When did the kingdom of heaven become a red state?
From within the Evangelical movement, an academic decries the religious right's hold on US churches.
Randall Balmer is a lifelong Evangelical, and he feels his faith has been hijacked.
In his latest book, Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical's Lament, the historian of American religion at Columbia University's Barnard College takes direct aim at the perpetrator: the religious right.
An insider in the Evangelical subculture – and a long-time editor for Christianity Today – Balmer has had a ringside seat on the rising clout of Christian conservatives. He has sat in on meetings of leaders of the right. He's traveled the country listening to preachers in the pulpit. He's researched the links between conservative initiatives and theocratic ideology.
And he has determined that the thrust of that movement is both a betrayal of his beloved faith and a threat to the democratic nature of America.
In this admittedly emotional work – he calls himself "a jilted lover" – the author doesn't mince words.
"[R]ight-wing zealots have distorted the gospel of Jesus Christ, defaulted on the noble legacy of 19th-century evangelical activism, and failed to appreciate the genius of the First Amendment," he says. What the Religious Right hankers for is "the kind of homogeneous theocracy that the Puritans tried to establish."
Balmer yearns for progressive 19th-century activism, which pursued the abolition of slavery and other societal ills and – most important – did not seek political power. Suggesting his dismay is shared by many other Evangelicals, the author is upfront about being a Democrat and a liberal. He defends liberalism and its contributions to American society. Such leanings may lead some readers to dismiss the book as a disgruntled polemic from the left.