It is a sad fact of life that there are some human beings who cannot exist without expressing animosity, or worse, deep and extremely emotional dislike directed against individuals, groups or ideas. Indeed, hatred is nearly always associated with feelings of intense anger, unwarranted disgust and an unhealthy pre-disposition towards hostility and violence. It is no mystery why many Americans are flummoxed over the behavior and violent expressions of hatred originating in the evangelical Christian movement, particularly when their religion’s namesake, Jesus Christ, preached and commanded his followers to be compassionate, forgiving, charitable, and tolerant to the point of having overwhelming love for their fellow man.
According to biblical mythos, Jesus Christ foretold a time when his followers would claim they performed great works in his name and he “will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who practice evil!‘” For a couple of generations, at least, American conservative Christians have practiced evil at some “special enemy” or another that became their cause célèbre to rally evangelical electoral support for Republicans pledging to use government as a weapon against the dreaded enemy. Now that the nation’s High Court “officially” eliminated one of the religious right’s enemy, marriage equality, conservative Christians set their sights on a new enemy; other Christians. If Americans have learned anything over the past generation, it is that the religious right cannot exist without deep and emotional hatred directed against some group. It was just a matter of time before they directed their hatred toward the “wrong” kind of Christians.
Before Ronald Reagan gave conservative Christians an opening to impose their beliefs on the population by government fiat, the moral majority’s rallying cry to elect Republicans was perpetuating school segregation in the former Confederacy. When their precious tax exemption was put in jeopardy, the religious right embraced the counsel of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and shifted their “Christian” hatred and righteous indignation toward women exercising their Constitutional right to control their own reproductive health; that hatred exists stronger today than ever before.
The religious right still considers the secular government their enemy, but the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality has driven them to shift their hatred toward, and blame, what they call dirty “Progressive Christians” because they support marriage equality as part of their adherence to Jesus Christ’s admonition to embrace all human beings. Just prior to the High Court same-sex marriage ruling, Christian fundamentalists opened up a new battle front against “liberal Christians” and launched a publicity campaign targeting a new enemy in Arizona; the progressive Methodist community.
A coalition of hate consisting of eight conservative Christian congregations in Fountain Hills, Arizona, launched a very public campaign against other “followers of Christ” replete with a highly “coordinated teaching and preaching” series with religious op-eds, half-page hate-ads in local newspapers, and “a massive banner” with the dirty word “progressive” in “jagged red letters” asking if “Progressive Christianity is Fact or Fiction.” One of the leaders of the hate group, a preacher at the Fountain Hills First Baptist Church, Tony Pierce, wrote in a published letter to the editor that “The progressives are at it again, and for a small fee you can join the primary proponent of this apostate religious movement to get answers. The good thing about the progressive movement is it gives people a clear choice. The ironic thing about progressive Christianity is that it is neither!”
The hate-driven Southern Baptists were outraged that a Methodist minister, the Reverend David Felten, was “persecuting real Christians” and abridging their religious freedom by preaching to his congregants about theological support for interfaith dialogue, scientific discovery, and worse of all the right of the LGBT community to Constitutional equality and Christ-like compassion. Felten said the intensity and coordinated attack from other “Christians” caught him off guard and led him to comment that, “When you have an effort collaborated by multiple ‘Christian’ churches in one community to try to discredit one other way of thinking, that’s when it becomes alarming.”
To show how deep evangelical hatred goes, and how their new target is now as despised as the Constitution and secular government, Christian conservatives have begun casting ‘progressive Christians’ as religious bullies persecuting “real Christians.” The evangelicals labeled Methodists “heretic hunters” for following Christ’s command to love their neighbors; particularly their LGBT neighbors. The “bully and persecutor” labels are astounding when the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) continues its bullying tactics of evicting entire “LGBT-affirming” congregations from the SBC, Catholics continue firing employees for being gay, and evangelical churches regularly issue bomb threats and shoot at so-called liberal churches for apostasy. Apostasy is evangelical parlance for Christians who follow Christ’s command to embrace all human beings.
One “Reformed” theologian, Peter Leithart, called on all conservative Christians to harshly criticize the “progressive faith” because they abandoned the practice of castigating the LGBT community and those who support equality. In mid-July, Leithart, as head of the right-leaning Theopolis Institute, penned a piece in First Things that not only bemoaned the Court’s decision, he explicitly called on conservative Christians to do the Lord’s work and join the evangelical crusade to condemn LGBT-affirming Christians.
Leithart wrote that, “Most important is what happens in the churches. Even before Obergefell, some churches were making peace with same-sex marriage. Now that same-sex marriage is law, the tribe of ‘Good Churches’ will increase, and the division in the churches over sexual morality will sharpen. Many leaders, churches, and denominations have condemned the Court’s decision, and more will; but others support it, and we have no trans-denominational mechanism to adjudicate them. Saying what’s right is necessary, but it’s not enough. Pastors need to be willing to say that other churches that support marriage equality are wrong, and dangerously so.”
One preacher, and a former televangelist, Joshua Feuerstein is so furious about the marriage equality ruling that he made a video of himself waving around a semiautomatic assault rifle and called his 1.5 million followers “to finally take a stand and say no more. We’re not backing up any further.” According to Feurerstein, as an avowed evangelical fanatic his “First Amendment right is guaranteed by his Second Amendment right.” It is no stretch of the imagination to believe that Feuerstein’s weaponized hatred reserved for the LGBT community will shift to include “progressive Christians.” As the Reformed theologian Liethart said, “without a mechanism to adjudicate them, pastors need to be willing to say that other churches that support marriage equality are wrong, and dangerously so.” Apparently assault rifles are, or soon will be, that “mechanism to adjudicate” other Christians ‘reformed theologian’ Leithart said is not yet available for the war against other Christians.
The religious right is prone to condemn Islamic extremists attacking other factions within the Muslim faith as hate-filled barbarians for combatting other Muslims. Now they have adopted that tactic and are attacking other Christians because they are following the teachings of their namesake and embrace all human beings. Regardless of the cause, whether equal rights for the LGBT community or women exercising their constitutional right to decide when they give birth, it was just a matter of time before Christian extremists began attacking other Christians. One might think it is astounding that a religion allegedly founded on expressing love and tolerance for all human beings expresses hatred as a matter of course, but history has shown that Christians have always thrived on having a mortal enemy to hate, even if it is other Christians.