamentalist. This is a potentially powerful lobby and voting block and they are aware that they have a voice and they use it to campaign to change aspects of American society. Over the recent decades the Fundamentalists have combined with other Christian groups to form the Christian Right. As such they have had an increasing influence on Republican Party policies and candidates and have been involved in the new Tea Party movement.
The USA was founded on principals of tolerance, freedom and equality (true Christian values as it happens). It may be ‘One Nation Under God’ but Americans are free to choose their own God(s) (or none) and to worship as they see fit. These principals are anathema to the Christian Fundamentalist Movement. Here are 10 ways they want to change the USA (for the worse).
10 Replace the constitution with the Bible
The Founding Fathers were Christian in outlook and ideology and they framed the Constitution against that background. Nevertheless the USA is, and always has been, a secular nation which guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of worship. Some Fundamentalist or far right Christians, however, are unhappy with the current state of affairs. They would like to see the constitution of the USA (one of the most admired in the world) overturned and replaced with the rule of moral laws as set out in the Old Testament and through the teachings of the Gospel.
Only when a truly Christian state has been established (so the argument goes) will Christ return. The problem is that the Mosaic laws of the Old Testament are creatures of their time and are ill suited to the government or management of a modern society. Furthermore, in Christian theological terms many of these laws could be said to be superseded by the first coming of Christ which fulfilled the old covenant and led to the formation of the New Covenant for the remission of sins.
9 Remove the separation of church and state
The First Amendment of the US Constitution states that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof’.
Originally this amendment was interpreted to mean that decisions on religion were a matter for the States and not for congress. Through the 20th Century, however, the Supreme Court has extended the application of the First Amendment to the States as well as to Congress and the doctrine of separation of Church and State became increasingly popular and entrenched. This makes a lot of sense; in other countries where there is no separation such as the UK, for example, the Monarch is required to be not just a Christian but an Anglican. Were the heir to the throne to have moral questions about the Christian religion it would provoke a constitutional crisis. Legislation might also be required should a non-Anglican party leader be in a position, post an election, to form a Government. The doctrine of separation of Church and State prevents this being an issue in the USA.
Fundamentalist Christians want to see the return of a link between Church and State in order to be able to influence the education of the young (see below) and to impose Christian thinking on all Americans regardless of religion. They argue that the removal of the Christian cultural heritage such as crosses or inscriptions of the 10 Commandments from public buildings lead to a moral impoverishment of American life. There are, of course, many societies worldwide where Church (or other religion) and state are connected and where people of other religions are able to live their lives freely and without fear. There are also many examples of societies where the two are connected and which impose an unfair burden on non-believers. The type of religions society that Fundamentalist Christians want to impose has more in common with the dogmatic theocracy of Iran than the freedoms enjoyed by Norwegian citizens.
8 Teach creationism as fact in schools
From the time of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species some Christians have felt that the theory of evolution undermines the teachings of the Bible and the events described in Genesis. Over the last century the examination of the fossil record and advancements in DNA technology have confirmed our evolutionary ancestry. They have also enabled us to set the age of the Earth at over 4 billion years old and possibly even older.
Nevertheless more than 40% of Americans believe that God created humans less than 10,000 years ago. Across the USA some School Boards require Evolution to be referred to as a theory only and for students to be taught the theory of Intelligent Design (that humans did not evolve but were created by God) in parallel. This is not good enough for some – 38% of Americans no longer want evolution to be taught in schools.
7 Restrict access to sex education in schools
It is not only in the field of evolution that Fundamentalist Christians want to meddle in what is taught in schools. In the 21st century it is accepted, by most people, that sex education is a hugely important part of a child’s time at school. It helps to reduce incidences of teen pregnancy and teaches children about safe and consensual sex and relationships in a safe environment.
For many Fundamentalist parents, however, the idea that their children might be exposed to sex education at school is seen as anathema. Fundamentalists have campaigned for federal support for programs that promote abstinence only sex education in American schools. The problem with such education is that teenagers have a tendency to experiment and if they have been taught in an ‘abstinence only’ class they will experiment without the background knowledge necessary to protect themselves from teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The abstinence only message teaches children nothing except that their natural urges are dirty and therefore encourages them to hide their sexual activity from parents and family members.
Fundamentalists have attacked sex education programs in schools from the 1980s but have recently begun to get more traction. By the 1990s federal legislation funding abstinence only education was pushed by the Christian right and brought in without any public hearings or debate.
6 Abolish food stamps and social security
Jesus famously told his followers that it was easier ‘for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God’. As a result of this exhortation it would be reasonable to think that Christian Fundamentalists would be in favor of poverty and the redistribution of wealth to support the disadvantaged in our society.
Sadly this is not the case; representatives of the Tea Party believe that government food stamps, the last line of support for many families who are struggling to feed their children, should be cut. Many people who rely on this program are working hard, but unable to earn enough money to make ends meet, many more are disabled. Fundamentalists, however, prefer to characterize these people as lazy freeloaders. This thinking is based on a misinterpretation of a verse in the Bible that, on its face, seems to suggest that those who do not work should go hungry. Of course Fundamentalists subscribe to a literal interpretation of the Bible. Most Christians would be shocked at such an interpretation of their religion of universal love and support and care for fellow men and most Americans of all religions and none understand that sometimes people need a safety net and a leg up! After all…there but for the grace of God…
5 Oppose immigration
The Old Testament commands that the faithful support and care for strangers who ‘shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself’. This command is thoroughly ignored by fundamentalist Christians who wish to see constraints put on immigration into the USA, a nation that became great on the labor and ingenuity of immigrants.
Fundamentalists opposed the passage of the 2013 Immigration Act which was designed to legalize the status of many people already in the US while shoring up border protections and bringing in sustainable immigration controls arguing that it would add 31 million new citizens to the United States and cost trillions of dollars, saddling American children with unsustainable costs.
4 Prevent euthanasia in all circumstances
Euthanasia is the deliberate killing of another person done with the intent to prevent suffering. It is legal in some countries, notably the Netherlands and is often requested by people suffering extreme pain and disability who are coming towards the end of their life. It is also sometimes requested by family members of a patient in a persistent vegetative state. The legality of assisted suicide or physician assisted suicide is a matter for individual states in the USA with the majority terming such procedure a crime, whilst the exceptions are Washington, Oregon and Vermont.
The arguments against euthanasia range from it being against the will of God (who should be the ultimate arbiter of the term of a persons’ life) to legalized euthanasia being a slippery slope towards legalized murder. While there is little appetite amongst the American public for a general legalization of Euthanasia the Fundamentalist right have tried to hijack high profile and tragic cases of people in persistent vegetative states such as that of Terry Schiavo whose brain, after 15 years in a pvs, was shown to be completely damaged and unresponsive with no hope of recovery. Despite her husband having shown that she had indicated, while alive, that she had no wish for her life to be prolonged artificially, she was kept alive on a feeding tube. Fundamentalist Christians went to the federal government in an attempt to overturn state decisions to authorize the removal of feeding support.
Cases such as Terry Schiavo’s show that Fundamentalists will stop at nothing to get their own way and will campaign to change the law and legal process if they are opposed.
3 Subjugate women
The USA is meant to be an equal opportunities society, one where all citizens are treated equally regardless of gender. Fundamentalist Christians, however, take a different view of things, despite Jesus telling us that ‘There is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus’ Christian fundamentalists like to turn to the strictures of the Old Testament and the teachings of Paul to subjugate the position of women in American society.
Feeling that the women’s rights movement was an attack on the traditional values they held dear fundamentalists stepped up their attacks on women. Groups such as the Family Research Council believe that ‘Feminist ideology highlights the damaging tendency of feminism’s sexual liberation to undermine the sanctity of marriage and deprive women of lasting happiness’. At the core of women’s rights is their ability to gain access to reliable contraception. Fundamentalist groups have campaigned to prevent employer health insurance schemes being required to provide contraceptives free of charge to employees who request them. In essence, they say, the religious convictions of an employer should trump an employee’s right to access contraception. Indeed the fundamentalists’ campaigns against sex education (see above) result in making young women in particular vulnerable to unplanned pregnancy and relationship abuse.
As if that were not enough while parents across the land teach their sons to respect women’s sexual autonomy and their daughters to know that ‘no means no’ in 2012 Tod Akin, a Republican Senate nominee, referred to cases of ‘legitimate rape’ and claimed that such cases could not lead to pregnancy. In one sentence he summed up his contempt for women struggling with marital and relationship rape. While he subsequently apologized for his comment he later retracted his apology – nice man!
2 Make abortions illegal
Abortion was legalized in the USA in the landmark Supreme Court decision of Roe v Wade. The decision gave women the ‘Fundamental Right’ for a woman to unrestricted access to an abortion in the early weeks of pregnancy with some limited access in the later weeks.
Since that decision Christian Fundamentalists have campaigned to restrict access to abortions and even to the morning after pill/emergency contraception which they claim are abortifacients. While Christian women are, of course, entitled to believe that abortion is not something they would choose to do themselves, it is unethical (and currently of course, illegal) for that view to be imposed on women of another faith or none. While busy lobbying for a change in the law, fundamentalists try to prevent women from accessing a legal operation by campaigning outside centers that offer abortions, by showing gruesome pictures that purport to be of aborted fetuses and spreading myths such as abortion causes breast cancer or makes it difficult to get pregnant later one. Organizations that offer abortions are accused of leading a ‘culture of death’. Women (not men of course) are encouraged to be abstinent and told that they cannot get pregnant as a result of rape because if they did they must have wanted intercourse in some way (see above).
Very little thought is given, when campaigning on this issue to the reasons why women seek abortions, whether be because they have been raped, because of fetal abnormalities, their inability to care for a child or any other myriad of reasons. Fundamentalists want the USA to become a nation like Ireland where women die because they are refused access to lifesaving abortions or El Salvador where women who suffer the trauma of a miscarriage run the risk of being imprisoned for causing an abortion. The sad thing is that in those countries people are campaigning to give women the freedoms American women enjoy over their bodies.
1 Marginalize (and criminalize) homosexuality
In 2015 the US Supreme Court did a wonderful thing and agreed that same sex marriages should be recognized by law as equal to traditional heterosexual marriages. This mean that gay, lesbian and transgender partners can enjoy all the legal protections that marriage can confer and celebrate their lifelong commitment to each other with the same simple trip to city hall as any other couple makes. This allows the USA to join the ranks of 21 other countries such as Britain, Ireland and Sweden in treating all its citizens as equal.
Fundamentalists disagree with same sex marriage, they see homosexuality as abhorrent and deviant. They may preach that people should ‘love the sinner and hate the sin’ but they encourage homosexuals to be chaste and even to enter into heterosexual marriages and deny who they are. They believe that same sex marriage is an attack on their rights. Quite how a marriage between two loving individuals can be perceived as an attack on the religious freedoms of another person is an example of the convoluted thinking of fundamentalists in America today. Within hours of the decision fundamentalist groups vowed to lobby for change and repeal. It is telling that much of the language used to oppose same sex marriage sounds frighteningly similar to the rhetoric against mixed race marriages – no one would dare spout that rot anymore!
Christianity is, at its core, a religion of love and peace. Christ died, so Christians believe, for the forgiveness of sins. Christ commanded Christians to love one another and to love their neighbor, he extolled the virtues of the good Samaritan at a time when they were seen as a lesser human because of their race.
Christian Fundamentalists, unlike the biblical Samaritan, would leave the modern day sufferer by the roadside believing that his plight was a result of his beliefs. Christ’s love, they believe, is available only to those who espouse their belief system. They see no dichotomy taking a literal interpretation of a book that extolls forgiveness, tolerance and love and twisting it to condemn not only those who do not share their beliefs but also those who have a modified form of belief. Fundamentalists believe that something is either right or wrong and this is intrinsically irreconcilable with the concept of a democracy which by its nature acknowledges that there are nuances and ‘shades of grey’ in people’s thoughts, beliefs and actions
In this day and age we watch, with horror, as Islamic Fundamentalists attack our western democracy. We shake our head with disbelief as they impose a fundamental and literal interpretation of Islam on everyone within their area of control. Christian Fundamentalists may not be beheading people or destroying priceless relics of bygone eras in their drive to mold the USA to their will and design but they do want to impose their will on others. It is important, when we condemn the extremists of other religions, whether it is intolerant Hindu sects in India or ISIS in the Middle East, that we are aware of the potential we have for extremism in our own society. As Jesus himself advised, ‘be aware of the beam in our own eyes before commenting on the mote in our neighbors’!