Have you ever wondered how white Americanized Christians became such easy targets of political manipulation?
Well, political operatives certainly know what causes to espouse and what code words to use to draw them in, and they pull the strings accordingly.
Perhaps we all should know as well. And it’s not hard to follow the crumbs.
By simply raising a few hot-button issues and employing related terms, politicians can attract many churchgoers to their causes like bugs to a lone light. These often-ill-informed positions get sloganized and marked as “pro-something” – although they tend to be “anti-something.”
The big three favored misnomers that have misguided so many professing Christians are “pro-Israel,” “pro-life” and “pro-family.” Understanding the political context in which these terms arose and became political tools is helpful.
Sadly, it also reveals how those who have long professed Jesus as Lord became so focused on these isolated matters – rather than on those things Jesus taught his followers to be and do. And, as a result, they became easy pickin’ for politicians.
- Bad end-times theology leads to bad politics.
Often, we hear white evangelical preachers and their political accomplices identifying themselves as “pro-Israel.” On the surface, it sounds good.
I’ve had Israelis introduce me to others as being “a friend of Israel.” That is true, but not in the same way “pro-Israel” American preachers and politicians use the term.
They wrongly transfer the covenantal promises of the Hebrew Bible to the modern state of Israel and grant them divine directives for whatever actions their government might take, including significant human rights violations. It is important to know such blind allegiance is rooted in a faulty end-times theory.
White evangelicals are easily fascinated by premillennial, dispensationalist eschatology. Maybe they just like charts – and the sense of being in on a secret.
Hal Lindsey’s 1970 book, Late Great Planet Earth, and the latter-day Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins fueled a lot of this non-scholarly nonsense.
This manufactured end-times scheme rests on the “need” for Jews to return to Jerusalem in order for Jesus to return to earth. That’s why President Trump stated recently that he moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to please U.S. evangelicals, not Israelis.
Palestinian Christians suffer immensely because white Americanized Christians have bought into an erroneous end-times theology that was unknown throughout most of the history of Christianity.
- “Pro-life” is a passionately held position though it means less than it claims.
Those who use this term are rarely interested in dialogue. They have found the preferred lens through which all political life is interpreted – and any suggestion of the complexities or realities of abortion, or the wider application of being “pro-life,” are quickly disregarded.
Political strategists know that adding this designation to a candidate’s platform will bring a segment of the electorate that will ask no further questions. It is amazing how disrespectful of life, more broadly, a politician can be and still attract the support of Americanized Christians if he or she simply claims to be “pro-life.”
I addressed this matter in a column last week, noting that those who are most passionate about this issue often fail to consider how their efforts can serve a purpose counter to a “pro-life” intent.
- Discrimination is disguised and described as freedom.
“Pro-family” became a catchword when the Religious Right rose to power in the 1980s. There was much hoopla about “family values” and protecting the “traditional family.”
Behind those words, however, was no acknowledgment that divorce rates were just as high among church members as the general population. Or that abuse within families and churches is often covered up by authoritarian male leadership.
No, this was an attempt to romanticize a 1950s version of the family in which men held all the power and opportunities for influence. Women were to be submissive to their husbands and children to be “seen, not heard.”
Particularly damaging is how “pro-family” or “family values” terminology is used to condemn LGBTQ persons. The least safe place in America for a person with same-sex attraction or sexual identity struggles is within conservative Christianity, where they hear early on they are an “abomination to God.”
Misrepresentation and condemnation of LGBTQ persons became an outsized focus of fundamentalism. It is not pro- (for) anything.
However, Americanized Christians strongly support politicians who promise to lend the government’s powerful hands to their eagerness to discriminate against LGBTQ persons – all while describing such exclusion as “freedom.”
Worst of all, these unloving attitudes and actions are often described in terms of love. Preachers will say, “The most loving thing we can do is to tell people the truth.”
Tragically, however, their so-called “truth” is nothing more than hostility, exclusion and condemnation built on misreadings of the Bible – absent the inclusive love Jesus showed and called his followers to model.
Likewise, Americanized Christians often contribute to racial discrimination based on the long and sometimes unrecognized structural racism present in society at large and serving as the underpinnings of institutionalized Christianity.
This space doesn’t allow for describing the many ways in which racism has shaped and continues to shape much of American Christianity. It is indeed a continuation of “slaveholder religion,” as aptly described by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove in his book, Reconstructing the Gospel.
Many white churchgoers today consider racism a thing of the past because they have friendly relationships at work or elsewhere with persons of color. They refuse to learn how the roots of racism are still growing within American society and the church.
And, most critically, they don’t acknowledge their own fears of losing cultural dominance, which drive their political persuasions.
Political capitulation to these three misguided misnomers has resulted in Americanized Christians being captured by a doctrine of exclusion – one of their own making.
That captivity keeps them from embracing, celebrating and exhibiting the inclusive love of Jesus without violating their own faulty presuppositions about God.
Jesus, however, is still in the conversion business for those who might yet find love, grace and truth that sets them free.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.