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“Listen up folks… we need to PRAY Trump wins the election right now. This is God’s candidate. Get on it! PRAY!”
—Facebook comment of an evangelical Christian
The night of the November 8, 2016 election I sat in front of my computer remembering the day I left my faith. My pastor got busted banging his secretary and then faded into sunset only to launch another church. Ten years later I would become a Christian after discovering most of the teaching I grew up with revolved around politics and nationalism.
Growing up, I couldn’t tell you a single biblical story, but hot damn, I could let you know Jesus voted Republican, punched hippies, and hated adulterers and “fags.” The problem revolved around the fact that everywhere I turned, pastors kept nailing their secretaries. Or they got rich on the backs of their congregants and then banged a mistress on the side.
From the pulpit, however, constant reminders and tracts telling you how to vote (based on Christian “ethics”) were the norm. It didn’t matter if an opposing political candidate had a strong case for the economy or education, if they didn’t align morally, you didn’t vote for them.
All that’s changed now.
According to a recent poll, 72% of white evangelicals believe an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still act ethically and carry out their duties in office. Yet in 2011, only 30% of evangelicals believed this.
That term — “evangelical” — is the one the media likes to use when depicting Christians who are serious about their faith. Yet, most Christians can’t even tell you what the term means. Instead, the terminology has been corrupted and co-opted into a form a nationalism and political identity.
If you’re like most people, there’s a drawer in your home where you throw random crap — car keys, matches, pens, rubber bands, and an assortment of other weird trinkets. In the same respect, “evangelical” has become a junk drawer term. It doesn’t mean you believe the tenets of the Christian faith but you’re white, maybe a little unconsciously racist, vote Republican, and oppose gay marriage. It has nothing to do with their faith, but stances they’re opposed to and where their political leanings lie.
Shhhhhhh, please don’t tell people I’m a Christian
This last year has been a struggle when being vocal about my faith.
When you live in a progressive, liberal city and say “I’m a Christian” it no longer means “God loves me deeply, and therefore I’m to love you the same way (regardless of your beliefs). Oh, and I’m to seek justice for the poor, marginalized, and the oppressed because my faith informs my actions.” Instead, as a heavily tattooed white dude, most people assume I had some radical conversion out of a biker gang and love political candidates like Roy Moore and wave a Confederate flag on weekends.
Laying my cards on the table, I’m disgusted by so-called leaders within my faith making political power grabs. I think it’s sad and pathetic other prominent pastors haven’t called out white supremacy or denounced the growing Christian Nationalism movement. The whole thing is so contrary to the Christian faith it’s almost laughable if it wasn’t so sad and corrosive. Jesus was a man who rejected political power and informed his disciples that his Kingdom would be brought about through their love for each other and their neighbors. That ideal and command was how they were to change the world. The Apostle Paul reiterates this throughout his letters to the church and reminds them, “Hey, act accordingly.” In antiquity, the early church had no power and multiplied, but as with everything, when a movement catches fire, the wolves move in as well.
Many young Christians who are adamant about their faith reject the label “evangelical” or “Christian” altogether today. That’s because we don’t want our faith identified with this weird Christian nationalism that’s swept the nation. We would rather have people find out about our beliefs through our actions and kind words rather than getting lumped in supporting child molesters.
The Christian Nationalism movement though, makes it about political identity and influence in American policy. But if Christians need to recognize anything it’s that we live in a post-Christian America and have to stop pretending Christianity is even relevant and do as our faith has always informed us — Become less, give up power, and serve others.
That doesn’t fix the situation we’re seeing though does it? As we’ve seen these last couple years, Christianity is a word that kind of matters because of the people polluting it and dragging it to the forefront. So what do we do considering nationalism and identity politics are now in the forefront? Stay out of it and say nothing?
A Lesson from Dietrich Bonhoeffer
On April 7, 1933 Nazi Germany introduced a series of far-reaching laws that became known as the “Aryan Paragraph.”
The Nazis announced the laws under the guise of the “Restoration of Civil Service” and stated that those not of Aryan descent (i.e. Jews) would be barred from civil service in the government, opening more jobs to native German blood. This policy would expand to ensure Jews were barred from the public health system, driven from editorial offices, and even excluded from agriculture. It also gave rise to a boycott of all Jewish businesses.
The government then applied heavy pressure on the German Evangelical Church (eventually to become the Reich Church) to support the clause and laws, and many ministers heartily accepted them with the growing tide of nationalism that swept over the country.
In the middle of this dark stain on history stood theologian and German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who vehemently opposed the laws and saw it as a clear contradiction to his faith. So after the law’s announcement he wrote an essay entitled, “The Church and the Jewish Question” in which he was explicit about the church’s obligations to fight political injustice and persecution.
The church, he wrote, must fight evil in three stages: The first was to question state injustice and call the state to responsibility; the second was to help the victims of injustice, whether or not they were church members. Ultimately, however, the church might find itself called “not only to help the victims who have fallen under the wheel [of political machinations], but to fall into the spokes of the wheel itself” in order to halt the machinations of injustice.
Bonhoeffer’s call and leadership would give rise to the Confessing Church that resisted and actively fought against these injustices in the name of their faith. Many of the church’s pastors were imprisoned and sent to concentration camps, culminating with the arrest of Bonhoeffer and his eventual execution at Flossenbürg concentration camp for his role in Operation Valkyrie (the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler).
When we read accounts like Bonhoeffer’s we think, “If that was me I would have stood up and done something. I would have been like Bonhoeffer.”
But it’s 2017 and Christians are backing child molesters and covering up rampant sexual abuse in their church. It’s 2017 and Christian leaders reject the immigrant and penalize the poor and marginalized. It’s 2017 and the church is in a bitter battle over white supremacy and racism while nationalism grows like a cancer infecting our faith.
This isn’t an essay exclaiming, “Look! Not all of us are Christian Nationalists!” This isn’t an essay about politics. Instead, this is a warning flare reminding us of the danger when we look to policy and leaders as political messiahs. It warps our perception and erodes our compassion for our fellow man and those with different beliefs than us.
If we can learn anything from Bonhoeffer and the past, then it’s this — as the growing tide of Christian Nationalism surges, we must become the stick that’s jammed in the spokes to halt its movement.