Poor Katherine Harris! She has about the worst case of foot-in-mouth disease ever seen. Some of her verbal miscues are gaffes only in the Michael Kinsley sense of the term: inadvertent statements of the truth. But others are genuine failures of communication.
Her latest comment about the importance of electing “Christians” to public office has annoyed Jews. Well, we should be annoyed, but not because she meant to attack Jews. I’m pretty sure that she really meant was that among the people the rest of us call “Christians,” only the born-agains should be elected.
The people the rest of us call “born-agains” or “fundamentalists” or “the religious right” don’t usually refer to themselves in those terms. Sometimes they call themselves “evangelicals,” but more usually they call themselves simply “Christians.” That’s not to say that they don’t sharply distinguish themselves from mainstream Protestantism; it means that they consider themselves the only true Christians.
There’s a switch here; in Fundie-speak, “Christian” used to mean Protestant; Catholicism was regarded as an essentially pagan phenomenon. It still is, among some of the faithful, but the dominant right wing of the evangelical ministry has now made a tacit political alliance with the religious hard-liners and political conservatives who now dominate the American Catholic hierarchy.
Of course, there are lots of people who regard themselves as born-again Christians, as evengelicals, or as fundamentalists (those being three overlapping but distinct categories) who aren’t silly bigots. But Harris was appealing to the politicized version of evangelical Protestantism, well represented by the current leadership of the Southern Baptist Church, which is now sometimes called “Christianism.”
So Harris wasn’t saying that electing Jews would lead to “legislating sin;” she was saying that electing baptized people who don’t believe that the world was created in seven days will lead to “legislating sin.” Episcopalians, take heed!
FootnoteThe fundamentalist attempt to appropriate the term “Christian” has been highly successful in some domains. If you go looking in the “Christian music” section of a music store or its on-line equivalent, don’t expect to find Gregorian chant or the Bach cantatas. As someone whose favorite composers are Hildegard von Bingen and William Byrd, I have to report with regret that “Christian” music sucks dead dogs. Musically, it’s country-pop plus saccharine. Poetically, Cranmer doesn’t have thing to worry about.