The Theological Bankruptcy of American Evangelicals (as explained by Tony Perkins)

John Fea, who writes the excellent They Way of Improvement Leads Home blog (are you reading it? You should be reading it), wrote a recent Washington Post Op-Ed titled “Trump threatens to change the course of American Christianity.” The excellent piece ruminates on Trump’s relationship with his “court evangelicals,” as Fea as labeled them, the small group of celebrity-evangelicals who have attached themselves to the president and who hover about the White House waiting for photo ops in the seat of power (people like Jerry Falwell Jr, Robert Jeffress, and Paula White, among others.) The mock title derives itself from the courtiers who were always to be found around the throne of medieval monarchs, always ready for scraps from the royal table and sycophantic approval of all the king’s words and deeds, no matter how immoral they may be. I highly encourage you to read the op-ed.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.”

Fea draws attention to a response written by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (himself a court evangelical.) Perkins obviously takes great umbrage at Fea’s piece. He references another op-ed by Fea, from 2012, in which Fea explores the deeply Christian language President Obama used. (For more on the Christian nature of the Obama presidency, I strongly encourage this piece by John Pavlovitz.)

Perkins isn’t convinced, and uses this opportunity to both slam Obama again, and also defend the supposed spirituality of Donald J. Trump. In doing so, he shines a clear light on the moral bankruptcy of much of American evangelicalism (something I touched on Wednesday in my MAGA piece.)

Here is Perkins:

For the last 50 years, [Fea] argues, “evangelicals have sought to influence the direction of the country and its laws through politics. But Trump has forced them to embrace a pragmatism that could damage the gospel around the world and force many Christians to rethink their religious identities and affiliations.” Fea insists that Trump has done little for evangelicals, a charge hardly substantiated by the strides the White House has made on our pro-life and religious liberty agendas. But Fea measures Trump’s sincerity on a different scale: how often he attends church. No wonder he once called Barack Obama “the most explicitly Christian president in American history.” In a column from 2012, he made the staggering claim that the most pro-abortion, anti-faith president to ever occupy the Oval Office was also the most pious.

Perkins himself reinforces a point I make often about so much of American Christianity: it can be boiled down to exactly two facets: opposition to abortion, and opposition to LGBT equality. For the court evangelicals, and for the millions of people who follow them, this is the sum total of what being a Christian in America looks like in 2017. As long as you oppose abortion and oppose gay marriage, you can brag about sexually assaulting women, show a profound lack of knowledge about Scripture, and govern in a way that not just neglects the needy, but goes out of its way to actively do harm to them. Actual beliefs about God or Jesus are beside the point; hence the growing evangelical-Catholic alliance.

Public practice of Christianity doesn’t include any theological grounding, nor does it include traditional forms of Christian social action, such as missions, or care for the indigent. The only public form of Christian action that matters is woman shaming in front of Planned Parenthood, and protests at the Supreme Court anytime they hear a case concerning the LGBT community.

The proof is in the numbers: on Election Day 2016, 81% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, despite his clear indifference to faith, his hateful and disgusting comments about just about every group in America outside of straight, white men, and his overwhelming greed and hunger for power. This from the same group of Christians who had a collective aneurysm over the moral shortcomings of Bill Clinton just 20 short years ago.

The court evangelicals are the logical outcome of an evangelical movement that has prostituted itself out to right-wing political power. The evangelical movement has simply become a church-based stamp of approval for whatever regressive piece of public policy or proclamation of hate speech emanates from the conservative movement this week. As long as a politician promises to fight anti-discrimination measures and roll back Roe v. Wade, they will get the evangelical endorsement and can go to Washington to roll back taxes and take away health care and demonize poor people and minorities as much as they like. Empire and power are the means they see to God’s kingdom, rather than the way of love and weakness shown by Jesus. And by God’s kingdom, they just mean a world with no abortion and no gays. Everything else is a sideshow.

But don’t take my word for it. Just ask Tony Perkins.


P.S. I’ve said a lot here, and in the past, about what Christianity isn’t. But if it’s not all these things, you may ask, then what do I think it is? Glad you asked: I’ll be writing a series on that soon!

Blogging Update: I’m Gonna Write About Trump!(And other things too)

So I wrote a few months back about the intense writers block I’ve been experiencing. You can read about all the details here.

I’m working on getting back in the writing space by forcing myself to write daily. Usually, that has meant handwriting whatever has been going on in my days in this big black unlined sketch book. I force myself almost daily to do this just to exercise the writing muscle. I figure most of it is crap, but 1 out of 100 times something good will come and that, over time, I’ll get back in the swing of things.

So I’m now trying to work blogging daily back into the mix too. This is a much heavier lift, but I want to do it. And I’ve realized something that I think will help.

Ever since the election, I’ve been very resistant to the idea of writing about Trump or politics or current events, even though I have very strong opinions, stemming from my religious convictions, about what is happening in the world. I think I’ve been feeling like I shouldn’t stoop to that stuff, that I should write about something that “matters,” like theology or something. (I’ve broken this rule a couple times, like my MAGA post Wednesday.)

That’s crazy right?

I’ve realized, that stuff – Trump, politic, current events, injustice in the world – is really what gets my engine running, what drives my passion. So I’m gonna write about it. Sometimes it’ll connect to religion. Sometimes I’ll just purely write about religion or theology or Christianity. But sometimes I’ll just comment on things that are happening in the world. I mean, it all has spiritual implications; I’ve always felt strongly that our faith cannot disconnect from real world actions and consequences. So I’m gonna write about it all.

I’ve have at least three weeks worth of blog posts in the hopper here, so I’m feeling positive about consistency. I have at least two “Series” I want to do, some book excerpts to share, and a lot of standalone pieces. And I’ve got several pieces of big news I’ll share here soon! To everyone who is here and reading, thanks for sticking around, and I look forward to your comments and engaging with you all!

“Theology Needs Periodical Rejuvenation”

Theology needs periodical rejuvenation. Its greatest danger is not mutilation but senility. It is strong and vital when it expresses in large reasoning what youthful religion feels and thinks. When people have to be indoctrinated laboriously in order to understand theology at all, it become a dead burden. The dogmas and theological ideas of the early Church were those ideas which at the time were needed to hold the Church together, to rally its forces, and to give it victorious energy against antagonistic powers. Today many of those ideas are without present significance. Our reverence for them is a kind of ancestor worship. To hold laboriously to a religious belief which does not hold us, is an attenuated form of asceticism; we chastise and starve our intellect to sanctify it by holy beliefs. The social gospel does not need the aid of church authority to get hold of our hearts. It gets hold in spite of such authority when necessary. It will do for us what the Nicene theology did in the fourth century, and the Reformation theology in the sixteenth. Without it theology will inevitably become more and more a reminiscence.

The great religious thinkers who created theology were always leaders who were shaping ideas to meet actual situations. The new theology of Paul was a product of fresh religious experience and of practical necessities. His idea of the Jewish law had been abrogated by Christ’s death was worked out in order to set his mission to the Gentiles free from the crippling grip of the past and to make an international religion of Christianity. Luther worked out the doctrine of “justification by faith” because he had found by experience that it gave him a surer and happier way to God than the effort to win merit by his own works. But that doctrine became the foundation of a new theology for whole nations because it proved to be the battle-cry of a great social and religious upheaval and the effective means of breaking down the semi-political power of the clergy, of shutting up monasteries, of secularizing church property, and of increasing the economic and political power of city councils and princes. There is nothing else in sight today which has the power to rejuvenate theology except the consciousness of vast sins and sufferings, and the longing for righteousness and a new life, which are expressed in the social gospel.”

-Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel, pg. 13-14