Christianity’s Big Branding Problem

Editor’s Note: This was first published five years ago in the Huffington Post.

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Courtesy David Hayward, The Naked Pastor

Dear Christians,

I’m writing to you today to discuss a very serious matter. Your brand — and especially the realm of Evangelicalism — has been hi-jacked by extremists who are using it to advance political theories that have nothing to do with your beliefs. You may not have had anything to do with it personally, but this thievery has taken place right in front of you. It has been sinister and systematic, and we’ve arrived at a confused place today where the brand is now interchangeable with the extreme political right. I played a role in this maneuvering during the 1980s as the executive producer of Pat Robertson’s flagship TV program The 700 Club. Please bear with me as I attempt to explain.

The 1980s was the era that launched Christianity as a Republican political force. It has grown over the subsequent years and eventually energized the election of Donald Trump. Noted theologian Roger Olsen recalled for a blog commenter the very moment he realized what was happening.

For me the “tipping point” (almost driving me insane) was when television talk show hosts began inviting Jerry Falwell and his ilk onto their programs to speak for all evangelicals. Donahue, King, et al. Why didn’t they have moderate-to-progressive evangelicals on their shows to speak for evangelicalism? Because moderate-to-progressive evangelicals didn’t interest them. We speak with too many syllables and too much ambiguity. They wanted demagoguery, bluster, extremism. The fundamentalists calling themselves evangelicals provided it. Many evangelicals fell into line with this trend as did many fundamentalists. I am one of the few “hold outs” from the older, truer evangelicalism that refused and still refuses to go along with that narrative.

So the initial hijacking of the brand was the work of a powerful few, but it was aided in great part by a news media in search of cultural “sides” to explain conflicts between the right and the left. And this, of course, had to be done in a manner that would produce ratings or enhance readership. Hence, Dr. Olsen’s “tipping point.” Denominational Christianity was shoved aside by those who taught their flocks that political participation was a major tenet of living the Christian life. It didn’t matter that the GOP was the party of the wealthy, their “traditional values” synced so well with the faith that it was easy to convince Christian voters to support them — in fact, “become” them — and in so doing move conservatism even farther to the right through fundamentalist extremes.

They preach what I call the Gospel of Self, a self-betterment, self-improvement theology that can’t help but produce behavior contrary to the faith. Let’s face it: self is the very thing that must be overcome in the Christian tradition, not the building up of ourselves up so that we can run the world around us. That is called “idolatry,” and we all know the warnings about that. The voice reminds me of the voice who said, “tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” We need to restore the brand to its rightful place, or Christian evangelism will become nothing more than a useless attempt to protect our own asses from a future of hellfire and damnation. We will continue to push people away and lose those from our flocks that are weary of what they see as hypocrisy. We need to let God be God, and put a stop to this damnable crusade for power and influence within the culture. I believe there are a great many who see this as contrary to the Great Commission but don’t know what to do about it.

Chris Hedges is a longtime critic of this behavior speaks to it once again in a piece called “Trump and the Christian Fascists:”

“These believers … detest the reality-based world. They condemn it as contaminated, decayed and immoral. This world took their jobs. It destroyed their future. It ruined their communities. It doomed their children. It flooded their lives with alcohol, opioids, pornography, sexual abuse, jail sentences, domestic violence, deprivation and despair. And then, from the depths of suicidal despair, they suddenly discovered that God has a plan for them. God will save them. God will intervene in their lives to promote and protect them. God has called them to carry out his holy mission in the world and to be rich, powerful and happy.”

It is the Gospel of Self. How to create satisfaction for yourself and your family in this life while fighting the battles of God in the political arena. This is the antithesis of what Jesus taught in the gospels.

“The just shall live by faith” is the very foundation of protestantism. God is not mocked, and all who call themselves “Christian” know in their hearts that faith doesn’t include what’s in front of us in our culture. God judges these things and acts upon him as the natural has always done the unnatural, and we need faith in order to let that happen without trying to move things along under our own power. Life’s usual method of dealing with our dissatisfaction is to keep pouring it on until we learn to truly trust Him, not our ability to do battle ourselves in hopes of “winning” a more comfortable living in this life. Don’t think that’s the way it works? Start praying for patience and watch what happens. We simply aren’t promised a peaceful neighborhood, a sinless, well-managed, and questionless society, or any other utopian fantasy that is trouble free for those of us supposedly in the know. What happened to our understanding that the corrupt nature of humankind is a trap for those who believe we have control over anything. We were promised that the poor would always be with us, and it’s by our reaction to and our treatment of those who live under poverty’s harsh taskmaster that we are judged. We cannot earn ourselves a rose garden no matter how badly we want one. That kind of justification would not be of faith anyway, so why do we try so hard to make ourselves feel so very special. Moreover, why do we attempt to force others to embrace that specialness?

“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch,” the Bible tells us. There is no reference to denomination, doctrine, or dogma, because the term referred to the way those pioneers lived and taught others to live, their overriding behavior being the piety they displayed. They loved one another. Noah Webster, of the dictionary fame, was certainly a Christian and defined the term thusly in his 1828 dictionary, the one we all use when trying to understand terms used in documents of that era:

CHRISTIAN, noun 1. A believer in the religion of Christ. 2. A professor of his belief in the religion of Christ. 3. A real disciple of Christ; one who believes in the truth of the christian religion, and studies to follow the example, and obey the precepts, of Christ; a believer in Christ who is characterized by real piety. 4. In a general sense, the word Christians includes all who are born in a christian country or of christian parents.

So Noah Webster didn’t even come close to defining the brand by its position within the culture other than to identify piety with the term. And just so we understand number three, let’s also ask Mr. Webster to define “piety:”

PI’ETY, noun [Latin pietas, from pius, or its root, probably a contracted word.] Piety in principle, is a compound of veneration or reverence of the Supreme Being and love of his character, or veneration accompanied with love; and piety in practice, is the exercise of these affections in obedience to his will and devotion to his service.

In all things as Christians, Jesus is our model, our example, our Lord, and the author of grace. If we have questions about any issue or behavior, we can look to Him for ourselves and not be dependent on what the preacher says or any so-called expert. This was the great cultural disruption in the West brought about by Gutenberg’s printing of the Bible with the first printing press. That invention — along with common English translations of the book — decimated the unquestioned power of Rome and spread that power across the land. So began the enlightenment, protestantism, and ultimately colonialism and a modern world governed by logic and reason.

Christians are still a great throng in the world, one represented as a tapestry of different practices and branches with no one granted the authority to proclaim themselves or anyone else the “real” Christians. Various creeds have been written to help better define our specific beliefs, although we cannot escape the truth that these were written by men. Some will insist that these men were guided by the Holy Spirit and therefore sanctified in God’s eyes, but fallen man is fallen man, and if we really believe that, it’s hard to blindly trust any such reasoning. I would argue, in fact, that we’ve used those creeds and such to create neat boxes within which we can place people who disagree with us, and that is not piety, not even close.

The natural inclination of children to love others is relentlessly “cleansed” by “Christian” parents eager to bring them into their separatist, nationalist folds, and the harm done in so doing is incalculable. Even within families, members who refuse to walk according to the beliefs of the patriarch or matriarch are privately and even publicly ostracized. Children grow up and become adults, and in many denominations, that means they leave, and, according to Pew, the “unchurched” population is growing at a pace unexperienced in times past. These young people are deeply turned off, and yet their antagonizers continue to loudly profess the very moral hypocrisy they see as they’re growing up. Lectures and disapproval are often tied to sexual activities and thoughts, thought to be immoral in the profession of many churches.

However, morality doesn’t begin and end with sex. It just doesn’t, yet these extremists argue morality entirely around the sex act. Abortion isn’t about killing babies; it’s about sex. If it were not, then why don’t these vocal Christians support birth control? The churches don’t talk about the statistics. Did you know that the abortion rate in the U.S. is back to where it was before Roe v Wade? It’s not a legal issue, and it never was. It’s about sex and the extremist view that the act is evil unless somehow made clean by the church’s sanctification through marriage. Gay marriage. Homosexuality. Transgenderism. They’re all about sex. We think it makes God angry, and we don’t want to get caught up in that anger, so we rail against any sexual practice outside marriage between a man and a woman. We claim God is judging the world for this, and yet the Bible points out that Sodom wasn’t destroyed for its sexual sins but rather for its failure to take care of the poor and the afflicted. One is free, therefore, to ask that if God is indeed judging today, who exactly is He judging? Perhaps the very church attendees who plead the morality message at every turn.

That’s a very dangerous practice, because morality is a much, much broader matter. It includes, among other things, obscene CEO salaries, oppression of workers through poor wages and conditions, opposition to welfare, insider trading, tax loopholes, flouting avarice, and removing government programs that protect the poor and the afflicted. How Christian people can side with such immorality is the great mystery of the Twenty-First Century, but it begins with those who have seized the brand and run with it.

I use the words “Christian brand,” because it’s a marketing problem. We need to see it as such, if there’s to be any hope of correcting the extreme shifting of Christianity far to the political right. And if this is to be, then we need to create faith-based arguments about it and spread those far and wide. Political debates today are required to be entertaining, and that means extremes going at each other. Let’s take that debate into the church, for debating in the public square is quite useless. Let’s not be afraid to confront questions of mixing theology and politics from the pulpit, in our Bible studies, and in our homes.

The only thing wrong with error, after all, is the contempt it breeds for those who would disagree, usually without investigation. We’re better than that, aren’t we?

Raise Your Hand If You’re Going To Heaven

Golf’s attraction for the rich isn’t merely the game

Private Country Club life is an important part of the American aristocracy, and not merely because they enjoy the game. Private clubs especially shield their members from those whom they deem unwanted, primarily over what happens after the rounds of golf, where privacy affords these mostly white, older men the opportunity to discuss maintaining their control over the masses in order to produce wealth for themselves.

They are very well-connected and serve their own best interests.

They are the Inner Ring of C.S. Lewis and the Shadow Network of Anne Nelson. They are the puppeteers of Edward Bernays and the invisible government made possible through his innovative propaganda.

They have their reward in this life, and as Jesus taught us, it’s harder for them to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than even shoving a rope through a needle’s eye. To them, the salvation of believers is made to order for their manipulation, because with eyes focused on their promised Christian afterlife, the things of this life don’t really matter so much. Christian believers, then, assert that their future is set and promised, which excuses any sort of behavior in the name of saving the lost.

Heaven, therefore, is the ultimate Inner Ring, which fills church halls with, “Thank God, I made it!” The hugs, the handshakes, the joyful dancing in the aisles, the lifting of the hands, the emotional worship, the altar calls, the music, all of it flows from their spirits to themselves and those around them in a relentless expression of “I’m going to Heaven.”

Dante’s Inferno begins thusly:

Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost.

‘Lest we find ourselves in Dante’s dark woods, let us heed the warnings of the Good Book about liars and thieves among us.

I may not be able to lose my salvation, but I can give it away. Free will, you know. Why would I do that? Because the devil is a liar and the father of all lies. What greater deception is there than to rest on one’s laurels, confident in our belief that we’re going to Heaven?

He is THE wolf in sheep’s clothing, so his evil intent is hidden from us.

I am saved, and I am free, but I’m not called to use my freedom to right the wrongs of the world under the sun. I’m given grace in the first place to safely ride out those storms, not to try and control them.

And this is how I lose myself amidst the shadows of Dante’s dark woods.

Until politically active Christian people (almost entirely white) can recognize and admit their role in all this, we’re going to have to deal with the fall-out. God’s judgment is upon us, but that judgment is reserved first for those who are called by His name. This is the great mystery to me. How can believers honestly think this way? Here’s an inconvenient little piece of scripture that contemporary Christians apparently don’t have to read:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." Matthew 7:1-5

We all know the teachings of Jesus at the end of Matthew 25. He’s talking with the disciples before he is arrested and sentenced to die on the cross. As usual, the disciples want his insight on the end of all things under the sun.

This section of the Bible is highly relevant to today, for He speaks of who on earth will be invited into heaven and who will enter the fire. The dividing line is simple; it rests entirely on how each have treated their neighbors. Listen and be afraid, for there are elements among us today who skip this teaching in the name of advancing a political agenda.

"‘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, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch 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 everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

We need to be careful today in casting our lot with those who tickle our ears with the prosperity that takes from the very people Jesus mentioned in this sermon. Despite what others are telling us, we need to stand with Jesus in how we deal with our neighbors, for ethnicity and legal status don’t matter at all.

Christians today don’t want to assimilate with a culture they see as corrupt and secular and non-white. Hence, the mistaken belief that they are supposed to fix it politically or “Come out from among them and be ye separate.” This would be fine, if it didn’t bleed over into every nook and cranny of the culture, especially with those who don’t believe the same things.

"There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers." Proverbs 6:16-19

The mistake of the white evangelicals is the insistence that God’s Word speaks to the culture and not the church. It eliminates the need for self-examination, that God’s judgment begins at the house of God.

The betrayal of the church in these days is leading their flocks to despise and reject their neighbors in the interest of ultimate self-protection in the afterlife.

And that, my friends, isn’t Christianity at all.

Dr. James Dobson’s Absurd Response to Christianity Today

As a regular critic of Christianity Today for its refusal to acknowledge the damage being done to the Christian witness by Donald Trump, I have to acknowledge its editorial calling for his removal from office over the evidence used to impeach him. This was a very brave admission of its own guilt, what I would call an act of repentance for the real mess that we find ourselves in today.

Most fanatical evangelicals who support this pathological liar struck back against the magazine over the weekend, and their unity is most fascinating, for it’s all wrapped around a straw enemy created by their own hyperbole. Chief of these critics is Dr. James Dobson of “Focus on the Family” fame. Mr. Dobson’s ministry puts him at odds with anyone who doesn’t view his definition of “family” as absolute, and therein lies the weakness of his argument against Christianity Today.

So, let’s examine his response in order to glean our own understanding. His entire pro-Trump passion is built around a figure who doesn’t exist in reality, namely any potential Democratic opponent. “The editors didn’t tell us,” he writes, “who should take his place in the aftermath.” He then goes on to list the attributes of this “replacement,” most of which are completely blown out of proportion. Dr. Dobson is a staunch believer and practitioner of the “only way” theology, and he’s long been a leader in the baking of bias into the political realm of conservative Christians. Here are his beliefs regarding ANY opposition to the President, namely that the only choices would be:

  • Pro-abortion — There is no such thing, for pro-choice is not the same as pro-abortion. As someone who knows the truth here, let’s just say that this issue brings in more money to white evangelical coffers than any other, because these people have done a great job of confusing the issue of choice with the killing of “babies.”
  • Anti-family — This means the nuclear family with working dad, stay-at-home mom, and straight children. It doesn’t even begin to acknowledge other family arrangements and their needs for support from us all.
  • Hostile to the military — This disguises Trump’s use of the military for extorting “protection” money from our allies abroad. A Pentagon funded by increasing the federal debt is not pro-military, and we’ve learned from history that making war as a defense against others making war against us can have drastic consequences, especially when politicians insert their own personal agendas. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to read the exploits of Richard Nixon in 1968.
  • Dispassionate toward Israel — This, of course, references anyone who acknowledges the war crimes perpetrated on the Palestinians in the name of Zionism. To Dr. Dobson and his cronies, God Almighty brought Israel back into being to usher in the return of Jesus Christ. This is hardly a basis for unilateral and unquestioning support of a foreign power like Israel, to whom we “give” $10 million each and every day to “defend” itself.
  • Supports a socialist form of government — This is the real straw man of 2019, for Republicans don’t argue anymore with Democrats; it’s “Socialist Democrats,” which are just a breath away from Communist Democrats. Oh please. Fascist Republicans believe they can falsely claim anything as long as it moves the electorate in their direction or keeps them there. Dobson’s “Christians” are especially gullible in this regard.
  • Promotes confiscatory taxationOMG. All taxes are confiscatory, but it’s a big word he can use to obliterate the reality that Trump borrowed $2 trillion and gave it to the wealthy — many of whom give big resources to these white evangelical ministries.
  • Opposes school choice — This is the language of Zion term used to destroy public education in the name of segregation. The argument is that Christian parents (families) shouldn’t be forced to send their children to school with such obvious sinners as the poor and the afflicted for fear it might rub off on them.
  • Favors men in women’s sports and boys in girl’s locker rooms — This would be laughable if it weren’t for the real fears such a statement engenders in his “Focus on the Family” followers. It’s amazing how these people shun human progress in the name of self-service by always selecting worst-case “possibilities” rather than admit that their bias is showing.
  • Promotes the entire LGBTQ agenda — To Dr. Dobson and his ilk, this is a buzzword for what they deem to be sexual sins, on which they cannot give an inch, lest they be called hypocrites. Amazingly, however, story upon story of such escapades within the church continue to make headlines every week. Christians need to clean up their own messes before taking such a pharisaical position against the publicans of the world. Here’s the truth: the LGBTQ community has more in common with the Jesus of the Bible than His own followers do. But again, this is a threat to Dr. Dobson’s narrow view of family, so he must spew hatred rather than love.
  • Opposes parental rights — Wow, parental rights, eh? God said to “honor your father and mother,” not march in lockstep to their madness. This, again, points to Dobson’s ministry, and he needs this to be believable, because it means money to his 501c.3. In the age of the internet, this is a remarkable statement of such preposterous accusation that it’s hard to even respond without sounding deliberately off-putting. Nobody opposes parental rights, but common sense reveals the danger of rigid rules that only serve to isolate children, leaving them unprepared to participate in the tapestry of modern life.
  • Distrusts evangelicals and anyone who is not politically correct — As if the trust of evangelicals ought to be a given. Here we have a group trying to practice societal isolation in the name of God’s will, and yet they have the temerity to complain about distrust! Notice that Dr. Dobson lists the group as part of a bigger group that opposes so-called “political correctness.” This is deliberately designed to take advantage of legitimate debate over personal issues and make it into one that serves his constituency.
  • Trump fights for religious liberty and the Bill of Rights — Here the phrase “religious liberty” is interpreted as “Christian” liberty, which is actually not liberty at all but rather “license” in the name of Christianity. Lawyers use the term to project their own beliefs on others rather than read the establishment clause for what it really is — which is the opposite of what the fundamentalist evangelical community wants/needs it to be. In supporting a President who caters to their every whim, these are the only ones attempting to rewrite history to suit their needs, and it’s all going to collapse on their heads one day.

So, rather than answer with specificity the arguments raised in the Christianity Today editorial, Trump’s Christian Right is spouting their opposition to a being of their own making and description. The problem, of course, is that none of it is real.

There simply is no person or group that represents what Dr. Dobson opposes, and that’s the truth.

The Bible made me do it

The Cape Henry Landing by English artist Stephen Reid

One of the great political mysteries of the 21st Century is how and why certain members of the have-nots will support the haves regardless of the evidence that they and their families would be better off in opposition. Opposing the greed of the rich seems a no-brainer. The two groups have virtually nothing in common, so either the haves have done a sensational job of manipulating the working poor, or there is something taking place that observers seem unable to observe.

Firstly, there’s the belief among this group of mostly Christian have-nots that their hope is in God, but Biblical reasoning posits a political system that believes the poor should pick themselves up by their bootstraps and get over it. This is accompanied by the idea that if you give a poor man a fish, you’ve fed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you’ll feed him for a lifetime. The fallacy of this concept, of course, is in its practical execution, for it assumes an unlimited supply of fish and resources required to make this a reality. Ours is a world of limited resources, and when I take extra fish for myself and my family, I’m acting out of greed, not love for my fellow humans.

Secondly, this is supported by the writings of Paul to the communities of the burgeoning local church in the First Century, including especially one verse from his first letter to Timothy. Chapter 5, verse 8:

“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (NIV)

A good preacher can heap coals of fire on the heads of parishioners by taking this out of context and presenting it as a stand-alone command of God. It seems a logical idea until the words of Jesus are applied, “The poor will always be with you.” One must assume, then, that Biblical followers are doing a lousy job of teaching people to fish. Harping on the poor to take care of their own is hypocrisy gone-to-seed, no matter how justifiable it may seem.

Therefore, in a world of limited resources, hoarding such for one’s own gain is reprehensible in the big cultural picture. Despite this, these Christians cling to conservatism, mostly because it fits this particular Bible verse. Mix in a little abortion, gender, sex, and religious freedom, and it doesn’t matter if their party exists solely to support the wealthy.

This verse, however, is part of a bigger matter that Paul was discussing with Timothy, who raised the issue of care for widows in the church. Apparently (we don’t know, because we don’t have Timothy’s original letter to Paul), the church was having difficulty separating widows who were deserving of care from those who weren’t. Think of it as a matter of welfare for the poor, and here we have the contemporary division between liberal and conservative thinking expressed 2,000 years ago. If we take the time to actually read and study this, we come to a place where Paul actually separates church governance from the basic tenets of Christianity. He judges some widows as undeserving and presents others as “the real widows.” In verse 16, he writes what could be a plank for the GOP:

“If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.”

The remarkable admission that the church is fiscally burdened by this puts the statement into the uncomfortable category of the practical versus the faith, for God is certainly not burdened by some widows seeking care. I don’t know enough to make the claim that this is idolatry, but as long as this portion of Paul’s letter is used to justify disrespect for the poor today, it flies in the face of the actual red words in the New Testament. Such followers need to be called on it.

What’s even worse is that these believers use this statement in their response to governmental aid for the poor today. Paul’s writings are addressed to the church, not the government. Moreover, when this fundamental belief is mixed with abortion, genderism, transphobia, homosexuality, and religious freedom, it’s easy to miss that the wealthy really only want for themselves.

Two other thoughts. One, if people really thought about Donald Trump’s election phrase — “Make America Great Again” — they’d realize that the good things of the melting pot days included strong labor unions and their core support for working men and women. Two, this leads inevitably to the conclusion that license on behalf of the business community is not what ever made America great. This worship of the businessman or woman is the core of Trumpism and a blight on those who labor on their behalf. Brett Kavanaugh wasn’t appointed to the Supreme Court, because he was pro-life; he was given the job because he passed the right wing litmus test of being 100% pro-business, a.k.a. the wealthy.

Finally, the press today is going to have to find a way to feel comfortable and confident arguing religion during the 2020 campaign. I support the Christian Democrats of America, because theirs is an ignored voice in the public square, and that cannot continue.

May you be so moved, too.

The New Split in Christianity

Image result for northern ireland conflict
Northern Ireland 1970

Christianity has had its share of historical ugliness when it comes to defining and defending the faith. From Catholic priests offering indulgences for those who could afford them to the violence and death between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, including the U.S., Protestantism arose as the Bible became more broadly available through the printing press, so that those outside the grasp of Rome could discover for themselves God’s instructions to humanity.

The ruling class slowly evolved to support protestantism, in part, because good works and deeds within its evangelical mandate took a back seat to one’s faith, which is an open door for mischief through claims of righteousness. Those brave souls who moved across the sea to tame the wilderness known today as America carried the evangelical message with them, a license to destroy the beliefs and lifestyles of the native population in the name of saving them. It was no accident that they also brought with them the business acumen of those from their fatherlands.

And so, the gap between the two forms of Christianity widened, one emphasizing the holiness of this life on earth, the other offering a prize in the afterlife. The Apostle James wrote that faith without works is dead, but Luther called the book of James “the epistle of straw”, thus enabling societal growth as the real higher power in the works of man.

Today, there’s a new and growing split between forms of the protestant faith, one that is seen and discussed in only a very few places. The political power and wealth of the white evangelicals has replaced the hand-to-hand combat that is the war on poverty as the primary mission of the church.

To be sure, the evangelicals have their answer to poverty, which is to emulate its leaders, because “God is no respecter of persons” and what they’ve been given is available to everyone. It’s warmly presented as “Give a man a fish, and you’ve fed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.” This, of course, presupposes an equal playing field for all and the natural resources for everybody to be rich. This is quite impossible, even though “God owns the cattle on a thousand hills.”

A supporter gestures at the press as Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump addresses supporters during a campaign rally in Cincinnati

The Language of Zion forms an important narrative for these faithful people, for there is nothing so absolute as to end all discussion than a good Bible verse or summarizing metaphor in secret-handshake language that only its practitioners understand. These believers point to what they view as the sexual sins of the culture as the great enemy of theirs and especially their children. This is another assumed license they’ve been given to practice their brand of Christianity despite what the Bible actually says.

The best illustration of this is found in the 16th chapter of book of Ezekiel where God tells the prophet to tell Jerusalem how displeased He was with them. In the 15th verse, God tells Jerusalem, “But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute.” To God, the comparison is valid, and if you’re looking for Bible verses about sexual misconduct, look no further than this chapter. For 48 verses the prophet rages on about the wickedness of their sin, and then he makes this remarkable observation:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

So, while Christians today rail on about homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenders, and other forms of what are called “queer,” God is concerned only with the love in their hearts for the poor and needy.

Another example of this is found in the book of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was called to prophesy God’s unhappiness with King Shallum, the son of righteous King Josiah. Under Josiah, the land had prospered and all was well, but Shallum hadn’t walked in his father’s ways and had fully slipped into sin by reinserting pagan beliefs into the culture. In referring to Josiah, Jeremiah offers this word of God to Shallum that justifies removing him from the throne:

“Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place…

…“Woe to him (Shallum) who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor. He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’ So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. ‘Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the Lord. ‘But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion.’”

Image result for poor and needy

God’s message to humanity is to care for the poor and needy, and not through the laziness assumed in teaching a man to fish, and this brings us back to the current split in Protestantism. It’s not going to end well for those who remove themselves from this core mandate of the faith, and that’s not me saying so; it’s directly from God’s word to humankind.

Gospel preachers who fly around in private jets to spread their form of prosperity are the modern-day Shallums and Sodoms, and it’s their followers who will suffer most in the final analysis. The splitting within Christianity today is along the grain and will not be joined back together with only glue, and God’s forgiveness is not absolute, despite the redemptive power of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

During his ministry, Jesus warned everywhere of the deceptions that plagued humanity. He asked the Pharisees to consider the words of the prophet Hosea to the unrighteous:

“…I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth, and My judgments go forth like lightning. For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Let me close with a few rhetorical questions. How does your religion feel about the destruction of our planet in the name of profit for the rich? How does your faith reconcile borrowing two trillion dollars to give to the rich in the name of a tax cut, while demanding that everybody else pay for it? How does your faith explain its beliefs about protecting the unborn without pleading the cause of those already born? How does your religion rationalize spreading its legs for the wicked while denying the needs and desires of those immigrants seeking the very freedoms we enjoy?

These and other questions are what is tearing Christianity apart in this century. Behavior today is the only issue that matters, despite the promise of Heaven to those who beg forgiveness at the end of a life of greed and avarice. That is the great deception of today, and I fear for those brothers and sisters who will not be held blameless for their support of such ungodliness.

NOTE: All Bible verses from the New International Version (NIV)

The Twelve Absolute Beliefs of Trump Christians

Evangelicals pray for President Trump through the laying on of hands

The postmodern exercise of deconstruction is a useful tool when trying to understand any of the various complexities of contemporary life. It’s especially useful today in the determination of why a large and polarized group of Americans — white evangelical Christians — could have put Donald Trump in office. As is often the case, the complex is merely the simple turned on its head by the self-serving justifications of those who benefit from the complexities. By deconstructing these characteristics, the deconstructor looking for answers can ask better questions in their quest.

The relationship between President Trump and these Christians is something I understand particularly well, for I once served the cause as Executive Producer of The 700 Club with Pat Robertson. The core discovery in my book The Gospel of Self is that Trump’s election was no accident but a carefully conceived and executed long-term strategy of the Christian Right. This knowledge is essential as we face another election involving this same man and his flock. Try as they may, the press is simply incapable of seeing what’s really taking place, because it involves the belief that these Christians get their marching orders directly from God. Arguing against their beliefs, therefore, places one in an argument against God, which is then laughingly dismissed by the faithful.

So, let’s deconstruct the grand narrative that places white evangelical Christians in a most powerful position in our politics. In order to pull this off, these twelve specific and absolute beliefs must ALL be in place:

  1. Salvation means that one’s final destination is eternity in Heaven, and demonstrative belief in Jesus as savior is the ONLY path to salvation. Period. Behavior in the here and now, therefore, must line up with what’s required to maintain that promise. However, occasional bad behavior doesn’t necessarily mean loss of salvation, because it’s all based on faith alone. This opens the door for basically any kind of behavior, for there’s always God’s promised forgiveness.
  2. The human condition defaults to corruption and requires a spiritual conversion in order to rise above it, to prosper, to live in peace with ones’ neighbors, and especially to enable a comfortable place in the afterlife. This is the why of Christ, and no one can escape it.
  3. The saving power of Jesus via the born again experience is the how of Christ, a manifestation of faith. These are “the elect,” Heaven-bound believers who are in fellowship with one another and with God. Again, this leaves room for behavioral lapses, because this same Jesus is good for forgiveness in the end. This is often the justification for oppression and evil in the name of God.
  4. These beliefs, according to white evangelical Christian thinking, must be held between individuals and God, for Jesus functions directly in the role of high priest for our confessions. Therefore, one’s penchant for mischief doesn’t require redemption from anyone within the church, which puts the onus for participation between the believer and God Himself (yes, God is a He). This also puts into play the significance of the “personal relationship” with Jesus and, by default, the importance of the individual in God’s mind. That’s not to diminish the role of the pastor in pressing these beliefs, but church members are constantly reminded that God speaks directly to individuals. Our job is to have “ears to hear.” White evangelicals believe it’s the responsibility of the individual to “work out his own salvation,” and therefore the correct response to poverty is to teach others how to feed themselves rather than feeding them through any human institution. “If I can do it without complaining, so can they.”
  5. We must, as Martin Luther did, acknowledge that the Epistle of James is impossible to blend with evangelicalism and therefore think of it as “the Epistle of Straw.” This means we can dismiss James’ main concern that “faith without works is dead.” Either the “just shall live by faith” or not, evangelical thinking goes.
  6. The Bible is the actual Word of God (well, except for maybe James) and to argue with it, as a whole or in part, can and often does lead to eternal damnation. And, again, this is a responsibility of the individual, for no one but God has any real authority over the believer.
  7. Following Jesus is the real determinator of happiness and contentment in this life, no matter what. This allows the believer to feel justified in looking down his nose at others from even the gutter. It feeds the pride that he is actually better off than those at the top of culture’s ladders, those who don’t need God for success and happiness. After all, the Bible says “the last shall be first.” It’s another promise directly from God to believers and the source for manipulation by those higher up the pyramid of human life. The believer is supposed to be perfectly content in this life, because life in heaven afterwards is worth the suffering of the elect.
  8. We are currently living in “the end times” — Jesus return is imminent, as in the next few minutes kind of imminent — wherein Christians must use extremely good judgment to guard against false teachers who would lead the elect to destruction. In order to recognize these false teachers (having “eyes to see”), the believer must have God’s help through men who have “knowledge of the times” as determined by God’s Holy Book. These are then equipped to truly interpret God’s will in analyzing current events through the true eyes of the Word.
  9. This is evidenced largely by the return of so-called promised lands to the Jews (which happened with the 1948 Nakba, forcibly removing the current residents, a.k.a. the Palestinians). Moreover, the real prize for Israel is Jerusalem, which is both the why and the how of looking the other way as Israel does whatever it wants to the human beings standing in the way of their promised place of privilege on the earth. Jesus, you see, is coming back via Jerusalem. Hence, nothing else matters, not really.
  10. Liberal theology is a manifestation of end times living and, therefore, should be dismissed as heresy, the devil, or the “broad road” that leads to destruction.
  11. Donald Trump is another special gift from God to the elect, much as the Biblical King Cyrus was to ancient Israel, and he was elected to restore the (evangelical) church to its rightful place atop the patriarchy of all human institutions. In this way, the (evangelical) church represents the rightful leaders of the earth and must, therefore, assume positions of power at all levels under the sun.
  12. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, one faces the likelihood of eternity in the fires of Hell, if they don’t vote and vote for the conservative candidate (who is therefore bound to act against the murdering of babies through abortion). This is a risk the white evangelical Christians aren’t prone to take.

In her brilliant October 2018 essay for Sojourners — “Getting Over The Threat Of Hell” — Author Nancy Hightower writes that Donald Trump exploited this fear in his run to the White House.

If you have never believed in hell, it’s easy to mock the idea as ludicrous, or at least very archaic. Many who may have grown up in a faith household and left might remember the fear it instilled in them…I think it’s time to suggest that the Christian focus on hell is helping to drive evangelicals into Trump’s camp, and keeps them there.

And so, we’re now beginning to see mainstream news articles that tout the rise of angry liberal Christians. CNN published an article with the headline “Buttigieg is a symbol for a rising Christian left,” which uses the mayor’s candidacy as one example of evidence that not all of Christianity is under the spell of the white evangelicals.

“©onservative provocateur Erick Erickson started attacking Buttigieg, implying that because Buttigieg is Episcopalian — a denomination known for its more progressive positions on social issues — “he might not actually understand Christianity more than superficially.”

This is a common trope among some evangelical Christians on the right, impugning other more liberal Christians as somehow less “real” or authentic in their faith.”

I must admit to a certain joy upon reading all this, because the 2020 election will put the faith of Americans to the test. It’s not nearly as exciting a story as the horserace coverage (in the minds of the press), but it’s a highly-relevant discussion we’ve needed for a very long time. The terms “liberal” and “conservative” are labels long used by theologians to assert theological differences of opinion, and it needs to form the basis for our understanding of politics as well.

Historically, culture wars in the United States have all had a foundation in religion, and we now have a chance to move it to the front burner in terms of issues facing democracy itself. Nobody understands this better than Professor Stephen Prothero, author of Why Liberals Win The Culture Wars (Even Though They Lose Elections). Whether it was the election of 1800, the mid-ninetieth century assault on Catholics by Protestants, the anti-Mormon campaign, the debates during the Scopes Monkey Trial, the battle against Supreme Court decisions of the 70s and 80s, or the current battle against Muslims, Prothero argues the outcome of culture wars historically favors the progressive perspective even though they were started by conservatives.

Donald Trump is an evil man with evil intentions, for his only true “accomplishment” as President is widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots. He placates these right wing Christians, because he knows their support will be lasting if he does, and just because he does, it does not follow that he is a “Godly President,” as some believe. The culture cannot stand this for much longer, and the discussion of faith as the dominating factor in this election badly needs to be center stage. Perhaps debates involving Buttigieg will help, for he seems not only willing but capable of speaking on behalf of his faith.

It’s true that traditionally we’ve considered a person’s religion to be a private matter and, therefore, untouchable in terms of debate. This was a part of the election of a Catholic in 1960, putting John F. Kennedy into office. Today, that position has overstayed its welcome, as Trump Christians publicly flaunt their man as God’s answer to prayer for America.

It will take directly challenging these twelve beliefs, so the discussion must involve those who think theologically but speak in plain English, and that will rule out a press that believes such discussions are not a part of its sphere of legitimate debate.

And that is to its great shame.