Apparently, a Christian group of some sort meets afterhours in one of my favorite lunch spots. Handwritten Bible verses are sketched in various colors onto sheets of paper that are taped to the walls.
Alongside these scriptural quotations — like Isaiah’s assurance that “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (1:18) — are non-canonized messages that drive and define the true values of many Americanized Christians today.
“No mandates!” “Don’t comply or conform.” “Give me liberty or give me death.”
Patrick Henry must roll in his grave at the thought that the “liberty” for which he would die has been reduced to individual desires at the expense of the common good.
These after-hours scribes are not the only professing believers in America today who don’t know the difference between Holy Writ and the politics of self-absorption. Or, likely, they do know but prefer the latter.
One addition to the old brick wall above the tables and chairs where my grilled salmon salad is served is a familiar verse to those of us steeped in evangelicalism: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 NIV).
This verse is often used to embolden Christian witnesses — or to scare them into recruitment action by adding Jesus’ words that being ashamed of him leads to him being ashamed of them (Mark 8:38).
This prescribed brand of boldness, however, often looks and feels more like belligerence.
Paul’s words to the Romans are an affirmation, not a threat: “I’m not ashamed of the good news.” And the verse closes with an expanding and inclusive word.
Being a follower of Jesus calls for acts of selflessness and treating all people in such ways that should never result in being ashamed.
Absolutely, I am not ashamed of the good news of Jesus — as Jesus proclaimed, lived and shared it widely.
Often, however, I am very embarrassed and frustrated by the growing white nationalism that has infiltrated (or surfaced within) and largely defines much of American evangelicalism today.
While masquerading as orthodox Christianity, it is devoid of (and contrasting with) what Jesus called his followers to be and do.
Throughout much of my life an alarm has sounded loud and long — telling us that godless secularism was threatening the core values of our society: truth, justice and goodness.
It was the wrong warning. The biggest threat to those very things held so dearly by so many would become a white evangelical insider job.
Professing Christians who’ve embraced a self-serving political ideology over the life and teachings of Jesus are among the most susceptible to racist fears and manipulation by religious and political authoritarians.
Their so-called “Christian values” have been falsely and dangerously reduced to mere political support for criminalizing abortion and legislating against LGBTQ equality. And any means to accomplish those narrow and simplistic political goals is considered a justifiable end.
In doing so, they embolden the most amoral acts of those driving a broader agenda of untruth, discrimination and hostility toward the most vulnerable people. Even though Jesus said we are judged by our responses to such persons.
It is not the gospel of redemption, mercy and hope that brings shame, but the vast number of churchgoers who live in defense of a culture of privilege rather than in obedience to Jesus.
For so many Americanized Christians, empathy is out and seen as weakness. There is an eagerness to name sins unless it’s one’s own.
Time and again, many professing Christians prove to be among the most discriminatory and least compassionate people. This is evident in responses to surveys about immigrants and an overall political alignment with lies, authoritarianism and fear-driven racism.
It is easily detected in casual conversations and in social media postings where cultural self-preservation and fear of “the other” rules.
To deny this troublesome reality is to ignore it. To ignore it is to empower it.
Yet, many who know better don’t speak out — preferring a false peace to facing the wrath of those who do not appreciate having the veneer of their white nationalistic ways and the absence of Jesus revealed.
We let them control the conversation and redefine the terminology — like “religious freedom” — in ways that contrast with their true meanings.
There is only one explanation for why white evangelicals, more than Americans at large, oppose any path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. It is racist-fueled fear of losing cultural dominance. It’s white supremacy despite efforts to color it otherwise.
And the “law-and-order” line doesn’t fly when applied selectively and subjectively to desperate asylum seekers without valid choices, but not to the lies, abuses and crimes of preferred political saviors.
Rejecting this most troublesome and abhorrent misrepresentation of the gospel is a first and necessary step to reclaiming Christianity in the U.S. Failure to do so is to continue advancing a Jesus-free bastardization of the Christian faith that harms people and the witness handed down through the centuries.
This growing brand of Americanized Christianity is the most reliable voting bloc of right-wing extremism whose goals and motivation are about as far as can be from all that Jesus said and did.
That’s something to be ashamed about and, more importantly, to do something about.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.