Christian Politics: The Power of Control
Posted in : American on by : Michael Maharrey Tags: Franklin Graham, persecution, Peter Olsen, politics
An open letter to Franklin Graham by Peter Olsen recently went viral. The Lutheran pastor took the well-known evangelist to task for claiming Christians in America suffer persecution.
Olsen has a point. American Christians don’t face persecution in any real sense.
But as Olsen lectures Graham and his “religious right” followers, he unwittingly sows the seeds of persecution. How? He embraces the notion that coercion and violence are an acceptable means to dictate human interaction.
You see, Olsen wants Christian bakery owners to ‘bake the cake.’ And he has no problem hitting (at least figuratively) said bakery owners to make them do his bidding.
“Look, I understand the owners of this establishment you mention in your speech don’t approve of gay and lesbian people getting married. They don’t have to approve of them. But if they are going to do business in this country, they have to follow the law against discrimination-just like the rest of us. If you don’t like the rules, don’t join the game. It’s that simple. Furthermore, I don’t understand why baking a cake for people whose conduct you find personally offensive is such a big deal. Heck, Frank, if all of us small church pastors refused to bury everyone whose conduct we didn’t approve of, the country would be ten feet deep in corpses!”
Olsen believes it wrong to discriminate against same-sex couples. He believes baking the cake is the moral, Christian response. (He may have a valid point.) And he wants the coercive force of government to ensure baking happens. I’m pretty certain he wouldn’t swing a club himself, but he ultimately supports hitting the bakers if they don’t bake the cake.
I don’t understand how anybody considers this a “Christian” response. Hitting people, I mean.
Olsen says everybody must “follow the law. ” But I have to wonder if this admonition applies to every law, or just the ones he happens to deem just and righteous. Olsen appeals to Peter, noting the apostle says “you don’t get divine kudos from suffering the consequences of breaking the law-even if you are a Christian.” I’m not sure exactly what he has in mind here, but I do recall Peter declaring, “We must obey God rather than men.” I pretty sure that precludes blind obedience to every government command.
If the conscience of the bakers coincided with his own sense of morality and justice, I wonder if Olsen would remain so flippant about “following the law,” and insist “if you don’t like the rules, don’t play the game.” For instance, I wonder if he would object to me refusing to bake a cake, complete with a flaming cross, for a KKK rally?
For the record, if I happened to operate a bakery, I would never bake such a cake. I seriously doubt Olsen would criticize me for taking that stand. He would probably argue that the moral reprehensibility of the KKK justifies discrimination – that KKK members don’t deserve the status of a “protective class.” But the issue isn’t who deserves protection and who doesn’t. It boils down to forcing people to associate with others at gunpoint. Even if you disagree with the rationale somebody offers for not associating with another person, what gives you the right to force them together?
And when the power exists, you can’t control who wields it. I wonder how Olsen would feel if white supremacists gained political power and banned discrimination against KKK members. Somehow, I doubt he would sing the same tune.
Olsen isn’t really making a moral argument. He’s making a political point.
As is Graham.
Ironically, they are more similar to each other than either would ever admit. They both want the same thing – the power to control. They both want to hold the club. They both want to force society to conform their vision of the common good.
A lot of people tend to stereotype the religious right as moral busybodies – not necessarily unfairly. But as Olsen points out in his letter to Graham, the right tends to fixate on a very narrow range of moral issues and completely ignores many others.
“So let me see if I have this figured out correctly: God doesn’t give a flying fruitcake if we deprive twenty-million people, most of them poor, of access to health care. Nor is God particularly concerned about how men treat women in the workplace, how people of color are treated in the real estate market, how the hungry and homeless are cared for (or not), but God flips out if we bake a cake for a same sex couple to celebrate their wedding?”
Olsen has a point. God cares about healthcare, and workplace ethics, and racism, and the poor. But where does Jesus command Christians to seize control of the government – an institution predicated on coercion, force and violence – in order to address these issues?
Olsen seems to fancy himself on a higher moral plane than Graham. In fact, his open letter reeks of condescension. He cares about all of these important issues. In fact, he cares so much feels justified in throwing rocks at you from the moral high ground to make sure your behavior orients to his moral compass.
And there we have it – the seeds of persecution. When people believe they have the moral authority to compel others to do their will, it only takes a little watering with the proper rhetoric, and a little tilling to stir up ground, in order for full-fledged persecution to take root.