Friday, May 05, 2017

Will the Politicization of Churches Backfire?

Trump and Christofascists/hate merchants James Dobson and Tony Perkins
As noted, Donald Trump's "religious liberty" executive order has left the anti-gay forces among the Christofascist hugely disappointed.  The longed for exemption of Christofascists from non-discrimination laws and ordinances did not materialize.  What the hate merchants did receive was purported cover for right wing churches to openly engage in political activities - not that many weren't already doing so on a de facto basis anyways.  Here in Virginia, The Family Foundation, perhaps the leading hate group in Virginia, has for years operated a network with conservative churches and pastors and pushed these churches to vigorously work for TFF's regressive and theocratic agenda.   Thus, the executive order may not result in any change in the reality on the ground that much.   More importantly, it may accelerate the exodus from Christianity and religion in general that is sweeping the country.  I have long thought that despite a uptick in aggressiveness and stridency, long term the Christofascists may be one of the most powerful elements in the death of Christianity.  A piece in Salon looks at this possibility.  Here are highlights:
Thursday, on the National Day of Prayer, Donald Trump signed an executive order titled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” . . . . The final draft of the order, however, was a drastic rewriting. All the LGBT-specific attacks were taken out and abortion was not mentioned, though the new order does direct federal officials to consider changing health care regulations in order to stop insurance coverage of contraception for huge swaths of women. Instead, in a somewhat surprising move, the executive order largely focuses on undermining a law meant to discourage religious authorities from using their powers to influence elections.
This move is obviously meant as a giveaway to leaders of the religious right, who did so much to help elect Trump, and also as a way for Republicans to consolidate power by allowing conservative Christian pastors even more leeway to pressure their congregants to vote Republican. But this power grab could well backfire on the Christian right. Instead of drumming up more votes for Republicans, breaking down barriers between church and state may end up driving even more people out of the churches entirely.
Trump’s executive order doesn’t change the law — that would take an act of Congress. But it officially discourages the IRS from auditing or fining religious organizations and churches that may be in violation of it. . . . . it’s a solution looking for a problem. There’s no evidence that churches are being treated especially harshly by the IRS.
Still, the release of this executive order and all the publicity around it could encourage ministers, especially those of the fundamentalist variety, to get even bolder when it comes to campaigning from the pulpit. That’s where there’s a good chance this whole effort could backfire. There’s a fair amount of evidence to suggest that churches that become more political and conservative aren’t recruiting more people to the right-wing cause, and in fact may be driving people away.
One of the biggest social trends of the past decade is the rapid growth of the “nones” — people with no affiliation to organized religion — which is particularly pronounced with younger Americans. Both Pew Research and the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) have found that up to a quarter of Americans don’t identity with any religious tradition at all, up from 6 percent in 1991. Four out of 10 Americans under the age of 30 are unchurched.
But where it gets really interesting is when one starts looking at the reasons why. Most nonreligious people — 78 percent, according to Pew Research — were raised in a religion and abandoned it in adulthood. While most simply say they no longer believe, there is some evidence that distaste for the religious right has had a significant impact.
According to PRRI, nearly 30 percent of those who have left a church cite their disapproval of religious homophobia as a reason. Sixteen percent say their churches became too political and 19 percent cite the clergy sex abuse scandal.
Sixty-six percent of nonbelievers in the PRRI survey agreed with the statement that “religion causes more problems in society than it solves.”
Encouraging ministers and priests to become more belligerent and more repressive in their politics, in the face of these rapid changes in religious affiliation and religious attitudes, is not likely to gain converts to the conservative cause. It’s probably just going to make more people who were already feeling uneasy with the conservative bent of much of Christianity to choose to leave their churches, and quite possibly to abandon religion altogether.
[P]olling data shows that most Americans think it’s a good idea to keep churches away from direct political campaigning. Pew Research polling shows that 66 percent of American respondents support the Johnson amendment.
Perhaps, then, atheists should be the ones celebrating this executive order. Legally, Trump’s latest order is largely toothless, but culturally, it’s only likely to accentuate the aspects of religion Americans like the least, namely the controlling and reactionary aspects of it. That, in turn, will encourage more Americans to use their Sunday mornings for sleeping and shopping, rather than enduring political lectures from conservative religious pastors.

Let's hope that by giving them a portion of what they want, Trump will have unwittingly accelerated their long term demise. 

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