Some Christians delight in keeping the clubhouse of faith well guarded.
They insist that only those who respond properly to their multi-step “plan of salvation” are heaven bound. All others are apostate and likely reprobate.
Recently, however, some of these self-assigned gatekeepers have gone out of their way to sneak in a couple of high-profile folks who never sought admission.
It’s worth looking at who is getting dragged in now — and who is being kept out. But, more curiously, why?
While only God “looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7), there have long been those who take it upon themselves to sort the wheat from chaff. This exclusionary approach to faith is quite familiar.
However, there is a new twist within Americanized Christianity today. While continuing to denounce and exclude other professing, active Christians who don’t fully share their worldview (in other words, politics), some evangelicals are sneaking a couple of favored souls into the kingdom.
They eagerly validate — as authentic, born-again Christians — a select few who’ve never professed or practiced Christianity but advance a preferred political agenda.
For example, some religious right leaders (who’d otherwise express strong doctrinal disagreement) put their trust in charlatan prosperity preacher Paula White’s testimony of Donald Trump’s salvation, even though he has never testified to such or shown any hints of conversion.
In fact, he testified to having never felt a need to ask for forgiveness from God or anyone else.
But after boarding his political train, these “court evangelicals” cooked up some alternative “evidence” of salvation not applied to others — including those who regularly confess their faith.
Apparently, receiving invitations to the White House and a few political favors, along with news of Bible studies held by members of the former administration, were enough to stamp the former president as authentically Christian.
Never mind that this low-bar definition defies what these gatekeepers of the faith have long insisted was the only “plan of salvation.”
The harsh rhetoric, continuing lies, incitement of violence and degrading of people were quickly excused — as James Dobson showed — by simply deeming Trump a “baby Christian” who hasn’t reached maturity of faith quite yet.
So, it was unsurprising to learn that the bellowing bigot Rush Limbaugh has now gained posthumous salvation.
There was much rejoicing on conservative social media recently when a right-wing website declared that the deceased radio provocateur, “in his final few years, … gave his life fully and completely to Jesus Christ.”
“This brings much joy to my heart,” wrote one fundamentalist pastor in response.
This late-arriving but welcomed news was previously unknown to the broader public, we were told, because the mean ol’ “mainstream media” kept it from us. What a shame that Rush, himself, didn’t have a platform for speaking publicly.
The remainder of the article — that proclaimed this secret salvation — sought to excuse all the damage and division created by the radio host over recent decades.
But it didn’t answer why Rush never professed his newfound faith or showed any evidence of conversion that these self-appointed keepers of the Christian clubhouse have long demanded of others.
Any astute observer knows such silly declarations of unsought salvation are not primarily about rescuing a couple of lost souls. There is a stronger and clearer self-serving purpose.
These religious operatives are really seeking to validate their preferred, faulty version of Christianity that replaces a commitment to following Jesus with allegiance to a political ideology — one that embraces or excuses whatever ugliness is needed to protect the cultural dominance of white Americans who are so threatened by growing pluralism.
No, these particular Americanized Christians didn’t suddenly awaken to a new practice of extending grace more widely than usual. They just made a couple of strategic exceptions.
They remain committed, however, to ensuring that their political enemies are stripped of their Christian identity — even when long confessed and practiced. They do so by shifting — but only when expedient — from the familiar salvation plan to a new political test.
“The Four Spiritual Laws” — common steppingstones to salvation among evangelicals — are replaced by two political requirements: Stated opposition to abortion (while not embracing real solutions) and the political defense of discrimination against LGBTQ+ persons based on a false expression of “religious liberty.”
For example, a photo of Vice President Kamala Harris officiating a same-sex wedding swirled around social media as “evidence” — along with her support of keeping abortion decisions in the hands of individuals in consultation with their physicians and faith leaders — that she is not a Christian.
Her professed faith and practice (including regular participation in a Black Baptist church in San Francisco) are dismissed.
This two-fold political test of faith supersedes even what those making such claims have long defined as “being saved.”
Jesus, on the other hand, offered a different two-fold test — and never suggested it had an expiration date. You can check it out at Matthew 22:36-40 if curious to know the dual commandments on which “all the law and prophets hang.”
But of upmost importance to these evangelical influence peddlers — who demand nothing more of these few favored souls than shared political allegiances — is an unwavering defense of white Christian nationalism.
It is this conflation of religious and political ideologies that now define both what it means to be a Christian and a patriot. And, for them, the two are one in the same.
How odd, and revealing, that those who have long held the narrowest view of salvation are now cracking open the backdoor — free of confession, repentance and profession — to drag in a few political heroes.
Yet they keep out those whose declared faith in Christ is considered inadequate because of this newly imposed political test found nowhere in Jesus’ words.
The bad news is the Christian witness in America is suffering deeply from self-inflicted harm by becoming a political tool for advancing a fear-based, unjust and unloving agenda.
But the good news about the Good News is that neither these power-seeking evangelicals nor anyone else play any determining role in where, how and upon whom God extends grace and mercy.
Divine surprise surely awaits us all. Frederick William Faber more than a century and a half ago probably got closer to the truth than most of us.
In his hymn, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” he warns: “We make God’s love too narrow by false limits of our own, and we magnify its strictness with a zeal God would not own.”
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.