An Election Postmortem for American Christianity

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It’s all over.

It doesn’t matter who won this election anymore.

Yes, the results have declared the candidate for whom a large percentage of Americans cast their ballots and it has determined the residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the next four years, but a different outcome wouldn’t have changed one clear, devastating truth: Christianity in this country was mortally wounded—and it was a self-inflicted injury.

This year much of the Church has been fully complicit in elevating to the highest levels of the political process, a man completely devoid of anything remotely representing Jesus, and passed him off as sufficiently Christian. Celebrity pastors and name-brand Evangelists have sold him as “a man after God’s own heart”, or at the very least a decidedly imperfect tool of Divine retribution in the style of the Old Testament—and they’ve repeatedly bastardized the Scriptures, insulted the intelligence of the faithful, and given the middle finger to the Gospel in order to do it.

And millions of Christians have held their noses and washed their hands while still trying to make their beds and cast their lots with the most openly vile, profane, hateful Presidential nominee in history. The desperate theological gymnastics and excuse making professed Bible-believing churchgoers have engaged in to try and justify it all has been the height of tragic comedy, with all the laughs coming at the expense of the Good News.

People have been watching it all, and regardless of the perceived gains, there is a price to this soul-selling.
The price is our shared witness.
The price is our credibility in the world.
The price is the integrity of the word Christian.

The price is the very name of Jesus.

A steady exodus from the American Church has been going on for the past few decades, but this election season has blown open gaping holes in its once impenetrable walls, and intelligent, decent, faithful people are streaming out in droves—and I don’t blame them one bit. They’re right to run from this thing. It’s polluted beyond saving. It is irreparably tainted by its very caretakers. It is a dead body dressed up to look alive for an hour on Sunday.

Whatever American Christianity has become in this election isn’t of Jesus anymore, no matter how loud the preachers pound the pulpit or how many Scriptures they quote or how big the steeples become or how grand the display of showy faith it makes.

God has left the building and good people are following quickly behind.

I talk to these people every day. Many of them once called Christianity home. They are deeply faithful, incredibly sincere—and they aren’t stupid. They understand what’s happening here. They recognize that Jesus and this monstrosity are not made of the same stuff. They’ve seen the campaign unfold and they’ve watched the Church slowly but surely fall in line behind hatred in order to preserve itself. They seen it grow more and more comfortable closely aligning with malevolence in order to save its own skin, even if it meant camping out on the devil’s coattails. They are grieving and furious and not sure what to do.

These are really decent people who still follow Jesus but who can no longer live with the profound disconnect between him and this terrible cancer that has stolen his identity. They know that regardless of the outcome of this election, that everything has changed. Too much damage has been done. Too much compromise has seeped in. Too much poison has entered the blood stream. Too many people have shown their true colors. There is no way to make nice and pretend it hasn’t happened.

And so no matter who is in the White House, the task at hand for these folks is to figure out how to be Christian in a place that has seemingly forgotten how; to forge a path of faith that makes a definite break from what the election has declared mainstream for followers of Jesus.

Yes, some Americans will still be doing business as Christianity, and yes the celebrity pastors and the name brand Evangelists will still pound the pulpits and quote Scriptures and make showy displays of faith in buildings with big steeples—but that’s all a desperate, flailing attempt to distract people from the stinking corpse in the center of the room. We see it. We wish we didn’t, but we do.

And yet, even with as much grieving as there has been watching this all unfold and even with the tremendous loss that we feel right now, for many of us hope still burns like a delicate ember in the center of our chests, because we know that there is something better that this faith of ours once was and still can be.

We still believe that there is goodness to move toward, as difficult as it is to find right now.

We know that this thing that is dead, isn’t the thing we seek or cling to or treasure or find life in.

And we know most of all, that the story we walk in is the story of death that will be overcome, despite the lack of evidence for hope.

And so we’re mourning and we’re throwing dirt over this dead body—and we’re here together, waiting on the resurrection. 

 

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7 Things Christians Are Giving Up By Still Supporting Donald Trump

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Donald Trump was the Presidential candidate of choice for a vast majority for Evangelical Christians, and his support in the American Bible Belt was invaluable in getting him elected.

The impact on American Christianity in the eyes of those outside of the faith has been tremendous and irreparable. As an entity, it has lost any moral authority it ever made claim to and further confirmed for so many beyond its membership, that it is not primarily virtue that motivates Christians—but prejudice and privilege.

Christians who are still supporting Donald Trump should do so understanding what they are giving up in exchange.

The are relinquishing the right to ever again speak with any authority about lots of things:

1) The “Sanctity of Marriage.” Supporting a man currently on marriage number three, one with a documented history of infidelity, flies in the face of the image they’ve cultivated as guardians of the sacred institution of Marriage. Their continued efforts to deny LGBTQ people a single marriage on the basis of protecting supposed God’s ordained one man-one woman standard, ring noticeably hollow as they tolerate Trump’s trinity of ever-younger spouses.

2) The Bible as moral authority. We Christians love to quote the Bible when it suits us, and no one does it quite like our Evangelical brothers and sisters, who can proof-text just about anything in the twinkling of an eye. Many Bible Belt believers actually worship the Scriptures as Divinity themselves. It is the sole standard by which they judge the veracity and authenticity of one’s faith, and the singular lens they claim to view the world with. The problem is, Donald Trump is Biblically illiterate. His knowledge of the Bible is so woefully pitiful that he wouldn’t be allowed to lead a second grade Bible Study, let alone the country. Speaking of which…

3) America as a Christian Nation. When they are attempting to influence national public policy or blur the separation between Church and State for their advantage, Evangelicals and Conservative Christians love to evoke the image of America as a “Christian nation” (even though our actual history testifies against this.) Still, any claims that Christ is at the center of our county’s genesis really fly out the window when you elevate a person of Trump’s poor character to its highest position, and affirm that he represent its presence in the world. This may have been a myth all along, but it will be one Christians can throw away for good.

4) The idea of protecting women. One of the strongest historic Evangelical narratives has been the antiquated idea that men are the leaders, the heads of the family, the valiant, strong protectors of their women. Still at the heart of so much American Conservative Christianity, is a rigid patriarchal sexism that says that all men want to be respected and all women want to be adored, and that it’s still the Middle Ages with men with swords on horseback and women in stone towers needing rescue. To put one’s support behind Donald Trump, a man such with a well-documented, repeated, and deplorable disregard for women should be a flat-out embarrassment to those claiming women’s safety and security matter at all.

5) Claiming to be pro-life. Many Christians who identify as pro-life voted for Donald Trump based on that issue alone,  yet Donald Trump is not pro-life. He may have once mentioned being anti-abortion, but this is a far cry from being an advocate for Life in any meaningful way. In fact, with his open racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and his contempt for immigrants and the working poor, Donald Trump has shown contempt for a great swath of Humanity. Advocating for him to preside over all the laws of our country and all of its people, is not a gesture that honors life beyond the most narrow definition of it. It becomes more about politics and semantics than defending the living.

6) Any talk of “Family Values”. There’s a warm, nostalgic, Norman Rockwellian image of Christianity as caretaker of the American family, one rooted in the 1950’s, where all is as it should be. And while most people have now come to realize that this was simply a sugary facade rooted in patriarchy and racism, one that favored only white men, Evangelicals have held on to the idea that the Church exclusively stands for families in ways that no one else does. There is simply no solid ground to stand on to make this claim while supporting Donald Trump to our highest office. The disconnect is simply too great.

7) Policing anyone for sinful behavior. One of Evangelicals favorite pastimes is evaluating the conduct of other people and measuring their moral worth accordingly. Celebrity preachers and ordinary pew-sitters like to pull-quote Jesus and demand to see “the fruit” in the lives of others as conformation that they are people of Jesus, that they have sufficiently repented, that they indeed have been born again: the proof is in the pudding. To then rationalize away the orchards of rotten fruit in Donald Trump’s personal and business history by saying “God looks at the heart” and warning those who bring these things up by chastising them “not to judge”, puts them on really shaky ground and gives them zero credibility to ever critique anyone else again.

Bonus) Talk of “Keeping Christ in Christmas” or complaining about Starbucks cups. Honestly, at the point you’ve elevated Donald Trump to the presidency, is the presence of Jesus really a priority? Let’s all wish everyone “Happy Holidays” and grab an eggnog because Jesus has left the building.

It may sound like I’m saying that Christians whose personal/spiritual convictions led them to support and vote for Donald Trump shouldn’t have been faithful to those convictions—but I’m really not. In both America and in Christ there is freedom and that’s a beautiful thing.

I am saying, that Christians need to realize that having done so (and then doubling down on him despite his reprehensible conduct since taking office) they have lost an audience with an entire generation not steeped in religion, who are seeing the hypocrisy present, who are recognizing the cognitive dissonance at work, and who have no interest in ever being part of it. They are permanently compromising their testimony in the world and making Jesus obsolete. 

To paraphrase a question Jesus asked those who would follow after him, Christians need to ask themselves:

“What will it profit a Church if it gains the Presidency but loses its soul?”

We’re finding out now.

 

Why Using the Bible Against LGBTQ People is Irresponsible

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Christians will go to great lengths to get God to consent to their prejudices. It’s actually quite astounding and equally sad. 

Every day I watch and read fellow followers of Jesus attempting to use Scripture to discriminate against, marginalize, and condemn people who identify as LGBTQ. They engage in the most protracted, passionate, theological gymnastics, arrogantly and confidently tossing out chapter-and-verse grenades in an effort to make the case that God has a problem with being gay and that the Bible is proof. They do this with great authority, unwavering confidence, and very little tolerance for dissent.

This is one of the most irresponsible things Christians have ever done.

In truth, only a literal handful of the Bible’s 31,102 verses mention what could be translated as homosexuality (an English word first coined in 1946)and in even those few cases the reference is solely to a sexual act, never to anything remotely resembling what we understand as gender identity or sexual orientation. The reason for this is quite simple: such complex ideas were beyond the grasp of the writers, just as the shape of the planet or the inner workings of the human body or the nature of gravity were. This is understandable. They had no knowledge of how the brain worked and so they could only observe behavior and imagine that was the extent of sexual identity. 

This is the greatest flaw in attempting to use the Bible to address the intricacies of human sexuality—that it is woefully inadequate for that specific task. The Bible did not drop from the sky and it isn’t a product of Divine dictation where God took over the faculties of the author. It is a sprawling library of 66 books, orally preserved and then written down over hundreds of years by dozens of disparate and largely unknown, very human authors in multiple languages, during which time the concepts of gender identity or sexual orientation were formed at only the crudest levels.  

The Bible is a product of its time and culture and contains the inherent limitations of its writers. It isn’t an attack or mutiny to admit these things, it is simply being honest with our sacred text. Even fundamentalists and Conservatives understand this. We see it in the way our orthodox Christian understanding and approaches to slavery, women’s rights, mental illness, and divorce have all evolved with what we’ve learned over time. It’s the reason we no longer stone adulterers or accuse paralytics of moral failing or imagine Hell sitting below a flat earth.

This is why arguing incessantly about a handful of parsed out lines of Scripture, as if these verses answer the complex questions of sexuality is such misguided time and such a misuse of the texts themselves. Using these few bits of text to justify discrimination and bigotry is reckless and irresponsible. We don’t rely on the Bible to understand gender identity and sexual orientation for the same reason we don’t rely on a 2,000 year old medical text to understand the circulatory system, or use ancient hieroglyphics to understand the Cosmos. We know that these things are not enough because time has taught us.

When we put our bodies in the hands of surgeons, we want them to bring every bit of study and experience and historical learning to bear, because of the complexity of the task. We wouldn’t accept that what we knew in the first century was at all adequate. In fact, we’d demand that anything antiquated, technologically or intellectually be discarded. That is the only responsible decision when life is in the balance.

In this and in so many other ways, God has given us time as a gift in which to gain understanding about the world and about our bodies and our brains, that we didn’t and couldn’t know two or three thousand years ago. We gladly and wisely use this experience without giving it a second thought, without exception. In every other sphere of life, this is how we live; allowing new revelation to help us make better decisions and to override information when it proves to be incomplete or erroneous.

The damage the Church has done an continues to do to the LGBTQ community by trying to claim the writers of the Bible understood things they simply couldn’t have understood about sexuality, is one of our greatest shared sins. We need to allow all that we’ve learned to inform our faith perspective. We can go to the Scriptures for wisdom and guidance and inspiration, but we should never go to them as authoritative textbooks on biology or anatomy, and never as an excuse to ignore what we’ve discovered since they were first recorded.

If we don’t see and consider the Bible’s limitations regarding the complexities of gender identity and sexual orientation, we will continue to try to use God to reinforce our fear and sanction our prejudices, and we will continue to engage in behavior toward the LGBTQ community that makes our violence and mistreatment feel righteous, while not at all reflecting the love of Jesus.

The Kind of Christian I Refuse to Be

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I am a Christian.

Actually, it’s more accurate lately to say that I am still a Christian.

I now say this with much trepidation. I say it with great fatigue. I say it somewhat begrudgingly. I say it with more than a good deal of embarrassment—not of Jesus, but of so many of his people and so much of the Church who claim to speak for him.

Looking around at too much of what represents my faith tradition, particularly in this election season, it’s become a daily battle to make this once effortless declaration, knowing that it now automatically aligns me with those who share so little in common with the Jesus I met when I first claimed the name Christian.

It now aligns me with bathroom bullies, politicized pulpits, white privilege, and overt racism; with bigotry toward so many groups of people who represent the “world” I grew up believing that God so loved.

There are things that used to be a given as a follower of Jesus, that no longer are.

For far too many people, being a Christian no longer means you need to be humble or forgiving. It no longer means you need a heart to serve or bring healing. It no longer requires compassion or mercy or benevolence. It no longer requires you to turn the other cheek or to love your enemies or to take the lowest place or to love your neighbor as yourself.

It no longer requires Jesus.

And so the choices are to abandon the idea of claiming Christ altogether to avoid being deemed hateful by association in the eyes of so much of the watching world—or to reclaim the name Christian so that it once again replicates the love of Jesus in the world.

I am trying to do the latter.

Yes, I am a Christian, but there is a Christian I refuse to be.

I refuse to be a Christian who lives in fear of people who look or speak or worship differently than I do.

I refuse to be a Christian who believes that God blesses America more than God so loves the world.

I refuse to be a Christian who uses the Bible to perpetuate individual or systemic bigotry, racism, or sexism.

I refuse to be a Christian who treasures allegiance to a flag or a country or a political party, above emulating Jesus.

I refuse to be a Christian who is reluctant to call-out the words of hateful preachers, venomous politicians, and mean-spirited pew sitters, in the name of keeping Christian unity.

I refuse to be a Christian who tolerates a global Church where all people are not openly welcomed, fully celebrated, and equally cared for.

I refuse to be a Christian who speaks always with holy war rhetoric about an encroaching enemy horde that must be rallied against and defeated.

I refuse to be a Christian who is generous with damnation and stingy with Grace.

I refuse to be a Christian who can’t see the image of God in people of every color, every religious tradition, every sexual orientation.

I refuse to be a Christian who demands that others believe what I believe or live as I live or profess what I profess.

I refuse to be a Christian who sees the world in a hopeless spiral downward and can only condemn it or withdraw from it.

I refuse to be a Christian devoid of the character of Jesus; his humility, his compassion, his smallness, his gentleness with people’s wounds, his attention to the poor and the forgotten and the marginalized, his intolerance for religious hypocrisy, his clear expression of the love of God.

I refuse to be a Christian unless it means I live as a person of hospitality, of healing, of redemption, of justice, of expectation-defying Grace, of counterintuitive love. These are non-negotiables.

Yes, it is much more difficult to say it these days than it has ever been, but I still do say it.

I am still a Christian—but I refuse to be one without Jesus.