Toronto (Special to Informed Comment) – The November edition of First Things, a magazine of the Christian Right, features a lengthy statement from a group of theologians called Evangelicals and Catholics Together. The church friend who spontaneously sent me a link indicated that the statement is about Christian citizenship and that he is proud to be one of the signatories. Its title is “Fear God, Honor the Emperor”. The reference is to 1 Peter 2, which advised early Christians on how to relate to hostile Roman authorities. While the recommendations of St. Peter, first bishop of Rome, appear sensible and practical enough – show your contribution to society through good works and be respectful – the vanguard of the American Christian Right thinks a more radical strategy is needed.
Concerns for American democracy are absent from “Fear God, Honor the Emperor,” even though recent research indicates that only 9% of Americans believes it is functioning well. A simple word search of the roughly 4,800-word document results in no matches for “democracy”. By contrast, the word “authority” (of God, the moral law, and civil government) appears 46 times. Freedom, ten times and almost exclusively in the sense of religious freedom or excessive freedom that should be restrained. The emphasis throughout is on obedience to a government that imposes a moral order with a heavy hand and on age-old spiritual authorities recommending that governments should favor religious virtue. This represents a political model the Western world left a long time ago, following the American lead expressed in the Constitution. By contrast, authoritarian leaders in Hungary, Turkey, Iran, Russia, and other places still like it and use religion as their prime support structure. One wonders who the emperor might be who the statement wants to have honored. Emperor-wannabe Vladimir Putin comes to mind.
Although most of the ideas in “Fear God, Honor the Emperor” go back decades, it is also a document that further demonstrates the American Christian Right’s decisive shift towards authoritarian and anti-democratic ways of thinking….
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