(written May 11, 2019 – Updated July 3, 2019)
Is God really a conservative Republican? A silly question perhaps? Maybe not when one considers the actions of the American evangelical church.
To even be able to raise this discussion with some degree of intellectual honesty is a struggle for me. But the amount of strong opinions around conservative issues among evangelical churchgoers tends to make me believe we must believe God is a conservative Republican – or at least that he requires us to be. And this concerns me in regards to damage done to the Gospel story of the Bible.
I should clarify that the “Good News” story of the Bible is powerful and always will be. My concern is that the people of the partisan church – my people – are losing credibility in sharing that amazing story. It’s heartbreaking because the story of God becoming human in order to restore relationship with humanity is too good to be lost in today’s evangelical discussion of abortion laws, boycotts, conspiracy theories, and wedding cakes lawsuits. Yet, the church today has chosen to be known more for what it’s against than for the great story it has to share.
The hypocrisy of the partisan church
Franklin Graham apologized, under pressure in 2011, for his ill-advised, public questioning of Democratic President Obama’s testimony of his Christian faith. Yet, Graham vigorously defends every action of President Trump, a Republican, even as the President’s actions sometimes fail to live up to basic Christian standards. The son of famous preacher Billy Graham, Franklin Graham also was a major public proponent of the discredited conspiracy theory regarding President Obama’s birthplace and citizenship.
In 2015, regarding President Obama, Graham stated, “The President is leading this nation on a sinful course, and God will judge him and us as a nation if we don’t repent.”
One year later, Graham compared Trump’s election to the biblical story of King Nebuchadnezzar. Graham said God chose the ungodly Nebuchadnezzar to do his work despite the king being a “pretty rough individual” and compared the choice of that rough king to God’s choosing of President Trump to be elected, as well, despite being somewhat rough around the edges.
“(Donald Trump) is the President of the United States,” Graham stated, “not the Pastor of the United States.”
The Leaven of the Pharisees
Note the difference? Evangelical leaders target a Democratic elected official with harsh judgement and conspiracy theories while giving a pass to “our President” for any malfeasance. Could this be the “leaven of the Pharisees” about which Jesus strongly warned his followers? Was Jesus warning that the hypocrisy caused by religious-political alignments in biblical times would similarly impact the religious leaders of today?
I believe so. What else can explain the dichotomy between the political stances of Jerry Falwell and his son, Jerry Falwell, Jr. Tweeting that Trump be given two extra years on his term due to the Robert Mueller Independent Counsel Investigation, the junior Falwell completely ignored his father’s gleeful endorsement of the Kenneth Starr investigation of President Bill Clinton. Starr’s investigation cost millions more and took years longer than Mueller’s, ultimately finding nothing illegal in the land deal for which it was originally formed.
Lacking Eyes to See
Are we Evangelicals blind to the difference? Or will God simply overlook this hypocrisy because abortion laws and gay marriage bans are so important to him? Evangelicals gave not even a whimper of critique about Donald Trump’s hush money given to a porn actress mistress. Perhaps we owe an apology to Bill Clinton.
The leaders of Jesus’ day had malleable morals in order to protect their political goals. Jesus labelled them “hypocrites” for it. The religious leaders laid oppressive rules on those under their influence and Jesus hated it. I believe we should see these stories in scripture and wonder if we can be affected by the same mindset, the same “leaven.”
As those same religious leaders of Jesus day continually tried to catch Jesus in tricky cultural arguments, Jesus would refuse to answer in the format they demanded. Jesus refused to enter into these divisive arguments in order to avoid marginalizing his message for the masses who lived under the heavy bridle of those religious leaders. I believe Jesus was clearly demonstrating for us a very different way to engage in emotional, divisive cultural issues:
On the divisive/emotional issue of taxes, Jesus said, “So as not to offend, let’s allow God to provide the money for this unfair tax.”
On the issue of unfair laws, he said, “If you’re ordered to go a mile (which a Roman soldier could order under Roman law), go two miles instead.”
On the issue of giving up morals for political power, he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
On the issue of battling ‘fake news,’ he said “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…”
The Gospel is Too Important to Lose Our Voice
I am convinced that Jesus’ critiques for those religious leaders in the Bible would similarly be his critiques for us today. Jesus never denied his own moral teachings, but he never allowed his morals to disconnect him from people who had been ostracized by the staunch church of the day. Those “sinners” grabbed their friends and said, “you have to meet this guy, Jesus!” It should be the same with those who carry Christ’s name today. We should be attracting the un-churched, not driving them farther away. We can do better.
Our bracelets say “What Would Jesus Do?” It’s clear to me that Jesus didn’t demonstrate a model for the partisan life of today’s evangelical church. If Jesus was on earth in the flesh today, I’m convinced he would be known more for what he’s for than what he’s against. His motto would still be that he came to bring sight to the blind, set captives free and preach good news to the poor. And if our partisanship makes that difficult, then maybe it’s not from heaven. Shouldn’t we display true empathy for people around and display reasons for them to want to follow Jesus more than display our political stances on social issues?
That, in a nutshell, is why I am “The Non-Partisan Evangelical” because I want us to ask those hard questions of ourselves and put our faith, and the kingdom of heaven in a position to positively impact those around us and allow us to truly know God’s will for this time in history.