This is a guest post by Kristen J. Kristen J. is a frequent commentor at Feministe and a former member of several Evangelical churches located throughout the U.S.
I touched briefly on the goals of the Evangelical Christian Movement last time, but I wanted to take a couple paragraphs here to address them explicitly. In the broadest sense, the goal of both the modern and historical Evangelical Movement has been to convert as many souls to Christ as possible. For some sects this is the mission given to them by Christ. For other sects, this is how they will build the Army of God to defeat Satan and all his minions. For other sects, this is how they show God’s love.
As mentioned previously, the socio-political flavor that this goal has shifted frequently over the years, but most often it takes the form of reproducing values believed to be supported by God. At present, those values seem to be forced birth, anti-contraception, pro-starvation, anti-non-traditional families, and anti-gay. Consequently, the goals of the modern Evangelical Movement are to create social and legal restrictions on abortion, contraception, financial safety nets, family structures, and sexual behavior.
For me the hardest part of discussing the Evangelical Movement is describing how it accomplishes change. The difficulty is that when I say what I have experienced out loud, it sounds so ludicrous that I wonder if anyone will take me seriously. Still, I know, intellectually at least, that my experience isn’t singular…many others including some of you have shared similar stories. So without further ado, here we go.
In keeping with my love of categorization and listing things, I have organized the techniques I’ve personally encountered into four categories: (1) Politics; (2) Social Services; (3) Community Activism; and (4) childrearing. (Oh SHIT I said childrearing! Someone start the popcorn.) Since these posts are starting to get a little tl;dr, I’m going to break this into two parts. This post will cover politics and social services and the next will cover community activism and childrearing.
The Evangelical Movement has a holistic view of politics that stretches from local school board elections to national candidates and everything in-between. On the national stage we’ve all seen the impact of the Evangelical Movement. They are a powerful voting block that often has a significant effect on the candidates who win the nomination for their party and those elected to public office. Even where a candidate does not share the values or goals of the Evangelical Movement, often they are required to pay homage to the Movement (ahem…National Prayer Breakfast anyone?). By those of us on the left (or the left, lefty left-left) they are often accused of “distracting” us from the real work of governing with what the media is currently calling the “culture wars.” This aspect of the Evangelical Movement has, I believe, been covered ad nauseam (or maybe that’s just the remnants of the last post, hard to say), so I think I’ll skip it.
More interesting to me at least is the impact of the Evangelical Movement on local school board elections. Several years ago, church leaders began “calling” people to serve on school boards. Callings, for those who are unfamiliar with the practice, are purportedly instructions from God as to how he wants you, personally, to execute his will. For example, when I was five, I was “called” to minister through song (and make lots and lots of money for our pastor). Often people are “called” to donate time or money. It is a divine “anointing” and disregarding your calling will lead to very, very bad things. A “calling” is also an enormous dog whistle, since it encourages other Evangelicals to support the person called. If I say I felt I was called to run for local dog catcher, chances are local Evangelicals will vote for me. And voting is very, very important in the Evangelical Movement.
[Pastor Hagee from a sermon entitled “Faith Tested by Fire” – Transcript beginning at 7:12 and ending at 7:35
But I want to say this to every Bible carrying believer here and millions watching across this nation. When you go into a voting booth and you vote for a politician who is pro-choice, meaning pro-abortion you are bowing down to the gods of abortion. And you are just as sorry as the bum you send to Washington.]
In response to their calling Evangelicals began running for elected office on a local level. In Melissa Marie Deckman’s School Board Battles she argues that what she refers to as the Christian Right (which I call, the Evangelical Movement) has been a force in political recruitment for local and school board elections. Her research into why people run for political office found that wanting to fulfill a calling or to incorporate religious or moral values was a significant impetus. As one participant stated:
We as Christians need to be involved. I guess the bottom line is…if you do a little study in the Bible, it encourages, it demands that a Christian not be separated from the rest of government but be involved in government. I guess that is the bottom line. We are instructed to be involved. We are instructed to play a part.”
By moral values they don’t mean kindness and consideration for others. Nope their focus is on “chastity” and “respect for authority.” Oh and none of that teaching kids “to examine information consider viewpoints, and alternatives.” (Pg. 64) (Dude, that’s a quote. Someone took a moral stand against examining information and considering alternatives. WTF?)
If you want to know why there is little sex education in schools, why churches are allowed to speak to children while Planned Parenthood is excluded, why you can’t even mention Thomas-fucking-Jefferson (racist asshole that he was) in school books…this would be it.
The Evangelical Movement’s role in providing for the basic needs of individual people is in my view the least visible way in which the Movement foists its ideology on a vulnerable population. We all know of the Crisis Pregnancy Centers, but that is merely the tip of a very disturbing iceberg. In my life I’ve “volunteered” at soup kitchens; food banks; shelters; homes for unwed, pregnant teens; even “free” children’s centers. All of these places had one thing in common. The services provided were a means to an end. They were used to acquire a captive audience and proselytize. Indeed the practice was so rampant that the Obama Administration (as part of their Anti-Christ Program) had to issue an executive order prohibiting churches who receive federal funding from proselytizing while providing those federally funded services. (CBS).
I’m sure to some of you this doesn’t sound so bad. I mean sure you have to listen to some asshole pontificate at you…but in exchange you get food, or clothing, or child care, or shelter, or some other necessity. Seems like people should just suck it up amirite?
How would you feel if you had to listen to a sermon before you were able to access condoms or contraceptives? (PDF, Albany Law Review) People should have access to the basic necessities of life without having to hear about what horrible sinners they are or even about how God really does love them. (Is there anything more obnoxious than being told an omnipotent being loves you when you’re cold and hungry? Typically, I associate love with things like not leaving someone to starve…but clearly YMMV.)
Of course the Evangelical Movement isn’t going to sermonize at you when you come to pick up your prescription for Yasmin. Don’t be ridiculous. They’re going to not give it to you.
[Local ABC News item: Transcript beginning at 0:00 and ending at 0:35
While there is medicine on the shelves and prescription drugs behind the counter, this is not your average pharmacy. Today is the first day of business for Divine Mercy Care Pharmacy, a drug store some say is doing God’s work. Old white dude – “We want to be pro-life, and we want to carry out this pro-life attitude in everything we do, so we sort of have to act and talk and act like we um believe.” The pharmacy will sell no birth control pills, no condoms, or any type of contraceptives.]
This isn’t a one off store. The Evangelical Movement is encouraging members to become pharmacists in order to prevent people with a uterus from accessing necessary medications. By inserting themselves into the market for necessities (see also hospitals and medical clinics) they are making it difficult for secular companies or organizations to provide those same necessities sans the moralizing.
While this series has mostly focused on the impact of the Evangelical Movement in the United States, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that these techniques in particular have been used with great success by missionaries outside of the “Western” world. Often missionaries come bearing food, clean water, and medical care, but their true purpose is to convert heathen cultures to Christianity. A great deal of the cultural imperialism practiced by USians around the world has been the result of Evangelical Christianity. (If others want to discuss this in more detail, please do. I have only a passing familiarity with the international missionary community.)
As you can begin to see from these first two random categories, the influence of the Evangelical Movement is fairly pervasive in the United States. How visible were these activities to you? Have you encountered them in your communities?