In the coming days and weeks as we move closer and closer to Election Day there will become a palpable tension over what it means to be a Christian in this country. Even now, as pastors dare to speak on the simple reality that God cares about all people equally, some are facing backlash and a decrease in donations.
It is, simply put, disheartening. For men and women who stand on the Truth to be denigrated while a man who is the antithesis of everything God, the Church and the Bible stands for, who is somehow able to use the Bible and a Church as a political backdrop with no resistance from people who claim to follow God is shameful.
For years the religious right has been allowed to stand behind the total and complete lie that this man is a “person of faith.” I have come to see it as their version of the emperor has no clothes. The rest of us can see that he is a malignant narcissist who will manipulate anyone to get what he wants. But for those who believe, they do so at their core level. They have bought into the narrative of fear and cast a naked emperor as their savior.
This is not the first time someone has tried to manipulate faith to justify their hatred. It is hardly the first time someone has lied and said that God cares about X group (white people) more than Y group (anyone else). That reasoning is what allowed the Europeans to colonize the rest of the world without conscience, allowed them to enslave people who did not look like them, justify countless atrocities towards those already living on the lands, and repeatedly violate and disregard whoever they please.
And it is wrong.
It was wrong in the 15th Century. It was wrong when Europeans claimed this country. It was wrong when Hitler used it in the 1930s. And it is wrong today.
One of the reasons the religious right is able to get away with such gross manipulations of scripture is that people do not know the Word for themselves. Sure, they can (mis)quote scripture to back up their actions. But we have let vocal preachers and magnetic personalities tell us what the Bible says without fact-checking it for ourselves.
We have a church foundation in this country built on racism (an excellent book on this is Reconstructing the Gospel by Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove). It was with “biblical justification” that white men forcibly migrated Africans to this country. They did so with a deeply held moral prerogative. And just as, down to their core, these men and women felt they were following God’s word (they were not), so today men and women who would claim to be deeply religious do not realize they are following a hijacked faith.
It is impossible to read the Word and let God consume your life and still allow kids to be in cages, people to be murdered after they are denied entry into this country, to think that black lives matter less than stuff, and that embryos are the only lives worth saving. It is also how some white evangelicals can go on mission trips all over the world, sponsor children in need, send shoe boxes at Christmas without seeing the complete contradiction of then doing everything in their power to keep the people who receive those “acts of charity” from entering the US.
It is impossible for anyone with a truly open heart and clothed in humility to read the Word and still hold the ideals some white evangelicals cling desperately hard to.
Take for example the Sermon on the Mount. It is essentially Jesus’ treatise on how we are to live. In it we are told to be humble and wholly reliant on God for everything. We are told to live gentle, meek lives, where we display tender mercy and have a pure heart. We are told to be with those who are hurting, to be peacemakers and, in doing so, be prepared to face backlash and to have it cost us something.
And that is just the first 10 verses! For those hearing these words it was radical. Until then religion was a system that benefitted a few while telling everyone to try harder (sound familiar?). The religious leaders of the day had taken the laws God gave them and weighted them down with rules, expectations, exceptions, and guilt in order to make their lives better while those they were called to love continued to suffer.
Jesus called these people a brood of vipers. If you read Matthew you will see the only people Jesus rebuked were the religious authorities who were too busy with their own comfort, rights, and “goodness” to care about what happened to anyone else.
God – the God who made the heavens and the earth, who created ALL men and women in His image, who gave us the beauty of a flower, the color of a sunset, the absolute wonder and giftings of every tribe and tongue – that God is a God of love, peace, and justice. He is a God who tells His people to love, care for and not mistreat the foreigner, immigrant, widow, orphan, and hurting among them.
There are two churches in America today and they are about to come into steep conflict.
One is those who believe the lies of fear and superiority that have been handed down by misguided religious leaders. Those who saw the 2016 election as a “moral necessity” and have blindly stood by someone who knows nothing of God or faith or what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.
The other knows the Word. They have an intimate relationship with God. They know He is a God of love and truth. He is a God who is just and merciful. He does not give us what we deserve but does require that our lives reflect His glory as He is allowed to get into our hearts and change us.
The true Church cannot fall into the mistakes of the past and allow the current narrative to go unchecked. We must stand and preach about a God of equality, diversity, justice, and compassion. God commissioned the Church to be His hands and feet. He did not tell us to live in judgment of the other or ignore the suffering of those who look different than us (and sadly often times the church is the one inflicting that suffering).
We have to stand up. We have to speak. We have to preach God’s Truth – which can be done without endorsing a party. God is bigger than our politics and it’s time we let Him have His voice back.
We need to encourage people to get into the Word for themselves. If you have time to be on social media, you have time to meet with God. Faith is not a check box. You cannot allow someone else to dictate your relationship with God. Jesus came so we do not need a mediary; how dare we allow misguided religious leaders to assume that place in our lives.
Start with the Sermon on the Mount. Take it slow. Pray over it. Read it in different translations. Turn off the news and let the silence be your guide back to who God really is.
This is too important for us to be silent anymore.