The Difference Between Muslim Extremists And Many Christian Evangelicals.

Spoiler alert: There is almost none!

Muslim extremists in the mold of ISIL and al-Qaeda are willing to martyr themselves to kill non-believers based on the bizarre notion that they will be greeted in the land of milk and honey by 72 virgins. On the other hand, extreme Christian evangelicals are willing to incite war in the Middle East by financing settlements in the West Bank based on their belief that establishing Israeli control of the “promised land” will lead to the return of their “Messiah.” As the story goes, that will prompt God to destroy the Earth while lifting true believers into heaven with the promise of everlasting life. For the same reason, many evangelical Christians deny that humans are contributing to climate change despite all of the scientific evidence that their inaction will lead to the extinction of more than a million species, the death of virtually all ocean life and rising sea levels that will displace or kill much of the Earth’s human population.

To these evangelicals, how the Earth is destroyed is of little concern. They are convinced the destruction will lead to their “rapture” one way or another.

Both types of extremists yearn to live under a theocracy based on the laws of their faiths. Both are contemptuous of other faiths. Both believe in the subservience of women. While Muslim extremists believe that women should cover themselves in public, many evangelical Christians view women as mere conveyances for children. Indeed, they are willing to impose the death penalty on any woman who dares to have an abortion for any reason, even in the case of rape or incest or threat to the life of the woman. They also believe that contraception is in defiance of God’s will.

Both groups believe they are persecuted. In fact, that is one of their primary tools for recruitment. Both refuse to accept that some of their accepted beliefs are the result of faulty translations of the scriptures. Both ignore the many contradictions in their gospels as well as the historical context in which they were written. And both groups are immune to conflicting information. They offer no room for discussion, debate or compromise. Indeed, they believe that doing so would be a betrayal of their faith.

Additionally, the extremists in both groups are masters of hypocrisy. We learned that some of the Muslim terrorists watched porn and visited strip clubs before committing their terrorist acts. Members of ISIL and Boko Haram have used rape as a weapon of war and have taken young women as slaves to bear their children. Meanwhile, many evangelicals live and preach “prosperity gospel” in complete contrast to the teachings of the man they claim to follow. Their leaders live in lavish mansions, are transported about in private jets, and some have been found to have engaged in embezzlement and other forms of financial fraud. And all of them enjoy the tax-free status of their religions.

Some of the evangelicals who are most outspoken against gays have been found to have gay lovers. Others have engaged in extramarital affairs. Some have even been found to have paid their mistresses to have abortions. And, recently, we learned that Jerry Falwell, Jr’s endorsement of Donald Trump came only after Trump’s “fixer” helped extort someone from releasing Falwell’s “embarrassing” photos.

Of course, there are extremists within virtually every religion. Yet, somehow, only one group of extremists is almost universally condemned by the majority population of the US. One really must ask why.

Healing Our Political Divide Must Begin With The Church.

On a local level, the traditional neighborhood church can be quite useful in helping individuals and families cope with crises in their lives. But, on a national and international level, the church has too often engaged in self-serving politics as a means of increasing its power and diminishing or demeaning people of other faiths. Indeed, unscrupulous pastors – most especially greedy televangelists – have used their positions of authority to help elect those candidates who will be most supportive of their beliefs. This has never been more clear than in today’s political environment.

If you study polling data as I have, you will find that we are not as divided as you might expect – at least not with regard to issues. If you remove the political labels, there is substantial agreement on many issues such as wealth inequality, climate change, common sense gun safety, immigration, health care, safety nets and government spending.

To a great degree, the chasm between us is the result of the church having been co-opted for personal gain and political purposes.

It began in the 1970s when, following President Nixon’s fall from grace, Paul Weyrich saw an opportunity to rebuild the Republican Party by pandering to evangelical fundamentalist Christians. He reached out to them by partnering with Jerry Falwell to found the so-called “Moral Majority.” Their message, which was quickly embraced by other fundamentalist Christian pastors such as Pat Robertson and James Dobson, was that all of the terrible events which plague our nation – mass shootings, drug abuse, even hurricanes and natural disasters – could all be traced to our supposed abandonment of Christian beliefs. The events were God’s punishment for our acceptance of homosexuality and abortion. The result of moral decay enabled by the secularist political elite.

Only by following conservative Christian doctrine, they said, could we return America to its former glory which had been ordained by God.

At Weyrich’s urging, Republican candidates began to embrace fundamentalist Christian issues labeling themselves “family values” candidates. At the same time, they began fomenting fear of the “other” – gays, immigrants, transgenders, and non-Christians. As a result, the Republican Party, which had long been the party of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism, turned its focus to various forms of discrimination. At the same time, the party pushed for states’ rights which would enable it to circumvent the restrictions of federal government. The party became staunchly anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-evolution, anti-science, anti-transgender, and anti-socialist. The more extreme party members began supporting dominionism (the belief that the nation should be governed only by Christians according to biblical law).

As a result of Weyrich’s efforts, many of our churches today are more political than spiritual. Instead of preaching love and compassion, many pastors subtly foment discrimination and hate against those who don’t believe as they do. Some tell their followers that they will go to hell if they vote for a pro-choice candidate. They use selected passages from the Bible to portray their political enemies and people of other faiths as evil. They use the Bible to justify racism and misogyny. They label as baby-killers those women who have made the heart-wrenching decision to end a pregnancy (usually for health reasons).

Today’s evangelicals and many of the “family values” Republicans have become the ultimate hypocrites – the ends-justify-the-means crowd – willing to overlook the adultery, corruption and predatory behavior of Donald Trump as long as he appoints conservative judges who will rule against legal access to abortion and base their decisions on biblical law. They are obsessed with forcing others to accept their beliefs and practices. They claim piety. But, in reality, their actions are less about religion than control.

That should surprise no one. For millennia, religions competing for control over the minds of people have engaged in wars and destroyed nations to further their interests. We must now acknowledge that that could happen here. As long as one of our two major political parties continues to blend a specific brand of religion with politics; as long as its elected officials continue to view issues through the lens of an unwavering religious belief; as long as they assume their political opponents are evil; there will never be room for compromise. (Would God compromise with Satan?) And the political chasm between us will continue to grow.

If we truly want to heal our nation – to remove the vitriol from politics – we must first acknowledge that the Constitution calls for separation of church and state. And we must be willing to focus on issues that will benefit the nation as a whole. Not any particular belief system.