in service of the
Christianity’s Watershed Moment
Evangelist Franklin Graham compared 10 members of the GOP to Judas Iscariot on Thursday after they voted to approve President Donald Trump's second impeachment. Ted Cruz, a GOP president wanna-be who speaks for conservative Christian values has done all he can to discredit the legitimate election of Joe Biden. Our Prime Minister, deeply immersed in ‘conservative Christianity’, has been inexplicably incapable of admitting Trump’s culpability. Why is Christianity so grafted to corrupt politics?
There have been a few watershed moments in the history of Christianity from which there is no turning back. One of these moments was in the 4th century when, through various Ecumenical Councils, it became clear that to claim the name of Christian it was necessary to say that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that in him there is life.
A second moment in the 15th century, facilitated by the printing press, saw authority transferred from a clerical, centralised and often poorly educated elite, to the whole family of God, the laity, via scripture. The faithful had been manipulated by this elite to protect their institutional power and authority.
Are current events in America heralding another such moment? Christianity has been associated with a seditious assault on the congress, an assault from which Christianity cannot be distanced and appears not to want to be distanced. Trump is not, and has not pretended to be, a Christian. As far as one can tell he is biblically illiterate. There is no evidence that he is a regular Church attender. His moral failures are legion and the damage he has done by claiming truth to be fake and what is fake to be true is immeasurable. Chaos and confusion are currently being played out in the lives of those whom he has convinced the election was stolen.
So, why this link between the Christian right and Trump? Quite simply it has absolutely nothing to do with Christian discipleship and everything to do with politics and ideology. The right and Trump have needed one another. From Trump’s point of view the evangelical right provide him with a strong electoral base and from the point of view of the evangelical right Trump provides them with the closest thing they have found to a theocratic state. He delivers, or purports to deliver, their agenda: supremacy of individual rights over social reform, prohibition on abortion, denial of gay rights and unconditional support for Israel. The situation is truly shocking. Is this the moment when any possible link between Christianity and a theocracy is completely, and finally rejected.
It is their obsession with a theocratic ideal, and apparent desire to fight and die for it, that has led to conspiracy theories about its opposite - a satanic cabal. The Christian right’s very identity is immersed in belief that they are soldiers for right against force of evil. At a spiritual and moral level this is a helpful image as a long as we understand the possibility of good and evil are ever present in the lives of each one of us. The dangerous error occurs when the idea of evil is transferred to those with whom we disagree of worse, do not understand. According to the conspiracy theorists, the existence and power of the cabal is led by paedophiles and demonstrated through a massive fraud that stole the election from them and their patron Donald Trump.
In this context the conspiracy theory makes absolute sense. If you believe God and God’s will is delivered through a theocracy; if this has been thwarted, there must be a reason big enough to match the thwarted aspiration.
It is unlikely that this dangerous nonsense with its seditious implications is going to be abandoned any time soon unless or until the ambition that led to it is corrected. The correcting is not the responsibility of secular politics, but of Christian leadership. Where is that leadership? Where is the voice?
It is of course wrong and deceptive to make generalisations, to accuse by association. Evangelicalism is a ‘broad church’. All evangelicals are not Trump supporters or believers in a theocratic ideal. However, it remains the case that evangelicals predominate in the Trump movement, that the name of Jesus was carried by the riotous mob into the congress alongside the name of Trump.
The irony, of which these people seem totally unaware, is that Jesus eschewed power and the exercise of it. When asked to use it he refused, rebuking those who made the request. He made it clear that the only power with legitimacy is the power of salt and light. Without wishing to eulogise Joe Biden, his demeaner, words and influence in the face of relentless provocation has so far been of this kind.
The Christian right have no business condemning attempts to revive a Muslim caliphate, while they embrace language of violence in attempting to enforce their own. In the absence of strong contemporary Christian leadership in condemnation of Franklin Graham and thousands of other self-appointed and theologically illiterate evangelical illuminati, I commend the fifth chapter of one of the earliest extant Christian writings, the letter to Diognetus:
Christians are not distinguished from other men by country, language, nor by the customs which they observe. They do not inhabit cities of their own, use a particular way of speaking, nor lead a life marked out by any curiosity. The course of conduct they follow has not been devised by the speculation and deliberation of inquisitive men. The do not, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of merely human doctrines.
Instead, they inhabit both Greek and barbarian cities, however things have fallen to each of them. And it is while following the customs of the natives in clothing, food, and the rest of ordinary life that they display to us their wonderful and admittedly striking way of life.
They live in their own countries, but they do so as those who are just passing through. As citizens they participate in everything with others, yet they endure everything as if they were foreigners. Every foreign land is like their homeland to them, and every land of their birth is like a land of strangers.
They marry, like everyone else, and they have children, but they do not destroy their offspring.
They share a common table, but not a common bed.
They exist in the flesh, but they do not live by the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, all the while surpassing the laws by their lives.
They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned. They are put to death and restored to life.
They are poor, yet make many rich. They lack everything, yet they overflow in everything.
They are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor they are glorified; they are spoken ill of and yet are justified; they are reviled but bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evildoers; when punished, they rejoice as if raised from the dead. They are assailed by the Jews as barbarians; they are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to give any reason for their hatred.
Those who think Franklin Graham and Ted Cruz and their admirers in Australia are somehow followers of the man from Galilee, please read the above letter and become acquainted with real witnesses, first and second century Christians.