“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
Maybe you saw the news. This weekend, a “Christian” crowdfunding site is facilitating support for the family of Kyle Rittenhouse, the gunman who murdered two people in cold blood in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The goal? To ensure Barabbas walks free.
President Donald Trump has already vocalized his support of Rittenhouse’s disturbing, meticulous actions, so it’s no surprise that his legions of evangelical Christian supporters—those responsible for putting him in the White House in the first place—aren’t far behind.
Each day, it seems, evangelical Christianity plummets further into the depths of total and irredeemable depravity. Yes, irredeemable. Irredeemable because they no longer sulk when mustering an explanation for their untoward support of Trump. Rather, quite mesmerized, they excitedly defend him.
They honor him.
They … love him.
And as horrifically damaging as that all is to the faith, the support of Rittenhouse is different. It crosses an even more lurid line.
Consider, for a moment, that followers of Jesus, the God-man who demanded, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” would instead fanatically defend someone who lifted a weapon, aimed, and took the life of two fellow children of God.
Don’t be confused. These Trump-supporting Christians? They know the words of Jesus, chapter and verse. They just don’t care any more.
When Barabbas was on the platform beside Jesus, Pilate was convinced he had stacked the deck correctly. Barabbas, of course, was a convicted murderer. He had broken Rome’s laws. He had terrorized the people. Jesus, meanwhile, could continue his peaceful (if not annoying) political protests and terribly exhausting revival events, but at least justice would be served.
But Pilate hadn’t properly calculated the visceral, unabashed, blind hatred from the people in the crowd. Hatred that was unfounded, yet had been strategically stoked from certain leaders.
They were told what to think.
They were told who to hate.
They were told when to seethe.
And instead of trusting the words of their savior, who stood before them, they chose poorly.
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
Rarely in the Bible do we get glimpses of Angry Jesus. But rest assured, he gets salty. As a good Jewish Rabbi in the ancient near east, it was incumbent upon him to profess positive messages about God’s Kingdom, as well as fire off the occasional warning shot.
And, generally speaking, Jesus reserved his starkest warnings (sometimes with whip in hand) when those on the margins–i.e. those struggling in society– were not being cared for.
On this blog, I’ve made a few cases for why Bernie Sanders and his policies are uniquely aligned with the Christian faith. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be providing some context for readers that might want to take a deeper dive into how an intellectually rigorous faith can and should prompt an active, rich theology. One that doesn’t stray from American politics, but rather, engages wholesale.
After all, Jesus was killed for political insurrection. Suggesting Christians sit idly by on the sidelines is not and has never been part of our calling.
“Health care as a human right”
I’m not going to spend time in this piece discussing the cost of Medicare for All. Regardless of what ding it may have in our wallet (and economists are all over the board), the simple math is it will be far cheaper and most effective than the current, broken health insurance system.
The value proposition? Everyone gets health care.
And unless you’re a billionaire, you pay less.
Oh, and …
26,000 people annually stop dying because they’re denied coverage.
Almost 200,000 people annually stop going bankrupt because of illness.
Would that be worth a few extra bucks from your paycheck? For the Christian, specifically, consider this rhetorical question. Because of course it’s worth it. The cost of not providing comfort for the sick is, according to Jesus, to take the fastlane toward the path of destruction.
For Christians, our entire faith is predicated on caring for the poor and sick among us. If we don’t, we effectively render the death of Jesus meaningless.
According to the Sanders plan, Medicare for All provides comprehensive coverage at the point of service, while substantially limiting the out-of-pocket costs for prescription medication. Your doctor doesn’t change. Your hospital doesn’t go away. Nothing on the delivery side changes, because that isn’t the point of Medicare for All.
Only the middle man (Health Insurance Industry) goes away.
This, of course, is a good thing, because something we should all be able to agree on–both the secular and religious among us–is that profiteering on the health and lives of human beings is morally obtuse at best, and inherently evil at worst.
Though many in the media will wrongly claim Medicare for All as “radical” or “socialist,” it’s actually common practice in developed nations. No one would accuse the UK, Canada, or Australia as being “socialist” countries, yet each offers universal healthcare.
In fact, the U.S. is among only a few countries not to offer a nationalized healthcare system. And the bulk of the ones that do not are located in the African continent.
A God-willed “government” program?
Biblically speaking, the case for Medicare for All–which serves more or less as the branding for universal healthcare coverage–is obvious. The Bible is replete with passages that implore (but in most cases demand) the people of God to care for the poor and sick.
And, no, it doesn’t make any caveats through how that care is delivered. In other words, claiming that God wouldn’t achieve his wishes through a modest government tax increase is a non-starter and intellectually dishonest.
In the ancient world, modern democracy hadn’t yet been invented. Because we’re not under a king’s rule (at least not yet), it is the people in our American society that determine elected leaders and set the course for policy decisions. In the day of Jesus, the Jewish people were under the boot heel of a decidedly undemocratic Roman empire. They didn’t get a say.
In 2020, that has (thankfully) changed. We do get a say with how those on the margins are treated. We do get a say with how to best care for the sick and vulnerable among us.
And Medicare for All–a comprehensive, affordable, and efficient way to ensure health care as a human right–isn’t merely an obvious choice. It’s a biblical one, too.
Eighty-nine percent of evangelical Christians marched into their ballot box on November 8, and pulled the lever for Donald J. Trump. Trump the unapologetic adulterer. Trump the unabashed liar. Trump the proud con-man. Trump, who once famously quipped, “I don’t need God’s forgiveness.”
The Bible makes the claim “Whoever causes the upright to go astray in an evil way, he will fall into his own trap.” (Pr. 28:10). We know that this probably won’t end well for Trump, either in this life or the next. But there still remains the problem of how to fix evangelical Christianity. 89 percent of it, to be precise.
Regardless of the messy history that brought us to this point, we’re now in 2020 and evangelical Christians will have the opportunity to right the ship–to choose, finally, the narrow gate. It appears, in a logic that probably runs contrary to every instinct of evangelical Christians, that the best choice is Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.
3. Health care as a human right
Sanders is probably most known for what many deem “radical” proposals, chief among them “Medicare-for-All.” Depending on what media you digest, this is either the first step toward the downward spiral of socialism, or an exhaustively belated answer to the healthcare crises in America. The truth is much closer to the latter.
Medicare-for-All doesn’t get rid of doctors, nurses, or services at a hospital. Rather, it seeks to end the profiteering of the health insurance industry. According to the National Institutes of Health, over 26,000 Americans die every year due to the lack of adequate health care coverage. That number, of course, doesn’t take into account those who lose their life savings due to an illness. Meanwhile, as we get collectively get sick and die, health insurance companies are Scrooge McDucking every night into a pool of record profits.
That, obviously, is a problem. One that seems on the surface to be antithetical to the way of Jesus–because it is.
As Jesus of Nazareth traveled through the ancient near east, he performed many miracles, and primary among them was healing the sick. Later, he commissioned his disciples (and yes, that includes you and me) to do the same. Even the first Christians were notorious for caring for the sick, even if it cost them their lives.
In 2020, that just means we have to pay more in taxes.
Yes, there are costs to health care. It probably means we’ll all pay a bit more from our paycheck, but for most of us, it wouldn’t even be noticeable–especially when you remove the premiums that we currently pay into the health insurance provider. And though many might gripe about a “government-run” program, the truth is that we’d be able to drop the bureaucratic overhead of an entirely convoluted health insurance industry. Ever battle with them over paying a bill? Never again.
Medicare-for-All would be simple, streamlined health care delivery: you simply show up with your Medicare-for-All card, receive treatment, and go home.
2. Caring for God’s creation
In this day and age, evangelical Christians need an intellectually rigorous faith. So denying the very real, obvious, and frightening prospect of climate change is to live in opposition to our Creator while simultaneously denying the Genesis mandate of caring for God’s creation.
Unfortunately, many evangelical Christians are manipulated–often unbeknownst to them–by a media bias that is funded in part through Big Oil. That sad influence carries over into elections, where government representatives are wined and dined (and donated to) by lobbyists who hope to maintain the status quo, damn the long-term consequences.
The support of Bernie Sanders, or at the very least his policies, is paramount here: Sanders wants to get the disruptive and toxic allure of money out of politics. As one of the (very) few politicians to have never taken money from wealthy campaign contributors, his principles line up fairly well with acknowledging the reality of climate change, listening to scientists, and needing to address through aggressive policies.
Want to ensure a healthy planet for your kids and grandkids? Vote for Bernie Sanders
The Australian fires are not a one-off event. Nor the continued catastrophic damage occurring all over the world in the form of droughts, hurricanes, the warming of arctic, and other global phenomena that are attributable to man-made climate change. We need to act. And as Christians, even more so than the secular world, we bear responsibility to act.
1. Caring for the least
Imagine you’re sitting before Christ at the Sermon on the Mount. Christ is delivering the beatitudes, and as he makes you and everyone else more and more uncomfortable (it was kind of histhing), a wealthy local stands up and shouts back, “Well … well, maybe they shouldn’t come here illegally in the FIRST place!”
Jesus didn’t lose his temper often, but I have to imagine this would have caused a few nearby tables to be overturned.
Caring for the refugee and the immigrant doesn’t have strings attached. It can’t. For the secular among us? Perhaps. But for the Christian, we’re held to a much, much higher standard. For example, locking children in cages at the border? There’s pretty explicit warnings in the bible against harming children. And no, Jesus makes no provisions for local, state, or federal laws.
Bernie Sanders, among many other Democrats (and even some Republicans!), has long recognized the need to address immigration in the United States. And though it remains true that borders are a necessity for national safety, there are humane, safe, and thoughtful ways to proceed that don’t involve separating children from their parents, and then tossing them into cages.
Outside of these three reasons, there’s a litany of others that deserve as much mention: providing universal childcare, and reforming a criminal justice system that targets those on the margins, are of critical importance with strong, biblical cases behind each.
Regardless, in 2020, evangelical Christians can no longer use ignorance as an excuse to support Donald Trump. He’s shown his cards, and it’s without debate that he’s an evil, thoughtless, and yes, godless man, who is more interested in provocation than forgiveness. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, is running a Presidential campaign not focused on himself, but rather, the least among us. That’s a message any Christian could get behind.
When Jesus heard that the people of Capernaum were without water, he and the disciples traveled to the town. There they proclaimed the poor and thirsty would be saved upon hearing the good news, and the town’s well began to bring forth fresh water.
The biblical account of Jesus and his disciples replenishing a town’s water is one that is consistently preached, a stark reminder to modern Christians of their call to care for one’s neighbor.
At least, it would if it had actually happened.
In truth, that was Bernie Sanders (and his campaign) that heard of a town’s struggle for clean water, not Jesus. And it wasn’t Capernaum. It was Denmark, South Carolina. And he most certainly returned with several hundred cases of clean water for residents in need.
Now, no one is suggesting Bernie Sanders is the reincarnated Christ, though both were prominent Jews (and a consistent thorn in the side of the established order). Rather, I’m going to lay out several reasons why Christians should (and reasonably can) consider Bernie Sanders in the 2020 Presidential election, and how the Jesus of Nazareth and Bernie from Brooklyn have guiding principles that are more aligned than you might think.
To start, it’s important to acknowledge that American Christianity is in a bad spot at the moment. Evangelicals almost universally supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election, thereby ceding any remaining moral high ground, and jeopardizing the faith’s legitimacy to anyone with ears to hear. The youth, for example, are fleeing the faith in droves, most citing hypocrisy (see: duh) among their primary reasons for ditching the pew. Basic math suggests that without fresh faces taking weekly communion, it’s a matter of when, not if Christianity will die off.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
First, let’s dispatch with any pretense: the level of cognitive dissonance necessary to claim allegiance to Donald Trump and Jesus is enough to put anyone in a coma. You can’t do it.
Jesus didn’t grab the woman who committed adultery by the pussy, he defended her.
Jesus didn’t mock the sick and disabled, he healed them.
And finally, the desperate and, frankly, disingenuous “But Trump’s pro-life!” defense never had any credibility in the first place.
So where does that leave us? Christians in the United States need to drop Trump like the bad habit he is, and get their groove back. Which brings us to one of the key reasons that Christians should support Bernie Sanders …
The Youth Dig Him
Reaching (and re-engaging) the youth isn’t pandering, it’s a hell of a benefit. Bernie has the most support of young voters in America by wide margins. Yes, you read that right. The white-haired, froggy septuagenarian is more popular with the kids than vaping.
Bernie’s appeal is his authenticity. Regardless of whether or not you like his politics, he firmly believes in everything he says. In fact, a quick YouTube search reveals he’s been saying the same thing for the better part of 30 years.
In a world where the youth can see directly through the onslaught of bullshit marketing (and, by association, politics), Bernie is a bastion of the genuine. That should mean something to all of us.
Interestingly, most biblical scholars assert the disciples of Jesus to have been under the age of 18. One moment, they were fishing. The next, changing the world.
Sometimes the kids are OK.
Healing the Sick
Bernie’s hallmark policy pitch is Medicare-for-All, or as Fox News might have misled you to believe, “Socialist-Death-Chambers … For-All.” But Sanders’ passionate defense of the plan is fairly straightforward: healthcare is a human right. In other words, human beings deserve to be taken care of, regardless of whether or not they can pay for it.
It isn’t difficult to wonder where Jesus would have landed on the issue.
This one tends to stumble conservative Christians, because though healing the sick is very much in line with orthodox Christianity, it conflicts directly with Republican talking points. If Jesus was a proponent of healing the sick, shouldn’t we be as well?
The answer is of course we should.
Even if it costs us more in taxes.
Because the family-you-don’t-know avoiding bankruptcy due to cancer is, for a Christian, more important than the family-you-do-know splurging on an all-inclusive trip to the Caribbean.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
You shall not pollute the land in which you live…. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I also dwell; for I the LORD dwell among the Israelites.
There’s dozens more. Although you probably won’t see it on Fox News, or hear about it from Rush Limbaugh, caring for creation is very much a Christian calling.
And right now, God’s creation is screaming for help.
In our post-truth world, the agenda of those on the far right–much of it paid for by Big Oil–dismiss the objective, observable and verifiable scientific facts that the earth’s climate is changing rapidly and we are responsible.
As the earth wilts around us, it’s an act of self-sabotage and utter insanity that the human population isn’t rallying together around this common cause.
Perhaps the Christian community can lead the way?
The Green New Deal, legislation sponsored by Bernie, seeks to address the ills cast upon the earth by one of the world’s worst polluters: us. With time literally running out, the Green New Deal is indelibly and inarguably a Christian response to the havoc wreaked by humans on the environment.
Returning Power to the People
The mantra of the Bernie Sanders campaign is “Not Me, Us.” His deference to the people, and not his own political ambition, is what makes him both unique and revered.
In the bible, Jesus didn’t make it about himself. From his designation of the first apostles, to the Great Commission, Jesus generally saw the fulfillment of his work–upon his sacrificial death–to be ultimately carried out by those who understood “Kingdom Come” meant there would be tough work ahead.
A community of people would be necessary to ward against the abusive powers of a tyrannical regime, and collaborate to solve pressing issues.
Like healing the sick.
For many, this sounds like the dreaded ‘S’ word: socialism. For others, it sounds like a properly functioning democracy.
Voiding The Unholy Matrimony
Look, I get it.
For many Christians, Bernie Sanders has been painted with the socialist brush so often that it may seem counterintuitive–if not comical–to suggest he (let alone any Democrat) could ever offer the Christian faith some sort of panacea in its waning moments. But once you accept the reality that syncretism–that unholy matrimony of religion and conservative politics–has for generations undermined the Christian faith, it isn’t a giant leap to see the fruit of Christ in the actions of Bernie and his supporters. Regardless of whether or not they identify as Christians.
For those of us who do identify as Christian, myself included, we know we’re going to be held responsible for our actions in this life. After all, loving our neighbor was never optional. To quote pastor Brian Zhand, “As Jesus preached the arrival of the kingdom of God he would frequently emphasize the revolutionary character of God’s reign by saying things like, ‘the last will be first and the first last.’ How does Jesus’ first-last aphorism strike you? I don’t know about you, but it makes this modern day Roman a bit nervous.”
There are problems all around us. And it’s ever-too-easy to confide in the conservative or liberal echo chamber, and point (and yell) in the other direction. But that excuse isn’t going to fly as a Christian. The bar is infinitely higher.
The problems of the day can be solved, even led, by Christians. If only we’re willing to look for examples in places we might not have previously considered.
I sat just a few feet in front of my TV, as results trickled in from the Presidential election, and I wasn’t sure if the tears welling in my eyes were the result of anger or sadness.
“Fuck this, fuck this fucking country,” I shouted to no one in particular. And clicked the power button.
You’ve heard this story before. You probably had a similar experience.
Just maybe not the way I did.
In the days and weeks leading up to election day, I had confidently told my girlfriend that the nation was at a tipping point. That if evangelicals could just get over themselves, and acquiesce to support the morally justifiable choice, that we’d be in the clear. I understood that my candidate wasn’t perfect but, like many others, was essentially arguing against the opposition.
I mean, seriously, that guy?
As a Christian, the decision at the polling booth was simple enough: although my choice wasn’t the most ideal representative of American Christianity (nor the most engaging), with corporate relationships that were less than becoming, my choice was infinitely closer to what it meant to be a Christian than the opponent, who had long faced criticisms for the way he practiced his faith.
Then, this …
When Barack Obama secured his second term, I was a wreck. Like the polls in 2016, I had hung on every last Karl Rove syllable as he desperately tried to find votes to save Mitt Romney from runner-up status. I think at one point he even looked under his desk. It was all so miserable.
Four years later, déjà vu. Only this time the pain was more searing, because I gravely understood something that I couldn’t appreciate in 2012: though evangelicals were responsible for Romney’s loss, withholding their vote because his Mormon faith wasn’t pure enough for their taste, they were as much responsible for Trump’s win because, somehow, his faith was.
And in some ways, that’s where the story begins.
In the years between the two elections, I was forced to confront reality through experiences and data and information and patience and grace of those who viewed things differently. Slowly, I began to identify the fraudulent themes and talking points that cloaked the Fox News talking heads and conservative radio. So I turned them off.
And, alas, I changed my stripes.
I don’t expect my journey into progressivism to be common in other conservative, white males in their mid-thirties. Nor do I think, given the right conditions, it needs to be rare.
In the current climate, it’s easy and even understandable to dismiss the opposition as out-of-touch, hypocritical, Trumpanzee whack jobs. I’m just as guilty as retreating back into the sane confines of our collective echo chamber, and refusing to engage because why in the hell would it ever be worth the hassle?
The answer is because four years ago, in spite of how insufferable a conservative Christian I might have been, others found me to be worth the investment.
And even though that has meant a pretty miserable ride since 2016, I’m sure glad they did.
Brett Kavanaugh is officially on the Supreme Court, and the unholy matrimony of conservative politics and American Christianity has achieved its magnum opus: ownership of a court that appears destined to overturn Roe v. Wade, strip LGBT rights, and annihilate certain civil liberties under the guise of religious freedom.
To most American evangelicals, that all sounds fantastic. Abortion, to them, is an evil assault on the good and just creation of God, and LGBT folks are an abomination before the Lord. Without question, they’ll say, the syncretic oath entered into with a political ideology has resulted in the intended dividend, and it will reshape the country for generations to come.
But in the case of American Christianity, the means have only led to its predictable end.
Among the requisites of an authentic Christian faith, regardless of denominational flavor, is to witness to those of a secular ilk. Welcoming brothers and sisters into the faith is a kind of a big deal. If you’ve ever accepted a friend’s invitation to attend church, you know what I mean. Potential converts are provided the red carpet treatment, with Stepford smiles and prayer circles that are, for the most part, genuine. If not slightly unsettling.
Dwell on that for a moment: if Kavanaugh’s alleged assault, which included drunkenly laughing as he attempted to rip the clothes off his 15 year old victim, and covering her mouth to blunt screams for help, had been true, half of Christ’s followers would still not waiver in their support.
Much of this isn’t news to non-Christians, of course. The negative correlation between evangelicals who enthusiastically support Trump through his own sexual assault allegations, blatant racism and adultery, and the marked decline of Christianity in America, is a thick, dark line. As a Daily Beast article put it in June, “Religion disguised as partisan politics may energize evangelical voters, but with respect to faith it has backfired.”
But this has never really been about abortion. That’s merely a card the Christian right plays to defend their indefensible positions. The truth, rather, is that many Christians in America lost the plot long ago. The conservative political ideology embraced by many has instead become their identity; their religious affiliation a mere relic from a distant past.
Truly, if they ever encountered Jesus, they’d only wonder how he entered the country legally.
It’s fitting that American Christianity has sealed its fate by embracing a political stance, assuming it to preserve their faith. It was that same political calculation made by the Pharisees that led to the death of Jesus, unwittingly sinking a false system they had intended to rescue.
Indeed, American Christianity is dead. Its death was self-inflicted.
An immediate, blissful peace washes over Jill. Then, a stark but welcomed silence.
She is aware, but disembodied in a way that isn’t of tremendous concern. Her surroundings matter little, mostly because there don’t appear to be any.
Just a moment ago, she was heckled by sirens, and flashing lights, and cold steel, and uniformed men screaming as they slammed black, heavy objects against her chest again and again.
There was a series of beeps, she thinks. Or maybe it was just one long beep. She’s no longer sure, and the memory fades as effortlessly as a recent dream.
“Welcome, Jill,” The Narrator says.
“Hi. Could you tell me where I am?”
“Irrelevant,” interrupts The Narrator. “We’ll spend this conversation reviewing the time you spent in your life on the earth, which culminated some time ago.”
“Oh, so I’m … dead,” responds Jill, more whimsically than she expected, as though anxiety were prohibited.
“Your word, not mine,” dismisses the now agitated Narrator. “According to our records, your time was brief – just nineteen years. You were a bright child, prone to love, and brought regularly to church by a caring grandmother. You even excelled early in education, but like many, trouble awaited you in adolescence.”
The Narrator weaves together the good and bad details of Jill’s life with stunning indifference. From those events that occurred in public, to tragedies that would tunnel her many poor choices, to her most intimate thoughts and fears–everything is laid bare as her story is made known.
Jill remains unflinching, which she finds comforting.
“At 12, you showed tremendous promise, a light amid a dark place, given your mother’s addictions.
“It was about that time you were raped.”
The Narrator doesn’t spare the tragic elements of Jill’s compromised youth. The neighbor’s house. Muffled, broken screams that went unanswered. The panting. The smell of his breath–a toxic stew of alcohol and marijuana. And blood. So much blood. Finally, the shame. The Narrator reveals a cruel twist: Jill’s mom had made an arrangement with the neighbor for drugs just minutes before.
She hadn’t known this until now.
Jill is stoic, but feels propped up, as though she’s become a passenger as the brutal and hellish details are retold of her final seven years.
“You numbed yourself, as so many of you do, with chemicals,” continues The Narrator, lacking any sense of empathy. “You turned away from your faith and God, and wore your disbelief proudly in public and private. This helped you justify an abortion, and later cope with a miscarriage, after a boyfriend beat you in a rage that left you hospitalized. It was hell on earth for you.”
The closing chapter was imminent, as Jill wonders what is to follow.
“Your love for family, in particular your grandmother, was quite genuine,” comments The Narrator. “Yet a coldness was born of the circumstances, some on your account, others not, that fostered a hate that was perpetually in conflict with your capacity to love.”
Jill identifies the cosmic choice that she had made in, or through, life, but cognizant it was never really a choice.
“No, you never really had a choice,” affirms The Narrator, understanding Jill’s thoughts, because in this place–whatever this place is–there isn’t a difference between words spoken and thought.
The Narrator concludes with Jill’s final moments on earth. Suddenly, the memory of her demise is resurfaced, like photographic evidence to accompany the trial. The Narrator’s voice becomes nearly muted, as Jill’s final experience is relived.
She sees–no, she feels–the dirty needle entering her arm, the pinch of it breaking her skin, and the brief smirk that crossed her face as the pain is lifted. She had been alone in a cold, darkened alley that final night, a dilapidated soul battling away demons, escaping the reality of a life that ended much earlier.
Sold a bag of goods by snake oil salesmen in sheep’s clothing.
I’m sorry you have to find out this way. In a blog post. By a writer you’ve never heard of.
If it’s any consolation, I was once in the same position; conflating my Christianity with my capitalism. Perceiving the big bad government as intrusive to the pursuit of my God-ordained liberty. Assuming that individual merit in both life and the heavenly pursuit were two sides of the same coin.
And I recall the ever-calcifying echo chamber of my conservatism. My fundamentalist thoughts and meanderings, sometimes voiced by others, bouncing around unimpeded until affirmation was achieved.
Thank you, Sean Hannity, for bravely hanging up on those who dared challenge your point! Thank you, Rush Limbaugh, for diligently shouting over opposing views! Thank you, Matt Walsh, for your condescending snark and enduring refusal to acknowledge both sides! Thank you, Fox News, for always playing to your audience! Thank you, thank you, thank you! You collectively relieved me of the need to think for myself. Whew!
As you can imagine, my exodus from conservatism and as a staunch Republican has been a quite sobering journey, though I suppose stranger things have happened when one follows Jesus instead of Donald Trump. When actually studying the Bible instead of Breitbart. Or reading the commands of Jesus instead of those issued by Steve Bannon.
The individual reasons you cannot be a Christian and a Republican are various and exhaustive. They wouldn’t all fit onto a blog post, though the premise is quite simple: conservative ideology, as personified by Republicans, is an individualistic pursuit. Christian theology, as personified by Jesus, is precisely the opposite.
Take a minute, and read that again. It has pretty severe and far-reaching implications. Feel free to grab your Bible to follow along.
At this point, you’re either infuriated or concerned. Maybe a little of both. How dare I question your patriotic allegiance to God and Country, amirite? But I hope there’s some daylight, because if you keep reading, perhaps the smallest part of you will become the thorn that provokes some deeper thought.
Most of your life, you’ve casually referred to yourself as a Christian. You identify as “Pro Life,” and you’re a proud Republican. But those are little more than labels; a collection of words and symbols that you’ve heard repeated from likeminded people in your circles, family and friends, etc., and naturally, applied to yourself.
Because you’ve repeated them over and over again, they’ve stuck.
Let’s address “Pro Life,” since when I ask the hard questions, it’s what most conservative Christians point to. Hell, it’s what I used to point to. But did you know that Roe v. Wade, the (pretty damn recent) 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, was supported by Republican appointees? Or that the only Democrat appointee voted against it?
Republicans are responsible for legalized abortion. There’s no way around it.
Not-So-Fun Fact: Even before the legalization of abortion, many thousands of women received “back alley” abortions. Even if we made it illegal, abortions would likely still occur, with deadly consequences. Plenty of data has suggested that access to contraceptives and education actually lower the abortion rate.
At some point, I realized I’d rather pay more in taxes that support education proven to lower abortion, than lower taxes that leads to more abortion.
All things being equal, “Pro Life” is also a pretty crappy misnomer. Fetuses and life are hardly mutually exclusive. In the aftermath of the war in Iraq, which like you, I supported, tens of thousands of innocent children have died. The media and military casually refer to these dead children as “collateral damage.”
But are they not “life?”
And if you’re “Pro” Life, shouldn’t that extend to them?
We don’t need to look a world away, either. I don’t see many “Pro Life” signs being waved near the Flint, Michigan water treatment plant. And the anti-refugee stance held by so many Republican Christians is literally anti-Jesus (Jesus was a refugee. No, seriously. That’s sort of central to the nativity story).
It’s a fair question ask how we’ve arrived at this point in American Christianity. And, certainly, there’s answers to that question that I really, really recommend reading (hint: it’s not because Jesus was a Republican). But for me, it’s more important to look forward, and reshape what it means to be a Christian in America.
“Look, all I’m saying is that if someone wants to do harm to my church family, I’ll have the opportunity to defend myself,” stammered my brother-in-law, Jaren. He aggressively chalked his pool stick, turning attention to a menacing 8-ball with a wide-eyed, ‘and-I-really-don’t-care-what-your-thoughts-are-on-the-matter’ look.
My wife’s father nodded agreeably.
Jaren recently acquired his concealed weapons permit, and was aghast at the suggestion he forego carrying – you know, a machine designed to murder other humans – into the house of the Lord.
“Eh, I disagree,” responded another brother-in-law, who is also deeply conservative. “Something about carrying a gun into church just seems … I don’t know, um, wrong.”
I observed from a distance. They knew my position. I could have rattled off the scripture necessary, but it would have mattered little. In fact, it’d of merely fortified their stance. After all, given my liberal delusion, if I’m against something, they must be for it. And vice-versa. My education in religious studies notwithstanding.
To them, carrying a weapon into church is as American as apple pie Jesus. The second amendment is somehow God-ordained; an inspired text that, though they’d vociferously deny it, enjoys all the prestige in their daily lives as the Bible. Probably more.
“There’s nothing incompatible between guns and church!”
That was six months ago.
That was before the events in Sutherland Springs.
Though we haven’t had a pool table dialogue redux, I can confidently predict the one brother-in-law is as convinced as ever. Sadly, I can’t apply the same confidence to the other. And therein lies the rub of evangelicals in a gun-obsessed country. We’re drawn to instruments and symbols that represent power – a military-industrial complex, a flag, an anthem, a gun.
With precisely zero interest in the way of the Lamb.
And that is what makes my following prediction so painful, so tragic: In the wake of Sutherland, American evangelicals will assume their only recourse is … more guns.
Guns in the pews.
Guns during prayer.
Guns during infant baptism.
Guns just steps away from communion.
Guns because man’s cycle of violence isn’t only facilitated by his nationalism, it’s celebrated! Guns because this cancer has metastasized into religion, where evangelicals have successfully distorted the faith to fit the narrative.
It isn’t without a sense of irony that evangelicals, as opposed to their brothers and sisters in Christ who don’t identify with the term, are generally Pro Donald Trump, Pro Gun, and obsess with love of country. After all, the term evangelical has its roots in euangelion, which was to exalt the Roman emperor as ruler of the empire.
For the Jesus-following Christian, it’s a reminder that there is but one Kingdom.
So commands the most recent sign in front of my local, friendly neighborhood reformed church.
How devastating for Christians.
Let’s clear something up immediately: technically speaking, it’s an act of idolatry for any Christian to pledge their allegiance to any kingdom other than the Kingdom of God. The Christian eucharist (or communion, or the Lord’s Supper) is an oath – any other oath would, by definition, place you in open rebellion against God.
And that’s a place you really don’t want to be.
That isn’t some twisted liberal theology, by the way. It’s common sense.
Birthed by the early Christians, the sacrament of the eucharist was a reimagined Roman soldier’s oath (“sacramentum”) to Caesar. As Roman soldiers understood themselves as a new creation under Caesar – crushing all those that would defy his lordship, the early Christians subverted that rite of oppression with an inclusive (yet still legally binding) invitation to join an exclusive relationship as a new creation under the true lord, Jesus Christ.
Under this covenantal oath, the Christian belongs solely to Jesus Christ. As theologian Kerry Dearborn writes, ” … all other loyalties and identities are placed at Jesus’ feet.”
Consequently, they were persecuted for this disloyalty to Rome.
So what does that means for an evangelical in today’s America?
Do you renounce the flag?
Condemn the military?
Stop watching House of Cards?
Of course not. What it means is that you are continually on the side of the oppressed, not the empire. If you belong to the community of Christ, it’s incumbent upon you to both serve those on the margins of society, and then invite them along for the ride.
Need an example? Let’s finish where we began: kneeling for the anthem.
If you haven’t taken the two and a half minutes required to study why NFL players are kneeling, here’s a quick primer: racial injustice in America is real. Spurred by the anonymity of social media and a President who refuses to condemn it, white supremacy is becoming en vogue. Just ask the city of Charlottesville. Or any person of color you might know. The players are leveraging their enormous platform to bring attention to these societal ills, which have been proven to be legitimate over and over and over again.
You can’t turn on the television without watching a black man murdered in cold blood by the police, and worse, a judicial system that seems intent on turning a blind eye toward their actions – but has no qualms with imprisoning men of color at an alarming rate.
It’s fairly easy to suggest how the early Christians would have reacted to the crises we face today: with love and invitation, and certainly not with devout patriotism and judgement.
The gospels were written by those under boot heel of the Roman regime, and told the story of a nonviolent, itinerant rabbi who was eventually killed for political insurrection. His name was Jesus. He stood with those who faced gross inequalities, and promised that at some point, they’d be first. His followers were instructed to help carry out this promise.
But instead of acknowledging the obvious, the response from evangelical leaders to the angst in American society hasn’t just been underwhelming – it’s been reprehensible.
In fact, it’s been heretical.
And even worse, it’s actually served to undermine the gospel.
Rather than remembering their oath before God, those like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Pat Robertson, and perhaps even community churches like the one in your neighborhood, have instead committed a most egregious sin: they’ve nationalized Christianity, aligning with Caesar, and scoffing indignantly at the way of Jesus.
They’ve spit the body and blood from their mouths, and unapologetically worship at a star spangled cross.
The great challenge for American Christians, then, is this: it isn’t a matter of whether you stand. It’s a matter of where.