Raised Right: Spiritual Warfare Goes Political

Carman

Cover of Carman

Harris begins chapter two of Raised Right with a description of a music video made by Christian pop artist Carman.  As I read her description, I found them eerily familiar, but could not place them until she mentioned the artist’s name.  I spent my teen years listening to and idolizing[1] Carman and I’m sure I saw the video in question.

Harris uses the video to introduce the importance of “spiritual warfare” that was ingrained into her when she was a youth.  She speaks of singing a familiar Sunday school song (“I’m in the Lord’s army”) and learning the importance of fighting Satan.  She describes one event she witnessed:

While Pastor John was speaking, one of my parents’ friends, Greg, came forward and lifted his hands to ask for prayer.  Pastor John reached out his hand and shouted, “I bind you, Satan, in the name of Jesus Christ!”  The moment he said “Jesus Christ,” Greg staggered as if shot through the heart and then fell flat on his back, lying spread-eagled on the floor with a smile on his face.”

While I got involved in a Full Gospel[2] congregation while in college, I was raised in an American Baptist.  My church — and as I understand it, Baptist in general — don’t really believe that “miraculous gifts” such as speaking in tongues, prophecies, or instantaneous healing.  They also tend not to believe in or expect to encounter demons in a direct manner as might be described in This Present Darkness or as recounted by pentecostal/charismatic believers.  So while I too sang “I’m in the Lord’s army,” learned to recite all the parts of the “armor of God,” and was inundated in the same spiritual warfare terminology, I suspect that I took these things things far more metaphorically than Harris and her Sunday school classmates.

Of course, this left myself and my classmates trying to understand the metaphor.  We had an enemy we could not confront directly.  We had no demons to cast out.  So we were left wondering what “I’m in the Lord’s army” really meant beyond being a silly song.  We wondered what it really meant to put on the full armor of God.  Sure, knew we were supposed to invite friends to Sunday school and church.  We knew we were supposed to read the Bible, pray, and be good.  But for what?  Surely these things were never meant to be an ends in themselves[3].

So in many ways, I think I was more primed for the transition that Harris describes as she continues telling her story:

Though I wouldn’t have put it in these words at the time, I came to believe that our battle was not against invisible demons but against evil people who brought the fight into the real world.  They were the spiritual enemy clothed in flesh:  abortionists, feminists, secularists, humanists, the people conspiring to destroy God’s witness by corrupting America.  Finally I had an enemy I could see and point out to others, one that didn’t require a mysterious intuition or the spiritual gift of discernment to identify.

I can understand that, wholeheartedly.  While Harris had an unseen enemy, I had no enemy.  So latching onto a concrete enemy was a gift from God Himself.  Furthermore, this new, tangible enemy offered a tangible strategy for fighting back:  politics.

Suddenly, “fighting the enemy” meant speaking out against abortion, homosexuality, and premarital sex.  It meant voting for the “holy” candidates so that they could defeat the “evil” ones and stop their “evil” plans[4].  Suddenly, there was a way to become a righteous crusader with a clear path.

Ironically, while this gave me a tangible “enemy,” what it did to my perceptions of the “enemy” was almost the exact opposite.  Adulterers, fornicators, homosexuals, and all those other people ceased to become people and became caricatures in my mind.  My “tangible enemy” turned into smoke and mirrors again.  I find myself wondering if Harris intended this chapter to explain the need to reconnect with “flesh and blood” people discussed in the previous one.

Related Posts

I have created a separate page to track all the blog posts I’ve made regarding this book.  If this post interests you, I would encourage you to go check out the other posts as well.

Notes

[1]  Well, insofar as a good little Baptist is allowed to idolize anyone or anything.

[2]  “Full Gospel” is the preferred term used certain charismatic/pentecostal churches.

[3]  I strongly believe that even “being good” for the sake of “being good” is meaningless and pointless.  “Being good” is about doing something for others because it has a positive impact on their lives.  It’s about building a better world.  This is not something that I feel is always properly communicated to young Christians, nor do I feel it is emphasized enough.

As a former Sunday school teacher, I’d also like to suggest that this is in part that the much of the teaching materials for chidren and teen Sunday school classes are abysmal.  They do not treat the students like intelligent people who need to learn what it truly means to live a life that expresses the fruit of the Spirit and are ready to do exactly that.  If you are a Sunday school teacher, I would encourage you to re-evaluate your curriculum and honestly ask yourself if it insults, patronizes, and holds back your students.

[4]  I’m engaging in a certain amount of hyperbole here.  However, don’t overestimate just how much.


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