(This article originally appeared in Huffington Post Religion.)
When Pope Francis visits the United States for the first time later this month, he will set foot in a country in which a segment of evangelical Christians are waging a crusade. I count myself as an evangelical, but there is a split in the party, so to speak. The centrist and progressive evangelicals are ready to move on from the culture wars of the past 40 years. The conservatives? They are moving, but seemingly backward.
An Apostolic clerk in Eastern Kentucky is being hailed as the newest evangelical martyr for refusing to issue marriage licenses, for God’s glory. The presidential candidate with the most evangelical support (20 percent) is the billionaire Republican frontrunner who “loves” a Bible he can’t quote and wants to build a wall to keep “illegals” (mostly Latino Catholics) out. And it’s impossible not to notice that as soon as same-sex marriage became law, the right wing culture warriors reverted back to raiding Planned Parenthood like it was 1992 all over again.
The theocratic fantasies of this segment of American evangelicals have now been laid completely bare. I support the protection of religious liberty as outlined in the First Amendment, but some Christians, like the emperor Constantine, seem determined to conquer under the sign of the cross. Even while forwarding chain emails claiming that Muslims are trying to enforce Sharia law in the U.S., culture war Christians are attempting to force all Americans to live according to their interpretation of religious law.
This culture war is taking its toll on faith in America. An alarming 36 percent of Young Millennials are now unaffiliated with any religion, and the percentage of “The Nones,” those who claim no faith, is up among all age groups. An earlier study revealed their reasons for leaving the faith; they believe that “… religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.” The rise of the Religious Right, an extreme politicization of conservative Christianity in the U.S., coincided with a rapid decline of faith.
While American evangelicals war against same-sex marriage and abortion rights, Pope Francis has clearly chosen a different path. Although the Pope supports neither, his actions have served to open the gate to those who have been shut out of their communities of faith. He agrees with evangelicals on many doctrinal issues, but his overall tone is one of bridge building instead of wall building. Pontifex means “bridge-builder,” so he’s living up to the title.
(Read the rest of the article at Huffington Post Religion here.)