Evangelical Christianity has been a significant force in American politics for nearly 40 years. It dominates the Republican Party and through that much of the debate on public morality. This is a strange development for many reasons, however.
Given that about 25% of all Americans identify as evangelical protestants, they are far from a majority. They owe their influence to a rigid deference to leadership and a high degree of stubborn political action. For all of this power beyond their numbers, however, the biggest mystery is where their agenda comes from.
It’s certainly not the Christian Bible. Very little of the evangelical agenda is justified by the good book, and some is even directly opposed to the words of Jesus. It’s long past time to call out the beliefs of this group and question their agenda because it is, if anything, not generally backed by consistent Christian writings or tradition.
I do not want this to be taken as any statement of my faith or indeed as some “contest” to see who is the best Christian. My faith is a highly complicated and personal matter which is constantly being refined by prayer and study and is not the issue here. My favorite version of the Bible is a King James version with the words of Jesus in red. I admit that sometimes I bleep over the black stuff and get right to what I think is the most important part of it.
In the course of my studies of Christianity and other faiths I have come to some conclusions which many might find surprising, ut they work for me. My background is grounded in the Lutheran belief in Grace, or universal love, and reinforced by a very Mennonite desire to get right back to the words of Jesus himself.
Judge me however you wish. I am here to present facts which have guided my personal beliefs, not to state my beliefs in their entirety.
The Bible is absolutely silent on the topic of abortion. It simply does not appear anywhere in it, at all. Where this is the single largest driving force in the life of Evangelicals, there is no basis in scripture for their stand. If anything, there is a vague understanding under Jewish law that life begins at birth, but it is not spelled out in any way, positive or negative.
Public Prayer (ie, in School)
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached the basics of Christian life and practice. It begins with the famous Beatitudes, worth discussing at length elsewhere – along with their insistence on compassion, empathy, and mercy. But he continues from there and comes to this passage just before introducing The Lord’s Prayer:
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Matthew 6:5-6 (NIV)
Yes, prayer in public is specifically called out by Jesus himself as something for hypocrites.
The War on Christmas
Much has been made of “The War on Christmas” by those with an agenda to push. The truth is that Christmas has always been problematic for many reasons, especially in the old English tradition of being a drinking holiday. But the Christian spirit of the holiday has come and gone over the centuries and lately is indeed under attack. The enemy? If you listen to fervent believer Charles M. Schultz, the problem is materialism. Indeed, “Happy Holidays” didn’t start out as a liberal plot but as a retail way of inviting everyone to come and spend money.
Evangelicals have never called out materialism. Those who preach a “Prosperity Gospel” actually embrace it. But the true enemy of Christmas as a sacred holiday for family and faith has indeed always been the rush to spend and give. Schultz had it right. Where did he get his values from? Jesus, again, in the same sermon:
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Matthew 6:24 (NIV)
I have yet to hear Evangelicals call out commercialism or indeed capitalism as a whole, and certainly it has never been an important part of their agenda.
This is a more difficult one, because a prohibition against homosexuality does appear in the Bible. It’s part of Leviticus, a series of laws given by God himself to the Jews (more on that later). It’s very harsh.
“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
Leviticus 20:13 (NIV)
The problem is where this appears. It’s right after the same prohibition, and punishment, for serving as a medium to the spirits, committing adultery, and disobeying your parents. It’s one chapter after the more general prohibitions against shellfish, mixing meat and milk, tattoos, and mixed fiber clothes.
These laws were generally tossed aside by Christian tradition, which is why they are not practiced today. To emphasize one but not the other is to pick and choose, which is in itself rather blasphemous. We should, instead, be asking what Jesus said about homosexuality, and that much is clear – he said nothing at all. Not a word.
For his own part, Paul commented further. This is clearest condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible, but it isn’t really all that clear. In his letter to the Romans, Paul saw it as a sin, certainly, but again put the root problem with materialism. It’s hard to condemn one without the other:
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Romans 1:24-27 (NIV)
The Ten Commandments
Some Evangelicals are very insistent that the Ten Commandments should be put on public display. In fact, doing so with stone tablets in the Alabama Supreme Court was what got Roy Moore kicked off the bench the first time. But there is a big problem with them.
Rabbi Meniades found that there were a total of 613 laws given directly by God, not just the first ten. They are enumerated in Leviticus, as above. Most are ignored by Christians, but not by Orthodox and many Conservative Jews. Many are repeated in the Qu’ran.
What about the other 603? Evangelical Christians are silent, except the one they like (as above).
But staying with the first Ten, we still have an issue. The wording on them is slightly different in Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant traditions but the Fourth one is pretty clear in all of them: “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” The problem is a simple one – the Sabbath is on Saturday. Christians chose to move it to Sunday, the day Jesus rose. Evangelical Christians, excepting Seventh Day Adventists and a few other small groups, violate one of the big ones every single week.
Where Does This Leave Us?
If you read the words of Jesus himself, it’s all pretty clear. There is a new covenant that cast aside the harsh laws of the past and is based on love. That love is for all of creation, of which we are a part. That’s not to say there won’t be people who say otherwise, but Jesus had a lot to say about those who would misrepresent his word for political gain:
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
This particular passage was elaborated on by Paul in his letter to the Galatians, who wanted to know more. Is it really that simple, that we’ll know who is good and bad? Paul said it was:
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
In this outline of what a good person and a good leader is, we are given a handy tool for evaluating who is indeed righteous. They will possess and practice love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. If that doesn’t describe your leaders, either of your political movement or of your nation, there may be something of a problem – that is, if you are indeed a Christian.