Let him begin by treating patriotism . . . as part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely a part of the “cause,” in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce. . . . Once you have made the world an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.
Screwtape on How to Ruin a Believer’s Faith in C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters
I just finished David Kuo‘s book Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction. In essence, he writes to remind himself and fellow Christians that Faith can never be a means to a political ends. He wants to foil Screwtape’s plan.
Several things struck me. I did notice his keswidispicostalistic soteriology here and there, but that’s not really a big surprise. His story of identifying with an ideology, being dazzled by its powerful sparkle, ignoring obvious ethical dilemmas in favor of power, enduring his own surprising and life-changing personal crisis, and chucking it all (when termination was inevitable anyway) was so familiar. I saw myself in his words.
He worked for the Christian Right in the 1990s-2000s — for Bill Bennett, Ralph Reed, and John Ashcroft. He wrote speeches and created talking points. Eventually, he became a big part of George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.”
As a speech writer for the Christian Right and the Republicans, he admits that he propagated flat-out lies about Bill and Hillary Clinton, and he determined to apologize to them personally for that slander. He really didn’t want to, but he knew he should. Then God dropped the opportunity into his lap. It was awkward, halting, and impromptu. Completely uncomfortable. Read:
His apology didn’t make huge, long-lasting political waves. It was just a brief, forgettable sound bite the next day. There were no law suits afterward. But that’s not why Kuo did it. He apologized because it was right, because he was being true to his Faith, and because it was a reminder to him and to those around him about who God is and how much we need Him.
It’s also a way to infuriate Screwtape.
Kuo brings up Bob Jones University several times. My heart sinks every time he does. He describes it as the “ultrafundamentalist” place where “compassionate conservatism” died — where George W. Bush’s catering to the microcultural elements of the Christian Right was more klutzy than “stealthy.” Kuo explains W.’s election strategy: convince Evangelicals that making him President was the only way to advance their social conservatism. “He was born again. He loved Jesus. He hated abortion and loved the family.” But the only way to actually get him into office is by downplaying that religious conservatism.
In other words, W. said to the theo-cons, “Hey, I’m just like you, but I have to play the ‘moderate’ game so that I can get you what you want when I’m in office.” And, according to Kuo, the nation saw that strategy naked and bald at Bob Jones University in February 2000.
It’s chilling to see that event through the eyes of a fellow believer but a BJU-outsider.
The effort at Please-Reconcile.org is coming upon its first milestone. This Wednesday they are sending the letter to the BJU Board and Administration with 400+ signatures of BJU alumni and friends and neighbors imploring the current administration to reconcile their past racist policies. Read the list of signees and their comments. These people are earnest, careful, and prayerful. None of us would be signing if we didn’t care deeply about Bob Jones University’s ministry and its people.
So if you’ve graduated from, worked for, attended, or been taught by anything Bob Jones University, if you know someone from BJU or if you’ve purchased a book from their Press, if you have ever read about, written about, or heard about that place, if you’ve ever choked on institutional racism, if you’ve ever had to clarify misconceptions about Christ because of BJU’s interracial dating ban, please prayerfully consider signing the letter.
Many theo-cons are working to foreground racial reconciliation as a conservative value in order to heal a very broken GOP. As tempting as it is to emphasize this pragmatic and political reason for reconciling the sin of racism, I can’t forget David Kuo and C. S. Lewis’s admonition. It’s not about the politics. It’s about reminding ourselves that we are each full of sin and that God is faithful in spite of us.
We confess. God takes care of the rest.
If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.
I John 1:8-10