American Evangelical Worship of White Jesus

Great article in HuffPo about white evangelicals’ worship of White Jesus.

“White Jesus is a work of fiction, a tool that Christians have historically used to seize political power and justify the logic of colonialism and imperialism. Donald Trump is a man made in His very image…

“White Jesus arrived in America when white people did. The early colonizers needed to justify the brutality of Manifest Destiny ― massive land theft, genocide and enslavement. From the earliest days of U.S. colonization, it was vital that their God agree with their hostile takeover of the continent, and their desire to dominate, suppress and eliminate anyone who resisted. Jesus was the key to their success, but not just any Jesus. They needed permission and anointing from White Jesus…

“White Jesus is not a person, but a tool, a tool that has been used by the religious and secular white alike to justify voting for Trump.

“We must consider how one can use the name Jesus ― a marginalized Palestinian who espoused non-violence, love, inclusion and a preferential option for the poor ― to endorse a president whose violence, bigotry and love of money is unprecedented.

People vote with their values, and when “Christian values” bring us to Donald Trump, we can tell that we have lost the real meaning of Christ along the way. But there’s not a problem with Scripture or with Jesus; the problem lies with a community that has so lost the image of God in itself that it worships the idol of a White Jesus who endorses every political leader that they back…

“The irony should have struck Christians at the start, but we missed it. Jesus, coming to Earth in the form of a marginalized human, constantly defined being “great” as becoming the least, the most vulnerable, the weakest and the most gentle. Donald Trump looks nothing like the Jesus of the Bible; however, he is the spitting image of White Jesus. Coming in the name of country, of racial superiority, of patriotism, of acquisition of wealth, of garnering and maintaining power through violence. Donald Trump and White Jesus are one and the same…

“Much like our colonial forefathers, evangelicals are committed to having a divine justification for the political values that they espouse. If they hate Muslims, so does Jesus. If they want to maintain patriarchy, so does Jesus. If they are homophobic and exclusive, it’s because Jesus ordained it. If they are afraid, it’s because they are persecuted. If they are anti-abortion but pro-war, it’s because White Jesus protects only the lives that they believe matter. Certainly other religious communities throughout history as well as Christians of color have used their versions of God to justify their own prejudices and collective political decisions; however, in the 2016 election, it was the power of whiteness and a commitment to White Jesus that ushered Trump into the White House.

“It seems as if white evangelicals will overlook every moral inconsistency and offense if it means ushering in the Kingdom of White Jesus. They will overlook the assault and dehumanization of women if it means stopping legal access to abortion. They will overlook the belief in traditional family models if it mean having a president who will espouse and protect “traditional marriage” despite having been in multiple problematic marriages of his own. Trump allows white evangelicals to protect whiteness and its benefits and tenants because white supremacy and the values of evangelical Christianity are so intertwined.”


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Trump a Nebuchadnezzar?

So at last you think you’ve found a church where you can be safe from all the Christo-nebuchadnezzar-iifascist noise, racism, and ignorance. But you can’t. It’s everywhere, at least here in the South. Last week we were just about to take the plunge and sign up for a membership class in our new church (our seventh since moving here), when our pastor got up and said that God had shown him that Donald Trump is a kind of “Nebuchad-nezzar,” an enlightened despot, who, though not perfect, will be used mightily by God. Yeah, we’ve heard that analogy before in the mouths of white Christians vying to come up with the most abominable biblical justification for voting for and supporting a racist for President of the United States.

We were shocked when our pastor said this but not altogether surprised. If you’ve visited as many churches as we have since moving here, you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Still, we felt hurt, since we thought we had finally found a church home that our daughter loved and where we felt the manifest presence of God.

Of course, most of the congregation, who are white, erupted into applause. But what saddened us no end is that this church has a growing degree of diversity. How did those few black, Latino, and immigrant families feel about this encomium to a man whose racist administration has brought nothing but fear, degradation, and misery to their communities. Basically, in spouting the same metaphor as those Trump apologists, our pastor was, inadvertently, saying, “I’m white and I want Trump to make America white again, to give the white church back its power and dominance, and to hell with the rest of you!”

Really? Nebuchadnezzar? He was the Babylonian king who in the Bible conquered Jerusalem, sacked its temple, and deported its inhabitants, but who, in the end, was taught to fear God and who eventually restored power and influence to God’s people. Sure there are similarities, especially in the awful deportation thing, the defilement of the temple (cf. Trump’s degrading of the church), and the overweening narcissism (according to the book of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar made a giant statue of himself and forced his subjects to bow down to it. Today, he would have simply called Fox News and had them ratchet up the fawning praise). Ironically, of course, the Babylonian king was initially seen by the Hebrew prophets as executing God’s judgment on God’s people. Okay, okay, so perhaps he might be a Nebuchadnezzar, but not in the positive sense they mean. If the American evangelical church is regaining political power and influence, it is at the expense of its soul, the suffering of its brothers and sisters of color, and its reputation in the eyes of the world.

A.R. Bernard, pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, NY, said it best. He was one of only a few clergymen of color to join Trump’s pastoral advisory panel, and he was the first to resign. He knew the man could not be reached after the first day. Pastor Bernard believes Trump is more like a King Saul. Israel begged God for a king and he sent them one–as a judgment and as a manifestation of something deeply corrupt in their hearts.

Our pastor is a kind and compassionate man, and I really don’t think he meant to offend anyone. That’s why I took the opportunity to offer some feedback. I very respectfully submitted my objections to what he said and explained why. I guess I was hoping for some kind of apology (naïve child that I am. I was always taught to apologize even if I did not think I had done anything wrong). What I got was a terse reply from an assistant who denied any wrong doing. I doubt the pastor even saw the note.

What’s it going to take for white Christians to stand up against racism and call it what it is? Just yesterday the President showed his true colors (again) in his comments about immigrants from “shit-hole countries.” As if we needed any more evidence. Didn’t we have plenty even before the election? No, there’s no excuse for it. No excuse for defending racism, which is by its very nature indefensible. It’s called sin.


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A Theology of Glory

“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice… Against stupidity bonhoefferwe are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed—in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical—and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack.”   –Bonhöffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

Dietrich Bonhöffer lived and died in a period like our own, when the established German church went mad from fear: fear of losing power, dominance, and control, fear of modernism on the one hand and communism on the other. So they put their trust in a brown-shirted, frustrated painter who told them what they wanted to hear. Their problems, he said, were the result of a vast, international Jewish conspiracy, which had conspired with the liberal Left to undermine their economy and good German values. Sound familiar?

Over the past 40 years the Christian right has been radicalized and weaponized by the hate-mongering of conservative talk radio, evangelical pulpits, and Fox News. They have come to believe the conspiracy theorists that the government is out to get them: to take away their guns, their prejudices, and their Jesus. Just like the Muslim terrorists they fear, they’ve become the deliberate targets of a concerted campaign of misinformation, one that plays upon a trait in the American psyche that stretches back over centuries: a pioneer distrust of government and of slick big-city sophistication. That is why the apocalypticism of the New Testament strikes such a chord in the American heart; it seems to justify what they are feeling and even gives it a religious veneer.

But the problem of today’s white evangelicalism is not just political; it is also a theological one. The first disciples did not understand Jesus. “Never, Lord, this will never happen to you!” said Peter in response to all that morose talk about suffering and crucifixion. Heaven forbid! Yes, the chief disciple said this, not merely to cheer Jesus up, but to try to correct a growing tendency in his thinking. Didn’t the Lord understand they were on the verge of a great political victory? The heathen Romans would be crushed and the Twelve would reign with Jesus from Jerusalem!

Theologian Robert Kolb notes ironically, “Of all the places to search for God, the last place most people would think to look is the gallows.” The problem of why the church so loves political power could be traced to a simple human trait that we all share: an unwillingness to suffer pain, rejection, ridicule, or poverty. After two thousand years, little has changed, for human nature itself has not. The cross remains an offense, a scandal to the mind, an object of loathing to the flesh.

For Christians, the pattern of our lives, like that of Christ’s own cross and resurrection, is not one that moves from glory to glory, but from ignominy to glory, and from death to life. In his Heidelberg Disputation (1518), Martin Luther makes a clear distinction between the “theologian of glory” and the “theologian of the cross.”

“He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.”

LothairThe theologian of glory looks for the Almighty to reveal himself in ways that parallel earthly kingship: that is, in power, triumph, and splendor. One of Luther’s greatest accomplishments was his restoring the cross to its proper centrality in Christian theology (and thinking and daily living). He saw the church as having forgotten the cross in its pursuit of earthly glory. Since Christ was Lord of the universe, some reasoned, and the Pope his vicar on earth, should not the church reflect something of this absolute power? For centuries popes had been locked in a death struggle with the crowned heads of Europe over who had preeminence; some pontiffs even saw themselves as both Caesar and pope!

And so it is with those believers today who believe that the church should ever be top dog, ruling in every aspect of our culture, from politics to Hollywood, somehow crossmisguidedly linking a suffering Messiah to American exceptionalism, militarism, and empire. Like the Twelve Disciples, we want Messiah to come first in glory because we want to reign with him now. Though erroneous, such a view is doubtless an enormous comfort to the flesh, which cannot and never will comprehend God’s self-revelation and ultimate triumph in the rejection, failure, agony, and nakedness of the cross.


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Trump and the Moderate Left / Le trumpisme et la gauche modérée

Christian journalist Chris Hedges has a soberingly ominous piece in TruthDig about the dangers of a moderate left. It is important in this age of Trump, to understand that moderates like Obama, Trudeau, and Macron, while they represent a refreshing contrast to the lunacy of the far right, are merely the smiling face of the same corporate totalitarianism. They make Trumpism possible by igniting worldwide rage over Western democracies’ paralysis in the face of capitalism run amok. They are therefore not the answer; they are part of the problem. To defeat the powers that are stifling democracy, we must not put our trust in them but in our power as citizens to form movements and demand meaningful change.

Le journaliste chrétien Chris Hedges a écrit un article inquiétant sur les dangers de la « gauche modérée ». Il est important à cette époque de Trump de comprendre que les prétendus modérés, comme Obama, Trudeau et Macron, quoiqu’ils représentent un fort contraste sain à la démence de l’extrême droite, ne sont que le visage souriant du même totalitarisme capitaliste. Ils rendent le trumpisme possible par enflammer la frustration et la rage universelles sur la paralysie des démocraties occidentales face au capitalisme sauvage. Ils ne représentent donc pas la solution ; ils font partie du problème. Pour vaincre les pouvoirs qui étouffent la démocratie, nous ne devons pas placer notre confiance en eux, mais en notre pouvoir citoyen de nous constituer en mouvements et de réclamer des changements véritables.

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Hollywood on Parade: Silence and the Abuse of Power

When I was 22 and fresh out of college, I went to Hollywood to pursue my dream of becoming a screenwriter. It didn’t take long for my eyes to be opened. When a family friend introduced me to a well-known producer (we’ll call him Eddie Jones), I thought it would be my big break. He offered me a job as his personal assistant, reading scripts, running errands. He also promised to take a look at any projects of my own. What I didn’t know was that the only reason I got the position was because he couldn’t keep a secretary. Turns out he had a notorious reputation in Hollywood circles for wandering hands. Everyone knew it, but of course no one talked about it. Sexual assault, the old “casting couch,” drug use, even doping his victims. I got wise one evening when he asked me to stay late and answer the phones—I realized later that what I was really doing was acting as sentry.

About 6:00 the door buzzer rang, and in stepped the tallest, lankiest Swede I’d ever seen. Full-length chinchilla, probably nothing on underneath, no shoes or stockings. I’d seen prostitutes before, on street corners, but never the high-class variety. She told me she had an appointment. I buzzed him on the intercom. What could I say? I fumbled, “Umm, Eddie…. Your six o’clock is here.”

She went in. A few moments later, he poked his head out and asked me to bring a bottle of Soave Bolla from the fridge and a couple of glasses. Cheap bastard, I thought. Eddie had a reputation in the business for bringing projects in under budget. That’s how you stay alive in Hollywood. But if you’re going to go all the way and commit adultery, I thought, at least open up a bottle of Piesporter.

I thought that would be the end of my duties, but I was wrong. After a while, the phone rang. It was the head producer, the owner of the company, who was, not coincidentally, Eddie’s relative, a well-known actor and a powerful man in Hollywood. “Need to speak to Eddie, please,” he said.

I recognized the voice immediately but I was stalling. “Whom may I say is calling?”

He sounded surprised, or maybe a little indignant. Not used to waiting. “It’s Arny Jones.”

I snapped to attention. “Oh, yes, Mr. Jones. Ummm… Eddie is in conference right now, and asked not to be disturbed.” What else was I to say? I’m sorry, your nephew’s with a prostitute. Can I take a message?

Irritated he hung up. But I was amazed at how easy it was to lie, even to the head of the company, to cover up someone else’s folly. I breathed a sigh of relief. Well, at least the worst was over. Not so.

The phone rang again. This time it was Eddie’s wife. In those split seconds between our salutations, I fantasized what it would be like to tell her straight out, “Sorry, you husband’s in the sauna with Miss Sweden. You’re welcome to come on down and wait. We’ve got Soave Bolla.” But no, it was much easier to lie. I realized I had no right to destroy this man’s marriage, any more than he had had the right to manipulate me into acting as sentry for his sexual addiction.

At seven I clocked out. I drove home with tears in my eyes. This was supposed to be my dream. My big break. I was supposed to be a screenwriter. Instead, I was a panderer, a pimp. I prayed, and the answer I got was not what I expected, but it changed my life.

A still but audible Voice said, “You’ve shown me what you want to do with your life. You’ve never asked me to show you what I want you to do.”

It was true. Since childhood, my dream had been to be a screenwriter. I had assumed that was God’s will, too. “What do you want me to do?” I asked with trepidation.

“Ministry.” One simple word. How odd. I had never contemplated ministry before, but strangely, it all seemed to make sense. And I felt such peace. As if the pieces of my life lay scattered like a puzzle, awaiting the center piece to bring the image together.

The next day I gave Eddie my notice. He did not look surprised. I’m sure he knew I was angry at being used. If working in Hollywood meant complicity, it was a price I was not willing to pay.  After leaving his employ I continued to write screenplays. Directors said they liked my work, but soon I was too busy preparing for seminary to devote much time to it.

Then, oddly, several months later, he called, out of the blue. Fortunately, I wasn’t home. My mother picked it up.

“Tell Steve I want him to come back to work for me. He needs to complete his training,” he insisted.

(Yeah, training.)

“I’m sorry, Eddie. He’s not going back to Hollywood,” Mom explained. “He’s going into the ministry.”

Eddie was silent for a moment, then blurted out, “A priest?!! Huh!! Did I do that?!”

Yes, Eddie, you did. And I’m grateful.

I was reminded of this story this week, with all the controversy surrounding the Harvey Weinstein revelations. “I came of age in the 60s and 70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different,” Weinstein said in a statement following The New Yorker exposé. “That was the culture, then.”

Nice try.  Sure, the 1960s popularized “free love,” but that was supposed to be between two consenting adults. As I recall, rape and molestation were not touted as part of the new permissive society. You can’t have free love if one of the participants is not free to choose, either because of intimidation or sheer violence. No, this behavior has little to do with the 1960s. It goes back much further than that, to the early part of the last century, when the first wagon-loads of producers, directors, and actors chose the sunny hills of California to shoot their westerns. And then, they were only importing a culture of patriarchy and exploitation of women they had borrowed from the impresarios of the eastern entertainment establishments (Broadway, Vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley).

As shocking as these revelations are, they are only the tip of a gigantic iceberg, part of a long, long history of sexual abuse and addiction in the entertainment industry, a century-old corporate culture founded on the abuse of power. It’s part of the patriarchy known as Hollywood. And silence is part of the price of doing business there.

I was fortunate. I was young. I had no career to protect. No projects or contracts to insure my silence or complicity. I was not sacrificing years of hard work. I was unemployed but I had a home—and a God who loved me and who had a better plan for my life. But as we will see in the months and years ahead, now that the curtain of silence has been torn and more testimonies will be hitting the headlines, there are many, many talented people who were not so fortunate, who were victims of or complicit in a demonic, pay-to-play system of sexual exploitation and bullying.

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Cash: The Tie That Binds Christians To The GOP

Great article in HuffPo.

Again, it’s not that there’s anything inherently evil about giving money to ministries, but that all changes when the ministries enter into a shift in emphasis in order to secure those types of contributions in the first place. It’s within this hegemony that the politics of the wealthy influence the politics of the church, because the more they have to give, the thinking goes, the more we will benefit from their largess. And so the church courts those with wealth, and a selfish thread gets woven into its message of salvation in the form of a prosperity message that seems to apply to every believer. However, the Biblical concept of prosperity is that no one among us would be poor, not that every one among us would be rich, and this is one of the most pressing differences between mainline Christian denominations and the evangelicals…

While so-called experts – likely with ulterior motives – have identified Scriptural justifications for God wanting us all to prosper, even a cursory study of the financial system that God gave the Israelites through Moses (Deuteronomy 15) includes clever governors that couldn’t be gamed by those seeking exorbitant wealth. It’s not so much that the system was designed to prevent avarice as it was designed to keep people from entering into poverty, an idea that is close to God’s heart, as evidenced time and again throughout the Bible. “He pleaded the cause of the poor and the afflicted,” Jeremiah prophesied to the unrighteous King Shallum about his righteous father, King Josiah, “and then it was well with him. Is this not what it means to know me, saith the Lord?” What we are witnessing today is nothing short of a breathtaking evil being perpetrated on people of lesser means by mislead people in the name of Jesus…

Each of us needs to stand in front of the mirror and look into the eyes of our reflection. We need to stare deeply into our own souls and ask ourselves a simple question. Why did Christ die for me? Was it so that my living conditions in this life would be better than most? Or was it so that I could use what I’ve been given to help lift others up?

Read the article in its entirety here.



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Why Evangelical Christians Can’t Get Enough of Trump?

A thoughtful Guardian article exploring the unholy alliance between Trump and the American evangelical community. Written by a former Christian who understands the need for certain Christians to feel persecuted. Interesting theory.

But beyond the pragmatism and the eagerness to forgive things like “locker-room talk”, I believe that evangelicals recognize a fellow outsider in Trump, someone not only unafraid to shake things up and offend people, but actively goes out of his way to do it…

Jesus once said: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” So I went out of my way to piss people off – telling the goth kids they were prisoners of Satan’s lies, handing anti-abortion literature to the “loose” girls, and forcing science class to run late while I debated evolution with the teacher…

After nearly eight months in office, it’s becoming clear that many of Trump’s actions are not ideologically based, but designed to inspire maximum outrage from climate-scientists, academics, feminists, LGBTQ rights activists – pretty much every demographic that evangelicals hate. Whether he’s banning transgender soldiers from serving in the military, pardoning a vigilante sheriff, or refusing to properly distance himself from white supremacists, it’s not about the act itself, it’s about the negative reaction he gets from liberals.

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