December 13, 2006

Christian Embassy



The agency Christian Embassy is an organisation in the United States which provides Bible readings and prayer readings for members of Congress, Presidential appointees and people in the Pentagon. I have talked before about the clash of languages between Liberalism and a militant Christianity here. Christian Embassy seems to be yet another example of a clash of languages between two sets of people- a clash which undermines the very terms and concepts that we use in discussing the world.

This promotional video (in two parts on YouTube here and here) makes perfectly clear exactly why Christian Embassy makes people who aren't evangelical Christians worry. Christian Embassy members throughout the video talk about how they use their faith to guide policy, how when you elect a member the decisions he takes are based on his faith, how a Congressman going to Ethiopia doesn't bring religion with him but the saving grace of Jesus Christ, how servicemen in the Pentagon meet privately with each other to pray and how important it is for military leaders not only to be good commanders but to be men of God. All of these principles can be good Christian principles- all of them look exceptionally intolerant of the outside world to those within that outside world. All of this it could be argued fits under the principle of the freedom of association for all members of society in any organisation that they wish- and despite the fact I agree with that principle there are worrying ways in which the language that is used in this group seems to have embedded in it a conceptual aparatus of superiority.

This whole matter was brought to my attention by this article in Salon. The language of the article is hysterical but the point is there underneath that language that what Christian Embassy is is something that could easily slip from bible study to cabal. There is a very real sense that this upfront religiosity and intolerance of arguments that don't stem from religion- what one colonel calls an old fashioned American understanding based on family and God- is fiercely intolerant of any other approach to the world. So intolerant that it does not even acknowledge it but talks past anyone that isn't a Christian, that isn't within the free masonry of evangelicism. The interviewee on Salon for questioning this group and feeling unloved within the military thanks to his Jewish faith has been answered with anti-semitic rhetoric and death threats.

How serious this all is I have no idea and my sense is that most members of Christian Embassy go to it like they would go to a church. Most of its function I would have thought could be absorbed within the right of freedom of association- afterall there is nothing wrong with people attending whatever services they like. But an evangelicism which argues purely with itself, that treats people who aren't evangelicals with the condescension of those knowing a mysterious truth to those without special knowledge is an evangelicism that cannot sit easily in a republic that proscribes deliberately no religious test for its membership. Christian Embassy is probably less important than the alarmists would have you beleive- America is no Iran- but neither should denying the fact that America is a fundamentalist dictatorship or admitting the fact that other countries have problems exclude consideration of whether this kind of rhetoric, this kind of talking past other groups and peoples in society, isn't difficult for peoples of other faiths and atheists to accomodate to, when those expressing it hold government office.

9 comments:

dreadnought said...

Sounds like fascism; the same type that the US talks about when referring to extremist Islam.

edmund said...

what a stupid comment how pray is it like "Facism"? I thought it was supposed to be bad because it was philo-Semitic not anti-semitic?

dreadnought said...

So "facism" is only anti-Semitic is it? Who did you say makes stupid comments?

Gracchi said...

I don't know if fascism is the right word- though I can see what you are trying to express using it- the joining together of an ancient sensibility ie Christian cohesion in this case with modern ideas. But I don't think that captures it- partly because I'm always cautious- I don't know enough about this group and I think their language is odd sounding. They may be harmless- they may just be a church within the defence department and Washington but there is something a little freemasonryish about it and there is something in the way that they associate their roles and their religion so explicitly which says that their roles are religious duties which makes me concerned about how they see secular people in those roles. I am put in mind of this quotation in Andrew Sullivan's blog where an officer argues that the family of Pat Tilman couldn't cope with the death of their son because they weren't christian. Again we should be careful about quotes out of context and unrepresentative opinions- but I wouldn't want to serve alongside people who said that kind of thing.

Just for the record I don't think fascism has to be anti-semitic- my own sense is that these guys are anti-semitic, their critic at least has according to Salon received anti-semitic death threats from people (though they may not be members of the organisation) and I think this kind of rhetoric could be accused of being anti-Jewish though really its not anti-Jewish specifically but just anti-anyone who isn't evangelical. We should withhold judgement without more fact- this is a worrying piece of news but it might be exaggerated and if someone has a link from them as a response to the accusations that explains what's going on I'd definitely put it in the main text of this article.

If this is what's happening though and they are talking in these ways, I think all of us who aren't Christan but who care for the United States (as we should it being a wonderful country that's produced amazing stuff) should be worried.

Matt M said...

I think that any organisation which seeks to impose its values onto the political system (by urging senators to put their religion - or at least the parts they share - first when making decisions) while encouraging division and hostility is a cause for worry, regardless of which country it operates in.

If groups like Christian Embassy simply want to help Christians worship then I have no problem with them. But if they have an agenda then I think the government needs to look closely at what they're doing and decide how much support they want to give people like that.

dreadnought said...

"its not anti-Jewish specifically but just anti-anyone who isn't evangelical."
Exactly. Anti everyone who isn't one of them.

james higham said...

As a Christian, it is precisely these people who give it a bad name. I can't stand gung-ho in anything but particularly not in this.

Gracchi said...

I agree with both of you. Dreadnought you are right. James you are right- the pity is that there are so many Christians who are doing great things in the world and are truly tolerant and there are the others who are not. Just like any other system fo thought some of the people following it are a problem.

Gracchi said...

That's my feeling too Matt- if this is just a group of Christians worshipping together then fine, but if its a group which seeks to make politics in the US and globally religious then not so fine.