In a piece for CNN, Diana Butler Bass, the author of several books about religion, writes about how the Christianity she saw at Donald Trump‘s racist rally earlier this week looks nothing like the Christianity she grew up with.
She wonders: Where is the God of love?
As many have noted, “send her back” is racist, sexist, and un-American. It is also the expression of a certain view of God, one that has slowly shifted the priorities and teaching in far too many American churches, and made it possible for those who would have once sung Jesus Loves the Little Children to join this hostile liturgy. How did they get there? Slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, hymn-by-hymn and sermon-by-sermon, one theological step at a time.
I do not feel shock. I feel grief. I do not recognize this Christianity, even if the faces in the crowd were familiar.
I know she means well, but what the hell is she talking about?
I recognize that Christianity perfectly well. This shift hasn’t happened slowly. It happened a long time ago and nothing has changed. It’s only imperceptible if you weren’t paying attention for the past few decades.
The vast majority of white evangelical Christians have always been cruel, ignorant, and pretend-persecuted. As long as I’ve been politically cognizant, they’ve been the people who fought against stem cell research, denounced same-sex marriage, argued against science (including climate change), pushed for deeply flawed sex education, perpetuated sexism and misogyny, etc.
And those beliefs have been rewarded by the Republican Party.
To paraphrase something said about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, referring to how she talks about Republicans, I’ve never known a world where those Christians weren’t cartoonish villains. They’ve always acted in bad faith. Our country has always been worse off when they have political power.
The way those right-wing Christians have reacted to Trump — by ignoring their supposed values and jumping onto the bandwagon of GOP cruelty — isn’t the result of a political party co-opting a faith. It’s the natural progression of a faith that never truly cared about Jesus in the first place. There’s a reason the Moral Majority decided abortion was bad years after Roe v. Wade was decided, and it had nothing to do with a desire to save the unborn.You have to be incredibly gullible to think a “God of love” was worshipped by most Christians until this era.
Bass notes, correctly, that many Christians reject Trump. Yes, there’s a growing Religious Left that wants to see the government do more for the poor and the refugees and the environment. But white evangelical Christians overwhelmingly voted for Trump in 2016, even when it was evident he was a racist sexual predator, and they’ll no doubt do it again in 2020. (Hell, Roy Moore nearly became a senator after we learned about his alleged child molestation, and that’s because of white evangelicals, too.)
Bass suggests those “white Christians have a God problem.” That’s too simple an answer. It seems more reasonable to me that the issue is that they have no idea how to think critically, period. They don’t know how to differentiate between fact and fiction. They believe “fake news” — and the people who use that term to describe actual news. When you’re used to accepting magical thinking in one realm of life, it’s not surprising you can be duped into believing whatever FOX News or conservative YouTubers are feeding you.
When the man in power says anything with confidence, no matter what it is, some people are just programmed to accept it as gospel. Challenging it would be heresy.
And let’s not pretend the Trump-loving Christians aren’t “real” Christians. They are Christians. They’ve always worshipped this God who allows them to promote cruelty and bigotry. Christians of all stripes have to own that. Saying otherwise is as ridiculous as an old-school conservative saying “The Republican Party left me.” No it didn’t. It’s always been this bad. You just weren’t paying attention.
Bass would be better off admitting Christianity has always been used to promote hate, but there have thankfully also been believers who used their faith to do good, and more believers should follow in their footsteps. I wish she’d admit the Bible alone is useless as a guide for morality since it can be twisted to support all kinds of cruelty, but there are lots of verses to cherry pick if you want to do good in the name of God. There are a lot of Christians doing that now; they’re just not in the voting majority. Yet. We’d be better off if they were.
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