Just as Muslims worldwide have been expected to stand up against the appropriation of their religion by extremist ideologies that have expressed themselves in various forms of terror, so the Christian community must make it clear that Christ and the Gospel will not be sullied.
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…but let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everlasting stream. Amos 5: 21-24
Nothing could be more dreadful than the murder of George Floyd, under the watchful eye of supposed custodians of law and order. But as a commentary on this evil, Trump holding a bible outside St John’s Episcopal Church, having tear gassed a pathway to its door, speaks as clearly as anything might about the spiral into decay of a proud nation. Thank goodness the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, Bishop Mariann Budde, immediately chastised the president for this outrage. “Let me be clear”, she stated, “the President just used a Bible, the most sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and one of the churches of my diocese, without permission, as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the things of Jesus”.
If it were not so serious, the news clip of Trump tear gassing a pathway to the Church together with the officially released White House video would, in other circumstance, be an episode from the Chaser, the rather disrespectful, but humorous take on current affairs.
But this was not funny, it was an outrageous attempt to appropriate Christianity for divisive political ends. But who was the intended audience? Who was presumed to be impressed? The dreadful truth is that the intended audience was Trump’s political base, American Evangelical Christianity.
The collapse of the county’s moral base is staggering. As a letter to the SMH editor cynically said, “I suppose it was inevitable that having invaded so many other countries, America would eventually invade itself”. What supposedly is the US’ moral base – well Trump clearly thinks it is Evangelical Christianity. The calamity now being experienced by the US is not simply that it is imploding, with deep chasms in its civil society, but that Christianity is being appropriated for strategies, power plays, ideologies, accomplishments that are the very antithesis of Christian faith. American Evangelical Christianity appears to have fallen into a mix of prosperity gospel, conspiracy theories, dualism, fundamentalism, individualism, and general attitudes and behaviours antithetical to the life and teaching of Jesus.
Trump, how dare you. But perhaps it is not your fault. The US philosopher Sam Harris, darling of American humanists and CEO of Project Reason says freewill is an illusion. Is Trump a tragic caricature, a puppet? So Trump, are you the single most significant contributor to this decay, or are you a creation of it? Has American evangelicalism created you? The cartoon of a person coming up behind Trump and offering him a Bible to which he responds, “What’s in it, does it mention me” just about sums it up. Those who most want to thump others with the bible; about the evils of environmental responsibility, or the rights of the LGBTQI community, or who want to make war against Muslims, or call a terrorist anyone who gets in the way of America’s grand design, are the ones who seem to have the least knowledge of it.
If the US and China are the powers between which Australia must choose its future, which is more dangerous, which might be more reliable? Is it better to trust a communist country with an ideology that is an affront to the values we espouse: freedom of speech, democracy, liberality, respecting difference, protecting minorities: or is it better to put our trust in a country which claims values and a moral base which are clearly an illusion?
Is Trump’s recourse to ‘fake’ (his strategy to fend off truth), a pathway he stumbled into because it suits his pugnacious style, or is it something more frightening? Is it an unintended reflection of an inner realisation, conscious or otherwise, that the moral foundation upon which he relies, US evangelical Christianity is itself fake?
The time has come to stop pussyfooting around. Just as Muslims worldwide have been expected to stand up against the appropriation of their religion by extremist ideologies that have expressed themselves in various forms of terror, so the Christian community must make it clear that Christ and the Gospel will not be sullied.
Christianity is not about individual rights. It is about responsibilities that reside in being part of a body: be that body the family, the local community, the nation, or as importantly, the global community . Individual rights must always defer to reciprocity within communal life. Asserting rights that privilege some and diminish others can never be condoned in Christian life. Those who promote gun rights need to hear Jesus’ word to Peter, “put your sword back in its sheath”. Jn 18:11
Christianity is not about prosperity; it is absolutely not about prosperity being a sign of God’s blessing. Christianity is about being a blessing, it is about investing in the good.
Christianity abhors ‘justice’ achieved through the prevailing, or dominating, of the strong and the vanquishing of the weak. Justice demands upholding equality. It demands respect. In Jesus, difference has been levelled. There is to be no bond or free, no male or female, no Jew or Gentile. US evangelicals are wrong and immoral to promote the rise of Israel through the vanquishing of Palestinians, anymore than whites should prevail at the expense of blacks. God’s ways can never be claimed through such injustice. By doing so, US evangelicals have positioned themselves against the God known to us in Jesus who knows no benefit to some at the expense of others.
Christianity is rooted in the incarnation of Jesus, in the reality that humanity is divinely rooted in the whole created order. So called creation science, a short view of history and commitment to the dominance of humanity over the rest of the created order is not biblical. Trump can claim no Christian base for raping the planet under the banner of “America First”. Creation science is a lie and should not be given airtime, any more than conspiracy theories should be given airtime, accept of course on Fox.
There is a great deal at stake here. Christianity is the story of redemption, of peace, of hope. Its truth deserves to be heard. If folk are to reject Christianity, please at least hear it first. Its truth will blow you away, its art will inspire you, its acts of kindness will transform you and its God of grace will embrace you with life in all its fullness.