Coming to Grips with Christian Nationalism

The scriptures say that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities. Specifically, Ephesians 6:12 says, (in the King James Version KJV) of the Bible): For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against power, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

It never occurred to me that different groups of people who call themselves Christian interpret not only this verse differently, but words in the entire Bible. What some groups of Christians call “truth,” another totally dismisses as being against the will of God.

As I grew up, I came to realize that not everyone who reads the words of Jesus interprets them in the way I was taught. I was stunned, still, though, when I read that the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), questioned about his belief in the Bible, and in the words of Jesus the Christ, said upon being asked if he understood the story of the Good Samaritan, and the “Great Commandment,” that says we are to “love our neighbor as ourselves” said, “Of course I know the scriptures! But nowhere do the scriptures say that we do not get to choose our neighbor!”

That interview stunned me. I grew up believing the words of Jesus, found in the Gospels, could only be interpreted one way. In fact, I grew up believing that the Bible could likewise be interpreted only one way. The words ..were the words, not at all difficult to read and understand. In my way of thinking, there was no question as to how they should be interpreted.

But there is and there have been vastly different ways of interpreting words which have given life to oppressed people. In her book, The Power Worshippers, Katherine Stewart notes that Christian Nationalists have a very different worldview – based on their interpretation of the Bible. First of all, many believe that the New International Version (NIV) Bible is sacrilege – that it “perverts Jesus Christ into Lucifer.” She also notes that this group of people believe that “scripture opposes public assistance for the poor unless it passes through church coffers, that it votes against environmentalism, that it opposes gun regulations, favors privatization of schools through vouchers, and tells us that same-sex relationships are an abomination and emphatically does not want women to have access to comprehensive, twenty-first-century reproductive medical care.” (pp.16-17)

This group also believes that “true Christians” are supposed to exercise dominion over the “seven mountains” of culture: government, business, education, the media, arts and entertainment, family, and religion.”(p. 25)

This is a movement that is not dying but instead is growing and has been for some time. It is a group that would have approved of the late Bob Jones, founder, and president of the Bob Jones University, who said in an Easter Sunday morning broadcast in 1960 that “God is the author of segregation.”

These ways of looking at the Bible are totally anathema to me, and I suppose to many others, but the truth is, those Christians who are not a part of the Christian Nationalist movement need to be aware and actively engaged to making sure a different interpretation of scripture is being taught. The Bible’s directives to believe in justice, to take care of those who are hungry and thirsty and naked and lost seem clear to me, as does the meaning of the Great Commandment, but what is clear to me is almost considered blasphemous to members of the Christian Nationalist movement.

In my work studying how black and white people see God, I already determined that there are two different gods for each ethnic group. I am not the first person to decide this; white theologians in history decided the same thing, some deciding that their God could not possibly have created black people. But the fact that “the Bible” can be and is the object of such disparate interpretations is rattling, to say the least.

Stewart notes in her book that many Christian nationalists feel persecuted; that feeling is behind their cry for “religious freedom.” Progressive Christians, she says, have been way behind in getting their message out. She says “progressive religious voices have figured out only how to grab a headline here or there for the benefit of sympathetic audiences. They do not know how to seize the reins of political power.”

It seems that if ever there was a time for “progressive religious voices” to make themselves heard, it is now, because the Christian nationalists are on a mission to seize political power by using their version of the meaning of God, Jesus, and the Bible.” Living in denial of what we are facing seems not only troubling but an indication of a lack of awareness of what is going on. People tend not to believe that “the worst” can happen to them: not in their neighborhoods, their schools, their country …and in their religion. That is a way of thinking which always proves to be wrong.

In this time of transition, those who disagree with the Christian nationalists need to step up and speak out …or be forever forced to hold their peace.

A candid observation …

On Pseudo-Christianity

I have long said that if a person cannot, will not, or does not follow the words of Jesus, then that person cannot call oneself a Christian. As Christians, we are called to imitate the way Jesus lived and to follow his words. Short of doing that, a “religious” person who attends a Christian church cannot claim to be a Christian. At best, he or she is a church-goer.

The president this week “disagreed” with Jesus’ lesson to us to “love our enemies,” and he doubted the faith of those who say they pray for their enemies. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-politicization-of-the-national-prayer-breakfast-is-unholy-and-immoral/2020/02/06/529518e4-4931-11ea-bdbf-1dfb23249293_story.html) Jesus said for us to do that, most starkly in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, the president rejected the words and teaching of Jesus as his “enemies” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senator Mitt Romney listened,

It has been interesting to listen to people marvel at African Americans voice forgiveness for the persons who have killed their loved ones. The most recent example of a black person forgiving someone was Brandt Jean, who publicly forgave the white police officer who shot and killed his brother as he sat in his own apartment. (https://www.npr.org/2019/10/03/766866875/brandt-jeans-act-of-grace-toward-his-brother-s-killer-sparks-a-debate-over-forgi) His act did not endear him to many; in fact, many Christians – black especially but others as well – have scoffed at Jesus’ directives to forgive, to “turn the other cheek,” and to treat enemies with respect.

But if the truth be told, had not the words of Jesus been pounded into the psyches of black people, we as a people would have been long gone. We did not have any support for our lives and our rights – not from white people, not from the system, including Congress and the US Supreme Court, and we did not have the same access to weapons as did white people. Nonviolence saved protesters on the street; struggling to “do” the words of Jesus saved the souls and spirits of protesters as they continued to fight their enemies on a daily basis.

In a book I wrote some years ago, Forgive WHO? The Struggle to Obey God’s Awful Command, I examined this directive given to us by Jesus. It is as distasteful as it is difficult. It makes one feel weak because the natural human inclination is to fight stones with stones, and yet when the playing field is so uneven, it is a given that the powerful have more stones they can access, and therefore to wipe out their opposition.

The power of Jesus’ words is their ability to empower and strengthen people, who show a weird love – the love of God – and stand in front of their oppressors in spite of their pain and anger. It is doubtful that anyone “forgives” his or her enemies right away; that seems humanly impossible, but the words of Jesus become seeds in bruised souls and begin to sprout even as the victim of evil works to breathe through their pain. The act of forgiving first helps the one who has suffered an attack or affront from any number of sources. It is the highest, most supreme show of strength one can exhibit.

Those who do not, cannot, or will not forgive display what hatred and anger and resentment does to one’s spirit. The president is an example. He only wants revenge; the desire is eating at him, so intense that even in a “prayer breakfast,” where supposedly devout Christians have gathered to honor God, he cannot hold his pain within him, and he openly disavowed the words of Jesus the Christ.

And the Christians-in-name-only applauded him and laughed, which says at least to me that something is awry in their souls as well.

There is much confusion about forgiveness. Forgiving doesn’t mean you become best friends with the one who hurt you (no need to set up a time for “tea and crumpets), but it does mean that you lose the visceral reaction you experience when you even think of what the person has done to you. It frees you even as your abuser drowns in bitterness and anger.

What we have seen this week in this president and in the religious nationalists is a love of power, not of Jesus. We have heard – and will continue to hear and see – his words of anger and contempt for those who he deems as being his enemies, and he will spew his venom all over this country and everything he touches.

He and others might claim to be “Christian,” but they cannot be. They adhere to something that can only be called “pseudo Christianity,” something which has no foundation and teaches nothing about how to be one’s best self in the face of abject evil and attacks.

Those who fight with fists claim that they are strong. Dictators, who cannot stand to be criticized or challenged, and who kill and/or destroy anyone who does either, also claim to be strong,  But their quest for absolute power, and their willingness to put God and the instructions for life given by Jesus the Christ on the periphery of their lives, makes them the weakest people of all.

A  candid observation.

Why Evangelicals Love Mr. Trump

In spite of all of the bad news – morally, economically, and politically – which has come out about Donald Trump from the moment he announced his intention to run for the presidency, nothing has been bad enough for his “base,” – which includes a wide swath of white evangelicals- to desert him. Continue reading “Why Evangelicals Love Mr. Trump”

Deciphering the Meaning of Christianity

Following the announcement that his wife would be working at a school which bans homosexual teachers and students, Vice President Mike Pence said that the found the resulting criticism “deeply offensive.”

In an interview which aired on NBC, the vice president said: “…to see major networks attacking Christian education is deeply offensive to us.” ( https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/mike-pence-calls-criticism-wife-s-job-anti-lgbtq-school-n960091) He continued, saying, “this attack on Christian education should stop.”

Pence’s remarks are a reminder that there apparently is no standard definition of what Christianity is and what Christians should do. While Christians throw around the words “love” and “mercy,” claiming them as the nucleus of what Jesus the Christ taught, in reality, many Christians practice neither – at least not in an undiscriminating manner.

Some of the most devout Christians are also the most rabid racists, sexists, homophobes, and xenophobes. In spite of there being one Bible, in which the Gospels are fairly clear about the requirement that those who follow Jesus the Christ treat all people with dignity and love them as siblings, many Christians ignore that requirement and defend their right to do so.

In her book Mississippi Praying, author Carolyn Renee Dupont concludes that “the racial crisis precipitated conflict of the meaning of Christianity.” As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King noted over 50 years ago that the “most segregated hour of the week” happens on Sunday mornings, Christians are known to exclude people of different races, colors, and ethnicities.

In Mississippi and all over the South during the 60s, activists sought to integrate worship services at white churches, only to be turned away at the doors. Mahatma Gandhi tells the story of how he was once carried down the stairs of a Christian church he tried to enter. (https://www.kansascity.com/living/religion/article18756585.html)  “Were it not for Christians,” he is reported to have said, “I might have become Christian.”

Racism sparked bitter debate about what Christians should do and how they should act, with Christian ministers preaching the “rightness” of racism from their pulpits. The records of what they preached are troubling; one pastor preached that “Liberals delight in talk about making God relevant for our day and his idea of making the Gospel relevant is finding in it the social messages for the issues of the day.”

It is clear that people read the same words read by “Christians” are read in entirely different ways, depending on one’s race, culture and political proclivity. To some, a Christian teaching in a school which openly discriminates on the basis of one’s sexuality is a bold obfuscation of the meaning of Christianity. Some believe Jesus said to love everyone; others believe that the Gospel gives Christians the right to practice bigotry. There is still, as Dupont noted, “a crisis in the meaning of Christianity.”

There is likewise no agreement about the meaning of the cross. For many black people, the cross is the symbol of victory over death and injustice, but for many whites, including members of the Ku Klux Klan the cross is a symbol of hatred.

Methodist Minister Joseph Simmons initiated the practice of burning crosses in this country in 1915 on Stone Mountain, Ga. The Ku Klux Klan would wear white as a sign of purity and would burn crosses to signify the “Light of Christ.” They would also use the Bible as a weapon to justify and support the practice of white supremacy. (https://www.sltrib.com/news/nation-world/2018/04/10/revisiting-the-preacher-who-used-christianity-to-revive-the-ku-klux-klan/)

Clearly, those who have been oppressed by the white supremacist system would not, have not and did not view the Christ in the same way. To them, Jesus the Christ was and is the sign of hope, one who urged love, respect and service to and for “the least of these.” Jesus was the one who showed us how to live, according to those who are oppressed, and that “way” is not the way that Pence and his wife – and countless others – have chosen to practice Christianity.

The crisis was precipitated by racism but has been fed by the other phobias which exist in human society. Jesus loved and talked to the misfits – from women who had committed adultery to lepers. It was his unconditional love for all that helped Christianity become the world religion that it has become, but those who practice bigotry in the name of Jesus would challenge this argument vociferously.

It is disappointing that the wife of the vice president is willing to participate in bigotry based on sexual orientation and gender; it makes one think that both she and her husband probably practice bigotry in other areas as well, comforted by the way they believe in Jesus the Christ and what he stood for.

If Christian education promotes bigotry, something is deeply wrong – but one feels that way if one reads the Bible with a certain set of eyes. Apparently, the Pence’s eyes and my own are as far apart as the east is from the west.

A candid observation…

Dealing with the Butchery of our Consciences

There is too much going on to allow any of us to feel comfortable or safe for more than a few minutes.

There is this ridiculous fight going on in the federal government over funding for a wall on the southern border of the United States. While the fight feels like nothing more or less than a political stunt, it is troubling on many levels, but one of those levels particularly troubling to me is there is no such passion for working to allocate billions of dollars to help Americans who are living in poverty or near poverty.

It is ironic that so many Christians tout the name of Jesus, claiming him and the religious he spawned, as their own. It is as though they have remade him in their image; that, or what we have all read and studied our whole lives is incorrect. They have made him – and therefore Christianity – into a well-to-do white male, the manger story of his birth notwithstanding. Jesus’ family was homeless; he was born into poverty. He was a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew, which thus makes the anti-Semitism of so many Christians so difficult to understand. Were Jesus alive today, he and his family would be in danger of being attacked by angry white “Christian” men.

He was poor and was an advocate for the poor, leading and encouraging the poor to speak up for themselves to demand justice. He practiced free speech, so he believed in it which would have set him up for criticism today. He challenged the system – again something which would have drawn criticism today. I don’t really know what “Conservative” means, but from my reading of the Christian Bible, it does not seem that he identified as the same. He was targeted by law enforcement, scorned because he challenged their authority. He was scorned by members of his own family, which means they probably didn’t have peaceful family gatherings during the Jewish holy days.

He was accused of doing wrong, had what amounted to as a mock trial with a biased judge, was sentenced to death and executed – which means that the person whose birth we celebrate was a convicted felon, someone who would not have been eligible to enter the United States under the current immigration laws and policies.

The irony of the fact that, were he alive today, Jesus would most probably be rejected by the very ones who profess to be Christian is not lost to me. He would not be welcomed or respected by the Congress or by many evangelicals. Wrong religion. Wrong ethnicity. Wrong socio-economic class. And wrong political belief system. He might be called a socialist because of his work for the poor. He would be rejected by most of today’s devout Christians, I am fairly certain.

And yet, modern-day Christians, people who believe in and practice racism and sexism and homophobia and xenophobia and more – brag about their religious affiliation. People who think nothing of ignoring the poor, or of murdering members of the gay community or the Jewish community or the African American community – brag about following one who advocated that we should build community with each other, not walls between us.

Is it possible to proclaim/profess of being a Christian and yet be so unaligned with what the Jesus of the Christian Bible taught? Does it represent a particularly heinous type of hypocrisy to claim a man who taught what many of us are unwilling to do?

In 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was making its way out of the womb of Congress, there was much resistance – by Christians as well as by other religious groups. Christians participated in much of the violence perpetrated against African Americans who wanted to register to vote and then …vote; their hatred was leveled against white allies as well. At one point, as the violence reached a tragic peak in Selma, Alabama as would-be voters tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, then attorney-general Nicholas Katzenbach tried to get Dr. Martin Luther King to cancel a second planned march. Dr. King responded, “I would rather die on the highways of Alabama than to make a butchery of my own conscience.”

With the blatant hypocrisy that exists between the practice of identity politics and Christianity, I wonder if there are many people who see the chasm between what Jesus taught and what they/we practice, and if so if their consciences are bothered, “butchered,” as Dr. King phrased it? Is anyone sitting in remorse and shame for treating people of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, genders, religions as objects and not as human beings worthy of being treated with dignity?

Somehow, I don’t think there is much of that; the religion of the “newborn king” has been bastardized by many – of all ethnicities. That being the case, what is our celebration of Christmas really about?

A candid observation …