Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich joined Christian America “historian” David Barton last weekend at the “Rediscovering God in America” conference in Virginia Beach. (Believe it or not this event, despite it being held in Virginia Beach, was not sponsored by the 700 Club or Pat Robertson). Here are a few quotes from the event, courtesy of Dan Gilgoff and the Virginian-Pilot.
Gingrich: “We are in a period when we are surrounded by paganism. And paganism is on offence and that’s why our first great challenge is spiritual. ” What does Gingrich mean by paganism? Does he mean that we are surrounded by pre-Christian folk religions, satanic cults, and polytheistic sects? Or is he using this word, as I might expect he is, as a buzzword for anyone who is not a conservative Christian? Is someone who believes in the separation of church and state a “pagan?” Are lapsed Christians who still try to live moral lives pagans? Who are these pagans that are “surrounding” us?
Gingrich: “(We need to) reignite in people an understanding that the heart of your life is subordination to God, the heart of your life is seeking God’s will and that all of us are weak and vulnerable, all of us make mistakes, but that all are welcomed by a loving God.”. As a Christian I give a hearty “Amen” to this statement, although I need to look more deeply at the context in which it was uttered.
Gingrich: “The beginning of wisdom and virtue is a recognition of our subordination to God, and to the fact that a life without God is a life so empty that even drugs and alcohol and other things cannot fill it.” Again, as a Christian, I give this a hearty “Amen.”
Huckabee: “The notion that we are just one of many among equals is nonsense,” Huckabee said. The United States is a “blessed” nation, he said, calling American revolutionaries’ defeat of the British empire “a miracle from God’s hand.” (This is a quote from the Pilot reporter). This is the kind of providential history that worries me. Huckabee is echoing the earliest New England settlers who believed that the Massachusetts Bay Colony was God’s chosen people–a new Israel. As Nicholas Guyott has shown in his study of “Providence” in early American history, the notion that America is doing the will of God in the world has gotten us into trouble before. Was the American victory over the British a miracle? It seems to me that we can be more certain in explaining the American victory over Britain in ways other than proclaiming it as some kind of supernatural intervention that defied the laws of nature.
Gingrich: I am not a citizen of the world, I am a citizen of the United States because only in the United States does citizenship start with our creator.” First, by claiming that he is not a “citizen of the world” (a clear swipe at Obama’s recent speech in Cairo) Gingrich violates his newfound Catholic faith. Catholic social teaching, at least the version put forth by Vincent Rougeau in his recent Christians in the American Empire, suggests that all human beings have solidarity with all other humans based upon the fact that they are created beings who share a common humanity. Catholic solidarity implies, in part, that one’s loyalty should be primarily to the entire human race and not a particular nation-state. Rougeau argues that Christian belief in the solidarity of all human beings means that national favoritism is “difficult to justify on moral terms.” The nation-state is not divinely ordained. Loyalty to the state should be based on whether or not the state is promoting human dignity and the common good. Moreover, what does Gingrich mean by the idea that “citizenship” starts with “our creator?” The last I checked I do not think that American citizenship requires belief in a creator God.
Gingrich may have found religion, but he has yet to come to grips with the ways his newfound Catholic faith might force him to change his Republican/Religious Right talking points. During the 2008 campaign, Huckabee seemed to show promise, through his populist message, of articulating a Christian-informed politics. But he never did quite separate himself from the error-laden “God and Country” approach to the American past that has become a staple of the Religious Right.
This conference tells me that the “Christian America” advocates are not going away anytime soon. This should keep Brad Hart and his gang over at American Creation quite busy in the future.