It is odd and sad seeing so many American evangelicals giving up on Jesus and choosing a course that affirms their prejudices and justifies their fears and anger.
What a strange time to be Christian in America.
The loudest voices of selective moral outrage — Franklin Graham, James Dobson, et al — have swallowed their tongues. Access to power, we now know for sure, is more important to them than the righteousness they’ve long claimed.
This comes as no surprise to alert observers, however. They are part of the politicized Religious Right movement that began in defense of racial discrimination and evolved into the reduction of American Christianity to primarily political opposition to legal abortion and gay rights.
Anything else can be excused — including the spread of abundant falsehoods and the advancement of racial and gender hostilities that have long marked Christian fundamentalism.
Politicians expect such evangelical cover (justification) as long as they toss out a few anti-abortion and anti-gay bones — and occasionally huddle with these show-time preachers who fawn in response.
Such “Christianity” works fine as long as one ignores just about everything Jesus said and did — and doesn’t think too rationally about these issues now elevated to paramount.
This misguided, Christ-free redefinition of Christian ethics is a recent development — not found in nearly two millennia of Christianity. Its shallow thinking is often expressed online and elsewhere with slogans of “saving the babies” or advancing “religious liberty.”
It ignores a lot — including the reality that abortion is in decline due to education, access to birth control and adoption. Only the most naïve would think the unlikely overturn of the Supreme Court decision that allows for legal abortion would bring an end to the practice. While understandably emotional, a logical response points to a different result.
Even ardent proponents note that overturning Roe v. Wade would give states the power to legislate abortion practices. It doesn’t take a genius to see that some (say Massachusetts) would make abortion legal while others (say Mississippi) would not.
So, actually, the result would be that those with the ability to travel across state lines would have access to medical abortions while the poorer citizens of some states would not. It is hard to find the “Christian” in that kind of ethics.
Likewise, religious liberty is given a bad name when it becomes code for discrimination rather than seeking full religious freedom for all persons, including minority faiths or those of no faith at all.
“Religious liberty” is now misused to seek protection for fundamentalist-owned businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers in the same ways restaurants, hotels and apartments in the South once refused service to African Americans. It is a modern construct of an old sinful attitude that counters much of the gospel and the higher claims of America.
This self-victimization of American evangelicals ignores their access to power and demeans those who actually are persecuted for their faith. Requirements to treat everyone fairly in business should not be equated with the gallows.
Much of what evangelical leaders seek today is self-focused — which is another way of saying it’s sin. When one’s faith (and practices including politics) becomes primarily about one’s own rights, one’s own fears, one’s own self, it loses its claim to the one who repeatedly said “Fear not!” and called for disciples to “deny self, take up a cross and follow me.”
More helpful, when claiming a “Christian” perspective on any issue, is to ask, “Does this show concern for others or is it just about me and my kind?” Were Jesus not ignored in much of today’s politicized Christianity, that question might be raised — and perhaps even answered — more often.
However, this baptized, narrow political agenda — that is naïve about abortion laws and seeks protection for discrimination as it primary objectives — allows for ignoring the unmasking of racial hostilities, the defense of white nationalism and all kinds of vulgarities and lies.
It turns those who profess Jesus as Lord into evangelical enablers of political power-brokers whose agendas have no semblance to the Way of Christ. It produces preachers who coddle national leadership for whom truth and concern for others are anomalies.
While faithful Christian service takes places day in and day out in many congregations across the nation, much of today’s public expression of evangelical Christianity (thanks to its highest profile leaders and their persistent, naïve followers) is a civil religion that romanticizes a cherished past with disregard for the realities of whatever era, including hostilities toward and exclusion of those who suffered from discrimination and other abuses.
We need clearer minds (that produce deeper thinking than reposting silly slogans) and more compassionate hearts (that allow for understanding and even empathy for those whose life experiences are shaped by factors we’ve never known) and stronger trust in an unchanging God in changing times (most fully revealed in the self-giving form of Christ).
This recently-revised civil religion that reduces ethics to a few self-serving politicized issues, rationalizes acceptance of attitudes and behaviors that contrast with the life and teachings of Jesus, and refocuses attention on one’s own comfort and benefits should never be confused with the faithful following of Jesus.
Such an analysis is based on more than mere opinion. Data show that white American evangelicals are more likely to blame the poor for their own condition (which reduces a sense of concern), to favor harsh immigration policies that divide families, and to enable political leadership that disregards truth and empowers racial superiority — none of which meshes with Jesus.
Sadly, for many white American evangelicals, Jesus has been sacrificed on the cross beams of fearful self-interest and political expediency. Truth is lost in a swirl of irrational rationalizations that soothe the fear of change but not the soul.
Yet despite this deep perversion of the Christian faith there is so little outrage among the baptized. But let me be clear: if this is what we now call “Christianity” in America, then I quit!
I want something that has a whole lot more to do with Jesus — even the hard parts that I fail to live up to day after day. Something where the taste of the bread and the cup move me more than symbols of a racist past.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.