February 5, 2006


God's Senator: Who would Jesus vote for? Meet Sam Brownback (JEFF SHARLET, 1/25/06, Rolling Stone)

[C]ompassionate conservatism, as Colson conceives it and Brownback implements it, is strikingly similar to plain old authoritarian conservatism. In place of liberation, it offers as an ideal what Colson calls "biblical obedience" and what Brownback terms "submission." The concept is derived from Romans 13, the scripture by which Brownback and Colson understand their power as God-given: "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."

To Brownback, the verse is not dictatorial -- it's simply one of the demands of spiritual war, the "worldwide spiritual offensive" that the Fellowship declared a half-century ago. "There's probably a higher level of Christians being persecuted during the last ten, twenty years than . . . throughout human history," Brownback once declared on Colson's radio show. Given to framing his own faith in terms of battles, he believes that secularists and Muslims are fighting a worldwide war against Christians -- sometimes in concert. "Religious freedom" is one of his top priorities, and securing it may require force. He's sponsored legislation that could lead to "regime change" in Iran, and has proposed sending combat troops to the Philippines, where Islamic rebels killed a Kansas missionary.

Brownback doesn't demand that everyone believe in his God -- only that they bow down before Him. Part holy warrior, part holy fool, he preaches an odd mix of theological naivete and diplomatic savvy. The faith he wields in the public square is blunt, heavy, unsubtle; brass knuckles of the spirit. But the religion of his heart is that of the woman whose example led him deep into orthodoxy: Mother Teresa -- it is a kiss for the dying. He sees no tension between his intolerance and his tenderness. Indeed, their successful reconciliation in his political self is the miracle at the heart of the new fundamentalism, the fusion of hellfire and Hallmark.

"I have seen him weep," growls Colson, anointing Brownback with his highest praise. Such are the new American crusaders: tear-streaked strong men huddling together to talk about their feelings before they march forth, their sentimental faith sharpened and their man-feelings hardened into "natural law." They are God's promise keepers, His defenders of marriage, His knights of the fetal citizen. They are the select few who embody the paradoxical love promised by Christ when he declares -- in Matthew 10:34 -- "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."

Standing on his back porch in Topeka, Brownback looks down into a dark patch of hedge trees, a gnarled hardwood that's nearly unsplittable. The same trees grow on the 1,400 acres that surround Brownback's childhood home in Parker; not much else remains. When the senator was a boy, there were eleven families living on the land. Now there are only the Brownbacks and a friend from high school who lives rent-free in one of the empty houses. When the friend moves on, Brownback's father plans to tear the house down. The rest of the homes are already taking care of themselves, slowly crumbling into the prairie. The world Brownback grew up in has vanished.

In its place, Brownback imagines another one. Standing on his porch, he thinks back to the days before the Civil War, when his home state was known as Bloody Kansas and John Brown fought for freedom with an ax. "A terrorist," concedes Brownback, careful not to offend his Southern supporters, but also a wise man. When Brown was in jail awaiting execution, a visitor told the abolitionist that he was crazy.

"I'm not the one who has 4 million people in bondage," Brownback intones, recalling Brown's response. "I, sir, think you are crazy."

This is another of Brownback's parables. In place of 4 million slaves, he thinks of uncountable unborn babies, of all the persecuted Christians -- a nation within a nation, awaiting Brownback's liberation. Brownback, sir, thinks that secular America is crazy.

The senator stares, his face gentle but unsmiling.

He isn't joking.

Is there any definition of crazy that doesn't fit secularism?

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 5, 2006 10:58 AM
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