As a student working towards my PhD, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many amazing students, professors, and administrators. The majority of these individuals, which I guess is not all that surprising considering my education has occurred at a public university in the Northeast, can correctly be labeled as “liberal and secular.” They tend to be liberal in the sense that their politics and outlook on society fall neatly in line with the Democratic Party, and secular in that most express no religious affiliation and no real understanding of religious teachings or traditions.

I make no secret of my deeply held political views. I consider myself a Pacifist, Democratic-Socialist (this might disqualify me from ever being President of the United States, but I’m a dues paying member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)), and an Evangelical Christian. The first two rarely get much attention on a liberal college campus, however, the third self-identification does. I’m always asked, “How are you a Evangelical and not a republican? How are you practicing Evangelical and still so progressive minded?” I love these conversations because it gives me an opportunity to what all narcissists love most and that is talk about myself.

I usually bring up the standard social justice bible verses that a majority of the public has heard (Jesus call for Christians to be peace makers, the Jewish practice of jubilee where debts are erased and the poor given access to food, the first apostles communal living arrangements, etc.). What I often find myself answering most from people who are interested in why I hold progressive political views while holding fairly conservative religious beliefs is a question that I must say really upsets me. So often, especially since 2016, I’m asked “why do your fellow Christians support Donald Trump? His life is so immoral.” My reply, which I admit is not a very well thought out piece of political analysis, is usually something like “I think Christians recognized that President Trump is a flawed man, however, they tend appreciate his policies which they view as being in line with God’s will.”

My current doctoral work is focused on the role Intellectuals have played in the Conservative drive to roll back the benefits of the welfare state. In simple terms: I’m trying to understand why Conservative thinkers, usually professors who write big policy papers and teach in top universities, believe that things like social security, Medicaid, food stamps, etc. are benefits that should be highly restrictive and not all that generous. I think I chose this topic because of my religious and political beliefs. I’ve been wrestling with the notion that conservatives, who so often are Evangelical Christians, can be opposed to things that “outsiders” and people that do not share our faith assume Christians would be happy to support. I guess I wanted an answer to the question I’m frequently asked “if Jesus wants you guys to love your neighbors than why are you all so often against allowing the government to help people?”

I haven’t found the answers to these questions. What I have found, and continue to find, are more examples of what I’ve come to label “Christianity at its worst.” I reflect and meditate on these issues not because I want to add to the growing list of complaints that are often thrown on Evangelical Christians. Rather, I think and pray about them constantly because I believe that Christians are much better than the picture we give to the outside world. I also, and this may be a bit naïve, believe that most Christians simply need to be better informed. I tend to tell myself “its not that Evangelical Christians are mean by default. I think that in a busy world with so much going on it’s hard to have a clear spirit filled belief on every topic.” At times I feel a burden to try where I can to educate my brothers and sisters in Christ on certain topics.

One topic that I have written about and have discussed with Christians at length is immigration. Most Evangelicals are just like the rest of America. They are afraid that lax immigration leaves the United States prone to potential invasion and think if someone enters the country illegal they must face punishment. Usually, but not all the time, Christians simply see illegal immigration as a crime that must be punished like all other crimes. These are all fine arguments that I understand and disagree with. However, what so often I don’t hear is a scriptural argument for these stances.

As Christians we are exhorted to live not by “Bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Christ wants us to not “conform to this world but be transformed through Christ love and salvation.” In essence, we are not supposed to conduct ourselves in the same manner as everyone else. We are to be beacons of light, hope, and compassion. We are to be the moral salt in a world that has become bland to seeking justice.

In the Washington Post today I read a quick “update” on where the Department of Health and Human Services is in implementing a policy to deal with increased traffic on the border. The story stated that the Trump Administration is looking at options for placing children in “foster homes, unused summer camps, or in military installations.” The article explained that children who are separated from their parents as a result of their detainment for trying to “cross the border illegally” will soon be relocated to one of the three options mentioned before.

This brings to mind Deuteronomy. In the book of Deuteronomy God informs the Jewish people that children “shall not be punished for the sins of their parents.” God deliberately prohibits children from receiving any retribution for the acts of their Fathers and Mothers. God, who is the ultimate arbiter of justice in the Old Testament, is making a clear judicial distinction for what can be considered “reasonable punishment.”

Jesus, in the New Testament, often brings many of these Old-Testament laws into a better light. Jesus explains to his followers that children are what we all should aspire to. Jesus lets us know that children, both literally and figuratively, have a special place in the kingdom of god and should have a special place in our daily lives.

This circles back to the issue of President Trump. It also brings us back to the question “If Christians believe in Jesus than why do they support President Trump?” It begs Christians to ask,  “Are we living out our faith with fear and trembling?” Are we ensuring that “in welcoming aliens we unknowingly entertained angels?” Does our political stance square with our public witness to those who are not saved?

I’m hopeful that Christ is at work in the lives of us all. I’m also hopeful that Christians stop, pray, and think how best we can serve as a wake up call to a world begging for peace, love, and salvation. Can we anymore justify the President’s actions with statements like “it’s the liberal media attacking him? I know he isn’t a saint but still he supports the Christian agenda.” Can we allow a President, who as many political scientists have found won the election only as a result of the Evangelical vote, to “punish children for the sins of their mothers and fathers.” Or can we be the force that propels our world to stop, think, and move towards justice, hope, and light?

 

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20 thoughts on “Light in Dark Times

  1. I recently came across the term “Evangelical Inc.” which I think is a good way to describe the Trump-wing of Evangelicalism. It seems to sum up the essential weakness of the Evangelical culture that I (and so many others) grew up in, which is that American Evangelicals of the 20th century rolled the dice and tried (despite Jesus’ warnings) to love both God and money. Hence Evangelical Inc. came into being, de-prioritizing social awareness and emphasizing their own entirely individualistic version of Christianity.

    It’s tricky, of course, because I grew up in the Midwest and in a family and community that wasn’t particularly affluent, so it wasn’t exactly raining hundred dollar bills, but the love of money was still there, via the unquestioned allegiance to capitalism, the admiration of the wealthy (“blessed” by God), and the refusal to engage questions of social justice. On this last point, I think my evangelical tribe refused to engage social justice because of their desire to retain what small amount of socio-economic privilege they still had.

    This all sounds sinister and cruel, and it’s just my opinion based on my background. My family and friends from those old days would never describe themselves in those terms, they would use the standard propaganda lines: capitalism promotes free trade and economic growth, capitalism rewards the hard workers and punishes the lazy, etc. But to me, it’s just Evangelical Inc.

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting Jonathan. I think your analysis is correct. I grew up in a working class Evangelical community and even though the material conditions were not the best the “Protestant Ethic” was a live and well. I think many young Evangelicals are starting to feel the impact of economic austerity and are really starting to question many assumptions they previously had. I think a great awakening is going to come. At least thats what i pray for.

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  2. Thanks for the thoughtful column. I imagine that in the Northeast you might be able to find an “Evangelical” congregation where others share your political views… but your synthesis makes you part of a rare breed.

    While I’m not an economist, and I would touch political life any more closely than with my ballot, I’d like to propose a partial answer to your question about why conservative Christians rarely support the liberal social-political agenda. These are my personal thoughts, although I suppose you will find some of them echo voices you will hear in your PhD research. They are in no reasoned order or form, since I sadly have too many other commitments to offer a polished product. I simply off them for your consideration. (Oh, and please forgive the fact that they are all “generalizations,” since we both know there are exceptions to each “rule.”)

    1. Politics and religious practice are two different things. Anyone who tries to conflate them and state that because one believes x they must practice y, is speaking only for their personal viewpoint. You personally, may believe x requires you to “vote” for y, but it is presumptuous when people assume that logic applies to others.
    2. The distinction between the two, politics and faith, is not a compartmentalization. (Well, fact is, for many people who do not think deeply, it often is.) However, they are intrinsically different. I, for example, am a confessional (ecumenical creeds) Christian, and a conservative-leaning political independent. I find these quite compatible, although I understand how a conservative Christian could be a big government social services supporter.
    3. Most of the people who fall into the latter group are, I suspect, influenced by liberal academia and liberal pulpits where the focus is only philosophical (as contrasted with biblical) virtues. These overlap in many ways, of course, but are inherently independent of one another, coming from different sources. I would argue that even if the liberal perspective professes to be based on the Bible (from which we can prooftext anything), the philosophical elements hold precedence).
    4. The biblical viewpoint, most conservative believers would probably agree, says that we are individually responsible to do good works, e.g. compassionate support of the less fortunate.
    5. Likewise, the biblical viewpoint would say that Jesus was speaking to individual disciples, not governments.
    6. Because of this, the issue of taxes becomes a tougher concern than liberals think. Conservatives believe their are common, indivisible common needs (e.g. the national defense, and others enumerated in our Constitution).
    7. Conservative Christians, such as myself, tithe and support the work of a wide range of religious and secular charities, in our local, national, and international contexts. We believe other Christians–at least those familiar with the Scriptures–recognize Christ encourages them to do the same.
    8. Conservative Christians regard collecting taxes for “excessive” (in the eye of the beholder) “optional” social programs is coercive and ethically questionable. In essence, the omnipotent government seizes its subjects money to use as it will. When these are legitimate (i.e. Constitutional) requirements, it’s only the “amount” that is questioned. When it is for “extras” (e.g. college educations) many conservatives would consider the forced seizure of their earned salaries to be a form of theft.
    9. Conservatives do not want these diverse programs to be unfunded. They simply believe they should be funded voluntarily. And when they see the hypocrisy of the wealthy trying to strip those in the middle class of their limited discretionary incomes in this way, they wonder why people like that don’t simply fund the projects they believe in.

    This is far more complex than my comments reflect, but essentially, Conservative Christians believe (from my observation and practice) that charitable work is incumbent on individuals who offer the fruits of their labor voluntarily.

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting Rob. “voluntarism” has been at the heart of a lot of Christian writing and thinking with regards to social welfare. There is some historical and sociological work suggesting that this mindset is fairly new (thats not to say it hasn’t always been there. Consider the ‘Protestant Ethic’ written over 100 years ago). I’m trying to decouple the idea of Christianity= free market capitalism. I fervently believe the scriptures bear this out. Anyway, thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment!!!!!

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      1. I am wary of any human philosophy/politics/etc. that is “equated” with Christianity. I wish you the best in decoupling the two… just don’t replace it with Christianity=socialism. 😉

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  3. Hello David, thank you for visiting and following my blog and leading me to yours. Can’t say I agree with everything, but do appreciate the diversity. For example, re: govt benefits, there is such an abuse of entitlements that it impedes personal growth and responsibility. As a parole officer for many years, I saw the greatest maturity and change come to troubled men & women when they were compelled to work. I can’t say that I pitch my tent in any Christian/political camp, but rather try to uphold every issue to the unmatched standards of the Lord and the examples of the Apostles. Our first mandate is to “pick up our cross and follow” Him. Hard to point to everyone else with our hands full.
    May He lead us and order our steps in these last days before His return!

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  4. It is a tragedy that many Christians agree that immigration should be limited. I believe Christians should support efforts to make immigration easier and I have given by reasons here: https://clydeherrin.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/immigration-and-evangelism/

    We need to conduct background checks on potential immigrants to weed out criminals and possible terrorists, but once they have passed these checks we should do all we can to make immigration and naturalization easier for them.

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  5. The Bible, in addition to being a foundation for religious faith, is collection books that amount to one, long, epic narrative. Within that story, we find historical account that, after the Jewish people returned to Judah/Israel after Babylonian captivity, they became very clannish and discriminatory. They saw this d caiscrimination against other ethnics as a means of possibly, once again, preserving their homeland as an expression of their own ethnic identity.
    It didn’t work. After Alexander conquered the Middle East world, one of his successors, Antiochus, invaded Judah and desecrated the whole arrangement, tribe and temple.
    Later, Jesus, also an observant Jew, came along and corrected all of their presumptuous biases. He opened up the gospel of deliverance from sinful nature to all mankind. When asked “who is my neighbor?” Jesus spoke the parable of the good Samaritan. Samaritans had been considered outcasts, but we’re all Samaritans now, whether living in Nablus or Jerusalem of Bethlehem PA.
    We are all sinners on this planet. When asked what was the greatest virtue, Jesus answered “love.”
    What does love do? Love gives, without asking for a predictable return.
    “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
    Although your neighbor may be an illegal. Big deal. Love ’em anyway, which may involve helping them get a leg up, instead of being put on ICE.

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