In 1980s film Repo Man, Emilio Estevez’s protagonist Otto Maddox asks his pot smoking parents for a promised $1,000. His mother replies they can no longer help because, “Your father gave all our extra money to the Reverend's telethon; we’re sending Bibles to El Salvador.”
Otto asks: “Well what about me?” His father responds: “You're on the Honor Roll of the Chariots Of Fire. Same as us, Otto. It was a gift. From all of us jointly.”
I thought of this line recently while reading Ann Coulter’s much-denounced column criticizing Ebola infected missionary Kent Brantly for going to the Third World instead of helping and evangelizing fellow Americans. After all, though the Good Book commands , “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel,” it also says, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, 'You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’”
Prominent conservative Christians responded with the usual vitriolic outrage they use for MargaretSanger or John Tanton—which is mysteriously never deployed against the likes of anti-Christian bigots like gay columnist Dan Savage. The occasionally sensible Jim Treacher called it “absolute horsecrap.” [Ann Coulter is wrong about Kent Brantly, Daily Caller, August 7, 2014] Channeling Rick Perry, the always squishy Rod Dreher wrote that anyone with “a heart, or a soul” would “hate” Coulter’s column. [Ann Coulter, Dr. Kent Brantly, & Telescopic Philanthropy, American Conservative, August 6, 2014]
Most of Coulter’s antagonists focused on the title of the column, which called Brantly an “idiot.” However, it was Steve Berman’s moderate reaction that truly crystalized how Coulter’s critics missed the point. He asked, “How many Americans, in an age of growing hostility to Christians, might see his sacrifice and pick up their own crosses?” [Ann Coulter is great, but I'd rather be like Kent Brantly, RedState, August 7, 2014]
But Coulter’s main argument was not that Brantly was stupid, but that he was cowardly. As Coulter notes, contemporary Christians flock are
tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S., tired of being called homophobes, racists, sexists and bigots. So they slink off to Third World countries, away from American culture to do good works…rather than setting an example for other Americans.
Though I’m not especially religious, I can support Coulter’s analysis with my own experience. A good friend’s father was a Southern Baptist minister who spent decades setting up dozens of schools and congregations in Africa. He died (of cancer, not Ebola) and I attended the funeral. There was not a single African or African-American mourner in attendance—but the hundreds of white Southerners in attendance sang Swahili gospel hymns.
The minister’s death occurred shortly before the 2008 election and politics mixed with mourning during the reception. When Barack Obama’s name came up, the Southern Baptists would talk about how the recently-deceased did more for blacks than Barack Obama ever did, and they wished that all the liberals who call Republicans racists could have seen it.
This same impulse leads many Christian conservatives to try to reframe their socially conservative beliefs as “anti-racism.” Pro-lifers often justify opposition to abortion by calling it “black genocide,” utilizing “disparate impact” arguments about black abortion rates and out-of-context quotes from eugenicists a century ago.
Instead of criticizing the licentious culture that creates unwanted pregnancies, many conservative Christians praise welfare moms with multiple baby daddies as heroes for “choosing life.” They also pretend those who abort their children had no agency and are simply victims of racist liberals.
“Molotov” Mitchell, a white evangelical Christian and video columnist for World Net Daily, embraced the absurd of the reductio ad absurdum when he created a film called Gates of Hell, which creates a black power terrorist organization called the “Zulu 9” that starts murdering abortion doctors once when they realize the “racist” roots of Planned Parenthood.
For all his faults, Mitchell is at least against illegal immigration. However, this can’t be said of the leadership of most conservative Christian organizations in the country. The heads of almost all conservative Catholic and Evangelical organizations, to say nothing of mainline Protestants and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops support Amnesty, as do leaders of f the National Organization for Marriage like Maggie Gallagher and Robert P. George.
Is this inevitable? Oswald Spengler famously wrote that “Christian theology is the grandmother of Bolshevism.” Spengler, and many other right wing critics of Christianity, believed that the scripture’s endorsement of universalism, a brotherhood of man, and peace on earth, helped legitimize Marxist ideology.
Or, to quote Repo Man, this time Harry Dean Stanton’s hardened and amphetamine-abusing repo veteran Bud: “I don't want no commies in my car. No Christians either.”
Most anti-Christian Rightists will argue that decidedly non-wimpy and very Western Christianity of the Middle Ages and Renaissance—known as Christendom—was a product of Germanic, Norse, and Celtic Pagan traditions, which Northern Europeans heathens incorporated into Christianity when they converted. Many build on immigration patriot and conservative Catholic James C. Russell’s book The Germanization of Medieval Christianity. The late Sam Francis in his review described the implication of Russell’s book:
Christianity is both the grandmother of Bolshevism (in its early universalist, non-Western form) and a pillar of social stabilization and order (through the values and world-view imported into it through contact with the ancient barbarians).But this does not explain the cowardice that Coulter identifies. The pre-Germanized Christians were willing to stand against the dominant Roman and pagan culture despite facing death for practicing their faith. The cowardly Christians of today promote adopting half the Third World simply out of fear of being called names like anti-Semitic, racist, and homophobic.
A conservative Catholic acquaintance of mine used to be an immigration patriot, but has since switched to supporting Open Borders (his words, not my pejorative.) When we last discussed his switch, he stated the ultimate political goal was saving souls and we could save more souls with more Catholics in America, regardless of other social costs.
Some anti-Christian Rightists would argue that this is logical conclusion to adopting a universalist and egalitarian Christian theology. But my acquaintance was not proselytizing to the Mexican masses, working at a pregnancy crisis center, or laboring at some religious institution. Instead, his shift in position coincided with climbing up the ranks of Conservatism Inc. as he promotes free market dogma at odds with centuries of Catholic Social Thought.
The ignominious fact is that many of Ann Coulter’s Christian critics are less concerned with saving souls than trying to salvage their own reputation in the eyes of people who already hate them.
Alexander Hart (email him) is a conservative journalist