It has been two months since my last post. Two months in which life in these United States has become even more seriously altered. And what has become clear is something I’ve long suspected:
I am the center of the universe.
Here’s the evidence: last year I was becoming more concerned about my health issues. We get a global pandemic. This year, I’ve been commenting on the division within the evangelical community on political issues. Now far-right no longer just incorporates neo-Nazi’s and “Christian” nationalists, it has drawn in Orange County suburbanites and Texan mega-churches. Now faithfulness means denying the seriousness of Covid-19 and protesting “government overreach” (stay-at-home municipal orders) which are part of a plot to upend the economy in an effort to sway voters from re-electing President Trump. In my last post, I mentioned my jr. high experience in being bullied during the first years of racial integration. Less than a week later, George Floyd was killed, sparking Black Lives Matter protests throughout the nation. This week, protesters in Portland are being attacked by border patrol troops. American citizens being tear-gassed and shot by American federal agents.
I’m afraid to write anything else. I don’t want to be responsible for the world blowing up any further.
“Um…,” you venture, “perhaps…perhaps these events were not caused by your thoughts and words. Perhaps the protests, for example, erupted because of centuries of racial inequality and brutal white supremacy…?”
“Ridiculous!” I answer. “Is it just coincidence that the things that concern me concern the world? Clearly what I say and do affects everyone. The simplest answer wins, Ockham’s razor and all that.”
Before you pick up the phone to call Michael to inquire about my mental health, let me assure you that I do not, in fact, believe I am the center of the universe. Yet this week, after multiple conversations and web searches regarding “proof” of liberal left conspiracies, I feel as wrung out as a first-year Philosophy major. The leaps in logic, the certainty insisted upon, the disturbing lack in Christian political theology…. Has it always been this way? Or is it only my awareness that is growing?
I understand that in a world of diverse opinions, overwhelming amounts of data and deeply divisive politics, we want simple answers, simple solutions. We want to know who we can trust and who is trying to manipulate us. So, we hear a Christian doctor who claims God has shown him the cure for Covid: it is a simple inexpensive protocol that has cured one hundred percent of his patients. He says we don’t have to worry, we don’t have to wear masks or social distance, we can get back to work and school. He says that early treatment is the key, with nebulized asthma medicine, an antibiotic and zinc. Another Christian doctor includes hydroxychloroquine in his regimen but echoes the “don’t worry” message.
Here’s what plays to the evangelical audience. We have the secret, the cure, straight from God as an answer to prayer. This follows in line with what I heard in church every Sunday: we have the cure to the world’s ills. It’s Jesus. The Bible holds all the answers, if only you know how to interpret it correctly.
Now, if you know me at all, you know I love Jesus. I do my best to submit to the Spirit in my pursuit of wisdom and truth. I believe Jesus’ good news – the kingdom of God is here, now. I believe Jesus Himself is the living and active word of God. I believe nothing is hidden from God’s sight and He offers us mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.
I also believe Christianity was birthed under oppression – judgment, ridicule and incredibly real persecution. Palestine was the backwater post of the Roman Empire, Galilee was the backwater of Palestine and Jesus, born into poverty, was under the plague of rumors from his birth to his death. For its first 400 years, that identity of oppression undergirded Christianity’s growth. Belief in Jesus wasn’t merely a cognitive assent, it was fully acknowledging your decision could result in being burned as a human torch. The language of the New Testament is fraught with the language of the oppressed, letters filled with encouragement to persevere, to overcome, to love beyond persecution.
White American evangelical Christianity still carries that identity of oppression, even where none exists. Even when we ourselves have become the oppressors, when our “God-given liberties” rob the poor among us, when others suffer for our privilege.
Still, some of us insist we are the victims of the left-leaning media, of liberal conspiracies. My conservative friends share on Facebook “proof” that not only are Covid-19 policies designed to destroy our economy, they are a precursor to the Apocalypse, paving the way for Bill Gates’ vaccine, complete with 666 invisible tattoos and GPS trackers. And woe to any who refuse this “mark of the beast”.
Again, I get it. Anyone who didn’t grow up in 1970’s youth groups may have missed the tracts and end times films designed to scare the hell out of us – literally (for years, I had nightmares about that guillotine.) Long before Left Behind, a generation of Christians were frightened into conversion experiences. I sometimes wonder if this combination of fear and Jesus is a deliberate strategy as I scroll past Fox News headlines. It’s as if paranoia, fear and hatred have finally been given permission to thrive in the open, like the open keg at a freshman’s first fraternity party.
A conservative friend recently remarked that it’s difficult to know who to trust. For several generations in white evangelical churches, “they” have been the Democrats. Did you know the initial platform for the Republican party (in Lincoln’s day) was created as the “antislavery party?” How those roles reverse over time. Would Lincoln be appalled to see it is his fellow Republicans who are now denying that black lives matter?
Why are we, as evangelical Christians, the last to concede on social justice issues? Shouldn’t we be leading, as champions of Jesus’ blessings (Matthew 5-7)? Why have we allowed the rancor of politics to stand between us and mercy, between us as followers of Jesus?
Republican or Democrat, we continue to view the other party’s members as either deceptive or deluded:
I agree with many points made by David French in the above-referenced article. One conclusion, in particular, has stuck with me – “we have to realize a sad failure of the church. They do not see because they were never taught to look.”
How did we get here? (see next post)