The Split Within the Christian Right Over Taking Government Money

At the Lunch Buffet post, I mentioned an interesting new piece from Sarah Posner at Salon drawing attention to a faction of evangelical leaders who are closely aligned with the Ron Paul Revolution. They are hardly “libertarians,” as her description makes clear:

These religious Paul supporters are part of a subculture that fuses some of the most extreme elements of the American right: birthers, Birchers, neo-Confederates, contraception-eschewing home-schoolers, neo-Calvinists and gun rights supporters who think (like Paul does) that the National Rifle Association is too liberal. They include disaffected former supporters of Republicans like the Baptist preacher-turned-politician Mike Huckabee and Mormons who won’t vote for Mitt Romney.

They’re attracted to Paul because they think that in the place of the federal government, which they believe should not be “legislating morality,” their ultra-conservative brand of Christianity should play a central role in shaping the laws and morals of their states and communities.

Some of these folk, in fact, are frankly theocratic:

Patricia Wheat, an activist I met at an antiabortion rally in South Carolina, contended that the Constitution “comes out of the Book of Deuteronomy, which sets specific precepts for government.” (Wheat also serves on the South Carolina Sound Money Committee, which promotes an “alternative currency” for the state.) The Bible, she added, “is the only recognized religious book that sets forth jurisdiction and promotes liberty. The Bible says that the family is responsible for education of the children. The Bible says that the church is responsible for the spiritual nurturing in the community and to minister to the widows and the orphans. That’s a legitimate function of the church. Civil government is to defend the people’s liberties so they can live freely, because a free people are by nature of being a free people, a holy people.”

But while they strongly believe they have the right to impose their values on others through the law, they are horrified at the idea of becoming wards of the state via subsidies:

At the core of [South Carolina pastor Tony] Romo’s beliefs — like the other religious Paul supporters I spoke to — is that the federal government is largely unconstitutional. Romo’s church isn’t incorporated under South Carolina law, nor did he apply for tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service. Those acts, he said, would make “the state your Lord” or the “federal government your Lord.” If the government “dictates to the church you can no longer preach against homosexuality, those churches better submit … you [give] them [the government] the right to tell you what to preach.”

The unincorporated church, he maintained, “was the original church in the New Testament and was the original church in America.” When churches began incorporating and seeking tax-exempt status, “all they did was enslave themselves to the federal government.”

These folk provide an interesting contrast to the standard-brand conservative evangelicals who are lining up at the trough for school vouchers and “faith-based organization” dollars, and who accuse the Obama administration of waging a “war on religion” for not giving their affiliated charities and health care institutions federal money along with a blanket exemption from laws and regulations they find offensive.

Perhaps the Holy Paulites will begin firing a few open shots at their brethren who have no trouble with Big Government so long as they are in charge, and who might be accused of polishing Satan’s jeweled crown in pursuit of the almighty (fiat money!) dollar.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.