Saturday, November 18, 2017

With Trump, Christians are Facing a Spiritual Reckoning

Trump with evangelical "leaders"
I have a confession:  in general, I am no fan of religion, especially Christianity and Islam which claim to be positive forces for humanity but have a history of causing death and mayhem.  And that doesn't even factor in the spiritual harm done to countless millions over the centuries. Then, of course, there is the present cancer of fundamentalist Christianity and fundamentalist Islam.  The later is actively causing death and destruction at this very moment in the Middle East, parts of Africa and elsewhere.  The former, while not engaging in the actual murder of others,  continues to disseminate a virulent hatred of others and seemingly is becoming fused with white nationalism across America and many parts of Europe (e.g., recently in Poland).  And, yes, I hold bitterness from the emotional and psychological harm my Catholic upbringing inflicted on me and which Christian fundamentalists seek to inflict on society as a whole through an endless campaign of lies - no one lies more than evangelical and fundamentalist Christians from my experience save perhaps Donald Trump and/or the Catholic Church hierarchy when it claims to be serious about rooting out and punishing sexual predator priests and their enablers.  Now, in the age of Trumpism, American Christians face a choice: will they support Christ's gospel message or will they rally to the banner of Trumpism and the Republican Party's steal from the poor to give to the rich agenda.  Evangelicals appear to have chosen to reject the gospel message.  The remaining Christians are running out of time and need to either cease acting like the "good Germans" of the Nazi era and begin to forcefully and vocally say "no" to Trumpism and the worship of money, sex and power or surrender what little moral authority Christianity has left.  A column in the Washington Post looks at this choice.  Here are excerpts:
Many traditions in the history of Christianity have attempted to combat and correct the worship of three things: money, sex and power. Catholic orders have for centuries required “poverty, chastity, and obedience” as disciplines to counter these three idols. Other traditions, especially among Anabaptists in the Reformation, Pentecostals and revival movements down through the years have spoken the language of simplicity in living, integrity in relationships and servanthood in leadership. All of our church renewal traditions have tried to provide authentic and more life-giving alternatives to the worship of money, sex and power . . . .
President Trump is an ultimate and consummate worshiper of money, sex and power. American Christians have not really reckoned with the climate he has created in our country and the spiritual obligation we have to repair it. As a result, the soul of our nation and the integrity of the Christian faith are at risk.
As Abraham Lincoln, a politician with a deep knowledge of Christianity, stated in his first inaugural address, political action can, undertaken rightly, appeal to the “better angels of our nature.” But political action undertaken badly, and reckless inaction, can mislead and dispirit us — and appeal to our worst demons, such as greed, fear, bigotry and resentment, which are never far below the surface.
Trump’s adulation of money and his love for lavish ostentation (he covers everything in gold) are the literal worship of wealth by someone who believes that his possessions belong only to himself, instead of that everything belongs to God and we are its stewards.
Lately, faith leaders have spoken out against the proposed Republican budgets and tax plans. The Circle of Protection , a group of leaders from all the major branches of Christianity, of which I am a part, said in a letter to Congress: “We care deeply about many issues facing our country and world, but ending persistent hunger and poverty is a top priority that we all share. These are biblical and gospel issues for us, not just political or partisan concerns. In Matthew 25, Jesus identified himself with those who are immigrants, poor, sick, homeless and imprisoned, and challenged his followers to welcome and care for them as we would care for Jesus himself.” . . . . And yet, much Christian support for Trump and his administration continues.
Then there’s sex. Before Trump, Republicans liked to suggest that theirs was a fairly Puritanical party of family values with high standards for its candidates (despite many embarrassing exceptions). But Trump’s boastful treatment of women . . . and his serial infidelity and adultery are clear evidence of his idolatrous worship of sex. And it no longer seems like his is a unique case.
[T]he polls showing that evangelical Christians in Alabama express the most support for Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore — even after seven women have accused him of unwanted advances when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s — may be the most damning testimony as to the politicized moral hypocrisy of white evangelicals. Or as Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore warned his fellow religionists this past week, “Christian, if you cannot say definitively, no matter what, that adults creeping on teenage girls is wrong, do not tell me how you stand against moral relativism.” And yet, according to a new poll, 72 percent of evangelicals now say that “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life,” though only 30 percent thought so a mere six years ago .
Other responses to Roy Moore’s alleged behavior have been even worse than silence. . . . Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler even used a biblical story to legitimize Moore’s alleged offenses. “Take Joseph and Mary,” he said. “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”
When it comes to worshiping power, Republican Christians most obviously stray from scripture in their attitudes on race. When 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump despite his blatant and constant use of racial bigotry for his own political interest, it showed that the operative word in the phrase “white Christian” is “white” and not “Christian.”
Week after week, Trump reveals that his leadership is always and only about himself; not the people, the country or even his party — and certainly not about godliness. . . . . The conflicts between his money, power and governing are always resolved in the same way — by his selfishness; by whatever happens to appeal to him, and only him, in that moment. 
Christians, rightly enough, have never expected perfect leaders — just those who can keep up their end of the moral struggle. But for Trump, there is no moral struggle. He is not immoral — knowing what is right and wrong, and choosing the wrong — he rather seems amoral: lacking any kind of moral compass for his personal or professional life. That’s why the Christian compromise with Trump and his ilk has put faithful Americans at such serious risk.
Central to the health of our society is for American Christians to rescue an authentic, compassionate and justice-oriented faith from the clutches of partisan abuse, and from the idolatry of money, sex and power. . . . . it also means “turning around” to equity and healing personally, and systemically in our institutions of policing and criminal justice, education, economics, voting rights, immigration and refugees, racial geography, housing, and more.

I suspect that most "good Christians" will not rise to the challenge.  They will remain engaged in their churches and parishes which in ways more resemble social clubs than forces pushing for the application of the gospel message in society.  Meanwhile, the hate and hypocrisy of evangelicals will be allowed to define Christianity and the exodus of the younger generations from religion will accelerate further.   I will let readers decide if they view the death of Christianity as a good thing or not. 

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