Last Friday, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof passed on a few interesting stats, to wit:
91 percent of Americans believe in the virgin birth, including 47 percent of non-Christians!
58 percent of Americans believe that you cannot be a moral person unless you believe in God. By contrast, only 13 percent of those Bush-hatin' Frenchies hold similar views.
Kristof goes on to lament the increasingly pervasive influence of fundamentalist/evangelical Christianity in modern American culture, darkly warning that our own homegrown Ayatollahs are taking over the store.
Certainly, there's evidence for such a view. You don't have to look any further than George W., whose transformation from drunk-driving, coke-snorting, tequila-shot pouring Texas party boy to stern, pious warrior/president has been amply documented. Consider, too, the nonsensical "Christian" perspective of pundit/S&M hottie Ann Coulter (how to solve the problems of the Middle East: Kill their leaders and convert the rest of 'em to Christianity!).
Well, we could do a lot of deep thinking about this phenomenon, about the migration of fringe Christian evangelical beliefs to the mainstream, about the gleeful cynicism of the Republican Party in co-opting these beliefs, and about what crazed, credulous rubes we all are, but let's leave that stuff for the Times.
Rather, let's think about the impact of conservative Christianity on our own lives, living as we do in a community that is heavily influenced by it.
Since it's in the news, let's talk about our local Episcopalians, and Grace Church rector Don Armstrong's dismay at New Hampshire's new openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson. Let me note that I grew up attending Grace Church; indeed, my parents were the first couple married in that beautiful building. I remember the church, under then-rector Lindsay Patton, as warm, easy-going and tolerant, not particularly concerned with the finer points of doctrine.
As a child, I imagined God to be an old gentleman in a three-piece suit, seated in a leather easy chair in a richly paneled room (kind of like Denver's University Club). I imagined timidly approaching the Lord, who'd be reading the newspaper, and confessing my misdeeds. And He'd lower his newspaper, give me a kindly look, and say, "That's all right, my boy ... now go out and try to do a little better." And He'd go back to his paper.
In that discreetly tolerant era, full of evasions and kindly doublespeak, Bishop Robinson would have presented few difficulties. His fellow bishops would have spoken of his many virtues, and would have been on the friendliest of terms with Robinson's "roommate," as they might have referred to his partner. Times change; the formerly marginalized are no longer content to accept marginal status.
A few years ago, I had occasion to tour the then-new Focus on the Family complex. I found myself chatting with a man whose task it was to respond to a portion of the thousands of letters that Focus receives every day. "What's that like?" I asked. "Well," he replied, "we're seeing the dissolution, breakdown, and collapse of the American family every day. And it's terrible and dismaying and I pray every day for those people, and for the millions of others who don't write."
Since then, whenever I find myself ranting about the Ann Coulters, Rush Limbaughs, and Jerry Falwells -- the performing apes, as it were, of the radical right -- I remember that man, who spent his days trying to help people in need. There are many such people in our community, and a lot of them are right-wing Christians.
Living in a city so heavily influenced by the Christian right means living with a ruling class of intermittently loony Republicans, as well as their seriously wacko hangers-on. But it also means living in a law-abiding city of comparatively careful drivers, clean streets, well-kept homes, good schools, and safe, pleasant neighborhoods. It means that of the thousands of folks who hold concealed weapons permits, exactly none have used their weapon to commit a crime. It means, bizarrely enough, that in spite of and because of the Christian right, Colorado Springs is a great place to live.
Finally, a little theology: Episcopalian equals Anglican. We're not Protestants, we're schismatic Catholics, members of a church formed by King Henry VIII when the pope wouldn't let him divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. Not to put too fine a point on it, but as a church founded on the balls of Henry the Eighth, maybe we ought to shut up about sex.
And maybe, as Don Armstrong gently intimates when I see him, I should show up at church every once in a while ...