Jim Rigby: How Degenerate Christianity Helped Begat Trumpism
As a Christian pastor I feel a need to confess.
While I don’t believe there was any one cause that elected Donald Trump, I do think the support he received from so many Christians deserves some serious reflection. How have some Christians through history felt their faith led them to support the intolerance of the inquisition, the anti-Semitism of the Nazis? We need to ask these questions.
When we studied Martin Luther in seminary, we were given a cherry picked compilation of his best writings. We were not taught about his diatribes against Jews, or witches, or astronomers. We can still learn many good things from Luther without white washing the fact that he was also softening the German mind for the horrific anti-Semitism and irrationalism to come centuries later.
There was a time in the early church where the word “gospel” referred to Jesus’ humble call to love as summarized in the Sermon on the Mount. There is nothing in the teachings of Jesus about abortion, homosexuality, or condemning non-Christians.
Over time, as the church grew in power, it began to use the word “gospel” to refer not to Jesus' message of love, but to its own message ABOUT Jesus. It began to persecute others using rules and beliefs found nowhere in the actual words of Jesus. The church had begun to use itself as the measuring rod instead of love.
Here are ten ways I believe an immature American Church culture helped unreflecting Christians support Donald Trump.
1. Too many churches have developed a culture of scapegoating and blame. Jesus taught that religion should focus on being self-critical, not on criticizing others. He said we shouldn’t try to take the splinter out of our neighbor’s eye until we have dealt with what is keeping us from perceiving clearly. True kindness requires regular and radical questioning of one’s assumptions about everything, including one's understanding of Christianity itself.
2. Too many churches have developed a culture of hypochondrianical martyrdom. Demagogues have an easy task if they can convince the majority, which is resentful at sharing power, that the vulnerable minority population is actually laughing at and persecuting them behind their backs. Christians in this nation have always had unrivaled vested power. If Christians are constantly bombarded by stories where a Christian was persecuted in another country, if every insult against us is repeated endlessly, we can feel mortally attacked by a Starbucks cup that does not speak in our jargon it is easy to feel under attack. WE CHRISTIANS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE WILLING TO SUFFER FOR KINDNESS! When we prevent others from getting their rights and needs, we are not the persecuted but the persecutors.
3. Too many churches have developed a culture of exceptionalism. Jesus summarized his teachings in the story of a good neighbor. Our Jewish roots demand that we judge all claims by a common scale. Jesus called us to be examples not exceptions. We have no real ethical standard if we consider ourselves unique.
4. Too many churches have confused blessings with material prosperity. Jesus' Beatitudes were a redefinition of what it means to be happy. To be ethical often means to share the suffering of the oppressed. The Beatitudes remind us there is an exquisite joy in living that way. Too many pulpits present a theology of capitalism with theological concepts stuck on like refrigerator magnets. The prosperity message isn’t the gospel, it is Adam Smith in a Jesus beard.
5. To many churches confuse faith with anti-rationalism. If you read the writings of the early church, you may be stunned to find many of them held up reason as a sacred gift. The word “logos” which begins John’s gospel isn’t a call to belief, but to wisdom. Too many pulpits turn to pseudo-science when referring to issues like global warming, or fetal pain. If we have to be twist the facts to defend our truth, maybe it isn’t truth after all.
6. Too many churches worship power not love. Whereas, Jesus renounced efforts to put him in power over others and taught his followers to turn the other cheek, too many churches put a crown on Jesus' head and worship him as personification of power. The early church sometimes used the word for kindness (chrestos) and the word for “anointed one” (christos) interchangeably.
7. Too many churches are willing to bear false witness to defend what they believe. I have friends in the church that passed on rumors about Muslims, Hillary Clinton, Planned Parenthood without any sense of responsibility to verify them first. To pass on a rumor we have not personally verified is not only dishonest, it is the sin of bearing false witness.
8. Too many churches call us to return to a golden age that never really was for some people. The call to "Make America Great Again" is heard by some as a call to the days where the dominant class could exploit other people and nature without any restrictions. Prophecy is the insight that we must adapt to new information and broader ethical categories if we are to be a gift to the future. Jesus said that his wine must be constantly placed in new wineskins. Love is always open to new truths.
9. Too many churches teach that men are the heroes of our story and that women are the helpmates. Anti-choice movements within the church assume that women who become pregnant are then community property to be regulated and controlled. We can be pro-life without being anti-choice. As long as the church insists on using masculine language for everything sacred, their historic abuse of women will be hard for them to even recognize. Paul said in Christ there is neither male nor female which means the end of assigned gender hierarchies.
10. Too many churches teach that instead of loving our enemies as Jesus commanded, we should fear them. In fact, they say we should assume the wandering refugee is an enemy unless we can prove other wise. Caring for the sojourner is close to the heart of of the Jewish and Christian message. Too many churches simply lack the courage to follow Jesus when it comes to loving our enemies.
-- Jim Rigby, Pastor, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Austin, TX