The United States is infamous for its relationship with Christianity. Although there is a wide spectrum, it seems as if the nation is always on some Jesus craze. An indicative moment of Christian influence on American politics is when then-President George W. Bush declared that God told him to “end the tyranny in Iraq” in 2003.
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Besides the evangelical rhetoric and lobbying efforts at the Capitol, the rest of the nation deals with other exhibitions of Christian furor. There are two sects that could not be further apart in customs and Biblical interpretation, yet are still up for comparison. The charismatic televangelist industry and the upper echelons of the Amish Church are similar in their public relations apparatuses and financial hustling of others. Taking a look at these social institutions’ practices will give deep insight into Americans’ fallible infatuation with radical Christianity.
Amish clergy and elders manage unsavory news about their community, most notably reports of sexual abuse, by invoking the Biblical verse of “turn the other cheek.” Rather than assist victims, efforts are put into covering up the crimes. Any victim told to forgive their abuser as Jesus Christ would want them to do is undergoing egregious emotional abuse. This act of manipulation is reminiscent of how televangelists . . .
. . . use doctrine and their own version of mind games to convince audiences to mail in hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Both establishments depend on the congregants’ ability to sympathize with the figure on the pulpit. How else would one expect the congregation to be controlled so easily? Those in power need the people to feel a sense of compassion for the religious authorities, however misplaced that is, because when the leaders are caught amidst wrongdoing, they know they have the public backing them up.
On evangelical television, there have been instances where pastors under financial investigation at the time draw in the congregation by claiming that the Devil is working against their church. There is always some spiritual battle, rather than any real accountability.
The main difference between radical evangelism and Amish society is the idea of individual responsibility. The Amish cannot leave, unless they escape under the guise of night.* On the other hand, mainstream Christian churchgoers voluntarily attend Sunday service. The Amish deserve more sympathy than their evangelical counterparts, considering the Church’s encompassing control over their daily lives.
Public relations is an important strategy when the Christian Right rallies support in Washington, D.C., the most crucial place to garner legal and financial leeway. America is already giving out tax exemptions like candy to religious organizations, moving the real battle to the constitutional field. Wisconsin v. Yoder, the case in which the US Supreme Court ruled that Amish parents could force their children to stop going to school after the 8th grade, opened a Pandora’s Box of claims to special privileges supposedly provided for by the First Amendment.
Christianity cannot be looked at as just a religion, consequently. Its relevance to all aspects of American society renders it a sociocultural institution, also. Whether you see this as detrimental or beneficial, there is no denying that the Constitution will continue to be challenged to accommodate the wants of a special group in the name of religion.
*Escaping under cover of darkness is far too often the only option for Amish youth.
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A.C., Summer Intern for the Amish Heritage Foundation
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