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“They went from us, but didn’t really belong to us.” Talking back to Evangelical Christians.
I’m still not an Evangelical, but they still hurt me
I wrote last year how I was done calling myself an Evangelical. I was done after so many purported Evangelicals supported the current President. I couldn’t stand their moral hypocrisy and the devastation of the Christian witness. I have to admit I haven’t totally let go of my disappointment. I grew up in an Evangelical environment, so in a sense I still feel connected to people who use that term. I have been embarrassed by them, but moreso because I was named among them. I remember during the War in Iraq, I was at a teach-in with student activists at Temple, and an older woman approached me to tell me I wasn’t like the other Christians. She said, I wasn’t like “those Evangelicals.” I felt sheepish because that’s how I grew up. Some people say that Evangelicals, especially the loud MAGA-hat-wearing types, are fundamentalists in disguise. One reason I argued that I was no longer an Evangelical is because I didn’t want to fight that fight anymore. But I still see them and their affect on my faith. It’s making the headlines. I’ve been reading too many news stories about the concentration camps on the border and the condition that children and other vulnerable people are being put into in those detention camps. It’s an amazing demonstration of the human capacity for evil and neglect:
A 2-year-old boy locked in detention wants to be held all the time. A few girls, ages 10 to 15, say they've been doing their best to feed and soothe the clingy toddler who was handed to them by a guard days ago. Lawyers warn that kids are taking care of kids, and there's inadequate food, water, and sanitation for the 250 infants, children and teens at the Border Patrol station.
The administration is holding detainees, even children, without soap and toothpaste, in conditions where even the children struggle to sleep. It sounds apocalyptic. It sounds completely horrible. It’s hard to hold out for hope in a world like that. Maybe I should stop paying attention to it. But when I’m faced with that kind evil, it’s hard to not just despair in hopelessness. It's a sad day when you think it is a partisan statement to say this is completely evil.
Christians blinded by partisanship
And when I see other Christians supporting that behavior, it brings me a lot of despair and disappointment. I was flabbergasted to hear James Dobson’s report from the border. I wrote my Facebook friends: “A long time has passed since I read Dobson seriously, but his newsletter on immigration is clearly more aligned with evil stately goals than the Kingdom of God and the redemption of Jesus and the New Humanity He ushers in. Shame on you, Dr. Dobson.” Dobson says:
The situation I have described is the reason President Donald Trump's border wall is so urgently needed. He seems to be the only leader in America who comprehends this tragedy and is willing to address it…I can only report that without an overhaul of the law and the allocation of resources, millions of illegal immigrants will continue flooding to this great land from around the world. Many of them have no marketable skills. They are illiterate and unhealthy. Some are violent criminals. Their numbers will soon overwhelm the culture as we have known it, and it could bankrupt the nation. America has been a wonderfully generous and caring country since its founding. That is our Christian nature.
I admit, my Facebook friends unsurprisingly rebuked Dobson. One prayer-filled saint said, “He paints the concentration camp agents as saintly caregivers, and the refugee families as lying disease-bringing unskilled criminals. But worst of all he holds up 45 as the only wise solution to the crisis. This is so tripe I could barely get through it. I will pray as he suggested, but I won't be making 45 the focus of my prayers. I'd rather focus on the families. God have mercy.” Another friend, who is a policy wonk in Washington, rebuked him for being evil, and then noted his incomprehension of the facts themselves, “Pure evil. And the evil is obscured by his fundamental ignorance of labor markets, public finance, and demography. That ignorance allows for racialized fearmongering and xenophobia to seem reasonable.”
The fusion of America with Christianity
In this column, an Atlantic reporter tells us about the “deepening crisis” of Evangelical Christianity and how it is highly costly to the Christian witness. But the matter at hand, the crisis at the border, is much more than a partisan one. I was reminded again that Eric Metaxas, who wrote a poorly-received hagiography of Bonhoeffer, a beloved figure among us in Circle of Hope, demonstrated the worst hypocrisy when he supported Trump. Metaxas clings to Trump because in his perverse understanding of American Christianity, it is an immoral figure like Trump that preserves Christianity:
Many white evangelical Christians, then, are deeply fearful of what a Trump loss would mean for America, American culture, and American Christianity. If a Democrat is elected president, they believe, it might all come crashing down around us. During the 2016 election, for example, the influential evangelical author and radio talk-show host Eric Metaxas said, “In all of our years, we faced all kinds of struggles. The only time we faced an existential struggle like this was in the Civil War and in the Revolution when the nation began…We are on the verge of losing it as we could have lost it in the Civil War.”
When I tweeted him after I read that quote, he retweeted me and I felt some wrath of his supporters in my mentions. They attacked me personally calling me a liar and questioning that I was a pastor. I guess that’s Twitter. Metaxas never addressed me, and after I told him as much, he blocked me. My friend noted that I spoke to Eric and not about him, and my response was to say that we need to be talking to each other, and not act in a morally superior or smug way. The hostility is high and Evangelicals are fighting a culture war, that much is clear. In this fascinating report by religion journalist Jack Jenkins, I learned of even more trouble. Jack writes:
There aren’t many cruise “experience” directors who spend their days defending what is described as America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and promoting “nation-ism” — a version of nationalism that champions “the right of self governance and the right of people to be self-governed.”
But Michael O’Fallon does, and he argues both are under attack by the Open Society Foundation, founded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros. He often says as much on his website, Sovereignnations.com, as well as through conferences with speakers who range from controversial psychologist Jordan Peterson to a slate of evangelical Christians of the Calvinist variety.
This project O’Fallon is working on is much bigger than our faith. It’s about a vision for Christianity that fuses it with the United States. It is a civil religion. It’s exactly how the Sadducees acted in the New Testament: in bed with Rome, at peace with the fusion of their sacred faith with the Empire. And you see evidence of that further with this wild response to Russell Moore from Jerry Falwell, Jr.: https://twitter.com/drmoore/status/1143418475723055106 This Relevant writer asks the right questions. The answer is, of course, blind partisanship. Convicted by what Moore said and deeply troubled by what Falwell said, I found comfort in Jesus’ words. I wrote: “Make a note when your sympathy for the concentration camp apologists you're related to exceeds your sympathy for the kids in the camps. That's trouble. It's exactly why Jesus asked who his brothers and mother were. And why he answers it's those who do the will of the Father.”
Crying out to God for help
The matter at hand and the moral crisis is so plain, the only partisan position to take is the one blind to the suffering at the border, one that burdens children with their own mistreatment. As if ICE and the administration has no choice but to put them in camps without necessities. Blaming children for their own oppression is one of the worst offenses in the New Testament. Jesus said, “Make a note when your sympathy for the concentration camp apologists you're related to exceeds your sympathy for the kids in the camps. That's trouble. It's exactly why Jesus asked who his brothers and mother were. And why he answers it's those who do the will of the Father.” I guess Falwell might ask Jesus for his credentials too. And perhaps well-meaning Christians might swallow the camel and strain out the gnat in Jesus’ words calling him “too harsh.” But in my moment of distress at the response of these Evangelicals, I found a familiar one with a compassionate voice. I don’t have any Max Lucado books on my shelf, but we did have tons of them growing up. And so when his name popped into my feed, I found some comfort. I told my mom the other day that a household name growing up for us has weighed in on the migrant crisis. Christians have an opportunity to unite around naming the manifest evil and doing something about it. The brother, with whom I rarely have agreement, prayed:
Lord, please help us.
We need to act, help, and rescue. But first, we need prayerful empathy. This is a mess. A humanitarian, heart-breaking mess. As we are wondering what can be done, let’s do what we are called to do.
Let’s pray. Let’s lament. Let’s groan.
I’m with Max Lucado. Some people ask me what I would do with all the migrants at the border as if I’m a politician. I tell them I don’t share my concern just to just talk about politics, I have to cry out to God to save us. I don’t know what else to do.
Finding comfort in the Bible and in community
How long O Lord? How long? I wonder where God is in all of this. That’s what it feels like somedays. It’s faith-crushing. And it’s so confusing how it’s all working. The magnitude of human evil seems to eclipse the presence of God in the world. But God will save us. And God will name the hypocrites. You see this plainly in the Bible and that comforts me. James tells us plainly that “belief” alone won’t save us. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. James 2:19 James is channeling Jesus, himself! “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 7:21 The same problem occurred in John’s community. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. 1 John 2:19 But I don’t just need the Bible. I need my faith. I need Christian community. Without it, I might think the church is full of Metaxases, O’Fallons, and Falwells. That’s why I need Circle of Hope. That’s why I need my cell. That’s why I need the Sunday meeting. That’s why I need community. I must be reminded that God is in the world. I need stories of hope. I need evidence of God in the world. And I see it in you. I see it in worship. I see it in our community. I see it in our acts of compassion. I need to keep seeing it. If you do too, there is space for you.