Conservatives Want America to be a "Christian Nation" -- Here's What That Would Actually Look Like
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Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, in an appeal to evangelical voters, said "Christian values" and not "a bunch of Washington politicians" should be the touchstone guiding how Americans conduct their lives. ...
"America is going to be guided by some set of values," Perry told a crowd of 13,000 students and faculty members yesterday at a sports arena on the school's campus. "The question is going to be, 'Whose values?'" He said it should be "those Christian values that this country was based upon."
It's worth calling attention to Perry's obnoxious rhetorical ploy of using "Christian values" to refer only to his own very specific, right-wing set of beliefs -- preemptive war, gay-bashing, tax cuts for the rich, creationism in schools, deregulating corporations, dismantling the social safety net, the standard Republican package -- as if he owned or had the right to define all of Christianity. In reality, there's such a huge diversity of opinion among self-professed Christians past and present that the term "Christian values" could mean almost anything.
Christians have been communists and socialists (including Francis Bellamy, the author of the Pledge of Allegiance); Christians have supported empire and dictatorship (including Mussolini, who made Catholicism the official state religion of fascist Italy). Christians have advocated positions across the political spectrum, from environmental preservation to environmental destruction, from pacifism to just war to open advocacy of genocide, from civil rights to segregation and slavery.
This broad range of opinion comes about because the Bible never mentions many of these issues, and addresses others in only vague or contradictory passages scattered throughout its individual books. This gives individual Christians wide latitude to find support in the text for virtually any political position you'd care to name.
However, there's one area where there's much less room for debate, and that's the question of political organization. The Bible sets out a very clear picture of what its authors believed the ideal state would look like. Coincidentally, this is the same subject Rick Perry was speaking to: "those Christian values that this country was based upon." We can compare this statement to the dictates of the Bible to see what it would mean to have a government based on "Christian values." Then we'll be in a better position to decide whether America has such a government.
According to the Old Testament of the Bible, after escaping Egypt and reaching the promised land, the twelve tribes of Israel were united into a single country under David and Solomon. After Solomon's death, there was a rebellion, and the country split into two separate kingdoms, Israel and Judah, which lasted until the Assyrian empire destroyed Israel and carried its people off into exile. Both these kingdoms survived for several hundred years, and therefore there's more than enough written history to tell what the Bible's authors thought of as a good state or a bad state.
But right away, there's a problem. The Bible never even mentions democracy -- that concept was completely unknown to its authors. The system of government it enshrines is divine-right monarchy -- and not just monarchy, but kingship. Under normal circumstances, the Bible is very clear that the throne passes only from father to son. (The sole exception was Athaliah, a queen of Judah who came to power in a bloody coup and whose reign lasted only six years.)
Even more to the point, the Bible's ideal government is unequivocally a theocracy: a country where the church and the state are one, where there's an official religion which all citizens are required to profess, and where law is made by the priests. There was no religious freedom in the ancient Israelite kingdoms: all people were required to worship the same god in the same officially approved ways, on pain of death. For instance, when Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai and finds the Israelites worshipping a golden calf, his immediate response is to order the butchering of everyone who participated in idolatry (Exodus 32:27). Many of Israel's subsequent kings do likewise. The Bible goes so far as to say that, if pagan worshippers are discovered in any city, the entire city should be burned down and everyone who lives there should be killed (Deuteronomy 13:12-16).