The language, priorities and public witness of Americanized Christianity have changed significantly in recent years. Most astonishing is the baffling reversal from the long-espoused — if not well-practiced— values of so many who confess the Christian faith.

We’re not talking about some mere reconsideration of a tertiary doctrinal position or a complex ethical issue. No, the basic stuff of Sunday School lessons, memorized hymns, parental lectures and civic codes is now gone with the wind of unabashedly self-serving politics.

In this great reversal, humility gives way to arrogance; coercion is preferred to freedom; compassion is lost to hostility; falsehoods trump the truth; and appropriate patriotism is morphed into the idol of destructive nationalism.

There is no hidden agenda — no pretense from the white evangelical tribe now — about their clear diversion from what parents, teachers and Jesus taught.

In large numbers, they have professed their newfound faith in those who stir their fears and promise them temporal security in exchange for uncritical loyalty.

No longer is there shame in demeaning those once called all the little children of the world. If you don’t look and think like them, then you are an enemy to be constrained if not eliminated.

Religious conformity is demanded through legislative force. As a result, many of these religious foot soldiers have transformed into being as arrogant, untruthful and offensive as their perceived political saviors.

One’s own rights, privilege and security form the newly revered trinity on which such faith and practice hang.

This decisive move is away from a commitment to following Jesus. And often it extends beyond an embrace of self-centeredness and self-preservation to taking great pride in one’s self-absorption and self-service.

Such a tragic reversal is easily traced to the drummed up and heightened fear of white conservative Christians losing their cultural dominance. For many politicians, this is a favored playground.

Public Religion Research Institute, in partnership with Brookings Institution, found that, during the 2016 election cycle, 59% of white evangelical Protestants in the U.S. said the nation was losing its Christian identity — a huge jump of 11 points in just four years.

Such fear of losing one’s cultural dominance was ginned up by the often-racist scare tactics of preachers, politicians and right-wing media.

During that time (2016), I identified “six self-inflicting wounds of American evangelicals” — all of which are even more obvious now.

One is playing the victim. Such “pretend persecution” abounds among those who are actually enjoying outsized privilege and power.

Two is to proclaim a fear-driven, fear-inducing message rather than one of hope. Convincing someone that the sky is falling causes many to give up the very foundational values they’ve long claimed.

Three is the yearning for the highly romanticized “good old days” that weren’t that good for many. Nothing is more out of touch with both reality and the Christian gospel than for white American males to present as spiritually and biblically superior a time when the social system was stacked clearly in their favor.

Four is the twisting of the treasured concept of religious liberty into a weapon of discrimination against those who don’t share one’s cultural heritage, religious beliefs and values.

Five, this bastardized brand of Christianity is presented as an epic battle between the “good guys” (us) and the “bad guys” (them).

Just listen to the loud voices of those whose evil acts are on public record now calling those who hold them accountable “evil.” This is a strategic and often deadly move. If someone is deemed a threat, then an effort to eliminate them is a tragically short step.

Six is the call to oppose all societal moves toward justice and equality. Such opposition is fueled by the dismissive and pejorative use of co-opted terms like “woke”—  rather than Jesus’ terms of salt and light.

This evangelical opposition to justice tracks precisely with the historical reality that conservative white Christians are always the dragged-along caboose and never the driving engine when it comes to a fairer and more inclusive society.

Overall, these self-inflicting wounds have allowed politicians (who often do not exhibit the values long associated with Christian teaching) to win over the church crowd, which is so willing to let go of the basic principles of faith in order to resist change and feel more in control.

The embrace of these substitute saviors — who exacerbate and justify hatred and hostility — is so significant that “evangelical” has become a frequent self-designation of one’s political identity rather than a religious commitment.

Therefore, the word that originally described people who bear the good news of Jesus is now a convenient tag for a political agenda opposed to compassion, justice, equality and the common good.

To pretend this reality doesn’t exist — or to quietly hope it goes away — in order to avoid conflict is to be complicit in its damaging success. The only adequate and faithful response is overt — but not ugly — opposition to this tragic redefinition of Christianity and its political progeny of defensiveness, division and deceit.

Timidity, acceptance of false equivalences and empty hopefulness will not turn this reversal around. It must be faithfully faced.

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