Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Bringing (False) Christianity Into the Public Square

OKLAHOMA CITY — It is one of the prime paradoxes of the 2016 election: A twice-divorced candidate who has flaunted his adultery, praised Planned Parenthood and admitted to never asking for God’s forgiveness is the favorite of the Christian right.
The above appeared in the New York Times about two weeks ago in an article outlining the paradox of American Evangelicals supporting the political ambitions of a –well a not very evangelical, in fact somewhat of a counter-evangelical –candidate.  The article was referring to Donald Trump, officially a member of the liberal Protestant denomination the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)  The article continues:
Mr. Trump is winning with evangelicals, as he does with other Republican primary voters, by promising uncompromising immigration and trade policies and a hard-driving leadership style. “Evangelicals see all that’s going down, and they just like somebody to be strong and stern and consistent on issues,” said J. Hogan Gidley, who was a senior adviser to Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas and onetime Baptist pastor, before Mr. Huckabee quit the race.
But this is only once facet of the enigma.  Candidate Ted Cruz, himself a declared evangelical, has earned the reputation of being a liar for his campaign’s creating the misimpression just before the Iowa Caucus that fellow candidate Dr. Ben Carson was dropping out of the race and that Carson supporters should switch to Cruz.  Carson was not, at that time, dropping out of the race and the Cruz strategy was exposed as nothing less than a bold-faced lie.  Amazingly enough—for a proposed Christian of any stripe, evangelical or mainline—Cruz repeated this strategy of deceit before the Hawaii caucus.  Sort of makes me wonder what Cruz thinks of John 8:44? 
I have to admit that I have always been distrustful of so-called evangelicals because I don’t find very many of them, well, evangelical.  While I will—in fact in my respect for them, will gladly—accord some Protestants such as the Mennonites the honor of being called evangelicals, I think most evangelicals with their mega-churches and prosperity gospel panderings are religious frauds.  Forget Pat Robertson or the late Jerry Falwell and certainly Franklin Graham—whitewashed sepulchers, beautiful on the outside but inside filled with the bones of the dead.  I’m sorry Rick Warren and your Saddleback Church but you are just a bit too pallid and you, Joel Osteen, beneath the charm and the silky words there is no substantial echo of the Gospel of Christ.   And as for your little corner “bible Church” that encourages, even be it so subtly, hatred and prejudice towards Muslims, Gays, Catholics, immigrants, mixed race families, evolutionists, and other nonconformists, I can only wonder what εὐαγγέλιον to which they hold, ‘cause it sure ain’t the Gospel of Christ.  Evangelical comes from the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον, which means “good news” and specifically the news of a victory.  The Greek word for Gospel is εὐαγγέλιον because it is the Good News of God’s Victory in Christ, the Victory of Christ over sin and death which is the authentication of his message of the Kingdom of God.  A true evangelical announces the Good News of the Kingdom of God, the central message of Jesus which he handed on to his disciples to be preached to the four corners of the earth until the end of time.  Sorry Senator Cruz but a liar lacks the “call” to be a witness of Christ’s victory.  And those people who rally behind you because they, like you, have an erroneous understanding of what it means to be an evangelical, are no more than those about whom Jesus refers to in Matthew 7:21.  I am not saying that they aren’t good people or they aren’t Christian or they won’t be saved—I am only saying that they have invested in a Christianity without roots, a “faith” that is all about the fluff and the froth and the feelings but which doesn’t require the radical commitment of discipleship. 
The article in the New York Times continues:
Mr. Trump is winning with evangelicals, as he does with other Republican primary voters, by promising uncompromising immigration and trade policies and a hard-driving leadership style. “Evangelicals see all that’s going down, and they just like somebody to be strong and stern and consistent on issues,” said J. Hogan Gidley, who was a senior adviser to Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas and onetime Baptist pastor, before Mr. Huckabee quit the race.
“You’re voting for a president; you’re not necessarily voting for a pastor,” said Less McNiff, a retired human resources executive who heard Mr. Trump address thousands at the Oklahoma City rally on Friday. “He’s not necessarily orthodox, but I like the fact that he’s strong.”
Linda Sharp, an elementary school music teacher from Moore, Okla., who attended the rally and plans to vote for Mr. Trump, said, “He’s made moral choices that are not stellar, but I lay that against his business plan or the economic growth for America, and I choose that.”
But her husband, Phillip Sharp, who is pastor of Heavenly Heights Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, cautioned those who would argue, like the younger Mr. Falwell, that voters should choose a strong leader rather than a pious one.
“I don’t know that Trump is the person to bring God back into our country, but I think if we don’t we’ll have much bigger problems,” said Renae Ehler, an insurance saleswoman from Davenport, Okla., who planned to vote for Mr. Trump. “The business part of things, I think, is going to make a big difference.”

Well, I’m not sure if the above “evangelicals” see the discrepancy here between the faith they profess and the “faith” they vote, but at least they are honest and not trying to wrap their candidate in the pages of the Bible.  There’s God and there’s mammon and hey, when it comes down the bottom line, no man can serve two masters and they are casting their lot with mammon.  I appreciate their honesty but I expect more of someone who bedecks himself or herself with the jewels of evangelicalism. 
Now, just to be fair.  Neither Senator Sanders nor Secretary Clinton meet the litmus test of authentic Christian evangelicalism, but nor do they profess to nor do they pander to that audience.  Senator Sanders seems to be a fine man and is, of course Jewish.   Secretary Clinton has a bit of a shadier record in several respects—including truthfulness—and she is a member of the United Methodist Church.  Mainline Methodists used to be evangelicals but then a lot of people used to be evangelicals until it got just a bit too demanding.  Speaking of Methodists, however, one of my favorite Methodists—whom I understand isn’t much of an evangelical himself but who articulates well the call to Evangelical Christianity—Duke University Professor Emeritus   Stanley Hauerwas has a great story about Evangelical Christianity (the authentic kind) and our Christian commitment to life in the public square.  The story is about one of my favorite American Christians, Clarence Jordan who was a mentor to both former President Jimmy Carter and to Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity. 
Clarence Jordan was the founder of the Koinonia Farm near Americus Georgia.  It was set up to be an interracial community before anyone knew what civil rights were all about.  Jordan himself was a pacifist as well as an integrationist and thus was not a popular figure in Georgia, even though he came from a prominent family.
The Koinonia Farm, by its very nature, was controversial and, of course, it was in trouble.  McClendon reports that in the early fifties Clarence approached his brother Robert Jordan (later a state senator and justice of the Georgia Supreme Court) to ask him to legally represent the Koinonia Farm.  Robert responded to Clarence’s request:
“Clarence, I can’t do that.  You know my political aspirations,  Why if I represented you, I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got.”
“We might lose everything too, Bob.”
“It’s different for you.”
“Why is it different?  I remember, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church the same Sunday, as boys.  I expect when we came forward the preacher asked me about the same question he did you.  He asked me, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior.’ And I said, ‘yes.’  What did you say?”
I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point.”
“Could that point by any chance be—the cross?”
“That’s right.  I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross.  I’m not getting myself crucified.”
“Then I don’t believe you’re a disciple.  You’re an admirer of Jesus, but not a disciple of his.  I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to, and tell them you’re an admirer not a disciple.”
“Well now, if everyone who felt like I do did that, we wouldn’t have a church, would we?”
“The question, (Clarence said,) “is Do you have a church?”
(from: Stanley Hauerwas, “The Insufficiencey of Scripture,”  Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America,  Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993.  pp. 50-51.)

I don’t know, I read the gospels pretty much every day and I can’t help but think that if Jesus wandered into most of our churches and heard our views on universal access to health care, on immigration, on the death penalty, on warfare, on the poor both here and abroad, on violence as entertainment and on weapons of violence, on care for the environment, on the gross disparity of wealth in our society he would wonder whose disciples we are.  We clothe ourselves in the sanctimonious veneer of anti-abortion slogans and “Defend Marriage” jingles and that let’s us think we are good Christians while most of the world beyond our doors suffers unbelievable deprivation and we piously tell them “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” without giving them the necessities of daily life.  The consequences in the short run could be fearful; in the long run they are catastrophic.


  1. Then I guess the Vatican shouldn't have those nice luncheons to celebrate Laudato Si or should start selling off their $2 trillion in assets to take care of the poor in sub-Sahara Africa, right ?

    Trump has tons of flaws, but he doesn't pretend he doesn't have them (BTW, I am NOT a Trump supporter but many of my friends support him). Trump isn't Henry Hyde, Bob Dornan, Rick Santorum, or Chris Smith (if I can bring out a few good Catholics). He's not even a Mary Rose Oaker or Lindy Boggs (to bring out a few good Catholic Democrats).

    But he's a successful businessman and he gets things done when government can't (i.e., the Wollman Rink in NYC). That's why he is getting support.

    I don't know if he wins the GOP nomination or gets elected president. But it won't be the sign of the Apocalpyse if he achieves either.

  2. I think you need to go back and re-read the article. It isn't about Donald Trump, it is about those so-called "evangelicals" who betray the very foundational principles of Evangelical Christianity in order to have their cake and eat it too--or, as Jesus put it:--to serve two Masters. While we all end up making compromises with evil, it is not possible to genuinely accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ and then to vote for a party--or a candidate--whose platform is built on principles that, at best, ignore the core values of the Gospel. And yes, Mr Trump is a successful businessman--so if that is your criterion, vote for him. You have made it plenty clear which of the Two Masters you choose to serve

  3. You hit the one out of the ballpark. It's almost as they treat Evangelical Christianity and U.S.A as the teams they belong to, and to forget everyone else but myself. Greed is killing our country and world.