Can turning to the psalms for comfort be morally problematic? If your initial response to that question is, “Of course not,” then you’re not alone.

This wondering had not crossed my mind until I began working on a “Lectionary to Life” reflection for an ongoing series published by the Center for Congregational Ethics. Among the lectionary texts for the day of my assigned writing were Psalm 59 and Psalm 64.

Both psalms have a similar theme, with the writers expressing a combination of anger and fear over perceived persecution. Facing false witness, conspiracy, ambush, evil deeds and so forth, the writers cry out to God, voicing complaint and lament about their circumstances, and petitioning for relief and rescue.

These prayers that became part of the biblical psalms are two among many that seek to provide comfort to the persecuted. Readers facing distressing situations receive a sense of solidarity in hearing about the experiences of the writers who seem to be living through similarly trying times.

That the writers turn to God who is presented as a fortress, a refuge and hiding place – among other metaphors conveying God’s trustworthiness and solidarity with those who are suffering – offers further encouragement and comfort to readers that they can go and do likewise.

For centuries, Jews and Christians have repeated or adapted the words of such psalms when feeling overwhelmed, distressed or persecuted. While it is right and good to find solace in the words of the psalmists, can equating one’s circumstances with those of the psalmists be morally wrong?

Trends within Christianity in the U.S. – more precisely, the expressions that my Good Faith Media colleague John D. Pierce describes as “Americanized Christianity” – suggest it can be.

Many Americanized Christians often equate the faith with certain political expressions, and they seem to oppose any movement toward truly equal justice for all people, seeing this as an attack on their Christian faith (by which they really mean their position of power and privilege within the current social structure).

“Marks of taking most seriously what Jesus said were the greatest commandments — to love both God with all one’s being and one’s widely-defined and embraced neighbors — are widely absent from at least the public face of Americanized Christianity today,” Pierce observes. “Power, privilege and victimhood are their preferred markings — and any loud, vulgar voices that promise to protect such status are the ones so many choose to follow over Jesus. Wherever they lead, they’ll go.”

Such problematic thinking, rooted in faulty self-perceptions, seems to inform various expressions of white Christian nationalism, to fuel conspiracy theories, and to inspire those who oppose movements that would expand human rights and would provide a full and accurate retelling of the nation’s history.

Those who feel discriminated against when their particular view on any number of social issues – which is generally based on a narrow reading of their faith’s sacred text – isn’t codified into U.S. law are presently driving the efforts at all levels of government to create what is best described as a theocracy.

And it should be clear by now that those who are currently advocating for the nation to “return the decision to the states” on various matters related to human rights are regurgitating the logic of past generations whose assertion of “states’ rights” were a proverbial dog whistle used to bolster efforts to hinder advances toward equitable justice and equal rights for all.

These false assessments of persecution are revealed in surveys that find nearly four-in-10 “born again” evangelicals in the U.S. tend to be high conspiratorial thinkers and to think they’re being discriminated against, and in polls that reveal a majority of Republicans in the U.S. believe that “white people are being replaced by non-white people” and that “discrimination against white people has become as big a problem as discrimination against Black people.”

With 78% of U.S. white evangelical Protestants saying they affiliate with the Republican Party or lean toward the GOP, it seems safe to say that perceived persecution among white born-again / evangelical Christians is common.

Incorrectly seeing themselves as a righteous remnant opposing the forces of secularism and any other number of perceived harbingers of cultural decay, it seems likely that many turn to the psalms for comfort.

This is problematic for such individuals, groups and movements, as it provides false solace and confirmation bias when what they need to receive is a prophetic denunciation and a call to repentance.

Author’s note: This is an expanded version of an article that first appeared in the Lectionary to Life Series at the Center for Congregational Ethics.

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