Could fundamentalist Christians help Mideast politics?
Egyptian activists in Cairo on March 27.
April 16th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

Could fundamentalist Christians help Mideast politics?

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - As protesters battle repressive regimes in the Middle East, some commentators fear that the collapse of these regimes could pave the way for radical Islamic groups to take power.

But anyone who believes that democracy and religious fundamentalism cannot co-exist has not been paying attention to how fundamentalist Christians have strengthened American democracy, Jonathan Zimmerman, a history professor at New York University says in a provocative recent  Christian Science Monitor article.

Zimmerman writes that Americans don’t have to look at Muslim countries like Turkey to see how fervent religious parties can be peacefully integrated into a democracy:

We need only look in the mirror. Over the past four decades, fundamentalist Christians have surged into United States politics. And, in the process, they have enriched - not constricted - our democracy.

Zimmerman says the Christian Right employed virtues normally associated with liberals - reason, tolerance and mutual respect - when they decided to enter the political arena about 40 years ago.  (Many scholars would say that true fundamentalists make up a small subset of the Christian Right, but Zimmerman uses the terms interchangeably.)

Zimmerman, author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory,” writes:

I can hear you scoffing. These are the same people who want to ban abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research. What’s liberal about that?

Zimmerman says fundamentalist Christians are tolerant when it comes to tactics. They avoid heavy-handed religious appeals, believing those turn off ordinary people. They mix their religious claims with appeals to reason.

He cites a book called “The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right” to back up his point. Jon Shields, the book’s author, spent years examining anti-abortion activists at rallies and discovered they didn’t rely on explicitly Christian appeals  to argue their causes, emphasizing reason instead, Zimmerman says.

So anti-pornography organizers indict the industry’s degradation of women; opponents of gay marriage say it harms children; campaigners against gambling stress its addictive qualities, and anti-abortion activists argue that the procedure harms mothers as well as the unborn.

Zimmerman says there are Christian Right groups like Operation Rescue, which blocked abortion clinics around the country, that were explicitly religious. But he says they “alienated most members of the Christian Right.”

And what does this have to do with the uprisings in the Middle East? Zimmerman asks:

Will conservative Islamic parties like the Muslim Brotherhood follow the example of our own right-wing Christians, accommodating democratic practice in order to press their case? Or will they resort to violence and terrorism?

He ends by saying:

Let’s lay to rest the unfair caricature of the Christian Right, which has generally played by the rules of democracy. And let’s hope that the Middle East’s own religious conservatives will do the same.

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Abortion • Christianity • Culture wars • Egypt • Fundamentalism • Iran • Islam • Middle East

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soundoff (449 Responses)
  1. jbuck1970

    This is as bizarre an article as I have ever read. I am a Christian and the Christian Right is intolerant and judgmental. They believe they can save a nation by changing its laws without any of the personal accountability that Jesus taught. They tell people like me that I can't be a Christian and be a Democrat. They exclude anyone that does not fall into their view of what is "acceptable". They mislead their congregants when it comes to political views no different that any other political organization. The only thing they have brought to politics in the US is a more polarizing and intolerant point of view with nothing Christian in their actions...

    April 16, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • mattand

      Addendum to my post: I'm not saying jbuck1970 is stupid. I'm talking about Zimmerman's article. I kind of screwed up the syntax there. Sorry.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  2. Jon O

    The majority of the Christian Right in America can't even represent Christ, let's not give them any more responsibility until they get his message right.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  3. The Dude

    Want to help the middle east? Help them get rid of Religion. How? We carpet Bomb them with secular books from their own culture.

    Christians need to STFU. They are just as stupiud as them Muslims. Death to Religion!

    April 16, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Steve (the real one)

      It appears you not understand the 1st amendment! It does not just apply to atheists! We will not shut up. We pay taxes, we vote, we are citizens like you! You just don't like the message. Your right to hate it, our right to espouse it!

      April 16, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • The Dude

      Churches Pay Taxes? Really? I wish they did we wouldn't be in the financial mess we are in now. Tax the bastages!

      April 16, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      The Dude
      Churches Pay Taxes? Really? I wish they did we wouldn't be in the financial mess we are in now. Tax the bastages!
      Context is key my friend . In your earlier post you said CHRISTIANS need to... The context is CHRISTIANS. I am one and yes I pay taxes! I said nothing about churches paying taxes!

      April 16, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  4. Solon

    The professor needs to go back to school. There was not a "surge" of Christians in politics 40 years ago. This nation was founded by Christians–the majority all had a fundamental belief in God, Christ, and morality. They were ALL fundamentalists up until about 40 years ago. No intelligent person would swallow your revisionist history.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • Jon O

      Says someone who is leaving out the fact that the majority of our Founding Fathers were Deist.

      April 16, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  5. Chris

    1. Christian fundamentalists are opposed to theocracy, although it is hard to tell sometimes. Muslim fundamentalists believe theocracy is the only valid form of government.
    2. Christian fundamentalists, at least the ones that I know, would never resort to terrorist, never mind that wack-job in the Lutheran Church in Kansas a few years back.
    3. The broad base of evangelicals and conservative Muslims disagree with their fundamentalists in many ways.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  6. adamB

    yea send more religious idiots over to the middle east. sounds like a great idea

    April 16, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  7. David

    The fundamentalist evangelical endgame is theocracy not democracy. All to prepare the US and the world for their prime vision of the second coming and the end of days. That and the creationist view that many of them adhere to actually pose a threat to national security. They chose to corrupt science, physics and history in order to justify the inerrancy of the Bible. The US is woefully behind in these disciplines compared to the rest of the world, as it is, so we don't need any further dumbing down, ie, losing our edge in high tech that we need to handle the "here and now", rather than the "what if".

    April 16, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  8. Dan

    If they're radical about Islam, they will just be radical about Christianity. The Bible can easily be used to justify further violence. Just look at Nigeria. Right now, they're burning witches because The Bible says so.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • Ben

      You have no idea what you're talking about. Try actually learning what Christianity is before you make stupid statements like that and embarrass yourself on the internet

      April 16, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Dan

      Hey Ben, I've done my research. In The Bible, God clearly condones genocide, slavery, capital punishment for menial crimes (like disobeying your parents), and the list goes on. Fortunately, western society has evolved and we conveniently ignore such passages in The Bible (and there are a lot of them). Keep in mind that many churches tell you what to read in The Bible; this way, you don't run into the passages they don't want you to read.

      April 16, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Hey Ben, I've done my research. In The Bible, God clearly condones genocide, slavery, capital punishment for menial crimes (like disobeying your parents), and the list goes on. Fortunately, western society has evolved and we conveniently ignore such passages in The Bible (and there are a lot of them). Keep in mind that many churches tell you what to read in The Bible; this way, you don't run into the passages they don't want you to read.
      Hate to disagree with you Dan on your research but if you really researched you would have known the law (in which you refer) predates Christianity. We do not live under the law but of grace. Why is it unbelievers fail to understand that? Why is it few of you quote ANYTHING from the New Testament?

      April 17, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  9. SconnieGuz

    Yeah the people muslims love to hate and slaughter will do a lot of good in the middle east....ok. I think it's best to keep the wacko islamic nutjobs on their side of the world and the fundamentalist wacko christians on their side.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  10. nobody


    April 16, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  11. Sam

    Just because somebody writes an article on CNN it does not mean it is true. Fundamental Christians has done the most damage to American democracy and its reputation around the world and to Christianity itself also. The same ting fundamental Muslims had done to Islam.

    April 16, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  12. james

    Could the Christian right find the mideast on map?

    April 16, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • jbuck1970

      sure they could.... isn't it between Ohio and Pennsylvania... 🙂

      April 16, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Not only can we point it out on a map but some of us (me) was actually stationed over there three times! You been?

      April 16, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  13. Rojas

    The extremely zealous fundamentalists will never, ever tolerate democracy, or any system that creates even the theoretical possibility that anybody except for them will hold any power whatsoever.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  14. Paul Parsons

    USA should be run on Christian principals.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • HotAirAce

      The USA, and all countries, should be run on *universal* principles. Christian principles do not equal universal principles. As you remove references to imaginary beings, christian principles move closer to universal principles.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • ???

      I agree lets make wearing clothing of two different types of cloth punishable by death.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      I agree lets make wearing clothing of two different types of cloth punishable by death.
      Let me help you a little. What you are referring to the law (the Old testament). That was given and practiced before Christianity. So no it is not Christian! The law was given to the Hebrews! Why is it atheists almost never quote from the New Testament? Big difference between the age of grace and the age of law!

      April 16, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  15. Chris

    Atheist regimes have destroyed democracy around the world and have trampled the rights of its citizens. We should appreciate what we have in North America.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • Paul Parsons

      100% sir 🙂

      April 16, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Dan

      Keep in mind that atheist regimes were not motivated by religions or non-religious beliefs. Also, many of today's safest and wealthiest countries have a majority atheist population (The US is not one of them, safe that is).

      April 16, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Mikky_H

      Which 'Atheist Regimes' would you be referring to?

      April 16, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Dexter Skagway

      Yes, do name the democracies that have been destroyed by atheist regimes.

      April 18, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  16. SadieSadie

    Blah blah blah. Just because as a Christian I don't believe in the same things as liberal atheists doesn't mean I am undemocratic....in fact the liberals need for me to vote and think the way they do makes them undemocratic. Get over yourselves and stop being children having a hissy fit and name calling just because you don't get your way. I voice my opinion through vote just like you do.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • David

      It's probably because you are not an evangelical, fundamentalist, theocratic creationist "crank". No one should challenge your faith as Christian. But, the extreme edge of the religion challenges the "thinking process" in favor of the "belief process".

      April 16, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  17. BobR

    Jose Sanchez above is 100 percent correct.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  18. JohnR

    While I appreciate that the Christian Right has been waging its campaigns via ballots rather than bullets, I fail to see how they have "strengthened" democracy.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • Tim

      Ballots not bullets = democracy. When any group gets together and uses the vote to get their way then you have democracy in action. Now I would take issue with any group that turns to violence to sway people's opinions, for that is not democracy. The price of democracy is living and existing with people we disagree with. This is a price I am willing to pay.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Ron

      The Christian right HAS used violence in the U.S. and, of course, justified it. Personally, I think the Christian right will up the violence in the U.S. because in their minds, like the fundamentals in Islam, they're right and everyone should follow or be made to follow their beliefs. Using ballots vs. bullets may be less violent, but the intent is all the same. The U.S. is not a Democracy but rather a Republic, where our laws are what we base our freedoms on, not religion.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Jose Sanchez

      You can kill abortion clinic doctors and bomb abortion clinics via ballots? Huh, who knew.

      April 16, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  19. Reality

    As with most Islam-based upheavals, the Sunnis and Shiites will continue their hatred for each other ending in more bloody civil wars. As usual, the Christians will be the collateral damage.

    April 16, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • Reed

      Yeah and Americans will continue their exploitations of other nations and bomb cities in countries that don't have "Weaposn of Mass Destruction" slaughtering millions of innocent children, women and men like they did in Iran and Afghanistan and now in Libya. Honestly, who are you to talk about Shiites and Sunnis? The conflicts between these two subdivisions are minuscule like subdivisions in Christianity (Protestants and Catholics), but CNN being the Zionist network enjoys creating an imaginary conflict on this to distract the small-brained Americans from thinking about why America is in the Middle East in the first place. Remember YOU have the power to change your country, but you first have to get educated from a different source from their Zionist Education.

      April 16, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  20. Jose Sanchez

    Are you kidding me, fundamentalist Christians have strengthened our democracy? They're doing everything they can to turn America into a theocracy! They use their power to strip power and rights from others. There is no force in America as anti-democracy as the fundamentalist Christians.

    April 16, 2011 at 6:36 am |
    • David

      You're absolutely right.

      We seem to forget that this country started because of one undeniable fact: fundamentalists are incapable of tolerance. That's why they're called FUNDAMENTALISTS!

      April 16, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Ron

      I completely agree.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Monson

      I think the main reason Fundamentalists are disliked, is because they have lost sight of the "fun" in Fundamentalist. They're just too serious and need to lighten up and have some "fun." Maybe then it could help the Middle East.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
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