Sunday, October 23, 2016

Building Bridges Across America's "God Gulf" After Trump: Not Without Repentance

This embrace by many white evangelicals of a racial and pro-rich politics, which ignores 2,000 Bible verses that emphasize God's concern about injustice and the poor, represents worse than bad theology — it is idolatry which borders on heresy. 
The concern for the vulnerable is at the heart of Jesus' life-changing and earth-shattering call. This historic moment, in which a diverse new evangelical generation confronts the immoral bigotry of the Trump campaign, is an opportunity to reclaim the true "evangelical" identity going forward. And that will indeed be "good news" for us all.

Yes, it has been infuriating to see blowhards who proclaimed themselves "pro-life" when their compassion for human beings seemed to end at birth. The grossest immorality of the 1980s did not unfold in gay bathhouses but among those who portrayed AIDS as God’s punishment for gays — "human garbage," in the words of Anita Bryant — in ways that slowed the health response and led vast numbers to die unnecessarily. . . . 
I hope that the crisis among evangelicals this election year creates an opportunity to build bridges across America's "God Gulf." As many prominent evangelicals renounce Trump, the secular response should be to applaud that courage in hopes that this is a turning point, and that people of good will, regardless of where they stand on the faith spectrum, can begin to move from fighting one another to tackling the common enemies of humanity that plague us all.

Though I applaud both Wallis and Kristof for insisting that mainstream media accounts of the role of evangelicals (and Catholics) in the American public square take into account the diversity of both religious groups, I have strong concern about the spin both commentators are putting on the evangelical vote this election cycle. Both are absolutely correct when they say that 1) evangelical Christians are diverse, and should not be equated with white evangelicals, and 2) almost all evangelicals of color (African-American, Latino, etc.) oppose Trump, along with many progressive white evangelicals.

What this analysis should not disguise for us, however, is that some seven in ten white evangelicals remain committed to Trump, along with the leaders of the white evangelical movement — men with extraordinary political power like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Pat Robertson, and a host of others. Standing with these white evangelical men in complicit silence this election cycle as their allies are the U.S. Catholic bishops, who made common cause with them several decades ago.

The leaders of the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference, Joseph Kurtz, has all but endorsed Donald Trump. The former leader of the USCCB, Timothy Dolan, invited Trump to the Al Smith banquet, though Democratic leaders have been shunned when invitations to that banquet have been handed out in the past, as a punishment for their positions on abortion and same-sex marriage.

We have crossed a bridge this election cycle with the leaders of the white evangelical community and the leaders of the Catholic community in the U.S. — and we've crossed that same bridge with a majority of lay members of the white evangelical community. There can now be no going back. 

These people have thoroughly disgraced themselves and revealed that all their talk for decades now about morality and "family values" has been nothing but a cynical political calculation, a sham. It has been all about identifying the Christian faith with the Republican party, with draconian capitalism as it exploits the poor, with racism and white heterosexual male entitlement, with keeping women and gay folks in their place. This crusade has done incalculable harm to the Christian "brand" in the U.S., and people are rightly fleeing the churches as a response to this betrayal of real Christian values and real Christian leadership.

The rate of Catholic disaffection is higher than the rate of disaffection of members of any other church, and there's strong evidence that the disaffection has to do with the corruption the bishops and Vatican have shown us in shielding priests sexually abusing minors, and with the constant beating up on gay people by Catholic leaders. If you put all Catholics in the U.S. who have left the Catholic church together and formed them into a church, it would be the second largest church in the nation.

The rate of disaffection among millennials from all churches is phenomenal, and those nones are "done": they are not coming back. They do not intend to come back to churches that preach and practice misogyny, homophobia, and racism.

The theological category that needs to be applied here, which both Jim Wallis and Nicholas Kristof miss in calling on us to applaud the non-white and progressive evangelicals who are standing against Donald Trump, is repentance. White evangelicals, white evangelical leaders, and the Catholic bishops have a great deal to repent of and atone for.

They have hurt some people very badly, for years now, and they need to atone for the hurt that they have inflicted on the people they have targeted. I see no signs whatsoever that their spectacular defeat in this election cycle is going to move them to such repentance, to a change of heart that will issue in transformed lives and transformed behavior towards the folks they have attacked for a long time now.

Nor do I see these people prepared to repent of driving away a whole generation of church members. What they are really showing us, through their support of Donald Trump, is that they have never adhered to core Christian values and principles at all, and that their moral and pastoral leadership is corrupt. New ways of being Christian have to be crafted in the U.S. now, if we expect churches of any kind at all to survive after this debacle. 

(My apologies to you all, dear readers and friends, that I haven't been responding to or acknowledging comments here in the past several days. I am in one of those periods in which it's difficult for me to keep up with your very welcome comments here, though I've been reading them with interest and am very grateful for them.)

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