A friend and colleague, alerted me to an interesting article published in the online site, Baptist News Global, entitled, “The death of Christianity in the U.S.”, written by Miguel De La Torre. The title seemed a bit hyperventilated, but as I began reading his column, it was clear that he had a point. From the first paragraph:
Christianity has died in the hands of Evangelicals. Evangelicalism ceased being a religious faith tradition following Jesus’ teachings concerning justice for the betterment of humanity when it made a Faustian bargain for the sake of political influence. The beauty of the gospel message — of love, of peace and of fraternity — has been murdered by the ambitions of Trumpish flimflammers who have sold their souls for expediency. No greater proof is needed of the death of Christianity than the rush to defend a child molester in order to maintain a majority in the U.S. Senate.
As it turns out, after having read the article, it was apparent that the author and I are on the same page on the distinction between the Christian “Religion” and the Christian faith, which some mistakenly conflate in a superficial way. I had actually been pondering the dichotomy.
One of the facets of my incredulity of the social conservative movement was their having swallowed the nonsense of the “War On Christmas” narrative – hook, line and sinker. The fostering of false persecution complexes strikes many outside the milieu as being trivial and childish paranoia – especially when compared to the real suffering of Christians in diverse places like China, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Someone on Facebook proposed that the Bible supports conservative political narratives. I elected to correct him on this point, informing him that, the Bible does not support any political ideology – conservative, liberal or otherwise. I said if you are looking for texts that do that, you need to consult works of philosophy – on one hand Marx and on the other, Locke.
Jesus, in his climactic interview with Pontius Pilate (Matthew 18:36), was asked by Pilate (Rome’s appointed Governor of Judaea), whether He was a King. Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”
Evangelicals, in large measure, have embraced a version of Christianity that mingles politics with belief. They often are susceptible to calls for altering America’s Constitutional form of government with something that better resembles Theocracy.
Readers of European history, will recall that there was no form of representational government for most of the past two millennium, but instead, monarchs asserted that their authority stemmed from the “Divine Right of Kings”. I once asked a Trump supporter whether he wasn’t concerned about Trump’s rhetoric and behavior signaling a rejection of the separation of powers in favor of an American monarchy. His response was, “but if it is a good monarchy”. I was a bit stunned at the degree to which there existed a sentiment to replace the rule of law with the rule of a questionably “benign tyrant”.
Much of what appeals to Evangelicals about Trump is what they believe is his agreement with them in imposing subjective and arbitrary moral rules on society. When it is all boiled down, it looks uncomfortably like the regime of the Third Reich or Stalin’s iron rule.
These religionists hope for the emergence of a strongman to enforce their social and political dictates. An amazing corollary to this is the Saudi, Iranian and Taliban religious police as well as the roving terrorist gangs of the Islamic State and Boko Haram. In nations that integrate fundamentalist Islam into day to day control of people’s lives, free choices and individual liberty become subordinate – often violently, to the dictated moral codes of the state.
The contradiction that eludes the Christian Right, is that Talibanism is one of the very oppressions they typically point to as an example of suffocating tribalism. They claim to abhor religion as a political movement, but they betray themselves when they embrace Trumpism and his narratives that the free press, when he describes them as the “lying media” are the enemy of the American people.
Remarkable in this environment is the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins’ apologetic on behalf of evangelicals that follow Trump, in the manner of the demonically infected Gadarene swine.
Perkins argued recently that Trump has been given a “mulligan”, despite his indecency, because, Evangelical Christians, says Perkins, “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.” This comports with the sentiment among the alt-Right, that everyone who in any way is not in agreement with them, is “the enemy”.
But Perkins didn’t stop there. When asked by Politico, whether Trump is really the sort of person evangelicals want in the White House? “Doesn’t he do damage to their reputation (or at least the reputation they want to project)?” Perkins answered, “I think the president is providing the leadership we need at this time, in our country and in our culture.” The translation of that is that evangelicals are willing to suspend established standards of dignity and virtue in exchange for political advantage.
Those familiar with the late Christian thinker and philosopher Francis Schaeffer, will sit up and take notice of what his son, Frank has to say in summation regarding the unequal yoking of evangelicals and Trump:
… evangelicals switched from being people who advocated for traditional morality to the chief American defenders of, not only relativistic morality, but all that used to be considered sacred being trash. They’re defending a man who has trashed fidelity in his own life and with the words he speaks nationally. They have trashed truth-telling and have embraced this idea of everything being “fake news” that they disagree with. They have even trashed common decency.
In contradiction to the inheritors of the Moral Majority mantle – Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, James Dobson – and the televangelist con men (and women) like Paula White and Kenneth Copland, Billy Graham’s own granddaughter, Jerushah Armfield told CNN’s Jim Sciutto, that Trump needs to repent of his indecency and illicit sexual behavior.
Another prominent Evangelical that has declared his independence from the prevailing Trumpism within the Southern Baptist denomination, is Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission head Russell Moore. Moore unmistakably referred to Trump, in his book, “Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel”, published during the 2016 election, when he noted that , “The church of Jesus Christ ought to be the last people to fall for hucksters and demagogues. But too often we do.”
It didn’t set well with a lot of the vocal supporters of Trump’s presidency. Last February, over 100 Southern Baptist churches including the Prestonwood Baptist Church in Texas announced they would defund the Convention’s cooperative mission programs, because of Moore’s refusal to swallow the contradictions of Trump’s worldview and mode of behavior.
Notably, Trump worship is out of step with the nation as a whole. A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday found that two-thirds of Americans say Trump is not a good role model for children. Every demographic in the study reflected this — men and women, youth, seniors, black and white, more or less educated — except Republicans. By 72 to 22 percent, they say Trump is a good role model. Even more disturbing is that Republicans also say that Trump shares their values (82 percent) and that Trump “provides the United States with moral leadership” (80 percent).
Christianity as a “Religion”, may be on perilous footing, but Christianity as a faith, is enduring. It is sustained by those quiet, but consistent souls who follow the direction of Jesus, in not making a spectacle of themselves, but giving alms, doing good work and spending time in personal devotion – not publicly as the Pharisees, but in communion with and to please the Lord.
They also don’t trade their faith for temporal political ideology – which is as ephemeral and mutable as fashion fads.