Tag Archives: religion

church in Central, LA continues to hold in-person services

Religious Nationalism

Pearl River     This whole thing about religious opposition to the stay-at-home orders and the social distancing can sometimes seem a head scratcher.   In central Louisiana a minister already noted for refusing to call postponement of church services was arrested for attempted assault, which he admitted, after he tried to back a church bus over a lone protestor who was opposing his threat to public health by convening services.  The Falwell family’s Liberty University has become a hot spot as he disobeyed orders in Virginia and insisted on recalling classes for the students.  The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have done deep reporting on the conservative funders that have pushed money to some of these religious firebrands in order to organize them to mobilize a few of their troops to be the foot soldiers and virus fodder for the reopening demands.  It’s hard to believe this is religious fervor, since there are so many alternatives.

Recently, while I was in Little Rock, from another room I could hear my brother-in-law participating in a Wednesday night “home church” on Zoom that was both good spirited and deeply religious. The Pope is pretty religious, and he’s clear that the faithful can grow without exposing themselves to health risk or that of their community.

Talking to Katherine Stewart recently on Wade’s World, about her book, The Power Worshippers:  Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, she made a convincing case that what is really happening here is that political commitment is exceeding religious zeal.   She calls this religious nationalism, and, as the book title indicates, it’s about power, not faith.

Her book covers chapter and verse in making the case.

She zings the religious intrusion into the education system not just through privatization and charter schools, but in trying to use schools as meeting places in order to legitimize their arguments and proselytizing.  She makes the same case about healthcare risks based on claims of religious privilege.

She details the efforts of Ralph Drollinger and his Capital Ministries to establish religious practice in national capitols around the world using weekly Bible studies as the cover to push a gospel of wealth, worker submission, anti-tax, and pro-business ideology as part of religious nationalism.

She dives deep into the overtly political work of groups like Church United that specialize in building voter-outreach machinery by working through pastors.  Elsewhere she catalogues the data and list building empires built by other proponents of a political reorienting of the country in the guise of religion.  Yes, we thought as tax exempt institutions, they could not be partisan, but, according to Stewart, we might as well believe in the Easter bunny while we’re at it.

Separation of the church and state has been a foundational principle of the United States, but reading and talking to Katherine Stewart it becomes clear that this is another area of our founding principles that is under assault.  This time the subversion is in the name of religion, but as Stewart argues, it is really all about power. The culture wars are a distraction.  This is a political effort at every level that has nothing to do with faith, and everything to do with the self-interest of its hucksters, Elmer Gantry’s, and false prophets.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond, left, gives a thumbs-up as he gets set to ride in a World War II-era Stearman PT-17 biplane over the city on Friday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Sunrise Service

Pearl River     For some years when he was still going to the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church where he was raised, and where he raised my brother and me, my dad would act as an usher at the Sunrise Service on Easter along Lake Ponchartrain near the seawall.  Several times I went with him.  I liked getting up early.  I liked being outside better than having to go to church later.  There used to be hundreds of people there greeting the daybreak and within that religious tradition celebrating that Jesus had risen from the dead.  That was the theology.

Later he moved with my mother to the Methodist Church which given his lifetime of deep involvement with the Lutherans at every level was always a bit shocking.  The conflict in the congregation drove him out.  First, there was the split over the proprietary of square dancing in the church hall.  Finally, there was the even deeper split over integration of the church school.  My mother had been raised a Methodist.  Unlike Orange County, California, in Drew, Mississippi, there were only two choices in her day, the Baptist Church or the Methodist Church almost next door to it.  That was her choice then, and became their choice later.

Driving along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, we saw signs for sunrise services on Easter despite the stay-at-home instructions in the state, which had left plenty of wiggle room for just this kind of risk taking that some ministers seem willing to inflict on their congregations.  This sort of “religious nationalism” had led to the absurdity in Kansas of the Republican dominated state legislature passing a law to overrule the Democratic governor who had banned meetings the size of church gatherings.  The Kansas State Supreme Court was forced on the Saturday before Easter to overrule the legislative fervor to ban church assemblies and support the governor.

The Pope is live-streaming Easter Mass.  Some ministers are doing drive-by services.  In New Orleans the Archbishop and other religious flew over the city on Good Friday to bless the citizens from the air.  All that is creative.  What I remember from my years in the church is that a pastor shepherds the flock.  I thought that meant looking after their health, not only spiritual, but also physical, yet we read repeatedly of the pandemic being nurtured and spread in religious gatherings.   Church membership and attendance is falling throughout the world, so that will surely save many, despite the false teachings of these fake ministers.

I think of my father and his deep and abiding faith, which we admired, even if we were unable to share it completely.  With respect for him, we brought our children through the Lutheran Church until they were confirmed and old enough to make their own choices.  We buried my brother in the same chapel where they had worshipped.  My father would have been enraged.  Faith doesn’t live in a piece of architecture, whether humble or grand, but in the heart and minds of the believers.

Clearly there are many politicians and preachers who have lost faith in their own congregations and must believe that its roots are so thin and shallow that it would be necessary to risk their lives and that of their communities in order to count them in the number, along with perhaps the collection.  As I remember, false prophets were roundly denounced by believers, yet now it seems they are everywhere among us.