News & Politics

The Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right

A hilarious new book provides instructions on how to argue the big issues with ultra-conservative fundamentalists.
Editor's Note: The following excerpt has been reprinted with permission from The Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right by Rob Lanham, Penguin Putnam, 2006.

"The real theological problem in America today is no longer the religious Right, but the nationalistic religion of the Bush administration." -- Reverend Jim Wallis, God's Politics.

Until the sixties, evangelicals were just as likely to be Democrats as they were to be Republicans.

Many evangelicals were on the front lines in the fight for women's suffrage, were vocal antiwar opponents, and led the fight for civil rights. Meanwhile, tent revival pastors fueled McCarthyism and covertly organized KKK meetings among their church elders. But the advent of the ERA Movement, the Roe v. Wade decision, and a godless culture filled with bra burnings and rock music created a unifying shift to the right. By the time abortion was made legal, many evangelicals found themselves curled up in the fetal position inside the headquarters of the RNC waiting for the world to end.

Following the election of Jimmy Carter, an outspoken Christian who was candid about being born-again, Time deemed 1976 "The Year of the Evangelical." Ironically, most evangelicals felt little kinship with this moderate Democratic president, given his support of ERA and his refusal to deny women the right to choose.

Evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye believed the time had come to get evangelicals mobilized behind a candidate that represented their values. That candidate was Reagan, the first president to come to power with the help of what has come to be known as the Religious Right. Reagan was also the first high-level politician to work opposite a chimpanzee (as he did in Bedtime for Bonzo), a noble tradition carried on today by Vice President Dick Cheney. ...


Fundamental Contradictions: Picking and Choosing

Anyone who's read the Bible knows some of its disturbing content could give "Grand Theft Auto" a run for its money.

War, murder, rape, slavery, men who wear sandals -- parts of the Bible should come with adult content warning labels. If you want a peaceful religion, even Ted Haggard of the National Association of Evangelicals says, "Choose Buddhism." Nevertheless, many evangelicals love the Bible so much they're willing to accept the whole darn thing, even the bizarre parts, at face value. They brag that they don't "pick and choose" from the Bible and refer to themselves as "Bible-believin'" Christians.

Yet the glaring list of passages that typical evangelicals ignore could fill Falwell's dessert refrigerator at the Moral Majority to capacity. Leviticus 19:27, for instance, prohibits shaving, a commandment to which millions pay no attention. Likewise, Leviticus 19:19 forbids the wearing of mixed fibers. Needless to say, Pat Robertson is clearly guilty of defying this commandment, given his collection of polyester flag ties.

And most glaringly, as progressive evangelical leaders like Jim Wallis continue to drive home, there are roughly three thousand verses in the Bible devoted to helping the poor, yet typical evangelicals spend more time griping about the costs of welfare or bashing The Da Vinci Code than choosing to help the less fortunate.

Truth be told, Bible-believin' evangelicals are more guilty of "picking and choosing" than the liberal Christians they often accuse of the same transgression. Here are some key verses Bible-believin' evangelicals pick and choose to ignore.

Key Verses Bible-Believin' Evangelicals Pick and Choose to Ignore:
On slavery: "Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh." (1 Peter 2:18, NIV)
On rape: "If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl's father fifty shekels of silver." (Deuteronomy 22:28, NIV)
On women wearing veils: "And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head." (Corinthians 11:5, NIV)
On illegitimate children being barred from church: "A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 23:2, KJV)
On Falwell's apparent love of McNuggets: "...put a knife to thy throat, if thou [be] a man given to appetite." (Proverbs 23:2, 3, KJV)
Homosexuality: God Hates Fags (and Shrimp Scampi)

Since much of the Bible reflects archaic customs (the blood sacrifice of animals is commanded by God in many scriptures, for instance), deciphering which biblical laws Christians should abide by has become the jurisdiction of theologians and televangelists, the latter group being completely unreliable since they're often stoned from their own hairspray fumes. When faced with troubling or inconvenient laws -- like the Bible's promotion of slave owning or its ban on shaving -- most evangelicals say, "That's an irrelevant Old Testament-era commandment," and change the subject to activist judges. Still, when the Bible says God finds an act "detestable" or calls something an "abomination," evangelicals insist it must be avoided at all costs. According to most evangelicals, the big abomination is (no shocker here) homosexuality.

True to form, evangelicals don't pay attention to some of the other things the Bible designates as being abominable. Most glaringly, Leviticus 11:9-12 says eating shrimp is an abomination:
9. ...whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat. 10. And all that have not fins and scales in the seas...they shall be an abomination unto you: 11. They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination.
Forget picketing abortion clinics. Head over to Popeye's and Red Lobster! The devil is in the scampi. Evangelicals should be organizing boycotts against Long John Silver's if they want to be consistent. Evidently every person in Maine is going to hell too. Last time we looked, lobsters don't have any fins or scales either....

How to Argue with Ultraconservative Fundamentalists

  • On Defending the Environment (what they call "Creation Care"):
    Fundamentalists say: God says in Genesis "let mankind have dominion over all the earth." Plus, the Rapture is coming soon, so why bother picking up our beef jerky wrappers if the end is near?
    Sinners say: God also promoted stewardship of the Earth in Genesis. And dominion isn't a synonym for pillage. Otherwise Genesis would state, "kick the living shit out of that tick-infested dump, it sucks worse than Hell." Environmental disasters, like Katrina or polluted waterways, hit the poor the hardest. In fact, the progressive Christian charity, Christian Aid, released a report in 2006 warning that close to 200 million people could die in Africa by the year 3000 as a result of famine, drought, and floods brought on by climate change. And remember, Revelation 11:18 says God will destroy those who destroy the earth.


  • On Gay Marriage:
    Fundamentalists say: What's next? Are you gonna let them have sex with cocker spaniels? God calls it an abomination.
    Sinners say: Why do evangelicals always use cocker spaniels as an example? Cocker spaniels are straight. Greyhounds, on the other hand. Now they're into that gay shit. Despite evangelicals' rhetoric about the institution of marriage being placed under attack by the liberals and the gays, the real assault is coming from within their own ranks. According to Barna Research, Born Again Christians have a higher divorce rate than any other social group in the United States.


  • Intelligent Design
    Fundamentalists say: Humans are too complex to not have a Creator.
    Sinners say: Who created God? He's complex too, right? Does God have an Intelligent Designer as well? Plus, there are many unintelligent imperfections in nature, such as the human eye, whose inside-out retina causes a blind spot in our field of vision. And come on, would an Intelligent Designer really create Matchbox 20, Vin Diesel, or men with nipples? If you want to teach Intelligent Design, save it for philosophy class. It's not science.


  • Euthanasia:
    Fundamentalists say: The Youth-in-Asia worship oriental dragon gods and don't realize that the fortunes inside those cookies are tools of Satan.
    Sinners say: God never intended for us to be kept alive on machines, otherwise he'd have included a power switch on our asses.


  • Michael Moore:
    Fundamentalists say: He's annoying.
    Sinners say: He's annoying.


  • Women
    Fundamentalists say: Women need to accept their traditional gender role as casserole-cooking servants. They allowed sin to enter the Garden of Eden and are weaker than men emotionally and physically.
    Sinners say: The Old Testament often compares God to a mother. Jesus loved women too. He appeared to Mary Magdalene first after resurrecting instead of revealing himself to some smelly disciple with a fig-leaf jockstrap.


  • Capital Punishment
    Fundamentalists say: The Bible says an eye for an eye.
    Sinners say: The Bible also says thou shall not kill. Jesus spent his time on earth forgiving and healing sinners, not strapping them to a chair and shooting lightning bolts.


  • The Iraq War
    Fundamentalists say: We support the troops but often wonder why there was no cool T-shirt line, like in Operation Desert Storm.
    Sinners say: We support the troops but wonder why there was no planning or exit strategy.


  • The Holidays
    Fundamentalists say: A banner at Target says Happy Holidays! Quick, tell the kids to crouch beneath their desks! There's a war on Christmas!
    Sinners say: It's true. We've waged war on the holiday because there is strong evidence to support that Christmas has tried to obtain highly refined aluminum tubes from Africa to reinstate its WMD program. Come on...Nobody, except Falwell and O'Reilly, cares if you want to call it Christmas or even Baby Jesus Birthday Cake Day. As long as you're okay with Jews wishing you Happy Hanukkah and sending you a Cracker Barrel gift basket where the pork sausage stick has been replaced with Kosher liverwurst, a decorative menorah, and a yarmulke. And incidentally, Bush has sent out a generic "happy holidays" card every year since he's taken office.


  • Faith-Based Initiatives

  • Fundamentalists say: Church-based social services groups should definitely receive government funding, as long as they're not of an immoral non-Christian faith, of course.
    Sinners say: People in need of social services and relief should be able to find help without having to visit a government-subsidized group of faith healers who want to convert them and teach them how to handle rattlesnakes. Many "secular" groups have been losing funding to faith-based initiatives, especially if they promote condoms, education about abortion, or break with the evangelical agenda. George Bush even created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in 2001. And let's be honest, "faith-based" means Christian. Buddhists and Wiccans aren't getting the money to run sex-ed classes and operate homeless shelters.

  • Stem Cells:
    Fundamentalists say: We couldn't hear what they said...it was something inaudibly shrill about babies, the Holocaust, and Ted Kennedy.
    Sinners say: You've got to be kidding. Why not defend the rights of the psoriasis flakes from Pat Robertson's scalp. Or how about boogers?


  • The Poor:
    Fundamentalists say: We don't want no welfare nation. Tax-'n'-spend Communists like Howard Dean want to give our money away to the lazy people in society.
    Sinners say: The Bible mentions helping the poor over three thousand times. It mentions tax-'n'-spend liberals, um, zero times.


  • Abstinence Education:
    Fundamentalists say: Sex education sends a mixed message. Virgin does not mean loser.
    Sinners say: Did you wait until marriage? Probably not. And to be clear, virgin does, in fact, mean loser. Look it up.


  • Abortion:
    Fundamentalists say: You're pro-death, not pro-life.
    Sinners say: A member of George Bush's own bioethics team, the neuroscientist and author Michael Gazzaniga, claims that embryos are about as aware as "sea slugs" in their first twenty-six weeks.


  • Booze
    Fundamentalists say: God condemns getting drunk.
    Sinners say: Jesus's first miracle in John was to turn water into wine for a bunch of drunk people: "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you [Jesus] have saved the best till now."


  • Affirmative Action
    Fundamentalists say: Minorities don't know how good they've got it here. In fact, they just hired a couple of them coloreds down there at Roy's Discount Muffler Shop. Roy even lets 'em work the cash register when the cameras are turned on!
    Sinners say: End affirmative action when equal opportunity actually exists.


  • The Rapture and End-Times
    Fundamentalists say: Once the prophecies are fulfilled, Jesus will Rapture the church, just like in that Kirk Cameron movie "Left Behind."
    Sinners say: The word "Rapture" is never once mentioned in the Bible. And with regard to Jesus returning, Matthew 24:36 says, "No one knows about that day or hour." Sometimes we also say, Are you insane?
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