Christianity in America is being radicalized.
As it further aligns with this Presidency, under the leadership of opportunistic Conservative preachers and evangelists—it is jettisoning the compassion, love, and commitment to the poor and disenfranchised of its namesake; quickly becoming a bitter tribe of angry, white nationalists who have no need for the open-hearted Jesus of the Gospels, when it can live off the closed borders of America First.
Growing in malevolence and more and more prone to violence, the American Church is becoming a safe haven for those who have contempt for the very people Jesus spent his life caring and advocating for; the poor, the invisible, the outsiders, the marginalized. It is no longer sanctuary for disparate souls looking for refuge—but a hospitable greenhouse for white supremacy and isolationism.
Yet, it isn’t the radical fringes of the Christian Right alone that have been responsible for this commandeering of the tradition of Jesus of Nazareth here in America.
They’ve had lots of help from the Center and the Left.
Right now the message of Jesus is being hijacked by extremist Evangelicals—and too many progressive Christian leaders are complicit in the crime; inwardly horrified but increasingly silent bystanders.
The shameless volume of Bible Belt Evangelical Pastors, combined with the fearful silence of their Mainline Protestant counterparts, is perpetuating the fake news narrative that to be Christian is to support this President.
The absence of loud, clear, persistent, opposing moderate voices of faith, is giving millions of people in the middle, no choice but secession from the Church.
I hear their stories every day as I travel around this country. An army of Blue Christians in America, sharing Jesus’ heart for the marginalized, his burden for the poor, his barrier-transcending expansion of the table—are leaving their churches because they see leaders developing feet of clay. They’re watching ministers avoiding the turbulence of speaking with clarity into the injustices of the moment, choosing to hide behind vague and unassuming words they hope will be enough.
They aren’t enough.
The reasons for Mainline Protestant pastor silence are legion;
a genuine desire to be a more measured, more polite voice of faith that easily drifts into lukewarm religion,
a theology less prone to absolutes and less driven by the threat of damnation—and the urgency it generates on the other side,
a subtle, unseen privilege that feels insulated from the damage being done,
a fear of the pushback explicitly speaking into the political environment will bring from more Conservative people in their local congregations,
the simple self-preservation of keeping the peace and avoiding controversy.
The results though, are terrifyingly similar:
Christianity is becoming more and more characterized by fear and bigotry and anger—and it is driving away those who want no part of such things. Millions of people of deep faith, are choosing to join political and civic organizations in order to do the bold, resistance work that they wish their churches were doing—and as a result, they are hastening the radicalizing of the Church being formed elsewhere.
I talked to a Presbyterian minister recently while visiting Alabama. “I so appreciate you saying what you’re saying” he said. “I wish I could say it.” I asked him why he couldn’t. He didn’t respond with words, but I saw in his face an expression I’ve seen many times before: terror.
We need courageous Christians in this moment.
Right now, Protestant pastors, ministers, and the people in their communities—need to find their outside voices.
They need to free themselves from decorum and niceness, and most of all from the fear of conflict that comes when you name and directly confront injustice.
They need to read the Sermon on the Mount again, and to realize that they are charged with stewarding these words and this work, at this place and time in the history of the planet.
They need to call out evil as evil, wrong as wrong, hatred as hatred.
They need to welcome the trouble that being prophetic voices brings—because that is the holy ground on which Jesus stood while here.
There is another story and another expression of Christianity; one that isn’t marked by exclusion and hatred and discrimination. People want it and they need to see it.
There are churches all over this country doing beautiful, diversity-welcoming, equality-championing work. They need to tell people why they do that work and call out those contesting such work.
Hateful people are loudly claiming they speak for Jesus as they cause injury. We need people who will counter as loudly with his actual words.
In a time when the story of Christianity in America is being written by those with no desire to incarnate the compassionate heart of Jesus, silence isn’t just cowardly and dangerous and irresponsible—it’s sinful.