After I turned 18, my parents scheduled an appointment with my church’s pastor to counsel me on my new voting privileges. The year was 1984. I was counseled to vote for Ronald Reagan.
I don’t remember his reasons, something about the Republican party being the “best for the nation’s stability” while adding that voting Democrat “for local elections was acceptable.” It’s possible they all knew, even before I did, that this wouldn’t comport with my conscience. This “meeting” was a preemptive strike. It didn’t work. I did not vote for Reagan. (I didn’t vote for Mondale either, but that’s another digression.)
Those like me who grew up in the Evangelical tradition were conditioned to take comfort in certainties and dispel doubt with platitudes. This brand of Christianity specializes in bumper sticker confidence to quell questions about anything from scriptural literalism to cultural relativism. “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” This is a literal bumper sticker.
The Evangelical Church and the Republican party bonded over caterwauling about family values and sanctity of life, even as leaders from both institutions failed to maintain the righteous standards of their own hypocrisy through public scandal in both camps. Yet the bond of religious nationalism grew so strong that Jesus became an inconvenient third wheel with his “love all, judge not, do good, welcome strangers” ethos. Better to call on the Jehovah of the old testament to validate war, imprison refugees, and create laws that enforce judgment on lifestyle identity, moral choice, and human desire.
Religious nationalism reached its zenith in this election cycle when Vice President Mike Pence actually altered sacred scripture and replaced “Jesus” with the American Flag in his RNC address this summer. “So let’s run the race marked out for us,” said Pence. “Let’s fix our eyes on Old Glory and all she represents.”
According to Pence’s own Evangelical theology, manipulating scripture to fit a political message would be akin to blasphemy. But more importantly, it crystallized the final consummation of church and state. The Evangelical Church’s support of a president who counters the life and teachings of Jesus actually makes sense when you take Jesus out of the equation. Then you can ignore the cruel, feckless, truthless, despotic, violent, abusive, petty, vindictive language of a dangerous charlatan who promises the Church what it wanted all along: power of judgement over others.
Yes, it would all be worth it to just get a conservative supreme court majority that would legalize the Church’s legalism. In fact, it was needed so badly, people were willing to make sure the president elect was “converted” before inauguration. The photo opts are cringeworthy. Thus the Church, a presumed sanctuary of peace, has allied itself with a force that continues to cultivate chaos to co-opt power.
As the Sunday School story goes, Samuel, prophet and last of the judges, led Israel until the people demanded a king lead them instead. God, through Samuel, warns the Israelites of the dangers of adopting the institutional structure of the surrounding kingdoms of men. Samuel and God reluctantly acquiesce, and Israel trades their prophetic judge for a warrior king, Saul. The church uses this story as a warning against aligning itself too closely with what is called “the kingdom of men” over the “kingdom of God.”
In a curious reversal, the Evangelical Church has courted a corrupt king in order to secure more judges. What neglectful irony, that a significant portion of the Church has supported this presidential anti-christian, in order to appoint judges to the highest court of the “Kingdom of Men,” while ignoring a central tenet of the Kingdom of God to “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” It preaches that only God can judge the human heart, while using political power to judge the moral will of all.
This craving of supreme, earthly, judgmental power explains the Evangelical Church’s political allegiance. At the Walk of Prayer, called “The Return,” in DC recently, leaders called for America to repent. Well, Church, it is time to look in the mirror, to “return.”
Repent for silence regarding abuse of political power.
Repent for silence regarding the use of violence by those who are to keep the peace.
Repent for silence regarding structural racism, xenophobia, and torture of enemies.
Repent for investing in the kingdom of powerful people in exchange for sharing that power.
Repent for the political support that was zealously given to power that further hurt those on the margins: immigrants, poor, homeless, indigenous, LGBTQ.
Repent for your exclusion of those who identify as LGBTQ who have every right to experience the full grace and love of God without any regard to sexual orientation.
How does this happen? Get a divorce. Leave the party of politics. File for separation. Return to your first love: Love your neighbor as yourself. Let your counselor be the First Amendment of the United States Constitution: the separation of church and state. Get back to the business of loving your neighbor instead of judging your neighbor. This should actually come as welcomed news for constitutional originalists, as “separation of church and state” is a key component to The First Amendment, a conveniently ignored tenant.
Continued allegiance to a president and party that requires a systematic dismantling of the very principles that Christ lived and died and rose again for will result in crucifying him all over again. And this time, his blood will be on the steeple of every church that promoted political agendas to gain access to the kingdom of men.