Friday, October 16, 2020

Tony Keddie's "Republican Jesus"

Tony Keddie is Assistant Professor of Early Christian History and Literature at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of Class and Power in Roman Palestine and Revelations of Ideology.

Keddie applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Republican Jesus: How the Right Has Rewritten the Gospels, and reported the following:
From page 99:
For all of his disclaimers about not getting involved in politics, America’s favorite crusader [Billy Graham] was a vocal supporter of war for decades—from Korea to Iraq. Graham soothed any presidential or popular Christian anxieties about the injustice of war by depicting military intervention abroad as a strategy for spreading Christian democracy in an increasingly communist world. Graham envisioned the Third World as the site of an apocalyptic struggle between American Christianity and the Soviet Union’s pagan communism. “God may be using Communism as a judgment upon the West,” he warned about North Vietnam.

Graham was more influential than ever during the Nixon presidency. For the first time in history, Graham led a full-blown worship service as part of President Nixon’s inauguration in 1969. He also introduced the first of what would become regular Sunday worship services in the East Room of the White House. The ministers who presided over these services, which were attended by conservative Christian politicians and corporate leaders alike, were hand-picked by Graham to ensure that their politics aligned with his and Nixon’s—that is, that they preached a Jesus who favored Small Government, traditional family values, and whatever other Republican causes came to the fore.
Page 99 of Republican Jesus nicely captures the way that a key figure in the emergence of the American Christian Right, Rev. Billy Graham, used anti-Communist fear-mongering as a tactic to gain support for right-wing politics. It highlights how he contributed to the construction of conservative Christianity and capitalism as God’s antidotes to “pagan stateism”—a boogeyman created to conflate liberal Christians and supporters of the New Deal with communism, fascism, and Nazism abroad. This promotion of Small Government, free market capitalism as the proper and inevitable political expression of Christianity receives critical attention throughout the book. Graham, his allies, and his son Franklin also appear as major influencers in the shaping of right-wing Christian politics throughout the book.

This page also notes that Graham employed a tendentious interpretation of Jesus to bolster his politics, but it does not indicate that much of the book (particularly the second half) is devoted to debunking the Right’s version of Jesus—“Republican Jesus”—on the basis of biblical and ancient historical evidence. Whereas the first half of the book explains who the Republican Jesus is and where he came from (that is, his origins as an interpretive paradigm in the modern era), the second half of the book takes on the task of showing why right-wing influencers most common interpretations of gospel texts are historically and logically problematic. To do so, these chapters restore their cherry-picked texts to their original literary and historical contexts by closely analyzing them in light of their first-century Jewish and Greco-Roman settings.
Learn more about Republican Jesus at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue