Published on Saturday, October 19, 2002 in the Minneapolis Star Tribune
Falwell and His 'Christian Right' Have It Wrong
by Rev. Jan Linn et al
Enough is enough. When Jerry Falwell declares on national television that Mohammed was a terrorist and Christians believe there will be no peace in Jerusalem until the second coming of Jesus, the time for silence on such religious arrogance is over.
Put bluntly, the Christian right that Falwell represents is neither.
It is not Christian in attitude or actions because both represent what Jesus spoke and acted against. Those who lead the Christian right are the Pharisees of today's Christianity. They play the role of moral and thought police, condemning to hell anyone whose actions they consider wrong and whose views are different from their own. Their religiosity runs a mile wide but their spirituality is an inch deep.
The Christian right is not right because it is intellectually dishonest. Falwell speaks as if he knows the Bible when what he actually knows is that which he already believes and imposes on the Bible.
He doesn't interpret the Book of Revelation, which he claims is the basis for his views on the Middle East, the fate of the world, the second coming of Jesus, and just about anything else he says he believes.
Instead, he espouses the views of a man named John Darby, whose interpretation of Revelation was popularized by the Scofield Bible in the 19th century.
That's where Falwell and his Christian right still live -- in the 19th century when a triumphal Christianity preached a message of oppressive legalism.
Programs such as "60 Minutes" love to put Falwell and his kind on national television because it creates conflict. It also makes Christianity look bad.
Through the years we have tried to ignore this man and others like him who are an embarrassment to many of us who claim the Christian tradition as our own. But their views have won a large following among Christians who either refuse to think for themselves or who have been duped into believing that Christian right leaders speak from understanding.
They don't. Their views represent religious prejudice that draws lines in the sand that separate people into opposing camps and sow the seeds of hatred, suspicion and war.
Those of us who are the Christians whom the Christian right loves to hate have been silent for too long. In the name of tolerance we have allowed Christianity's most radical believers to turn faith into a cover for self-righteousness and love into a sword for divisiveness. It is little wonder that Christianity is in decline in America.
In our view the Christian right gives new meaning to Mohandas Gandhi's comment that he might have become a Christian had he not known so many.
We confess that we have been timid in not saying openly that the way the Christian right reads the Bible has, at the least, no credibility and, at worst, is patently dishonest.
The moment people declare "the Bible says," they are misrepresenting truth.
The Bible doesn't "say" anything. Every translation is an interpretation and every preacher is an interpreter of that interpretation. So what we say the Bible says is what we have interpreted the Bible to say. To pretend otherwise is to claim knowledge not even the biblical writers claim for themselves.
Even more, it ignores what any serious biblical student should know -- that in the Bible itself there are contrasting interpretations of the ways of God. For example, the Book of Job rejects the Deuteronomic ethic that claims God rewards the faithful and punishes the unfaithful.
We believe the Christian right has every right to disagree with us. It has every right to believe we are misguided in what we believe.
What it does not have the right to do is to speak as if it speaks for God. It does not have the right to presume that it is not subject to the fallibility that afflicts the rest of us. It does not have the right to claim that its views represent true Christianity and any other goes against scripture and, therefore, against God.
Americans believe all people have a right to their views. We couldn't agree more. Sadly and tragically, the Christian right does not. That is why enough is enough.
The Rev. Jan Linn, Spirit of Joy Christian Church, Apple Valley, and seven other clergy of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the Upper Midwest.
© Copyright 2002 Star Tribune