Christian Humanism

Christian Humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, rational inquiry and a commitment to the values taught by Jesus as a guide to the ethical life are not only compatible with Christianity, they are fundamental to a proper understanding and interpretation of Christian belief. Being a Christian means at the least feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, healing the sick, supporting the poor, comforting the lonely, seeking peace and standing with the powerless against the mighty.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Evangelical Betrayal of Christianity

In the 1940s and 50s when I was a young man growing up in Southern Baptist churches in Washington DC and later in the Northern Virginia suburbs I was heavily immersed in the religious culture that I later knew as Evangelical Christianity. At that time it was generally conservative in tone, non-confrontational and non-political. Christians were expected to live a “Christian life”--and while what that meant was the subject of Sunday School lessons and sermons, there was an ideal held up of a Christian life that involved personal integrity, responsibility for one’s actions, love as the guide to interpersonal relations (which as a practical matter meant understanding our duty to “love” our “neighbor” broadly defined to include the stranger and even our enemy), and following Jesus’ imperative to his followers to house and feed the homeless, the poor and the hungry; to comfort the lonely and the stranger among us; to seek peace, and to do no harm. While Evangelicals were occasionally puritanical and self-righteous, typically they were not arrogant—they merely affirmed that being a Christian was a serious matter that involved being “called” out of the world to live life differently and to model to the world a life that reflected the teachings of Jesus.

I was aware that there were other Christians (both Protestant and Catholic) that had quite different beliefs than those taught in our Baptist tradition but they were often dismissed as Liberals or Modernists who were more inclined to “compromise” fundamental Christian traditions and beliefs in an attempt to modernize Christianity to conform to contemporary culture and consequently to make it relevant rather than to keep separate from the world.

That separation from the world and the unwillingness to compromise essential Christian values had two rather important corollaries: (a) Church (Religion) and State (Politics) were separate and distinct realms built into our nation’s Constitution that incidentally provided beneficial mutual benefits, namely that there was a wall between Church and State such that religion would not interfere with the government and government would not interfere with the churches; and (b) our separateness from the world was a source of pride that implied no interest in compelling those who did not share our beliefs or attitudes to live as we did or to conform their conduct to our standards and values.*  

Something dramatic and unfortunate happened to Evangelicals in subsequent years. Between the “then” and the “now” Evangelical leaders [such as Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, et al.] seem to have lost their way in the thickets of power, influence and money. They built megachurches and religious schools into empires; their megaministers built mansions and drove fancy cars, and they became wealthy and socially prominent. Increasingly enamored by power and money, they found the traditional teachings of Jesus inconvenient and ignored them or reinterpreted them in deference to the requirements of politics. They stood the Constitutional principle of separation of Church and State on its head in order to get subsidies from the public treasury for their religious entities, to limit the ability of civil authorities to enforce laws prohibiting discrimination in public services, and to make certain conduct unlawful on specious religious grounds (i.e., abortion, gay marriage).

Evangelicals found common cause with the Republican Party and, that unholy alliance of convenience consummated, both the Evangelical and the Republican leadership used each other to their mutual advantage. With the emergence of Donald Trump as a political force Evangelical leaders dropped any pretense that Christian or moral values played any significant role in their agenda. I have been shocked and surprised at the ease with which Christian values and norms have been compromised and surrendered to the interests of the wealthy and the corporations.

When questioned about their capitulation, Evangelicals have an answer, however unsatisfying and shocking in the enormity and depravity of its moral implications—they say it is all about political power, specifically they are supporting Donald Trump and the Republicans to guarantee the appointment of right-wing judges to the Federal judiciary including the Supreme Court. Their objective is to pack the Federal courts with judges who will support a theocratic approach to governance: judges who will support prayer and religious teaching in the schools; who will overturn Roe v Wade; who believe the President is above the law; who will permit the dismantling of governmental regulations that protect our environment, our health and safety, our food and our medicine; who will support corporations and property rights over the rights of individual citizens; who will overturn civil rights and anti-discrimination laws; and who will block any laws that attempt to reasonably regulate firearms.

Why they are betraying Christianity is not particularly important The political end does not justify the betrayal implicated by the means, particularly when both the ends and the means are essentially a betrayal of the message and the values of Jesus. There are Evangelicals who know that and are frustrated by their leaders.

Over the past several months I have been struggling with how to approach this discussion of the radical betrayal of Christianity by Evangelicals. Earlier this week I sat down and began to write. After several aborted efforts I felt I needed a break and while sitting on my patio drinking my third cup of coffee I turned to the New York Times on my laptop and very quickly one article grabbed my attention. For the next hour I was captivated by the many thoughtful voices of young Evangelicals (and some not so young) who spoke with passion and anguish about their struggle between what was important in their understanding of the teachings of Jesus in contrast to what they were hearing from their Trump-supporting parents and church leaders that seemed contrary to what they had been taught.

The frustration and the disappointment is evident in the words of one young Roman Catholic:

I have a cousin who is gay. She is a beautiful, loving, kind person. I don't understand how family members can say that they love her, yet still vote to deny her the right to marry the person she loves. I don't understand how a person can be pro-life, but be okay with taking babies away from their mothers at the border. I don't understand how you can strive to be Christ-like, yet treat immigrants and poor people as less than human. Or not want people to have access to doctors. Or not want children to have free lunches. I don't understand how you can live the values espoused in the bible, and vote for a man who lies, cheats, who never goes to church, who's never asked God for forgiveness. Donald Trump is the epitome of everything Jesus preached against.

That says it all quite succinctly.
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*Regardless, it was our duty as citizens of society both to teach and to model Christian values and standards of conduct to the society at large.