On Christmas of last year, I knew what my New Years Resolution would be. I was going to stop defending Evangelical bullshit. Publically, privately, I had become so exhausted by the intolerance and hypocrisy of institutions like Fuller Theological Seminary and Wheaton College. The materialistic excess and theological gymnastics of wolves like Creflo Dollar and Kenneth Copeland produced in me such rage that bile would rise into my throat and I would shake with rage. Relying a great amount on tradition in my spiritual experience, I could no longer defend the increasing mania and diabolical manipulations, explain away or recontextualize “what they meant to say” or answer another friend’s tearful request for why their pastor said such horrible things.
Even tonight, a first date took pleasure in teasing me about having worked with churches. She asked, “Are you one of those pervs who hides out in churches? Are you voting for that nutjob Donald Trump?” as though going to religious services makes one, by default, “one of those pervs.” I changed the subject because, when you think about it, there’s no way to respond to a question like that. The evidence has been compounding for so long against Evangelicals and “well-intentioned” Christians (because no, those two pronouns are not the same) that one can hardly say anything without it sounding like a defense of terrorism.
My resolution is two-fold: one, I no longer want to give so much as a wind’s breath of support for the disgrace that Christianity has become and two, I want to use the “us/them” language that the Church has trafficked in for so long to point out ways that organized religion is on the outside of their own morals, ethics, scriptures, tradition, and authority of leadership.
Personally, I think Franklin Graham uses the fame of his father to exploit new and deeply disturbing viewpoints. He shames himself, he shames his father’s memory, and he shames God every time he speaks. He has, as the rabbis of the Talmud might say, “abolished the Torah and brought shame to his house.” Or as the Bhagavad Gita might say of Jerry Falwell, Jr., such a man is without understanding for
that understanding which cannot distinguish between the religious way of life and the irreligious, between action that should be done and action that should not be done, that imperfect understanding, O son of Pṛthā, is in the mode of passion.That understanding which considers irreligion to be religion and religion to be irreligion, under the spell of illusion and darkness, and strives always in the wrong direction, O Pārtha, is in the mode of ignorance. (18:31-32)
My experience and estimation of Evangelical leader is irrelevant, however, lost in a sea of shared disappointment. There’s really nothing new to be said here, because it has already been stated in every combination and permutation possible; Evangelicalism in America has become a disgrace not just to Christians, or even Americans, but the world entire. Next headline. The shameful slide of Evangelicalism on display in this election cycle offers a rare opportunity for Christians to recalibrate and, to use the biblical imagery, for global Christianity to prune itself of infected branches by disavowing the now routine triumvirate: racism, misogyny, and xenophobia. As Rev. Keith Anderson points out, “Studies show that political polarization has increased dramatically in America over the last twenty years — even within families. Today, 23% of liberals and 30% of conservatives say they would be unhappy if an immediate family member married someone who held different political beliefs.” These statistics only validate for Evangelicals their misreading of verses like Matthew 10:34-36 and Luke 12:51-52. This is an opportunity for Evangelicals to realize their supposed “religion” is nothing more than Nationalism run amok, “another gospel” that “perverts the Gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-12). The supposed “new wine” of their religious faith turned years ago, and is only now being uncorked and served to them. “The religious right in America has always been a political philosophy based on bullying, pandering, projecting strength to hide fear and weakness, and proud, aggressive ignorance,” writes James Croft. “That’s what it’s been about from the beginning. Trump has merely distilled those elements into a decoction so deadly that even some evangelicals are starting to recognize the venom they have injected into American culture.”
The rise of Donald Trump as a viable political candidate among Evangelical voters is the wave that broke the dam, it appears, for “Values Voters” in Middle America. Trump’s rabid and sensational appeal among white, uneducated Americans reveals long-standing hints and rumors of racism, misogyny, corruption, and exceptionalism within the Republican Party but long glossed over by cameras and stage makeup slathered on the ghost of Ronald Reagan, “America’s first Christian President.” The confusion and blurring of lines that began with Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority has now come to harvest with his son, Jerry Falwell Jr. and another minister’s son, Franklin Graham. Together, these men have done the unthinkable. They have endorsed Donald Trump as a godly, Christian man – something the original Jerry Falwell is surely rolling over in his grave about and the incoherent and highly medicated Billy Graham would denounce openly and publicly. Mark DeMoss, chief of staff to Falwell, Sr. came out today to denounce his boss’s son. “The bullying tactics of personal insult have no defense — and certainly not for anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ. That’s what’s disturbing to so many people. It’s not Christ-like behavior that Liberty has spent 40 years promoting with its students.”
These men, perhaps even more than Donald Trump, have brought deep disgrace to their fathers, their faith, and their country. Their campaign to subvert the teachings of scripture and the traditions of Christianity has pushed even the staunchest Christians to speak out and denounce them publicly. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote on Monday that he has stopped calling himself an “evangelical” and instead refers to himself as a “gospel Christian” because he feels the word “evangelical” has been contaminated by contemporary politics and the complicit participation of men like Falwell and Graham in a campaign of hate. Moore writes,
I have watched as some of these [Evangelical leaders] who gave stem-winding speeches about ‘character’ in office during the Clinton administration now minimize the spewing of profanities in campaign speeches, race-baiting and courting white supremacists, boasting of adulterous affairs, debauching public morality and justice through the casino and pornography industries. I watched one evangelical leader pronounce a candidate a Christian, though he explicitly states that he has never repented of sin, because he displays the fruit of the Spirit in job creation. That’s not a political problem; it’s a gospel problem.
I graduated from a program in theological studies two years ago. When I finished the program, I was considerably worse for wear having to deal with institutional Christians but believed that taking a year off from religious work might help reset my soul and allow me to reorient. Instead, I watched the religion I was raised in descend into anarchy this year. It is a dilemma that all people of faith are now facing, with full knowledge that it will take years, perhaps even decades to undo if people of moral conscience do not immediately and strongly disavow those members of their faith communities and neighborhoods who perpetuate cycles of violence.
Richard Mouw, a theologian who spent a considerable part of his life seeking tolerance and understanding among people of faith, reflects on a time when he heard the famous Mennonite theologian and ethicist John Howard Yoder speak at Calvin College. The question at that time was, “Politics driving the gospel rather than the other way around is the third temptation of Christ. [Christ] overcame it. Will we?”
To say I am disappointed in Christianity at this point is an understatement and so, my resolution so far this year has been to stop defending Christianity and Evangelicalism. It’s not my intent to provoke or antagonize – we have enough of those people already – but to instead acknowledge failure, even agree with religious critics of how far our local houses of worship have fallen to allow our individual and shared teachings to be twisted, our eyes blinded to injustice, and minds deceived by callousness unbecoming of our stated ideals. But, as disgraced at Christians, even America, may be right now, there is still the shining opportunity to change, to override the voices of those with the microphones, and state what we actually believe in — or don’t believe, for that matter. It is an opportunity to state where we think America is at and where we want it to go. This is not the country of Donald Trump, but “an America that at once has always been and has never been before: a mix, a mish mash, and a melting pot, all at once. Race is complicated. Dating is complicated. People are complicated. Life is funny. It is complicated. It is old, and it is new. It is worth living, and worth living right.”
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- “Trump Reveals that Progressives were Right about Evangelicals All Along” by Bethania Palma Markus
- “The Rise and Fall of American Christianity” by Stephen Mattson
- “Why We need the Ministry of Reconciliation Now More Than Ever” by Rev. Keith Anderson
- “Why this Election Makes Me Hate the Word ‘Evangelical’” by Russell Moore
- “Why Exit Pollsters Desperately Need Religion” by Brian Kaylor
- “Trump Reveals the End of Religious Right’s Preeminence” by Jonathan Merritt
- “Who are Donald Trump’s Supporters, Really?” by Derek Thompson