The current political-religious theologies and ideologies of the White Evangelical Right are immensely curious to me. And as I watch the unabashed adoration of this president and his policies, these evangelical allegiances only grow curiouser and curiouser.
In 2019, journalist Elizabeth Bruenig published an essay about her travels to my own state of Texas and her conversations with some Trump supporters here in “God’s Country.”
In her insightful article, Ms. Bruenig pondered the marriage between conservative politics and evangelical Christianity, a union that was consummated in the 1970’s and has become even more co-dependent, convoluted and curious within this past decade.
I call it “convoluted and curious” because of so many aspects of their belief system, for example, their double vision about matters spiritual and secular. I agree with Ms. Bruenig who says:
For a movement that preaches this life is only preparation for the next life; that (only a few years ago) eschewed involvement in politics at all because of its secularity; that encourages a pious separateness from the temptations of the world; that proclaims God is in control and so teaches complete trust in God…
White Evangelicals have curiously entrusted themselves to secular courts, political policies and monied manipulators to accomplish goals of “evangelism” that they hope will transform the world.
The curious and convoluted mental gymnastics of White Evangelicals in the United States.
Often when we try to understand a complex social dynamic we will refer to the old wisdom: “follow the money.” Similarly, my theory about this curious evangelical dynamic is: “follow the power.”
For most of our history as a nation, White Christians have held sway.
Despite the Founders’ grand intention to keep government from establishing religious privilege, Christian privilege has indeed existed in numerous ways from our earliest beginnings as a nation.
In recent decades, however, disparate voices have found more power and influence so that now the public conversation includes a wider variety of viewpoints for us to consider as we make laws and set policies.
- It is this redistribution of power that White Evangelicals see as a loss of their own power.
- It is this diversity of influence that White Evangelicals fear is lessening their own privileged influence.
- It is this movement toward a vision of a secular, equitable society that threatens White Christian dominance within our society.
And I say all of this as a White Christian.
We Christians would do well to recall that during the first four centuries of the Christian movement, Jesus People were pariahs living on the edges of Roman society with absolutely no access to the centers of power. Even so, the thriving gospel movement spread its nonconformist message of love and inclusion throughout the Empire, igniting hope in the hearts of countless followers.
Emperor Constantine changed all that when he declared Christianity to be the official state religion of Rome. The movement became an institution and Christianity has never recovered.
Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
As Elizabeth Bruenig pointed out, before the 1970’s, White Evangelicals preached that “this life is only preparation for the next life [and] eschewed involvement in politics at all…” But now they have tasted the fruit of political power and their eyes have been opened to its tempting pleasures.
Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham, Paula White and too many other White Evangelical leaders have deserted the prophetic power of the gospel (the Good News) and have become puppets for the Empire.
I suppose it is not really so “curious” that religious leaders can be seduced by the power of fame and privilege. (And yes: fortune. “Follow the money.”) Look at history: this subversion has happened again and again.
But it remains curious to me why so many people who say they want to follow Christ have traded the good news of the gospel for the snake oil of these power-grubbing puppets.
It is curious because the message they are embracing is completely counter to the core message of Christianity and the clear example of the Christ.
Maybe what Christianity needs now is a return to our pre-Constantinian roots: a re-emergence of an underground movement spreading a message of love and inclusion throughout the Empire, igniting hope in the hearts of those who find these dark days so hopeless.
We need a thriving antiestablishment movement: millions of us one on one, heart to heart, hand to hand, loving our neighbors and living out authentic faith far away from the centers of power.
(This underground movement will supplement, not replace, other active and ongoing efforts to speak truth to power by such prophets as Rev. William Barber.)
Whatever we choose, whether we speak privately or publicly, any of us who claim to be people of faith can be a part of this movement for authentic faith, enduring hope and self-giving love.
We must remind our White Evangelical siblings that true power does not reside in “secular courts, political policies and monied manipulators.”
We must remind them that “transforming the world” does not mean changing the world into our own image so that it looks like us White Christian Americans
The “good news” Christians are called to be and to share is that the evercoming kingdom of God will always surprise and astound us because of its wide generosity. God’s inclusive society will not be found in the halls of political power but rather in the underground movements of faith, hope and love.
And yes, that shocking, upside down power is curious indeed.
Read Elizabeth Bruenig’s WaPo article here: In God’s Country.
Here’s a brief overview of Constantine and Christianity found in Wikipedia.