Preaching Evil is the title of a new Peacock documentary about FLDS leader, Warren Jeffs. But the title could well be applied to hundreds of televangelists and evangelical Christian pastors, as well as fundamentalist Imams, Rabbis, and leaders of various other religions and sects who use their platforms to preach hate against others. There are no better examples than the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has blessed Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and the white conservative “Christians” who encourage their followers to discriminate against people of differing faiths, races, and sexual preference.
Of course, none of this is new.
Most of the world’s violence has long been based on religious differences and misunderstandings. The Roman Catholic Church ordered the torture and murder of millions during the Inquisition. It ordered the slaughter of the Templars, the Cathars and the Huguenots. And its desire to conquer and convert “heathens” was behind the genocide of indigenous Americans.
Religious discrimination led European Christians to tolerate the imprisonment of Jews and the resulting death camps of the Holocaust. Southern Christians condoned the KKK with the Christian symbol of the cross integral to the terrorists’ gatherings and lynchings. More recently, religious differences are at the heart of the on-going conflicts in the Middle East, in India, Pakistan, and Myanmar.
Even when religions haven’t encouraged and committed genocide, they have dismissed others’ creation beliefs as myth. And they declared those they didn’t understand as infidels, witches, or demons.
To be clear, I believe that all people have a right to worship however, whatever, and whoever they please, as long as their worship does not encroach on the rights of others. As long as they respect the beliefs and customs of others.
And I do believe that organized religion can be positive.
I was raised in a small-town church where I was taught the Golden Rule and where most members tried to follow it. The church was a gathering place of joy for weddings, anniversaries, and other celebrations. It was a place where anyone could go to seek aid and guidance. It was also a place where locals gathered in support of those mourning a loss. Those kinds of churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques still exist. But they are being overwhelmed by the political and the crazies.
Surveys have shown that the number of people who attend church is declining in the US and elsewhere – likely the result of the crimes and excesses of religions: the violence, the sexual abuses of children, the hateful discrimination of the LGBTQ community, the misogyny which has led to attacks on a woman’s right to abortion, and the belief that you can still go to heaven despite your sins as long as you confess them and proclaim your faith in Christ.
Yet, somehow, evangelical Christians and megachurches are exerting more power than ever. They captured the Republican Party and celebrated one of history’s worst philanderers and conmen in order to force their beliefs onto others. In effect, many US churches have become little more than political clubs. And because they are tax exempt, we are all helping to pay for their clubhouses and their efforts to spread hate.
The Internal Revenue Service has a long-standing rule prohibiting churches and charities from engaging in politics by defining a 501(c)(3) organization as one “which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” It’s long past time that the IRS enforced it. Indeed, it also should be applied to campaigning on behalf of the GOP’s continuous culture wars.
That won’t solve all of the problems with organized religions. But it would be a start.