Over the past few months I've received several anguished letters from an anonymous evangelical Christian in the Midwest.
The correspondent says his church is drifting steadily into the Religious Right orbit, and political matters are taking a central spot in the congregation's life.
By implication, he says, church-goers are given the impression that all real Christians think the same way on political issues and vote for the same (usually Republican) candidates.
The letters always have the same ending: "Please help us!"
Well, help is finally on the way. In their new book, Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America? (HarperCollins/Zondervan, 282 pp., $19.99), Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson argue that Religious Right activists have been seduced by political power and have neglected the religious work that ought to be their central mission.
Thomas and Dobson know the Religious Right well. Both men are evangelical Christians who worked for the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority in its early years and have followed the movement's progress closely. They have concluded that conservative Christians should take a radically different approach toward changing America, emphasizing religious outreach not precinct politicking.
"Religious conservatives," they write, "have heard sermons that man's ways are not God's ways (Isaiah 55:8). In politics they have fused the two, causing damage to both church and state."
Thomas, a syndicated columnist whose work appears in some 500 newspapers, argues that the Religious Right accomplished little over the past 20 years and often was manipulated by cynical politicians. He also believes that many of the movement's major organizations and leaders hurt the Christian cause by their arrogance and inflammatory actions.
"Politics and faith are irreconcilable," concludes Thomas. "The former cannot tolerate zealotry; the latter cannot tolerate compromise. This is the reason that the two, when combined, become highly combustible."
Coauthor Dobson (not to be confused with Focus on the Family's James Dobson) worries that melding politics and religion not only hurts religion, but also can result in sectarian strife. A native of Northern Ireland, he insists, "When religion and politics are one and the same, the situation tends toward intolerance."
Observes Dobson, "One of the reasons my parents came to America was to escape the volatile mixture of politics and religion. They saw what happened when religious leaders used their God-ordained power to whip people into a hateful frenzy. They wanted none of it, and neither do I."
Dobson, now pastor of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, writes, "We should not expect the government to promote the gospel or prayer or religion. This is not its role....[T]he Religious Right has abandoned the greater priority of communicating the gospel for the lesser priority of sanctifying the state. The net result is that they have accomplished neither very well."
The book concludes with a series of interviews with public figures as varied as Falwell, Pat Robertson, George McGovern and U.S. Rep. Tony Hall. (FOF's Dobson huffily declined an invitation to be interviewed.)
Make no mistake: this book is not for everyone. Thomas and Dobson are ultraconservative on a broad range of religious and political concerns. Thomas' vicious rhetoric about public schools (calling them "education camps" where children are "taught lies") is particularly repugnant.
But these men have performed a significant service in writing this book. Evangelicals and fundamentalists now have a potent weapon to wield against the Christian Coalition and its minions.
I hope my evangelical friend in the Midwest buys several copies and distributes them widely.