America’s most dangerous Christian heresy

Posted: December 14, 2020 in Uncategorized
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We have all seen political movements rise and fall, in our own times and throughout history. And we have also observed iterations of those movements that have religious underpinnings. This is certainly not limited to the modern era; history is replete with examples of political machines that employed religious ideology or influence to achieve their ends. They often came in the form of theocracies, a hybrid system of religious and temporal rule in which religious laws are made one with civil laws. One does not have to search far to find them: The Taliban in Afghanistan, Ultra-orthodox Jewish communities in Israel, the Christian crusades, inquisitions, colonization, indigenous genocides and endorsement of slavery – all under the banner of the cross. During the Nazi era in Germany the Lutheran state churches were compromised to become the Reichkirke, Reich Church, packaging the ideology of the 3rd Reich with Christian trappings.

It is fair to say that these distortions of the purpose and theology of any of these religions create heresies. And I don’t mean that differing emphasis constitutes heresy. Different sects emphasize one or more aspects of a religious tradition and they become known for it. The Quakers and their quietism, the Mennonites and their pacifism, the Jewish Hasidism and their mysticism, the Sufis and their ecstasy. No, in those movements we find differences in emphasis, not substance.

Heresies, however they are defined (today’s heresy often becomes tomorrow’s orthodoxy) by whomever defines them (usually those with power with the ability to label dissenters), utterly twists and distorts the essential messages of the tradition. They often justify the use of power to persecute others. When combined with a totalitarian political system they utilize the symbols of the tradition to their own ideological ends, often omitting the most substantial aspects of the religious tradition in doing so.

In today’s America it has become clear that the most dangerous and abusive distortion of Christianity is manifested in the cult of TrumpChurch. Like many other fascist regimes that employ Christian symbols to their own ends (including the KKK and Neo-Nazi groups), TrumpChurch has coopted Christianity to legitimize and sanctify the movement of Trumpism.

This movement has antecedents, of course. TrumpChurch is the result of a long period of gestation at the fringe, now given legitimacy in the center – by the election of an administration that both used and empowered a base of thinking that was already there.

The troubling thing about TrumpChurch is not necessarily the underbelly of American culture that is and always has been racist and authoritarian; we expect that and generally suppress their ability to create mayhem through laws and institutions of government. But when those very organizations of law enforcement and governance become infected with that ideology they are given free reign, roaming in the daylight. We understand that they represent a clear and present danger.

But that is not the greatest concern in terms of heresy. Our greatest concerns regarding Christian heresy are located with an huge number of white evangelical churches and church leaders. They have bought into the heresy and are actively propagating it. Finally close to the levers of power, they found it irresistible to not fall victim to its seduction.

The excuses and rationalizations for promoting TrumpChurch are now well-known: Trump is a type of “Cyrus” who God uses to deliver believers and transact God’s purposes in the world. God uses compromised means and leaders to achieve certain sanctified ends, like appointing conservative justices who will defeat Roe v Wade. At the most extreme fringe of this heretical movement the leaders pronounce judgement and condemnation for anyone who would defy and replace God’s man, Donald Trump.

It’s all heresy. Donald Trump cares nothing for Christ or religions in general. He is an immoral dysfunctional human being, a sociopath. He feigns religious sympathy and even piety, staging mock publicity stunts with a Bible. He gathers one stripe of enabling Christian leaders around him to extend his influence among followers. He knows nothing of the Christian message, tradition, scriptures or practices. His attitudes and policies are conspicuously devoid of anything resembling a Christian worldview. He is a blasphemer. And the followers of TrumpChurch cling to him like a new messiah.

Some of those white evangelicals have reassessed their relationship with TrumpChurch. The young came first, their idealism bruised by affiliation with a tyrant absent any humanity or faith. And then women. And then thoughtful pastors. And then people who couldn’t look away and pretend anymore, who realized that the very things that would have been labeled as unacceptable yesterday have somehow become tolerable today. But many, many remain, their icon becoming a political martyr in an election they believe persecuted him and them.

What I want to propose is an alliance. It is an alliance between mainstream progressive Christians like myself and evangelical Christians who, when they examine their own deepest convictions, know that they have been deceived and taken for a ride. I want to propose that though we may come at this heresy from different beginning points, our conclusions are the same: This dangerous theocracy must be denounced and defeated, its twisted ideas exposed and rejected, and the damage to religious communities, fragile groups within our country and the nation itself repaired.

I think we can stand together on several principles to begin with:

  1. We do not want a state church in which there is no daylight between religious groups and governmental authorities.

2. We do not want to legitimize any one political figure as an infallible authority figure.

3. We do not want churches or church leaders officially endorsing one candidate or party for elections, and if they do they should have their tax exempt status removed.

4. We want to critique government and have a lively conversation of ideas in the public forum of democracy.

5. We do not want to establish (to use the language of the 1st Amendment) one religious voice as normative in the land.

6. We want the principle of religious freedom (again, 1st amendment) extended to all religious groups, not just some.

7. We do not want the religious convictions of any one religious group to be imposed on others.

Many of these are already part and parcel of our Constitution and ongoing tradition. In the times of heresy, however. they were misplaced. It is now time to restate and reclaim them. In the public square.

The hard work, however, is theological. Members and leaders in the white evangelical churches will need to revisit their own scripture and tradition – especially the lost aspects that used to be so very important to them, back before they were infected by power. This will require moral courage and the willingness to be persecuted and rejected by their own communities. And it is so very important that they do.

Unless we do this our politics will continue to be poisoned by the heretical hybrid of Trumpism and stained glass. Unless we do this the church will be lost – and should be – to every future generation that critically evaluates the difference between the way of Jesus and the twisted interpretation of him by his followers.

  1. […] America’s most dangerous Christian heresy — vitalwholeness […]

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