Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Loyal to whom or what?

You have probably heard of Monica Goodling by now, although until a few weeks ago almost nobody outside the Justice Department had heard of her. She's the on-leave Justice Department top lawyer who has announced she would take the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of the right not to testify if you believe truthful testimony might incriminate you. Considering Scooter Libby's conviction for perjury about an alleged crime for which nobody was charged, it might not be an indefensible move on her part. But it doesn't look good anyway.

But that's not the interesting part. This story says that the's "part of a generation of young religious conservatives who swept into the federal government after the election of President Bush in 2000 ..."She went to Messiah College in Pennsylvania, a Christian school that does not have coed dorms or allow alcohol. She started law school at American University but transferred to Regent, founded by Pat Robertson. Upon graduation in 1999 she went to work for the Republican National Committee, then to the Justice Department's press office, then up the ladder at Justice.

A smart religious conservative succeeding at politics? Yes, but how did she prove herself, and how does that mesh with being a Christian? The WP says she "displayed unblinking devotion to the administration and expected others to do the same." That included, for example, firing an intern on the spot who walked off in a huff after she told him he'd have to prove himself before he could take on other than menial tasks. She was knee-deep in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys. In short, she was something of an enforcer.

I can't say that I know much about her walk, and I'll assume she's sincere. But what kind of Christianity is it that displays itself through unblinking devotion to a political figure, a political party and an administration that starts wars of choice? What I learned in Sunday School and a lifetime of attending church and considering myself a Christian was that our first loyalty is to God and then to our families and friends, with the understanding that God is Lord of all and we are to treat others as His children. The idea of displacing that loyalty by total devotion to a mere man or to transient political policies smacks of idoloatry, or at least of misplaced priorities. Being a Christian should mean, I think, being able to view such transient and worldly matters as politics and leaders with a certain detachment; we can certainly have favorites, but we should remember that they are imperfect mortals, that they may be wrong, and that our real home is not in this world at all.

Blogger Andrew Sullivan has coined the term "Christianist" to describe people who express their religion through politics rather than more spiritual methods, just as we commonly call people who express their Islamic beliefs through political actions and terrorism "Islamists" in part to distinguish them from the majority of Muslims. I fear that Christianity may take a long time recovering from Christianism in this country.


Talatu-Carmen said...

thanks for this thoughtful article. I fear the Monica Goodling case has continued the damage done to the public image of Christianity in America that the Bush administration has pretty much already pulvarized. The Goodling case has also done a lot of damage to the fine institution Messiah College, which is anything but the diploma-churning fundamentalist farce that the media has painted it as. If those "journalists" had bothered to go to the website and quote the entire mission statement instead of misquoting just a portion they would have found that it is an institution committed to social and environmental activism and that it comes from a pacifist anabaptist background.

The quote that has been faithfully reproduced from its initial McClatchy hatchet job comes out of the following context:
"The College is committed to an embracing evangelical spirit rooted in the Anabaptist, Pietist and Wesleyan traditions of the Christian Church. Our mission is to educate men and women toward maturity of intellect, character and Christian faith in preparation for lives of service, leadership and reconciliation in church and society."

from one very tired Messiah grad!

Alan Bock said...

Thanks for the information on Messiah College. Of course, colleges don't(and can't)turn their students into little automatons who reflect the thinking of college leadership to the nth degree. But it's interesting that a Bush loyalist would have come from a college with an anabaptist background. Of course not all evangelicals are the same, and certainly not all are part of the "religious right," but you wouldn't know that from most of the media coverage.