Thursday was the National Day of Prayer (NDP) for right-wing Christians across the United States. We’ve been talking about it lately because the topic ties in very well with what we’ve been calling “evangelical churn,” which is the steady loss of both members and influence that right-wing Christians have been experiencing.
Last time, I uncovered some interesting links between the National Day of Prayer and the Red Scare manufactured by the Religious Right in the 1950s. Today I want to touch on what the practice of the NDP shows us about modern Christianity.
This manufactured holiday–such as it is–is nothing less than a perfect example of the coming downfall of the religion that its biggest names are trying to reverse.
In other words, it’s good news, and here’s why.
A Response to a Threat.
First, let’s get this out of the way: the National Day of Prayer was a studied, deliberate response to what Christian leaders in the 1950s perceived as a serious threat–not to their country, but rather to their own power and influence. They blamed these losses on liberalism and Communism (or at least what they defined as such) and began campaigning to “revive” America–ostensibly to hold those dangers at bay.
Of course, they were not losing either power or influence because of liberalism or Communism. And I strongly suspect that the leaders at the top knew very well that those boogeymen had nothing to do with their losses.
Evangelical leaders decided that what they really needed was a scary enemy to drive Americans back to church, as well as a powerful inducement to Americans to affiliate with Christianity–and to do so with their version of it.
They needed Americans to view their religious and spiritual devotions as forms of patriotism. They needed Americans to think that “God” wanted America to be dominant and triumphant over their enemies and to become wealthy, healthy, happy, and privileged–but that he would withhold that success and maybe even punish America until its citizens gave him obedience.
In other words, what they needed was a successful culture war that would get people back into line and shore up their waning power base.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Because it should.
According to these self-appointed guardians of prayer on their own “Task Force” website, the setting-aside of this day as one devoted to prayer “stands as a call for us to humbly come before God, seeking His guidance for our leaders and His grace upon us as a people.” They further state that the day “belongs to all Americans.”
Both of these assertions are wicked lies. Here’s how we know:
1. The National Day of Prayer does not in fact belong to “all Americans.”
Their page states that the day is “Judeo-Christian” in “expression,” but even more than simply being Judeo-Christian, the day is and always has been fundagelical in scope and in practice. As the Religion News Service points out, this day belongs to right-wing Christians. Other kinds of Christians will be baffled by the uniquely over-nationalistic (even jingoistic) slant of the rhetoric on this page, its persecution fantasizing, and its quote-mining.*
Liberal Christians, social-justice-oriented Christians, and education-respecting and science-embracing Christians need not apply. They were seen as suspiciously Communist in the 1950s by the Christians crusading for a National Day of Prayer in the first place, and they are seen as even worse today: as “not real Christians,” as being too “conformed to this world.”
When one peruses the NDP’s events page, one will encounter groups like Cry Out America, whose members appear to think that talking to the sky/ceiling will result in a decrease in “same-sex relations” and “out of wedlock children.” Their “cabinet” is filled with fundagelicals, though they try hard to make their group look a little less obviously so.
The rest of the NDP event organizers are all pretty much of a muchness. You’ll find a lot of big fundagelical names and celebrities among their leaders and speakers, starting with James Dobson (of Focus on the Family) and going down the line of right-wing pastors and media personalities to include future NDP leader Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of the evangelist who started it all–fundagelicals are a rather dynastic lot, aren’t they?
2. They’re not being honest about what purpose the National Day of Prayer serves.
If you ask just about any fundagelicals what they think about prayer in general, chances are you’ll get back an answer very similar to the one I’d have given as a young Christian, years ago: it’s a way to contact “God” directly and communicate with the eternal, living deity who created and orders the entire universe and who even today deeply hungers for our love and devotion.
I thought of prayer as the red Bat-Phone to my god. At first at least, I believed that prayer really did stuff. I even believed for a long time that it was a way of fighting against the forces of darkness. It took a long time before I realized that it really doesn’t do anything outside of people’s own heads.
Many Christians go to their graves convinced that prayer affects the real world somehow.
Those are the Christians who are largely responsible for hypocritical travesties like the National Day of Prayer.
It’s ridiculous to think that Christians would ever imagine needing a day set aside for praying. They should be praying every day already. I’d dare say that the whole reason they need the government to show illegal deference to their beliefs in the first place is that they don’t pray enough.
They don’t really do much at all that they claim to believe is important. Christians don’t study their Bibles much, don’t pray a lot, don’t attend church nearly as often as they claim they do, and don’t do much of anything else that they act like they’re totally convinced their god wants people to do. This is all stuff they claim is is good for them, is supernaturally and magically effective, and is even a requirement for avoiding Hell!
So why aren’t they doing it more often?
Why do they need a day to be illegally set aside for it by the very government in order to emphasize its importance?
What the NDP is Really About.
What this day is really about is grandstanding.
Making a show of tribal force.
Reminding everyone else that fundagelicals are America’s Designated Adults and that nobody can stop them from any overreach they care to commit.
The day is nothing more than a permission slip they write themselves to behave shamefully toward others and get away with it.
It might not accomplish a single other thing Christians claim they want, but it doesn’t have to. All it has to do is further their current culture war.
They Know We Can Hear Them, Right?
It’s simply staggering to me to think that when fundagelicals are handed a metaphorical and literal microphone that they can use to broadcast a prayer to the creator of the universe who they believe loves them and wants to talk to them all the time, they ask him to magically strong-arm our government into taking away people’s rights in the hopes of forcing everyone to live the way that not even fundagelical hypocrites themselves can live.
They looked across all the things that an omnimax god could possibly do, and they just want him to stomp on equal marriage.
Given all the other stuff they could be asking for–an end to hunger, disease, infant and maternal mortality, war, brutality, poverty, violence, and all the rest of the stuff crying out for a god’s help, they’re asking the author of the universe to finally do something about this whole “two men holding hands in public” thing.
How absolutely petty, narrow-minded, contemptible, picayune, and trivial a concern could possibly be devised?
Clearly fundagelicals are still working on that question!
But there’s a reason why they are so focused on this particular issue.
History Repeats Itself: Welcome to Communism v2.0.
Evangelicals have evolved a sort of war economy at this point. They can’t win by using reason and rationality because reality is simply not on their side. Even if they could, their foot-soldiers wouldn’t know what reality was if it bit them on their asses, much less could even recognize a bad argument. Evangelical leaders have spent years ensuring that nobody in their ranks could possibly know how to critically assess claims.
What they do understand, though, is terror and rage.
They understand power.
That’s why a day set aside to emphasize the importance of prayer is, in their hands, simply a politicized appeal to the American government to roll back the rights of the current group the Religious Right has decided are its enemies, to grant legitimacy to fundagelicals’ campaign of bullying and persecution against that group, and to re-assert Christian power in the face of waning dominance.
All they’ve done differently from the initial days of the NDP is switched around exactly who’s getting bullied.
In the 1950s, their leaders staged witch-hunts against people suspected of being in league with Satanic Communist atheists. Those leaders convinced their followers that only evangelical Christianity could save America LAND OF THE FREE from the slavery of evil Satanic atheistic Communism.
In the 2010s, their leaders are staging witch-hunts against anybody suspected of being LGBTQ or even overly-sympathetic toward anyone who is. They have convinced their followers that only evangelical Christianity can save America HOME OF THE BRAVE from the scary specter of equal marriage.
Hypocrisy in Action.
The National Day of Prayer is all the reason anybody needs to reject fundagelicals’ claims of moral superiority. It is hypocrisy embodied through and through; it is hatred, grabbiness, and rage slathered in Jesus smiles. No god of love and mercy could ever be on board with what they are doing. (Either their conceptualization of “God” is wrong, or they are. There are no other ways this matter can work out.)
Christians are using Their Special Day in the same way a “Bridezilla” would: as a way of exerting control over others, of acting extra-bratty and entitled, and of seizing more power than they normally could.
I’m not LGBTQ myself, but I doubt many LGBTQ people come away from these displays of bigotry feeling loved–or even safe around the Christians involved. Even the mildest displays of public prayer, besides being totally against what Jesus ordered his followers to do, cannot help but remind LGBTQ folks that Christians hate them so much that, when given a whole day to strut around in public preening and praying and getting their earthly rewards for doing so, they are praying to their god to strip away people’s rights.
There is absolutely nothing “Christlike” about the idea of a National Day of Prayer, any more than there is anything Christlike about these Christians’ hateful and nasty behavior.
Why The NDP’s Hypocrisy Is Actually Good News.
Fundagelicals begin their culture wars for the most opportunistic, self-serving reason possible: they want to shore up their power, and starting a culture war has, historically, been a great way of doing so.
They specifically tried to make us hate, along with them, a particular group of people. They made the case that the people in that group were evil, dangerous, and the personification of every single social and personal ill that Americans could possibly suffer.
They demanded that the rest of America defer to their judgment and allow them to direct the course of our country’s engagement on this issue. They demanded that we allow them to intimidate and harass a group of innocent people. They demanded that we limit those people’s rights because they said we should. They demanded that we alter our entire legal system if need be to accommodate this persecution.
And we said “No, we’re not going to do that.”
Fundagelicals set up a choice every bit as petty, mean-spirited, and cruel as one made by a middle-school twit: “You can be friends with us, or you can be friends with them, but you can’t be friends with us both.”
“We’d rather have them than you.”
Dogs don’t bark at what don’t move, as my own pastors said years ago. Fundagelicals have directed the full blast of their rage against LGBTQ people because they know that the rights that group is getting are a sign of fundagelicals’ power fading and fading quickly.
We are granting LGBTQ people protection against fundagelical harassment and cruelty. We are getting out of the way of LGBTQ folks’ exercise of their rights. We’re starting to be okay with them being visible parts of our society. And make no mistake about it: fundagelicals see these social changes and know that every bit of it is a raised middle finger to their demands. They know that every single advance that LGBTQ people make is a bit of further erosion of the Christian Right’s own power.
Maybe the reason they’re all so hung up on the 1950s as “the good ole days” is because back then, they made these same exact demands and worse ones besides and set this same exact Mean Girl choice before Americans, and we folded.
We folded, gang.
We let them tell us to mistreat, harass, and persecute people based solely on fundagelicals’ say-so. We shat all over the ideals of our Founding Fathers and became monsters because fundagelicals needed power and knew that stoking fear and anger against Others was a great way to do it.
The current overly-politicized climate of modern American Christianity can in large part be traced to the abuses and excesses of fundagelical crusading in the 1950s. They said “Jump!” and the rest of America went “How high?”
No wonder they want to return America to those days.
But their gamble failed. They chose the wrong group to harass and persecute. They went after the rights of the wrong people.
And it’s going to cost them, quite possibly, the last vestiges of their power in American society–and maybe even in the civilized world itself.
For some reason, though, I’m not feeling super-sympathetic. Irrelevance couldn’t possibly happen to a more deserving group of shameful hypocrites.
(Not to go all #notallchristians on y’all, but Beth wrote a very good post about this topic, one which I hope her peers read and take to heart.)
* Speaking of blathering: I had to go chase down Bumble several times yesterday and wash his mouth out because he was spewing soapy froth. I had no idea how he was getting into soap, until Mr. Captain found my shower scrubby-stuff laying flat on the floor of the bathtub, its nozzle suspiciously chewed up. Bumble was fundagelical-ing all over the place!