By Patrick R. Anderson, editor
The rather unholy role played by the subset of Christians called “evangelical Christians” during the Trump era has generated angst, confusion, concern, despair, anger, and lament for Christians who are not of that tribe. I am one of those.
The newly identified hybrid, “evangelical Christian,” is certainly not a new phenomenon. Long before Jerry Falwell, Sr. and Pat Robertson and James Kennedy melded homogeneous evangelical Christians into a political force to be reckoned with, Christian fundamentalism was a powerful subset of the American landscape.
The heavy influence of fundamentalist preaching had a strong impact on my early life. I heard so many sermons about The Rapture I routinely went to sleep unsure if I would be around the next morning. I heard words like “modernists” and “virgin birth” and “compromise” sprinkled in with a literal understanding of the King James Bible. But I could never quite embrace all of it, especially the dogmatism, inconsistency, and irrationality of much of it.
Good professors at Furman University where I studied philosophy and literature helped me learn how to think. Southwestern Seminary Professors Newport, Fant, Estep, and Hendricks helped me get a grip.
Bad theology of Christians has contributed to much of the worst aspects of America’s history. The fingerprints of Christians are found all over unfettered capitalism, “manifest destiny,” and white supremacy. White Christians supported and justified and profited from slavery of Africans. Fundamentalist churches started private schools so members’ children would not have to go to school with black kids. “Separate but equal” was embraced unapologetically.
Dominion theology has contributed to policies designed to “drill baby drill” in fragile locations, to dig up and burn all the coal imaginable, to allow factories and vehicles to belch as much carbon as possible into the atmosphere, and to otherwise endanger the entire world’s ecology. Belief in the eminent “Second Coming” and the any-day-now “Rapture” has led to support for shortsighted policies regarding taking care of the earth. Christians will not be here when the earth burns up, so who cares? They cite the “signs of the times” referred to in the words of Jesus in Matthew 24, but leave out verse 34, also spoken by Jesus in the 1st century: Remember this! All these things will happen before the people now living have all died.
With the arrival of Donald J. Trump, many evangelical Christians became the loudest proponents of America-first populism, rejection of science, denial of certifiable facts and blind acceptance of certifiable falsities, total abdication of righteousness and justice…all, presumably with immaculately clear consciences. The absolute devotion to Trumpism from spurious church leaders like Paula White, Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham and far too many others has stained Christianity. Trump, a life-long inveterate liar and philanderer, convinced hoards of Christians to believe he was God’s man, that he loved them, that he was the only one who could make America great. His voluminous and audacious lies were accepted fervently and broadcast by clergy and laity.
Many evangelical Christians treated the COVID-19 pandemic which has already claimed the lives of more than 400,000 Americans as a hoax, false news, a plot to embarrass Trump. This was seen in their manifest refusal of perfectly reasonable and scientific precautions to the spread of the virus. Unmasked Christians were encouraged to attend crowded musical concerts, church services, and political rallies while being taught that to follow the scientists’ guidelines was an infringement of personal freedom and the free practice of religion, a plot to “take God out of America.”
Even the insurrectionists’ attack on the US Capitol and Congress on January 6th, featured highly visible Christian flags and crosses, along with Confederate battle flags, the visible imprimaturs of this false brand of Christianity. People dressed in battle garb and toting flags, JESUS SAVES signs, and baseball bats toward the Capitol were pictured kneeling and reciting the Lord’s Prayer, symbolizing their understanding that theirs was a holy endeavor.
For these past years I have been astounded by the apparent belief by many professing Christians that following Trump the consummate hedonist is consistent with following Jesus, the consummate altruist.
As the judge and preacher, Wendell Griffen, expresses elsewhere in this journal:
Any claim that Jesus is the center of one’s faith and living – by people who condone bigotry against immigrants, racism, sexism, murdering political enemies, denial of access to healthcare services to people who are needy, and who condone mistreatment of vulnerable persons – is beyond unpersuasive. Such a claim of allegiance to Jesus amounts to moral and ethical nonsense.
The time has come to renounce this false religion, the bad theology that undergirds it, and to follow Jesus. As James wrote in his epistle: “This is what God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering, and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world” (James 1:27 TEV)