Harry Dent And the Open Sheep Fold

The seeds of discord were literally there at the beginning. Mark’s version of the Jesus story puts it like this

They came to Capernaum. When he was safe at home, he asked them, “What were you discussing on the road?” The silence was deafening—they had been arguing with
one another over who among them was greatest.

He sat down and summoned the Twelve. “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.” He put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, he said, “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me.”

John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.”

Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.

Of course, Jesus’ followers rarely followed his advice. And after his death, the divisions only widened: between native Palestinians and Jewish Christians that spoke languages other than Aramaic; between Paul who believed that anyone could be a follower of Jesus and Jesus’ brother James, who believed that circumcision, not baptism, was the ultimate faith marker. By the end of the first generation of Christians, there were a number of distinct “Christianities” (to borrow Bart Ehrman’s term) which made competing claims to being the legitimate descendants of the Jesus movement. Even following the victory of catholic theology at Nicea nearly three hundred years after Christ, there remained stubborn branches of Christianity which never fully accepted the doctrines of the Roman church. By the 11th century, Christianity had split into two distinct halves: the Eastern, mystical branch, and the Western, scholastic branch. (Both of which claimed to be “orthodox,” but that’s another post.)

Then came the Protestant Reformation, and with it, the divide of the Christian religion into thousands of sects, each of whom, more or less, makes a claim to be the true heirs of apostolic Christianity. In the more liberal branches of Protestantism, this claim is accompanied with a wink, because even its claimants know it to be preposterous, but in the more conservative branches, it is still the raison le juré for all the competing, contradictory religious movements that claim to be part or all of the “One, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” (A phrase from the Nicene Creed, to which non-creedal groups like the Baptists and Church of Christ do not adhere, accept when they do.)

The reason I bring up all this church history (something I love, but which both of my readers find boring, I’m sure), is that so many people are making so much over the “splintering” of the Republican Religious Right over which flip-flopping Republican they will endorse in the race for President. The idea that there ever was one, monolithic, right-wing religious movement in this country was a fiction promoted by political analysts who had no more inkling into the how evangelicals and fundamentalists think than they did into post quantum physics.

What evangelicals and fundamentalists wanted was what every other special interest group wanted: access to power. To get there, they formed alliances with the Republican party (not a traditionally friendly place to evangelicals, at least in the pre-Reagan days), because they believed that having power was important. They were tired of being thought of a backwards, ignorant, uneducated cultists. They wanted a little respect. And when the South Carolina’s Republican strategist Harry Dent devised a strategy to bring the South into the Republican column by bringing in evangelicals and fundamentalist, they swallowed the bait.

But Harry’s strategy was never going to last. These are people who have condemned others to hell over whether or not they baptized by full immersion, or used wine at communion (or to wash down pasta) or used Bibles that contained “inclusive language” (or that were authorized by someone other than King James in 1611). If you’re willing to split your closest personal relationships over how much water you use when baptizing somebody, you’re damn sure going to fracture over politics. Evangelicals and fundamentalists, like every other branch of Christianity, never really were of one mind on anything anyway. And gays and abortion were just ways to turn out the vote anyway.

Harry Dent was not such a great shepherd after all, because the sheep kept trying to get out of the fold, and now the gate’s busted open and the fuzzy little SOB’s are running around everywhere. Before you know it, Rick Warren’s going to invite Obama Barak in for a Sunday night service. That’s how you’ll know it’s over.

That, and when and Pat Robertson endorses Rudy Giuliani.

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