the cause of all the trouble

Andrew Sullivan writes in his usual vein about "Christianism":

Imagine a libertarian Christianity, which urged individuals to give away as much of their property as possible to the poor, to forget about the sex lives of their neighbors and focus on their own, to pray more than politic and to forgive more than to judge. Imagine, in other words, Christianity, and remind yourself how alien Christianism is to it.

And then later:

At one point, Christians will look back on this period, I believe, with horror. The desire to control others' lives and souls through politics is so anathema to the Gospels it will one day have to be exposed and ended. Until then, we just have to keep our spirits up and attend to our own failures as Christians, which, of course, are many.

I think Andrew has finally convinced me. And as I have thought more about this I have finally realized whose fault all this is: Martin Luther King. He could have stayed in his prayer closet instead of politicking; he could have attended to his own failures as a Christian, which of course were many; he could have forgiven white Southerners instead of judging them. But no. He became an "outside agitator," marching into ordinary American communities and telling them that their local laws, and indeed in some cases federal laws, were not to be obeyed — and why? Because they conflicted with the law of God! Notice the arrogance with which he associates his cause with God Himself. He even asserts that "human progress" only happens when "men [are] willing to be co-workers with God." His whole vision for America is Christian and Biblical through and through: in his most famous speech he simply identifies the American situation with that of the Biblical Israel: "I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; 'and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.'" Talk about "the desire to control other people's lives and souls"!

It's hard to imagine a vision for this country that's farther from a "libertarian Christianity" that minds its own very private business and politely declines to have anything to say about the public realm. So if you too are convinced by Andrew's denunciations of "Christianism," it's past time to point your critique at the source of all this trouble: Martin Luther King, more than anyone else, is responsible for bringing an explicitly Christian and Biblical critique of America into the mainstream of modern politics.

(And if you don't happen to be interested in denouncing Dr. King, then maybe your problem is not with anyone and everyone who brings Christian convictions into the public sphere, but rather with some particular convictions that some Christians emphasize. After all, Dr. King's faith commitments were at least as encompassing in their scope, as universal in their claims, as publicly political as Rick Perry's — and make no mistake, it was that faith that drove and anchored Dr. King, and Fannie Lou Hamer, and John Perkins, and many of the other heroes of the Civil Rights movement. So maybe, just maybe, it's not an utterly privatized and "libertarian" Christianity that we need but rather one that reads the Bible better. But if that's true then the term "Christianism" is vacuous and misleading, and Andrew needs to step back and start over.)