Tag Archives: American Christianity

Hard-hitting article in HuffPo: “White Evangelicals Will Never Make America Great Again.” The title says it all, but here are a few quotable passages…

This “great” America ostracizes the marginalized, seeks profits over people on a global scale and uses inflammatory rhetoric to justify its violence. It is a version of America where Muslims are not allowed entry, where buying a wedding cake cannot be a free act for LGBTQ people, where children are separated from their parents and put in cages and all the while a real-estate investor-leader of the free world threatens his nuclear power with impunity…

It seems that the more immoral Trump’s behavior, the more evangelicals scramble to his defense, throwing the Bible at his scandals to defend their political savior. From defending the caging of children at the border by quoting Romans, to using the Scriptures to smooth over an affair with a porn star, white evangelical politicians are maintaining that into order to make America great again, we must in effect make America Christian, leaning on the myths that the United States was ever good, virtuous and committed to the teachings of Jesus.

In seeking to be the light of the world through moral control, Christians have succeeded only in giving power to the whites of the world while perpetuating darkness for people of color and other marginalized identities.

It’s become clear that the way and teachings of Jesus are inferior and disposable when political power is on the table. Evangelicals have exchanged the way of Jesus for a mythical past greatness where America was Christian. They live to reach backward to a time of greatness as fictional as Narnia, seeking a magical land where they are given power by God to dominate all others instead of simply admitting that they have created and perpetuated that power all by themselves…

They have ignored present demographics that prove that “American” does not mean “white,” because if they acknowledged the full humanity of people of color, they would have to reckon with historical slavery and genocide, and the present-day caging of children and police brutality.

They have ignored the calls of Jesus to make ourselves humble and small, to love our enemies and to choose the non-violent way because if they were to acknowledge these teachings, they would have to reject the militarism (and its subsequent budget), their obsession with guns and make reparations for our historical globalized violence.

A group that cannot decide between God and country will always inevitably choose the country that blesses them with tangible and violent power, and they will settle with attributing that to God. The power that Jesus offers seems to be much less politically sexy. Jesus asks us to rely on the power of gentleness, and inclusion, and reject the fear of the “other” in the spirit of greater life for all, not the protection of power and authority of some.

Jesus never asked Christians to make a Christian nation. On the contrary, He asked them to pledge their allegiance to His kingdom. The notion of prioritizing country is inherently unChristian and it has become exceedingly clear that while evangelicals claim to want greatness in the name of God, that they will settle for creating a pseudo-theocracy in the image and name of President Trump.

Evangelicals continuously use the Bible in order to oppress others and have called it greatness. This community will never make America great because it cannot see its own hypocrisy. Evangelicals will sacrifice every word of Jesus in order to see their political ends met.

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Where the Devil Sits

A few weeks ago I went for a routine blood test. As normally happens, the phlebotomist looked at the long list of tests ordered by my physician and whistled. I suppose it was to distract myself from counting the number of tubes she was extracting from the drawer that I asked how she was “surviving the Age of Trump.” She is African-American; I’m white. Over the past year and a half we’ve had a few good heart-to-heart conversations about what is happening to our country. Like me, she’s in her late fifties, a committed Christian, active in her church body. I shared with her some of the struggles we’ve had, as parents of a biracial child, finding a church here in the Bible Belt.  I told her a few stories of the subtle racism that we’ve encountered. She had grown up in the South, had attended church all her life, so I knew what I shared wouldn’t surprise her, as it has me. She just nodded her head sympathetically. Then, when I was done, she looked at me, sighed, put her hand on mine and said something succinctly profound: “Honey, when it comes to racism, the church is where the devil sits.”

I’ve just endured my daily scanning of the headlines, read the transcript of another creepy press conference from hell in which Sarah Huckabee Sanders (à la Jeff Sessions) defended the separation of immigrant children from their parents, citing the Bible. I can only feel pity for someone who is clearly a shipwrecked soul. One could say, when you mix religion and politics, you get politics. Yet the twisted sophistries that come from her mouth have an old and familiar ring.

The racist policies of this administration, which seem daily to out-Herod Herod, are deeply rooted in a cruel and cultic brand of white-European Protestant Christianity that centuries ago allied itself with colonialism (which was also an outgrowth of capitalism). It has had various manifestations, justifying genocide, slavery, manifest destiny, Jim Crow, white supremacy, the re-education of Native American children. We thought it was dead, or at least dying. In reality, it was just waiting in the corner doing push-ups, getting ready for the last battle, waiting for a champion.

Let’s face it. When it comes to racism, the church (55 years after Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech) is still where the devil has his seat. We thought we had evolved beyond this, that we could solve this through education alone. But racism is also a demonic principality that must be pulled down, through repentance, prayer, and the word of God. Racism is not powerful merely because of what it is, but also because of where it sits, cockily ruling over the hearts and minds of those who call themselves “God’s people.” Unless pastors wake up and start attacking this dragon from the pulpit, unless we repent, disenthrall ourselves, and start praying, we will still be fighting this battle a century from now.

 

 

 

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Why African-American Christians Are Leaving White Churches

Check out this New York Times article on the “quiet exodus” of African-Americans from white churches.

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How the Church Is Helping to Destroy America

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism…A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”cabinet1

In his Farewell Address to the nation (1796), a retiring George Washington made it clear that while the new Constitution was a sound foundation for a growing nation, it was by no means foolproof. Though designed with checks and balances to protect against the tyranny of both individuals on the one hand and the masses on the other, one thing it could not withstand was the tyranny of factionalism.

Our first President was not conjuring bogeymen to frighten us; partisan division was already a reality, the seeds of which had been sown even before he declined a third term. Now, without this unifying figure, almost universally revered, the country would surely descend into factions. He saw this in his own cabinet: with Jefferson and his camp on one side, and Hamilton’s party on the other, the acrimony was growing daily, pitting those who wanted less government against those who wanted more, a nation of gentleman farmers against a new moneyed class, an agrarian economy against a mercantile one, the wealth of the soil against the wealth of cities. In the press, in the taverns, on the streets, in the halls of Congress, the two sides began to demonize each other. Yes, the Constitution could withstand many things, but it could not withstand leadership that put party above country.

In many ways our Constitution is a realistic document, a work of genius and compromise, with safeguards based on a keen understanding of power, fallen human nature, and history: how democracies die, how some are overthrown or others rot from within. Yet it is also a hopelessly idealistic one, taking for granted that those who safeguard it will be men and women of principle who put the public interest before any other. Over the past year we have seen just how naïve a document it is and how limited in power, especially if the people entrusted with implementing it will not do so because they are bound to party over country, or selfish ambition and greed over the rule of law. This is how democracies decay, falter, and eventually collapse.

And where is the church in all this? Well, the most powerful and vocal part of it is poised defiantly on the funeral pyre crying for more tinder, more kerosene. There is something so attractive, so hypnotic about a conflagration. For decades pulpits from coast to coast have either thundered with anathemas against “liberals” or echoed with silence in the face of growing intolerance. Instead of railing against poverty, intolerance, racism, militarism, American exceptionalism, and the greed of fundamentalist capitalism, many ministers have sided with the moneychangers, turning instead on the “lazy” poor, immigrants, and the weakest, most broken members of society, or else aiming their cannons at a manufactured “war on Christmas.” Now constantly fed by a powerful propaganda machine fueled by corporate and foreign cash, it is perhaps improbable that these Christians will ever come to their senses. Ironic isn’t it, that this country should be destroyed by the very church that could have saved it?

Politics is all about compromise and tolerance. It takes both sides to keep the political log rolling. Fundamentalism, however, does not function that way. It is all about drawing lines in the sand, refusing negotiation, excluding and anathematizing the opposition. That is why fundamentalism destroys whatever it touches, including democracy. Fundamentalism and tyranny go hand in hand; they are both about control, my way or the highway, fear of dissent. The opposition is demonized, treated with contempt, because dissent and differing points of view represent a threat.

I would add that among the left, a contempt for religion, a disdain for religious values and language, and what is viewed as a pandering to the non-religious segments of society have alienated America’s heartland. Americans are a religious people. That’s what makes us resilient and hard-working. But if conservatives have claim to being a “party of biblical values,” so should liberals. Issues such as racial and economic equality, or caring for the poor, are just as biblical as the rights of the unborn, traditional marriage, or prayer in schools. That certainly used to be the case when, for example, in the wake of the Second Great Awakening, American evangelicals took on the evils of slavery, poverty, child labor, and poor working conditions. If the far-right has now co-opted Christianity, it is because the left has allowed them to do so without even a fight.

It is interesting that what we call Washington’s Farewell Address was probably written in stages by his constitutional adviser James Madison, a protégé of Jefferson, and later Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, both representing the opposing factions. Compared to these men, Washington was no scholar but he certainly must have laid out what he wanted to say; the idea of warning against factions was something he felt deeply and would probably not have originated among the members of the warring factions themselves. Still, he entrusted to these very men the laying out of the case, a task they performed with their usual erudition and skill. Their success is nothing short of ironic, and one wonders what was going through their minds, given the fact that as they wrote it, they were probably already plotting who would succeed him.

We will see within the next year or two whether our Constitution can withstand such a test, or whether Washington’s frightening vision was true, that partisanship just might prove our undoing. Our first President was certainly an idealist, and though he was no friend of factionalism, he admits that political parties are perhaps unavoidable, may even be a necessary evil. What he is appealing to here, however, is what Lincoln would later call “the better angels of our nature,” our love of country. The question still resonates: will we learn to put aside party spirit for the good of the Union, or like a noisy gang of two-year-olds, will we smash it all to pieces if we can’t have our way?

It is a tragedy that the church has nothing to say in this regard. If only the Scriptures had something to contribute on the subject of mutual respect or tolerance, selfish ambition or party spirit, instead of “Shatter the teeth of the wicked, O LORD!” and “Slay mine enemy!”

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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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