“If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.” – James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
James Baldwin’s critique of God from The Fire Next Time embodies a lot of the dissatisfaction some people have with Evangelical Christianity in the Trump era. Evangelicals are so busy defending the indefensible that they aren’t spreading a message that makes (all of) us larger, freer, and more loving. “The Good News” has been replaced by a message that prioritizes nationalism and political party over love and decency. If conservative evangelicals continue supporting this downward spiral, then maybe the flock should walk away.
“I’m not asking evangelicals to be perfect; I’m asking them to be morally consistent.”
This isn’t a sophomoric plea to return to some earlier period of goodness. I’ve never believed the “Christian nation” narrative that too often goes unchecked in polite conversations. American history is full of examples of self-professed evangelicals remaining silent in the face of behaviors and actions antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. Christians, as a whole, have been accomplices to some of the worst crimes committed on American soil. I’m not asking evangelicals to be perfect; I’m asking them to be morally consistent.
I’m old enough to remember when conservative evangelicals alienated people with their self-righteous, pious, and judgmental disposition. These days, they accomplish the feat with their unwillingness to hold Donald Trump to the same “Moral Majority” standards they’ve tried to impose on the rest of us since the 1980s. I miss the old hypocrisy. When Jerry Falwell Sr. replaced Jim Bakker at his Praise The Lord organization following rape allegations and a hush-money payment to Jessica Hahn, he ultimately refused to defend him. Falwell Sr. publicly described Bakker as “the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in 2,000 years of church history.” One generation later, Jerry Falwell Jr. has appeared on every major cable news network to defend the exact same behavior his father condemned.
We all knew evangelical leaders were flawed, and maybe even doing some of the things they preached against, but they respected us enough to hide it; now, they look us in the eyes as they twist their values and try to convince us there’s some nuance in Scripture we aren’t seeing.
I’m eager to read the Bible commentaries that will be written about this period in American history. What will future pastors and members of clergy say about the church leaders who defended the almost daily assault on The Golden Rule. What will theologians and biblical scholars write in the footnotes of Second Timothy 3:2-5?
People will love themselves. They will love money. They will talk about themselves and be proud. They will say wrong things about people. They will not obey their parents. They will not be thankful. They will not keep anything holy.
They will have no love. They will not agree with anybody. They will tell lies about people. They will have no self-control. They will beat people. They will not love anything that is good.
They cannot be trusted. They will act quickly, without thinking. They are proud of themselves. They love to have fun more than they love God.
They act as if they worshipped God, yet they do not let God’s power work in their lives. Keep away from people like that.
Being a flawed human is not a viable excuse for evangelicals to turn their backs on basic Christian principles. Excusing the vindictiveness and moral rot Donald Trump has introduced to the White House is equivalent to being an accomplice to it.
There’s a generation of young people watching their parents and grandparents defend behavior they never tolerated in the past. This is causing some to leave the flock and preventing others from joining it. People are rejecting the message because so many of the messengers have seemingly rejected it as well. It’s imperative that progressive Christians use their voice to mount an opposition to the blatant hypocrisy we see demonstrated almost daily. Prophecy isn’t just inspired wisdom from God; it’s also the ability to observe, interpret, and tell the truth about the world around us. History won’t remember any of us favorably if we don’t register a dissent to what’s being done in the name of the church.