An Election Postmortem for American Christianity


It’s all over.

At this point, it doesn’t matter who won this election.

Yes, the results have 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 has been 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 last year’s campaign and the election 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 year 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 saw the campaign unfold and they 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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Progressive Christianity—is Christianity


Years ago, I sat on a panel discussion on “Progressive Christianity”.

The host’s first request of the panelists was to describe what Progressive Christianity meant to them. My new friend, the Reverend Vince Anderson took the mic and said, “Let’s be clear: Progressive Christianity is just Christianity. We are Christians—and we are progressing in our knowledge and understanding.”

We could have stopped there.

This is the heart of what it should mean to be a Christian of any designation; the desire to continue to move and grow and learn and change, even if those things place us in opposition to the person we once were or the beliefs we once held firmly or the testimony we once gave. As we move through space and time, our faith should be in continual evolution. We should always look back at the previous version of ourselves and realize how much we didn’t know then. We should be able to see how far we’ve come in matters of spirituality.

Progressive Christianity is about not apologizing for what we become as we live this life and openly engage the faith we grew-up with. There are no sacred cows, only the relentless, sacred search for Truth. Tradition, dogma, and doctrine are all fair game, because all pass through the hands of flawed humanity, and as such are all equally vulnerable to the prejudices, fears, and biases of those it touched.

It’s fashionable for more Conservative folk to dismiss Progressive Christianity as some cheap imitation version of the Christian faith; a watered down religion of convenience practiced by people who found “real Christianity” too difficult or demanding. 

Progressive Christians know the truth of our story, and so these lazy caricatures are of little concern.
We know the authenticity of our faith.
We know the depth of our study.
We know the sincerity of our prayers.
We know the road we’ve traveled—and we don’t need to justify it.

The truth is that Progressive Christianity is so diverse that it simply cannot be neatly defined or summarized, but here are some things that most who claim the label probably agree on:

We believe that a God who is eternal, isn’t land locked to a 6,000 year-old collection of writings, unable to speak in real-time to those who seek. Revelation can come within and independent of the Bible.

We believe that God isn’t threatened or angered by our questions, our doubts, or our vacillation born out of authentic pursuit, even when those things are labeled heretical by other people. God is more secure than they are in who God is.

We believe that Christian tradition is embedded with thousands of years of misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia, and that our task as Christians in these days is to remove those cumbersome layers and uncover the very essence of what it meant to follow Jesus.

We believe that in the Scriptural command to “watch one’s life and doctrine closely” (1 Tim 4:16), the former is as important as the latter; that faith isn’t only about what you believe, it’s about whether or not your life reflects what you profess to believe.

We believe that social justice is the heart of the Gospel, that it was the central work of Jesus as evidenced in his life and teachings; the checking of power, the healing of wounds, the care for the poor, the lifting of the marginalized, the feeding of the hungry, the making of peace.

But what is as notable as what Progressive Christians agree on—is all that we do not.

We differ widely with regard to the inerrancy of Scripture, the existence of Hell, intercessory prayer, salvation by atonement, abortion, the death penalty, and gun control. 

There is no party line to tow. We don’t all identify as Democrats or pacifists or socialists. We identify simply as followers of Jesus; carefully, thoughtfully, seriously seeking to understand more today than we did yesterday, and to live lives that as best we can discern, resemble Christ’s.

Progressive Christianity is not the path of least resistance, but often the road of greatest turbulence. It places us in the decided minority in the larger Church. It creates conflict in our families and faith communities. It costs us friends and ministries and holidays with loved ones. It brings silence and shunning and separation from those we once were welcomed by. It makes us feel like strangers and orphans in the religion we used to call home.

But these things are the worthy tax on living a fully authentic faith; one where we are confident that all that is not God will fall away as we walk. We are on a continual pilgrimage toward what it looks like to perpetuate Jesus, and we don’t distinguish our road from that of Christians who may be more Conservative or more secure in orthodoxy. It is the same road.

We are all Christians moving.
We are all Christians listening.
We are all Christians learning.
We are all Christians believing.

We are all Christians progressing.


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When Loud Christians Lose Their Voices


I know lots of loud Christians, though these days I am finding too many of them are selectively loud.

They live at a high volume and know no inside voice—but only when it comes to the handful of sins they fancy condemning; those ones that reliably grab the headlines and consistently rally the faithful and generate easy Amens in the pews. Then they commandeer the megaphone and the airwaves with such regularity and relative ease; deftly marshaling their resources of pulpit and platform and political bedfellow, to brandish showy outrage at a failing humanity.

Then their brimstone tirades and finger-wagging crusades become ubiquitous. 

Yet there are times when these perennially loud religious folk suddenly come down with acute moral laryngitis; days when they lose their usual prophetic voices and are rendered conspicuously silent:

When black men die at the hands of police.
When area mosques are vandalized.
When shooters rampage gay clubs.
When Native Americans brave dogs and bulldozers to defend their graves.

When dark-skinned people seek shelter on their shores.
When the Presidential politics of fear come wrapped in stars and stripes and crosses.

In these moments the once ever-present Church suddenly disappears.
The perpetually loud Church says nothing.
The brazenly bold Church goes into hiding.
The freedom-loving Church seems less interested in freedom.
The pro-life Church becomes less passionate about life.
The For God So Loved the world Church shrinks down to the Red States of America Church.

And this silent sermon is preaching loudly to the watching world about what really matters to far too many professed followers of Jesus. It is once again reminding millions of people that there really isn’t that much Good News for them; that the Gospel is a white man’s luxury item.

Where are our timely Sunday sermons? Where is our collective righteous anger? Where is our visible presence on the ground and in the protests? Where are our perpetually zealous pastors and evangelists?

The world hears you, quiet Christians. I hear you. Jesus hears you.  

If you’re pro-life just as long as that life isn’t black or gay or Muslim, you’re not really pro-life, you’re pro straight, white life. You’re pro-babies—as long as those babies grow up to join the NRA and vote Republican.

If your idea of freedom is the kind reserved for only those who look or vote or worship the way you do, it isn’t really freedom you’re burdened with, it’s protecting privileged affinity.

If there is a border of nation or pigmentation or religion around those you feel most called to defend and protect, you’ve made God into your own image and crafted a special-interest Savior who lobbies only for “your kind”.

Because Christian, if as you so rush to proclaim, all lives really do matter to you—then you should be fighting for a whole lot more of them right now. You should be much louder than you are right now. You should be in the streets and at the pulpit and over the airways championing the sanctity of  life; in Tulsa and Charlotte and Aleppo and Pulse. 

You should be so loving the world in a way that more resembles Christ. 

In these moments, organized Christianity will be damned for its silence or redeemed for its volume. It will be proven to either be complicit in the wounds of the world, or it will become the balm that stops the bleeding. It will either look away or it will look into the mirror.

Today we who claim faith will either be a clear resonant voice of equality and justice—or a loud, clanging cymbal of selective, self-serving noise.

But know this, Christian: you are being heard in these days—whether you speak or not.



Loving Your Enemies—Even in an Election Year


I’ve been a Christian for most of my four and a half decades on this planet—and I finally figured out the one big difference between Jesus and me.

Okay, so maybe there are a few, but one of the key differences between us is our eyes.

There’s a story in the New Testament, attributed to the disciple Matthew. Jesus is traveling throughout the villages, teaching, preaching, and healing. The writer says that when Jesus saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion for them, because he saw that they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”


Jesus looks at the masses and doesn’t see their “sin”. He doesn’t see their depravity or their flaws or their failings, or the things he finds objectionable or distasteful. He sees their heart condition; their vulnerability, their inner turmoil—their fear. Jesus’ default response to the crowds is compassion.

This is the big difference between Jesus and me. My default response is more often contempt, especially in an election year.

When I encounter the crowds; when I cross paths with people, whether online or in traffic or in the grocery store or in my neighborhood or in my home, I tend to see with eyes focused on who is upsetting me, where they’re getting it wrong, how much I disagree with them, the incredible damage they’re doing. I find my impatience growing, my anger welling up, and my heart becoming harder—especially if they aren’t in complete alignment with me on God, guns, sex, money, poverty, and public restrooms.

And honestly, this where most of diverge from Jesus. We don’t see people the way he did. We certainly don’t see our adversaries the way he did. He tells us to love them, to pray for them, to bless them.

To heck with that.

We prefer to dismiss ours, to shout them down, to shame them, to eviscerate them publicly. That feels better. That feels more like a win. That gives us the cheap, temporary high our fragile egos jones for. It’s not at all of Jesus, but that’s a minor detail. When it comes right down to it, most of us fancy calling ourselves Christians—as long as we don’t have to be inconvenienced by Jesus.

There’s another story where Jesus is teaching in a remote place, surrounded by what would have been a mix of the devoted, the curious, and the skeptical. It’s getting late and the nearest Chick-Fil-A is still 2,000 years away. We’re told that again, Jesus has compassion for the hungry crowd and he feeds the multitude with a miraculous meal—all of them. He doesn’t just feed those who agree with him theologically or align with him politically. He doesn’t screen the morality of those gathered to decide who is suitable for such hospitality. He doesn’t serve only those who have it all together, those who prove themselves worthy, those who are “deserving”.

They hunger and his compassion make them deserving.

This is a major gut check for we who claim faith in Jesus, especially in an election year. How can we lead with compassion and not contempt when seeing the crowds opposite us. Yesterday I spoke about this at a local church and then I opened the floor for comments. The first woman to raise her hand said. “I have two words: Donald Trump.” How do I love Donald Trump?

I wanted to dismiss the service or call for immediate silent prayer or pull the fire alarm—or at least phone a friend. I had to wonder whether or not I would serve lunch for Donald Trump. I didn’t like having to consider it. I liked my conclusions even less.

I have the spiritual gift of Agitation. Maybe you do too. Some people are non-confrotnational, some are confrontational, and others, like myself—are supernaturally confrontational. This passion can be helpful, even redemptive. It can help us see injustice and stand up to the bullies and defend the marginalized and care for the hurting. It can be a tool of compassion.

The problem is, it can so easily become toxic, so easily become a heart pollutant, to the point where we’re no longer fighting to right wrongs or to protect people or to bring change. We can begin fighting simply to fight; to injure, to damage. This is what happens when contempt replaces compassion as our default response to the crowds.

There are real challenges out there. Just open your eyes and you’ll see them. People will say terrible things and do awful things and act in the most disgusting ways. But we can’t respond by seeing them as terrible, awful, disgusting people. If we claim faith in Jesus, we need to remember the inherent humanity buried beneath these things and to see them as he did—as fearful, vulnerable, hurting people in need of compassion.

Because if we become so hardened that we see our adversaries with contempt, we will see their fear that often masquerades as hatred, and we will fear them—and meet their hatred with hatred, and we will be in perpetual war with them and within. Jesus’ command to love our enemies doesn’t get an asterisk. It doesn’t exempt us from participation based on who are enemies are or how reprehensible we believe them to be or how reprehensible their conduct is.

I honestly don’t know how to love my enemies. I don’t know how to bless and pray for those who curse me. I don’t know how to respond with benevolence to the most malevolent people. Some days days, I don’t know how to be a person who is angry and not merely an angry person.

But I look once more at Jesus for a possible answer. He was continually surrounded by the crowds, but he often withdrew to the solitary places to rest and pray. I think he retreated from the crowds, so that when he returned to them he could really see them again; not their behavior or their hatred, but their wounds. We all carry those scars, so this shouldn’t be as difficult as it is.

Whatever that retreating looks like for you; whether prayer, mediation, silence, nature, solitude, art, or a nap—do it, again and again. Withdraw from the noise and the bombast of the crowds and from the incessant need to protect your ego and defend your ground. When you return to the crowds and to your adversaries and to your enemies, you might see first, not their hurtful words and acts, but the hurt beneath them.

Maybe, just maybe you will default to compassion more than contempt.

Maybe you’ll fix them a meal.

Maybe you’ll find love for them—no matter who they’re voting for.

Dang, this Jesus thing is no joke…