Tag Archives: American Christianity

Fanatical Christians

As a Christian and a believer in the sanctity of human life—all life, not just that in the womb– I am deeply troubled when I hear my fellow evangelicals justifying their support for the current administration and Judge Kavanaugh by claiming, “But we have to overturn Roe v. Wade!”

A fanatic is someone who is willing to sacrifice anything (and anyone) to achieve some end, even a good one. Jesus never expected his disciples to behave in such a way. Yet in their zeal to assure the overturn of Roe v. Wade, many of my fellow believers seem willing to throw everything (country, conscience, Constitution, communities of color, immigrants, the poor, even common decency and biblical standards of behavior) under the bus.

The best available data reveal clearly that poverty and economic insecurity are the most common factors in fueling abortion rates. Therefore, would it not also make sense to address the problem at the root? I think rational people on both sides of the issue could agree that abortion is a traumatizing ordeal and that making it as rare as possible is a worthwhile goal. We might even also agree that poverty is a bad thing. Instead of anathematizing each other and tearing the country apart, couldn’t we join hands and agree to start there, at the root?

Jesus never commanded his followers to establish a theocratic state. Instead, he told them to spread the gospel to all nations, including healing the sick and helping the poor.

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Creeping Fascism

Paul Street’s article in TruthDig helps to explain the disconnect between reality and Trump’s conservative base.

Evidence is easily devalued in a faith-based nation in which magical thinking (a critical component of authoritarianism and hardly limited to religious and metaphysical matters) is rife.

The more they have invested in and even lost from false beliefs, the more they will respond to contrary evidence by actually intensifying their attachment to those untrue notions.

Feelings trump facts all the time in the U.S. This is true on both sides of the major-party aisle. Talking in 2007 and 2008 to highly educated campus-town liberal Democrats, including plenty of doctorate holders and religious skeptics, I consistently found that facts were of little use in trying to dent their deeply entrenched and utterly false view that Barack Obama was a people’s champion of peace, democracy and social justice. To paraphrase the Beatles, they had “a feeling [about Obama]–a feeling deep inside, oh yeah.”

Trump’s disproportionately Caucasian base is fused by an embattled white racial identity. This Trumpian “make America white again” heart- and mind-set holds that whites are becoming a minority targeted by discrimination and “politically correct” liberal and leftists have been turning the nation’s politics and policies against white values, culture, needs, rights and prerogatives. This curious “reverse discrimination” victim whiteness (devoid of evidence for its claims) informs the Trump base’s understanding of the meaning of the word “corruption” in ways the liberal writer Peter Beinart recently captured in the Atlantic. For Trump’s base, Beinart writes, the idea of corruption isn’t so much about politics and the law as it is about racial and gender purity
But, of course, it’s not about racism, nativism, sexism or authoritarianism when it comes to understanding Trump’s base. White racial and gender identity and authoritarianism have long merged with and cross-fertilized each other. Last May, political scientists Steven V. Miller and Nicholas T. Davis released a working paper titled “White Outgroup Intolerance and Declining Support for American Democracy.” Their study found a strong correlation between white Americans’ racial intolerance and support for authoritarian rule. “When racially intolerant white people fear democracy may benefit marginalized people of color,” NBC News reported, citing the Miller and Davis paper, “they abandon their commitment to democracy.”

In an article published in Critical Sociology last March, Smith and Hanley found the white Trump base was differentiated from white non-Trump voters not by class or other “demographic” factors (including income, age, gender and the alleged class identifier of education) but by eight key attitudes and values: identification as “conservative”; support for “domineering leaders”; Christian fundamentalism; prejudice against immigrants; prejudice against blacks; prejudice against Muslims; prejudice against women, and a sense of pessimism about the economy.

Strong Trump supporters scored particularly high on support for domineering leaders, fundamentalism, opposition to immigrants and economic pessimism. They were particularly prone to support authoritarian leaders who promised to respond punitively to minorities perceived as “line-cutters”—“undeserving” others who were allegedly getting ahead of traditional white Americans in the procurement of jobs and government benefits—and to the supposed liberal “rotten apples” who were purportedly allowing these “line-cutters” to advance ahead of traditional white American males.

 

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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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