White evangelicals are redefining their faith to appease the president. Nowhere is this more evident than in how they’ve changed their take on repentance and transformation.
Transformation is at the core of faith, but many evangelical leaders are trying to edit it out. They suggest repentance is no longer necessary — not for Christians, anyway — and transformation is optional.
In their new view, being Christian means never having to say you’re sorry, never having to make amends, never having to examine how you think or tweet. You’re forgiven, so you don’t need to change anything.
It’s a “theology” developed to justify their unwavering support for a president who won’t admit to any shortcomings, apologize for poor conduct, or change his conduct in any way. During a 2015 interview with Anderson Cooper, he said, “Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness if I am not making mistakes?" He’s said other things similar to this.
Of course, spirituality is about becoming a new person at our deepest levels. If we see nothing wrong with the old one, there can be no transformation.
Evangelicals recognize their dilemma. If they encourage the president to change, he’ll kick them to the curb. They’ve seen his ugly responses whenever anyone challenges him or suggests he is less than perfect.
So instead, they change their religion to accommodate him. They grant him unlimited mulligans. They say he’s Christian, so he’s forgiven and there’s nothing to even talk about. They avert their eyes, hold their tongues, and urge their congregations to do the same. But the president has not shown that he is transformed by faith.
Faith is about removing the many planks from our own eyes. It’s about opening ourselves to transformation on our deepest levels — our attitudes, our demeanor, our character. We try — with the help of God and others — to identify our shortcomings, ask forgiveness from those we’ve hurt, make amends as best we can, and grow into a more loving person.
If we require a description of how the process works, Paul provides a guide. He reminds us that love matters above everything — it’s greater than faith and hope — and we know exactly how it looks when we’re being transformed by it.
We develop more patience and kindness. We become less jealous and boastful. We become less prone to anger. We stop ourselves when we’re tempted to be rude. We put ego aside. The more we grow, the less self-centered we become.
We stop brooding so much over perceived slights. We try to be honest with ourselves and others. We no longer accept what is unkind, unjust, and unloving. We stop doing and saying so many childish things. We grow up.
That’s transformative faith. Paul reminds us that anything else is a lie.
We’re supposed to be changed, and to be agents of change as well. We’re supposed to lovingly encourage others to grow with us. Spirituality is never about me alone. Love is never a solitary pursuit.
We’re required to participate in others' transformation in whatever ways we can, and to do it as kindly and as unselfishly as we can.
This is where many evangelicals have jumped ship. Instead of seeking transformation, they grant mulligans to preserve the status quo and their places at the table of power. They grant themselves a mulligan for failing to speak up.
They’re saying, it’s OK to be flavorless salt. But we know what happens to salt that can no longer transform: It gets tossed out and trampled to make room for something better. So should their theology.