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.
But those days are now over.
After all, it’s difficult to be an arbiter on behalf of Jesus if you’re among the nearly 50 percent of white American evangelicals who said even had accusations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh been true, you’d support him anyway.
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.”
It’s worth mentioning that many Christians, even some perusing this piece, will rightfully claim that any political position they harbor isn’t nearly as dreadful as what occurs within the halls of an abortion clinic. Certainly abortion is awful. Yet the data demonstrates abortion rates fall more sharply under Democratic leadership, and countries that make abortion safe and legal report fewer abortions.
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.
Let’s pray for a resurrection.
Dear conservative Christian,
You’ve been tricked. Hoodwinked. Bamboozled.
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.
All it takes is a mustard seed, or so I’ve heard.
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.
What is “Christlike”? Is it to defend someone accused of being a pedophile despite insurmountable evidence, simply because they identify as a Republican?
What does it mean to be your Brother’s Keeper? Is it to accrue as much income as possible while others go hungry or cannot afford their medical bills?
What does it mean to love your neighbor and enemy? Is it to stereotype Muslims, blacks, and glorify the military?
Was Jesus actually serious about his commands about wealth and possessions? Or would he heartily endorse of the accumulation of stuff – the nice car, the walk-in closet, the gold-trimmed everything?
When people are suffering in this country and abroad, do we cast judgment and bombs, or love and inclusion?
And when we’re ultimately confronted with the Creator, will we point to an American flag and our success in life, or to those on the margins that we helped to lift?
“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.
Guns. Jesus. Violence. God. Eye-for-an-eye.
Even, if necessary, before the Holy of Holies.
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.