Being seen as Christian sure seems more important to many than just being Christian. And such spiritual showmanship is getting encouragement and enablement from high places.
With the political winds at their backs, these invigorated showmen of Americanized Christianity take the stage in search of a brighter spotlight, a more commanding performance and a wider captive audience.
Contributing to these efforts, the U.S. Supreme Court has validated performance Christianity. However, Jesus has not.
As widely recorded in the Gospels, Jesus reserved his harshest rhetoric for those who practiced their righteousness for public applause and sought to impose their narrow beliefs on others.
Having the right to do something doesn’t make it right.
Jesus clearly stated that turning one’s religious practices into a three-act play is a gross misuse of spiritual disciplines. So, before taking bows and considering an encore, it might be wise to take his words and example more seriously.
Tragically, however, it is popular within Americanized Christianity today to largely ignore the life and teachings of Jesus in favor of some manufactured ideological definition of “Christian” that is Scotch Taped together with stray Bible verses and a passel of God-speak.
It is helpful to note that Jesus came down hard on these preening religionists because of their arrogant behavior, not some point of doctrinal error. And never did he ask anyone to sign a creed, pass a law, take over a government, show hostility toward marginalized people, reject truth or take up arms on his behalf.
Rather, he insisted on convictional and selfless responses that involve picking up crosses, loving victimized persons, being compassionate toward those who suffer and living out the kind of truth that sets one free in the most transformative way.
Performative Christianity, despite its boisterous presentation, is a fragile form of faith that pretends to be strong. It is an act.
To seek or accept government’s helping hand (which never comes without strings) degrades one’s witness and reveals the weakness of being unable to live out a Jesus-following faith fully without well-courted outside assistance and validation.
Practicing an authentic faith — as Jesus called his followers to be and do — requires no such assistance and no need for stage makeup. His was not a call to secrecy, however, but to humility and respect.
What riled up Jesus the most was seeing those who claimed superior spirituality putting their pompous expressions of faith on public display — drawing undue attention to themselves and their hubristic ideas of rightness.
It is not a stretch at all to see those busy street corners where Jesus condemned attention-grabbing prayers and the 50-yard lines of today’s public school football stadiums as precisely the same kind of venues.
Jesus’ jarring critique of showboat religionists needs to be heard and heeded today by current performers and their adoring audiences. It seems that professing Christians should want to be more like Jesus than to resemble so closely those he strongly rebuked.
Yet, that seems of little interest to those who, so mesmerized by swirling spotlights, seek all the strong-armed help they can get with their religious-political agenda — even at the high price of personal integrity and the continued tarnishing of the Christian witness.
How did such misguided devotion become so prominent within Americanized Christianity — to the point that a higher emphasis is placed on claiming and even obnoxiously expressing one’s so-called rights and privileges than doing what Jesus said is right?
Victim-playing, dominance-seeking, in-your-face and often quite annoying public religious spectacles — even when sincere — are sincerely wrong. These are not faith expressions, but exhibitionism.
Performative Christianity requires spurning the very one for whom the faith was named by insisting on attention-grabbing, public displays of faith with the help of unhealthy political alliances.
At times, we hear of someone who is described as having a quiet personal faith that humbly reflects the life of Jesus — as if that’s OK though not the preferred model. Yet, that is precisely how Jesus said his followers should practice their faith.
Jesus noted the stark difference between appropriately letting one’s light shine (Matthew 5:16) and showing off in public (Matthew 6:1).
It has to do with the use or misuse of power — and is a matter of who stays in the spotlight. Or on Twitter. Or on TV. Or in the halls of political power.
Or who leads Christian nationalist training centers masquerading as the body of Christ.
If certitude keeps stripping away humility, and the values and priorities revealed by Jesus remain easily expendable, then the costly and unholy production of Christian nationalism is in for a long run.
For those who still might want to follow Jesus as he called his followers to be and do, it’s a good time to get out of the spotlight and off the stage. Or, at least, stop the cheering.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.