Right Isn’t Right
religious right has co-opted a popular view of what it means
to be both a Christian and an American, giving it broader
visibility and reach in its dissemination of a political agenda
cloaked in militant Christian rhetoric. Mirroring the message
that has been religiously transmitted to all Americans since
2001—that we are engaged in a war against terror—true believers
are engaged in a war against sin. It’s battlefield thinking:
Life is a conflict between two forces, the one force evil
and to be demonized, the other force good and to be embraced.
Christians are most faithful and Americans are most patriotic
when they fighting.
Not a big fan of the drinking-and-screwing brand of college
life, my daughter Madeleine decided that she would check out
one of the meetings when a student invited her to the InterVarsity
Christian Wednesday night small group.
InterVarsity? I said. That’s pretty conservative, you know.
But Madeleine, long an active member of a progressive Lutheran
church, wasn’t bothered by that. One of her closest friends
had a conservative theology, but she was also a social firebrand,
advocating tirelessly on behalf of politically progressive
So Madeleine wasn’t expecting the difference she discovered
when she started attending small group meetings of InterVarsity
For starters, she mentioned she was taking a course on the
gospel of John in the religious-studies department. One member
of the group immediately wanted to know who was teaching it—was
he a Bible-based teacher?
He’s a retired Lutheran pastor, she said.
Lutheran? he said doubtfully.
Yeah, Madeleine said, and I’m one, too.
She told me she was pretty sure that they started praying
for the salvation of her soul right then and there.
These are true stories: The Dalai Lama came to visit the University
of Buffalo this fall. It was an extraordinary visit and for
weeks the students and faculty had prepared for his arrival
by making peace poles and placing them all around the campus.
Madeleine had been attending the weekly small group meeting
of InterVarsity students. Some of them were very worried the
Dalai Lama’s visit put believers at spiritual risk. They prayed
to bless the campus to keep it safe from the apostasy of the
Dalai Lama. Some of them admitted that, in their bid to keep
the campus safe, they had broken down some of the peace poles.
Madeleine was the only InterVarsity student who attended the
Dalai Lama’s speech. She called me that night and said that
his words were the most Christian words she had heard all
On Halloween I was listening to a local Christian radio host
talking about the forces of evil that she claimed Halloween
celebrated. Of all the days in the year this was the day on
which Satan was most dangerous. Christians had to be prepared
to do battle with him and all his angels of darkness.
got to get violent,” she said. “Violent. We’ve just got to
smash our enemies. The Lord wants us to be violent.”
Then she turned to the co-host, her husband, for his endorsement,
“Doesn’t he, honey?”
After all, hadn’t Jesus himself said he came not to bring
peace but a sword? It seems that some of his followers have
found a battle plan in the Bible, distorting metaphor to authorize
a kind of Christian version of jihad.
Military metaphors and the rhetoric of war are so often on
the lips of those who profess themselves to be Christian.
As a guest on Dr. James’ Dobson’s Focus On the Family
radio program, the conservative media critic, Michael Medved,
explained what his wife did when someone they knew had a baby.
The gifts they gave were, of course, pink or blue. “We give
the little baby girl a doll, of course,” he paused for dramatic
effect, “And the boy—we give the little baby boy a gun.”
Bullets cannot be recalled. They can not be uninvented. But
they can be taken out of the gun.
Through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t
Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish
Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder
Darkness cannot put out darkness.
Only light can do that. . . .
Difficult and painful as it is, we must walk on in the days
ahead with an audacious faith in the future. When our days
become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when
our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us
remember that there is a creative force in this universe working
to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that
is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays
into bright tomorrows.
Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long,
but it bends toward justice.
Luther King, Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here?”, 1967