President Donald Trump may be golfing most Sundays, but his presence in America’s churches will be felt for a long, long time. While his glowing face may not appear among the worshippers, he is most assuredly there.
As he aims a nine-iron toward a manicured green, under the watchful eyes of the Secret Service, his churchgoing followers, who’ve marched in lockstep from Parler to the pews, are listening out for anything their pastors might say that doesn’t jibe with the baptized bigotry of white Christian nationalism.
The irony, of course, is that one so uninterested in and uncomfortable with the basic beliefs, values and trappings of the Christian faith can appeal so overwhelmingly to those long engaged in congregational life. They are willing, even eager, to shape their faith accordingly – and demand it of others.
In many churches, the sermon accommodates those desires. It is a mere regurgitation of Tucker Carlson’s latest diatribe – dipped in religious language and certitude, yet more fitting for a super-spreader political rally than a time and place designated for the worship of God.
Power-thirsty celebrity preachers provide religious cover for this blatant advancement of a false gospel of fear, discrimination and exclusion – all in stark contrast to the life and teachings of Jesus who supposedly is the reason for gathering. And, also, we might note: the reason for calling oneself Christian.
Committed pastors in many other churches, however, struggle to be faithful messengers of biblical truth in such a time. But it is not easy.
They risk the ire of those who expect the sermon to align with whatever Rush Limbaugh has been railing about – or some unsubstantiated something they saw on social media – rather than expecting those political fulminations to align with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
To preach from the ancient texts and implore listeners to follow Jesus’ life and example is a clear call to humility, justice, truth, sacrifice and compassion. Yet, those attributes and values have simply vanished from what many Americanized Christians now hold most passionately.
Don’t believe me? Ask some pastors. I have. If they trust you (and it’s sad if they can’t), you’ll hear the frustration, disillusionment and disappointment that drain their souls.
Many have been harangued for simply saying what the Bible and Jesus have always said. In fact, some have even been forced out of their jobs. Others have dusted off resumes or moved up retirement dates despite financial strain. This is not what they were called to do.
To varying degrees and in various churches, self-appointed emissaries proclaim the president’s good news for the rich, discrimination toward the oppressed, and hubristic irresponsibility masked as personal freedom.
Biblical sermons on racial justice, care for refugees, truth telling, self-giving and the equal value of all persons – unless very vague – can lead to post-sermon chastisement or even networking to “get a new preacher.”
Please take note that those who chide ministers to “avoid politics” are often the most politicized and inflexible among us, unwilling to hear any word from Jesus or anyone else that counters their concretized political beliefs. It’s only certain politics they want to avoid.
Advancing conspiracy theories from the pulpit would be more easily accommodated in many churches today than an honest rendering of the Sermon on the Mount. Underpinning this sad reality is the larger redefinition of Christianity, apart from Jesus, that allows white nationalism to serve as a ready replacement.
Such politics are so woven into white evangelical culture now that its priorities and principles have become inseparable and indistinguishable from a faith focused on responding to Jesus’ call to love God fully and one’s neighbor as oneself.
This politicized perversion of Christianity is being widely rejected beyond church circles – and deservingly so. It is no wonder the broader population assumes this religious/political ideology consumes all who bear the Christian name.
So, while the reluctant-to-depart president asks his caddie to not count that latest stroke, his faithful followers find church an acceptable place to rant about immigrants, socialism, fake news, distrust of science and a very restrictive and faulty concept of being pro-life.
Therefore, the president, who once held aloft a borrowed Bible about which he knows so little, should actually be given a perfect attendance pin. He is present in American churches every Sunday, advancing white nationalism wrapped in religious garb.
This defective and distorted version of “Christianity” mars and impairs the gospel witness and weakens the influence of the church. And it will continue to do so until it is rightly eradicated.
White privilege is portrayed as a blessing, America is deemed the superior fulfillment of divine promise, and the marginalized are treated as threats to a divinely ordained reign of power.
Such ungodly and demeaning politics, however, weren’t brought to church in recent years like a weekly offering. Those perspectives and values have long existed within Americanized Christianity.
They’ve just been hidden away a bit recently, somewhere among the mothballs and discarded choir robes. Now they are being more boldly vocalized, baptized and amplified by those who feel empowered to do so.
Speaking truth to this sinful reality, however, is about as unwelcomed as were Jesus’ warnings to the religious elite of his time, who piously claimed to be righteous, though void of compassion and selflessness.
The price is high for advocating within the church today for an authentic, Jesus-centered faith. It is not the message many want to hear.
However, there is a steeper cost coming from this perversion of Christianity that will continue taking its toll until it’s fully countered and corrected, or rightfully dies.
Perhaps the latter is required. Then we can look for hopeful resurrection. Jesus seems particularly good at that.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.