The subtitle of Randall Balmer's new book, Thy Kingdome Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America, clues readers into the gist of his thesis. As used to Al Franken-esque political tomes as we are nowadays, though, Balmer's tone is neither smarmy nor vitriolic. He's like a fellow partygoer warning you against going home with the tramp at the punchbowl. He's been with her, he's been betrayed by her, but he'll always love her.
In fact, Balmer begins with an admission: "I write as a jilted lover." The conceit of a divorce is further fitting, as some of Balmer's friends ostracize him following his criticism of the right (much like mutual friends take sides, post-separation). Balmer honestly wants to make amends with his own religious beliefs, but how can he under the current evangelical associations and policies?
Juxtaposing evangelicals' progressive affiliations from the past two centuries with their current coalition with the religious right and the Republican party, Balmer asserts that only recently have evangelicals truly shelved the teachings of Christ. In particular, the right's stances on the environment, torture, and homosexuality are not in line with the scripture that evangelicals read so literally. Balmer sums it up: "This rhetoric and these policies are a scandal, a reproach to the gospel I honor and to the Jesus I love."
Thy Kingdom Come also addresses the issues of public school vouchers, creationism vs. evolution, and the history of Baptists and evangelicals in the United States. A professor of American religion at Barnard College, Balmer knows his material. He delivers blow after blow to present-day self-proclaimed Baptists who legislate and rule in the name of their religious ancestors.
Although much of this criticism is rewarding for a reader like me (who has not yet stopped celebrating the fall of Tom DeLay), there is no mean-spiritedness in Balmer's voice. He truly hopes that evangelicals will return to the days of their progressive political crusading. Meanwhile, Balmer continues to "love his enemy" (as Jesus did, evidently).