An Evangelical Reckoning (From the Archive)

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(Originally published on the evening of January 6th, 2021)

In the 1640s CE, a sacred renaissance edifice was effaced by the cavalier self-aggrandizement of a young man named Bernini, the great Cavaliere building his bell towers connected to the beautiful Roman Basilica. Confident and imperious, he worked towards the consummation of his glory without a second’s thought to the fractures which split the structure’s base. Likewise now that sacred structure and edifice (for many) — the American Evangelical tower which purportedly clangs salvation to the world — threatens to collapse under the influence of another reckless personality.

What we have witnessed at the very heart of our great nation is assuredly enough to jar anyone out of complacency. Bodies dropping, empty eyes staring over bloody wounds, security personnel overwhelmed, an inviolate intrusion, a “Jesus Saves” flag erected on dubiously occupied ground. These images remind us of what those cognizant of the many moral failings of the Church which have been recently disclosed know all too well, that this country is divided, our leadership is mutable, apostasy has flourished under the guise of political solidarity, and an undeniable fracture has formed at the very heart of a supposedly Christian nation. But why has this happened?

Many in the Church have long grappled with ideologies precluding LGBTQ inclusion, racial policies propagating the entrenchment of white-supremacy, and the problem of single issue voting which fails to take into consideration complex and fluid ideas. Church leaders continue to demonize politically liberal policy makers as “baby murders” and have pronounced those seeking justice for underserved minority populations as “spiritual attackers” who threaten our American traditions and identity. Congregants have been told the model of orthodoxy can be found most clearly in someone who has purported publicly to adhere to their religious beliefs – a cynical subterfuge intended merely for the purposes of garnering votes – and believe, as they have been coerced to believe, that dissent against such a person is tantamount to an attack on the God whom he supposedly represents. But the likeness is poor and continually requires redressing.

The Church has for many reasons failed to adequately critique their radical political alliances (white-supremacy and funding concerns being among the most conspicuous), yet the result of this willfully uncritical reasoning has been an inability to differentiate in any meaningful way between a dangerous political ideologue and Christ, a stance which has erected a barrier (or should I say wall?) between any conversation partner seeking to find common ground. Dissent is seen as an attack against God and must be rebuffed in the strongest possible terms, and the leaders of the Evangelical Church have done little to nothing to encourage a more nuanced analysis.

The implications of this conflation are dire. It has meant the affirmation by this Evangelical community, both tacitly and explicitly (but always complicitly), of pernicious racial theories and the wholesale imbibing of unsubstantiated claims regarding the legality of the election process – claims made in the name of the “American people”. It has meant the revocation of the very freedoms which the Church continues to preach in the name of Christ, freedoms around which we should rally but which have instead been misinterpreted, transformed, and weaponized into yet more means by which to silence the “unorthodox”. Systemic perpetration of sexual harassment in the work place thrives, nominal love which boarders of xenophobia explains daily a panoply of exclusions and violent upheavals, illness racks the lungs of the country, misinformation screams across the virtual sky, all of which can be traced to the manifest moral failings and leadership insufficiencies demonstrated by the leader of our government; and yet the Church stands its ground in unfailing support  – “We should be grateful to God for the past four years.

Both the extent of this support and the feeble logic which Evangelicalism employs to defend its stance can be seen in that accusations against the character of the President have been jettisoned with alarmingly naive rationalizations. “In a perfect world”, stated one prominent Evangelical leader, “I would want a candidate who is warm, winsome, polite, reverential, deferential as well as one who gets things done. That world doesn’t exist, so I will be firmly settling for one who gets things done.”

But at what cost? Are we prepared to sanction abuse of our Black brothers and sisters in the name of the success of our own political agenda? Are we prepared to support a man whose misogyny has not only been confirmed but celebrated since having risen to the oval office, all in the name of a Christ who has supposedly endorsed with pleasure the great President Trump and his backing of a megalomaniacal Israeli subjugator of displaced and beaten Palestinians? Can one reasonably assert the stance of Pro-Life while supporting a man who daily adds to a list of civil rights violations? A myopic Evangelical agenda and the uncritical acceptance of the policies and personality of the 45th President has congealed around the Evangelical Church and obfuscated the truth which it desperately needs to recover; the truth that Donald Trump cares little for Christ, only for power; has no regard for truth, only for sycophancy and personal preference; desires to incite violence in an attempt to save face and who, in short, will stop at nothing to get what he wants and to hell with the rest of us.

And so, in 1642 CE, the towers of that great Papal edifice came down, not with a crash, but with a methodical solemnity; and with it, the Cavaliere. Upon closer inspection the damage done by that charismatic man had infected the base not only of his structure, but of the foundation of the original great Basilica itself. Yet down they came, and still the Basilica stands. And so it must be with the Evangelical church. We must recapture the ability to discern between God and cheap grandiosity, for a strong personality and loud dogmatic utterances does not a deity make. We must dissolve the inextricable link between Christ and political affiliation. We must no longer support a man whose rhetoric incites violence, divisions, chaos, and bigotry in a country which is already slated to light at the slightest provocation. We must take it upon ourselves to diligently search for the truth, to engage in critical dialogue, to condemn the hatred and vituperative rhetoric of radical political sects, and to learn to disagree with the respect preached and practice by those very Evangelicals whose legacies and lives have been suppressed by the ideology espoused by our President and his followers.

And above all, the Church must, with humility, embrace the remonstrances and admonishments of communities who are crying out against a culture which for too long has supported and disseminated racially degrading and exclusionary theology and practices – practices seen as normative and acceptable by many as a result of the political partnership with leaders who have only ever affirm the Church’s prejudicial stances. The time for reformation is now, but no such reckoning can occur until a clean break is made between the Evangelical Church and its unofficial leader. Just as the towers in Rome were dismantled brick-by-brick, so the Church must disassociate with Donald Trump, dismantle its theology and practices to find and to fix areas of its broken foundation, acknowledge and accept its mistakes, and work actively to listen to those who can better lead the Church onto more secure foundations, lest the edifice in its entirety topple from neglect.

For the sake of the soul of Evangelicalism, and indeed for the very soul of the nation, we must discard Donald Trump, not only from his Presidential placement, but from the influence over the Evangelical Church. As a result of the actions of the President on January 6th, 2021, the necessity for this expunging has never been more apparent and must be undertaken swiftly and without equivocation, for it is not the heart of the Church which has been threatened by continual affirmation of the President, but the safety of every individual. Hypocrisy must be acknowledged, pride must be unshouldered, truth must be embraced, and only then will real healing ensue.

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