Alisa Harris’ new book, Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics, is but the most recent of a growing number of books that take a close look at Evangelicals and Evangelicalism.
Some of these books are written by Christians, who for varied reasons have left the Evangelical flock with which they formerly identified. Others are written by individuals who went underground, so to speak, in order to get an outsider’s inside look at the Evangelical phenomena.
I have read several of these, all of which I found very interesting. Raised Right is no exception. It is well written, a quick and easy read.
Harris is a graduate of Hillsdale College, a private college in Michigan with a reputation for quality academics and a conservative worldview. She is a journalist who has written for several newspapers and magazines, including the conservative news magazine, World.
Harris was raised in an Evangelical Christian home where the line between Christian faith and conservative politics was not always clear. Acceptance of Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior meant commitment to free America from all forms of government regulation.
Biblical verses like 1 Peter 3:15 and Luke 4:18 were interpreted in such a way as to blend the gospel of salvation by grace by faith in Jesus Christ with the hope of freeing Americans from the “shackles” of government, and redeeming the world for Christ through political means.
Among the articles of faith Harris learned growing up was the idea that the Bible endorsed capitalism, a socio-economic class structure, the concept of Manifest Destiny in American history, and Western imperialism. Patriotism was as much the topic of sermons in her home church as the gospel. Sermons might end with the benediction, “God bless America,” followed by the congregation singing “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”
Going off to Hillsdale College, a school that should have been “safe” for a godly young woman, is what began Harris questioning much of what she grew up believing was biblical teaching–girls were supposed to remain at home, under the protection and authority of their fathers until married. After marriage, they were supposed to have babies and raise godly children to carry on the struggle to save America, and through it, the world.
Education was dangerous, especially for girls. Too much thinking and questioning would lead to her becoming a “liberal.” Indeed, as she began distinguishing between reality and myth, between biblical Christianity and American civil religion, she came under criticism by many in her home congregation.
Alisa Harris’ story is not as unusual as some may think. The Evangelicalism associated with Reaganomics and an increasingly aggressive foreign policy was born in reaction to the leftward swing of the sixties, characterized by the anti-war and civilrights struggles. Like the liberalism it opposed, the reactionary conservatism was based on idealism. Both were ultimately secular gospels imbued with the conviction that a flawed world can be transformed into a utopia
through human effort. Both failed, as both were destined to, and both will be resurrected again and again, only to fail again and again.
Harris began to see the contradictions, even hypocrisy, in those who staunchly defended the sanctity of life, but often showed little or no mercy or grace for the victims of abortion rights. She began to question the ethics of those who
like to quote Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, but live as Social Darwinists.
Returning to campus after a day of shoving Republican campaign literature into rural mail boxes, Harris found herself recalling a line from one of her political heroes, the conservative journalist and author, Peggy Noonan. Reflecting on what she learned about politics during the Reagan years, Noonan wrote: “Beware the politically obsessed. They are often bright and interesting, but
they have something missing in their natures; there is a hole, an empty place,
and they use politics to fill it up. It leaves them somehow misshapen.”
Political ideologies are always very intoxicating. The noble, commendable emotion called patriotism is always in danger of becoming morphed into idolatry. Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics
is Alisa Harris’ story of how she learned to discern the voices whispering in
her ear. My hope is that many, especially those youth who come out of a similar background, will read and seriously contemplate this book.
Until next time, be good to all God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.