Review: Not every Christian in Oklahoma is Republican (but it’s close)

Actor in "American Heretics" 

“American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel” shares many of its component parts—talking-head interviews, archival footage, establishing shots, eye-candy graphics—with other socially progressive documentaries. It makes passionate arguments. It offers a ray of hope. And it evokes the sense that those most desperately in need of seeing it will never cross its path.

Does that mean you don’t make the film? Or disseminate the message? Of course not. The converted—in this case, enlightened Christians—need preaching at too, especially when the message is so encouraging: Not every Christian church in the South and Southwest of the United States has made itself subservient to an administration devoted to detention camps for migrants, the concentration of wealth and the shredding of a social safety net. Not every alleged follower of Jesus has tried to torture his teachings into the opposite of what he taught. Not every religious establishment in Oklahoma—the setting of the film—is an adjunct of the Republican Party.

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But it’s close. And one does wish the film were not quite so polite about the reasons why.

The words “fundamentalist” and “racist” are never uttered, and yet in the film’s efforts to define what is amiss at the intersection of religion and politics right now, those are precisely the words that could be used. As we are told, Southern Baptists are “Southern” because they needed to justify slavery. The South went Republican because a Democratic president signed the Civil Rights Act. And unblinking allegiance to the word and not the spirit of the Gospels—“Your belief is more important than what you actually do,” as one interviewee puts it—is what for the most part characterizes American evangelical Christianity.

The message of the film is how and why the United States got where it is, with politicians who talk family values while remaining silent about incarcerated children, xenophobic immigration policies and a racist White House.

Directed by Jeanine and Catherine Butler, “American Heretics”—something of an ironic title, to be sure—has at its center the Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City, which is alternately referred to as the buckle or heart or belly of the Bible Belt. Its founding minister, the author and activist Robin Meyers, came back to his native Oklahoma 32 years ago with the plans of establishing “a liberal Protestant church” in one of the reddest states in the nation. One of the first people from whom he sought support objected to his use of “liberal”—which, as he no doubt patiently explained to her, meant “open-minded,” “tolerant” and “generous.” What word would you prefer, he asked her? “Conservative,” she said. As he tells the camera, “Welcome to Oklahoma.”

The principal figures in “American Heretics” include Meyers, his associate minister, Lori Walke, and her husband, state legislator Collin Walke, all champions of immigrants’ rights, L.G.B.T.Q. rights and the rights of the poor, in a state that seems determined to eradicate them all. An ally at Tulsa’s All Souls Unitarian Church is Carlton Pearson, a once-prominent media evangelist who had been mentored by Oral Roberts, developed a huge TV following and then was actually declared a heretic by the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops for his belief in universal reconciliation and his declaration that Hell did not exist.

Pearson is a refreshingly frank observer of the conservative religious scene, as is Bernard Brandon Scott, whose contrarian views (for Oklahoma) belie his decades-long tenure at the University of Tulsa’s Phillips Theological Seminary. His students come out of a culture, he says, that is “unthinking about its Christianity,” and he no doubt gives them plenty to think about. In one archival clip meant to capture the flavor of old-time Southwest religion, the late W.A. Criswell, onetime president of the Southern Baptist Convention, can be seen declaring, “There are no historical errors in the Bible.” This can be counterposed with the historicist Scott’s conclusion that the canonical New Testament “is a fourth-century creation masquerading as a first-century eyewitness report.” Meyers’ response to Scott is that if you are so certain about the facts, “then you need no faith.”

The plotline, such as it is, is about like-minded liberal Christians joining forces in a ruthlessly Republican landscape where people talk more religion than they practice. The message of the film is how and why the United States got where it is, with politicians who talk family values while remaining silent about incarcerated children, xenophobic immigration policies and a racist White House. As a postscript tells the viewer, no one in the Oklahoma evangelical community would talk to the filmmakers (they either declined or declined to respond), so the viewer will have to make do with those open-minded, tolerant and generous people who do appear in the film—and inspire hope that in Oklahoma, at least, not every avowed Christian has either ignored their savior’s teachings or made their religion conform to their biases.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
1 month 1 week ago

The South went Republican much later(1990's) than the Civil Rights bill(1964). So almost 30 years after the Civil Rights bill the South was still heavily Democrat. It went Republican primarily in response to abortion as the Democrats pushed abortion and to a Republican foreign/economic policy that fought socialism. The Democratic Party is incompatible with Christianity . Maybe the author should read "Can a Catholic be a Democrat?" by David Carlin. http://bit.ly/30wD3Ie

Lisa M
1 month 1 week ago

J Cosgrove- I read your link and agree wholeheartedly. The problem is it is incomplete. Catholics cannot leave the Democratic Party and join the Republican Party, because the policies are completely counter to Catholic teachings as well. Neither party represents our faith, not even close. Sadly, Catholics either continue to vote democratic, or embrace another party that equally offends our Catholic sense of justice and our calling for the consideration of the humanity of all of Christ's people.

J Cosgrove
1 month 1 week ago

Well, I will differ. While no political party is close to perfect, I find no official policy of the Republicans contrary to Catholicism. If you want to have a polite discussion I am willing to do so. It would be a first for this site.

Judith Jordan
1 month 1 week ago

J Cosgrove---
I recommend you check out the Sermon on the Mount. Republicans consistently vote against programs that reflect the Sermon. Please keep in mind that the charities, including Catholic Charities, have testified to Congress that they do not have the resources to meet the overwhelming needs. Unlike the Republicans, the Dems consistently vote for these programs. That is harmonious with Catholicism and with a pro-life ethic.

J Cosgrove
1 month 1 week ago

I am aware of the Sermon on the Mount. It is quite long and covers a lot of things. So be specific in your criticisms. For example, I suggest you document spending patterns in Congress over the years. I can point to a lot of Democratic policies that have hurt the poor. One of them is spending that creates dependence. The Democrats have controlled the big cities for nearly 60 years and I see no improvement but just the opposite.

Judith Jordan
1 month 1 week ago

J Cosgrove--
You are not addressing the issue presented to you. Charities cannot take care of the overwhelming needs and the government needs to do more. All you do is talk about programs in the city. There are all kinds of suggestions as to how to improve those programs, but the Republicans are not interested. Hungry children need to be fed and to vote against that is inhumane and violates Christianity and Judaism.

We have all kinds of programs and assistance that favors the wealthy and cooperations. Why do you not find them wasteful? Reps only find waste when it comes t the poor.

Ray Dubuque
1 month 1 week ago

You are so right, Judith and Lisa, as I document fully at my http://ThankGodforLiberalDemocrats.org.
If Cosgrove is really interested, he or she will find details by the ton there!

Lisa M
1 month 1 week ago

The teachings of the Catholic Church concerning our obligations to help our neighbours is clear. The republican party's position vis a vie migration and the environment, as examples, are counter to Church teachings.

J Cosgrove
1 month 1 week ago

What teachings of the Catholic Church? Be specific. The Church has a horrendous history on social policy. For over a 1000 years its social policy oppressed all but a few of the people. What makes you sure it’s any better today? There was an article here recently prominently displayed for a couple weeks which said relatively recent papal encyclicals on social policy were a disaster. What makes you think the current ones are any better? The answer is they are not. The Church should stay out of politics. It has no credibility or special insight.

J Cosgrove
1 month 1 week ago

Then we can examine specific policies of Republicans and Democrats. The policies of the Democratic Party are lauded here as being truly pro life. But these lauded policies have destroyed the family structure of a large part of the population and has led to incredibly dysfunctional behavior. So tell me how is that helping your neighbor? The hypocrisy and cynicism that support these policies is amazing. As Dorothy Day said “I didn’t make matters better I made it worse.”

Lisa M
1 month 1 week ago

J- I'm not in the democratic camp, that is my point. As a Catholic, I can be in neither, as both offend my faith and my sense of decency.

Ray Dubuque
1 month 1 week ago

Lisa, you need to discover http://JesusWouldBeFurious.Org

Ray Dubuque
1 month 1 week ago

Lisa, you need to discover http://JesusWouldBeFurious.Org

Ray Dubuque
1 month 1 week ago

Lisa, you need to discover http://JesusWouldBeFurious.Org

Lisa M
1 month 1 week ago

The Church isn't in politics. The Church is teaching the Catholic faith. If there are politics that are counter to that, why blame the Church? Do you ask the Church to stay out of politics when it affirms life?

J Cosgrove
1 month 1 week ago

As I said I find little in the official positions of the Republicans that are contrary to my faith. So I don’t have your problem. But I believe you are a Canadian so it is not a real issue for you.

J Cosgrove
1 month 1 week ago

As far as Church action, I would say that in more than half the masses in the last 30 years there has been a special petition against abortion. This is directed to individuals for their spiritual betterment in order to obtain salvation. Similar entreaties have been made to help the poor. These are not political activities. Whether they lead to political activities by parishioners is secondary. They are meant to save the souls of those who hear these petitions whether they be the actual people at Mass or those who witness their actions.

Lisa M
1 month 1 week ago

J- I agree 100 % with what you said about these not being political activities. If however, countries have policies that are counter, people have a right to engage politically to fight these wrongs. So too do Church leaders, both within the Church, and as spokesmen for the Church.

Lisa M
1 month 1 week ago

Yes I am Canadian, but I am speaking in terms of left and right, so it is an issue for all countries with similar left/right political parties. That's why I do not speak of your politicians as individuals, but policies, which of course are very similar throughout Canada and Europe, concerning these hot topics.

J Cosgrove
1 month 1 week ago

But left vs right should never be an issue in the Church. But politics has become the new religion for many. But in terms of politics what is “right?” The original meaning does not exist anymore. The real issues in politics is freedom vs equality. Both sound attractive but one is how God made us and the other, equality, is anathema to human nature or how God made us. But equality has many meanings and some meanings are definitely in God’s design but not the political ones.

Lisa M
1 month 1 week ago

Yes, and yes, I agree. But it is not the Church that is left or right, it is people within the Church that define themselves as one or the other, or neither. That doesn't make the Church one or the other. The Church is very consistent in her moral and social teachings. It is politics that is split on these issues, so people split the Church along party lines. That's not the fault of the Church, but rather of our political climate over however many decades.

Lisa M
1 month 1 week ago

J- Any and all teachings. That is the whole point of having a Pope and the Magisterium. We get to follow Church teachings and know there will be no error in faith and morals. If we accept this as true, we don't pick and choose which ones we like and which ones we don't. We accept all teachings as truth, and work our way through those that do not come naturally to us. Sometimes that requires a lot of reflection. If we don't accept the teachings, that's up to the individual, but they cannot then claim they are following Church teachings. They can't have it both ways.

J Cosgrove
1 month 1 week ago

On faith and morals. Not on political or social policy. Most encyclicals are on these later things and have no special obligation for us to believe they are handed down by God. As I said even the Jesuits here have criticized past encyclicals and only a couple weeks ago.

Lisa M
1 month 1 week ago

J- Yes on faith and morals. Since when are social teachings separate from moral teachings? They are a subset.

J Cosgrove
1 month 1 week ago

Social teachings are how individuals are grouped and are to behave in these groups. Christ said little about this. He even said abandon your family if it gets in the way of His message. His message is directed at individuals. Faith and morals are prescriptions for individual behavior not group behavior. They are very different and not subsets of each other. Now moral behavior will lead to successful group activity if followed not the other way around.

Lisa M
1 month 1 week ago

J- I see social teachings on how we, as individuals are supposed to respond towards others, whereas strictly moral issues would be how individuals respond to self. Not sure if I said that well!

J Cosgrove
1 month 1 week ago

Individual behavior most certainly includes how we treat others. Just read the 10 commandments. It includes a lot about interaction with others. As an example, Dale Carnegie in "How to Win Friends and Influence People" said everyone wants to be important and we should treat them as such. He also said that everyone is better than you as something. When interacting with others try to find out what they think will make them important and what they are better than you at. Sorry have to work. Thank you for the responses.

Judith Jordan
1 month 1 week ago

Lisa M--
I agree with you.

Judith Jordan
1 month 1 week ago

J Cosgrove--
I don’t know of any credible historian or political scientist who makes your claim as to why the South turned Republican. Roe vs. Wade was decided in 1973. The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 and Strom Thurmond, one of the worse racists in the Senate, left the Dems and became a Republican in 1964. Over time, other southern senators and representatives followed. Nixon’s election and his southern strategy took place before Roe.

Republicans starting winning the south as early as November 1964 when they carried 5 deep south states. This was a reaction to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in July. In 1968 the Dems did not win any southern states which were divided between Nixon and George Wallace. In 1972, Nixon carried the entire south. This Republican winning of the South continued up to and including the 2016 election, except for 1976, when Jimmy Carter, a southern, won the South, but lost all the South in 1980 to Reagan. Since Carter was pro-choice and many southern states voted for him, how could abortion be the issue that turned the South Republican. Reagan swept the South in 1980 and 1984. As governor of CA, he had signed a liberalized abortion law in 1967 which led many other states to loosen their abortion laws. Like Carter, Clinton, as a southern won back some southern states even though he was pro-choice.

There may have still been many people registered as Dems in the South, but they were voting Republican. The pattern of voting and the candidates show that race was, and still is, a major motivation among many Republican voters. The Republicans used a combination of dog whistle politics as well as “subtle” racism. It is difficult to understand how you missed all of that since you seem to have a strong, but erroneous, view about it.

You claim, “The Democratic Party is incompatible with Christianity.” I know numerous Dems who are very active in their churches and it is from their religion that they develop their liberal views and try to follow the Gospel of Christ. I am sure you are aware many liberals view voting for Trump as a total conflict with Christianity.

J Cosgrove
1 month 1 week ago

As usual you have it wrong. I suggest you check the Congressional voting patterns in the Southern States over the years. Not much change till the 1990's. It's easy to document. Oklahoma's congressional vote was Democratic till the mid 1990's, almost 30 years after the Civil Rights laws passed mainly by Republicans.

J Cosgrove
1 month 1 week ago

Congressional seats 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 in 13 Southern states plus Oklahoma. 1970 94 Democrats, 34 Republicans; 1980 93 Democrats, 32 Republicans; 1990 87 Democrats, 46 Republicans; 2000 53 Democrats, 81 Republicans . Kind of hard to claim the change in the 1990's is due to the Civil Rights bill.

Judith Jordan
1 month 1 week ago

J Cosgrove---
I covered the presidential elections, not Congressional, because of your broad statement that the South did not go Republican until later, which I have proven is not true when it comes to presidential elections.

Now you want to discuss Congressional elections. I don't deny it took longer for the local boys to switch parties as it is difficult to do that, but regardless of their party, in the South they tend to vote very conservative. There were all kinds of dog whistles during those years of elections and you just ignore that and try to say it was not a racial issue, but an abortion issue. Yet, even today we have Republican states setting up bizarre demands to make it difficult for minorities to vote.

Racism is alive and well in this country and since the election of Trump, people feel free to come out with their deplorable views and we have seen the increase in violence toward certain groups.

Ray Dubuque
1 month 1 week ago

So, Cosgrove, you imagine that the reason that all those conservative redknecks continued to vote for those Democratic congressmen was that they had become modern LIBERAL Democratic congressmen?
What nonsense! I think it was because they were all STILL conservative old style Democrats.

Judith Jordan
1 month 1 week ago

J Cosgrove---
I am amazed at the way you are so dismissive of anything you disagree with. So, I was discussing PRESIDENTIAL voting and the South going Republican with PRESIDENTIAL elections. I went through every presidential election in my research and you just dismiss it even though the elections turned out as I wrote.
Here are maps of the elections and you can check for yourself the outcomes of the presidential elections in the South.

https://www.270towin.com/historical-presidential-elections/

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/23/upshot/50-years-of-electoral-college-maps-how-the-us-turned-red-and-blue.html

John Rysavy
1 month 1 week ago

Ms. Jordan-I am a Catholic Conservative as a disclaimer. I find Mr. Cosgrove to be one of the most consistent and respectful posters here. He is correct in his posts here. Facts do indeed matter, and the facts are on his side.

Ray Dubuque
1 month 1 week ago

I don't care if "J Cosgrove" is God Almighty; anyone who says "The South went Republican much later (1990's) than the Civil Rights bill (1964)" is no expert on U.S. politics.
I've spent many hours putting together a chart that shows precisely WHEN and WHY Dixie went from voting for Democratic candidates for the Presidency (not to mention all the other offices down the line) to voting for the NEW white-supremacy party, the G.O.P. See the bottom of my http://liberalslikechrist.org/Reasonable/CivilRightsInsights-2.html page.
There are many other very informative insights on the 4 pages of this series of mine.

Mike Fitzpatrick
1 month 1 week ago

The "enlightened Christians," always Democrats, are the people who have the moral standing to judge others and declare themselves the best Christians because they back the government to give to the poor and take such good care of them. They don't game to do anything themselves just push for taking more money from people who have earned it give it to the government and hope that it tricked down through the bureaucracy to help people in need, You are all suck great Christians and should be proud of yourselves and continue to demonize those fake Christian Republicans.

Michael Gerrity
1 month 1 week ago

JC -- while I disagree with everything you say, starting with "the Democratic Party is incompatible with Christianity," in your defense I'd guess that you are not a Russian. This extended "yes it is" - "no it isn't" argument you carry on is not nearly as interesting as you seem to think. You say that a "polite discussion" here would be a first. Either you are new to the site or you are prevaricating. I have noticed that fundamentalists of every stripe have little respect for the truth when it serves their purposes not to. Like those Republicans standing in the immigrant concentration camp yesterday, looking at the ground, looking at the ceiling, looking at each other, just not at the human beings they have caged up. It is disheartening that so many mean-streak Catholics find their way to this site.

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