Reclaiming Jesus from the Trump Evangelicals | Sojourners

Reclaiming Jesus from the Trump Evangelicals

President Donald Trump speaking for Rick Sacconne during a Make America Great Again rally in Moon Township, Penn., March 10, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Since he likes to put his name in ALL CAPS, we will put their name in ALL CAPS too. TRUMP EVANGELICALS are destroying the “evangel” — the “good news” of Jesus Christ.

“Evangelical” is a word that now needs to be defined carefully, given how much it has been distorted and corrupted by both the media and the behavior of white evangelicals. The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is now at stake — as is the integrity of Christian faith for at least a generation to come.

The word “evangelical” has its origin in the word “evangel” from Luke 4:16, in which Jesus first announced his mission at Nazareth by saying: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor [the word here for “good news” in the original Aramaic language is evangel]. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”

That is the word from which we get the words “evangelism” and “evangelical.” But there is hardly a text in Scripture that would be less associated with the word “evangelical” in the United States today. Or as the president of an evangelical seminary said to me recently, “Evangelicalism (and he meant white evangelicalism) is destroying the evangel.”

If we take that text seriously, as evangelicals are supposed to do with biblical texts, and if we believe that Jesus is Lord, we see clearly that the contrast between the evangel and white evangelicals — with their message to the poor, immigrants and refugees, women, and other vulnerable people — is very stark.

TRUMP EVANGELICALS have so completely and uncritically offered their faithful allegiance to the man in the White House that they have compromised the gospel of Jesus Christ — whose values the president’s life has stood antithetically against. The result in the way the country now views evangelicals, and white Christians in general, has been devastating to the integrity of faith in America and caused great confusion around the world. Another direct result of this election and the response of white evangelicals to it has been the mass exodus of African-American Christians from white and multi-racial churches and creating the biggest racial divide in the churches since the civil rights movement.

But this Holy Week we have some good news.

A new declaration called Reclaiming Jesus was released by a group of church elders on Palm Sunday, after a retreat together on Ash Wednesday for prayer, lament, and repentance. On Palm Sunday, another and different king and kingdom entered the capital city on a humble donkey. And many of us Christians, including evangelicals, are promising to enter the capital city of our time with a different message.

This is a movement in the churches whose time has come — a movement to reclaim Jesus from his white evangelical captivity and, in particular, by those who want to redefine Jesus in a totally different way than the TRUMP EVANGELICALS do.

It’s time to get our definitions straight. Let’s compare the six things the Reclaiming Jesus declaration says that we believe, and therefore what we reject, to what the TRUMP EVANGELICALS continue to support or stay silent about.

First, it is now necessary to use the word “white,” as it has come to define the latter word “evangelical” in the phrase white evangelical. God will decide, not us, what is in people’s hearts about racism. But when you support a president and a presidency that has consistently used racism and fear of “the other” for its own political gain, you are complicit in that racism. Reclaiming Jesus declares: “We believe that each human being is made in God’s image and likeness” (Genesis 1:26), therefore, “Racial bigotry is a brutal denial of the image of God (the imago dei) in some of the children of God” and that causes us to “reject the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership.” This is a matter of faith, not politics. When white evangelicals tell black evangelicals that they did not support Donald Trump because of his bigotry, but for “other issues,” black evangelicals are saying back to them, “I guess racial bigotry is not a deal breaker for you.” But racial bigotry is a deal breaker for the gospel of Jesus Christ. The TRUMP EVANGELICALS won’t say that and are virtually silent in the face of that white racism.

Second, the abuse of women is a deal breaker for the gospel. Our declaration says, “We believe we are one body. In Christ there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class (Galatians 3:28).” Therefore, we declare that we must also “reject misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual assault of women.” When all that is accepted, ignored, and even practiced at the highest levels of leadership in the country, we have much more than a political problem — we have a moral one. And when a president, as a moral role model, would make serial adultery, constant philandering, and pornography normal in America — and TRUMP EVANGELICALS like Tony Perkins are willing to give him a “mulligan” for all that — it is a hypocrisy that puts the integrity of Christian faith at stake.

Third, our treatment of the poor and vulnerable is literally a test of our relationship to Jesus. If “We believe that how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger (meaning immigrants and refugees) the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself (Matthew 25: 31-46),” we have another theological, not just a political issue at stake. In response to what the gospel says, the TRUMP EVANGELICALS choose not to “reject the language and policies that of political leaders who would debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God.” They seem to accept the “attacks on immigrants and refugees,” which were and are at the heart of Trump’s campaign and presidency, along with “the neglect of low-income families, and children” in his policy agenda and budget choices. Trump’s evangelical advisers seem to want to substitute charity for justice.

Fourth, our declaration says, “We believe that truth is morally central to our personal and public lives” and that Jesus promises, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:32).” But the TRUMP EVANGELICALS don’t seem to care about the pervasive, persistent, and pathological “lying that is invading our political and civic life.” They have yet to speak out for the importance of the truth or to reject how “the normalization of lying presents a profound moral danger to the fabric of society.” The post-truth world being created by this White House is actually an anti-Christ world.

Fifth, democracy is at stake now in the kind of leadership supported by The TRUMP EVANGELICALS, who seem not to understand that Christians “support democracy, not because we believe in human perfection, but because we do not.” The declaration reminds us that, “We believe that Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination” and that is why “we reject any moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule.” The strong man that the TRUMP EVANGELICALS support threatens the freedom they say they care about and all of us hold dear — religious or otherwise.

Sixth, the TRUMP EVANGELICALS seem not to understand why “‘America First’ [is] a theological heresy.” “We believe,” says our declaration, that “our churches and our nations are part of an international community whose interests always surpass national boundaries.” Therefore, we “reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism which places one nation over others as a political goal.” That flies in the face of a global body of Christ that is the most diverse human community in the world but is now is greatly confused by what is happening in America and why white evangelicals are apparently supporting it.

Finally, the TRUMP EVANGELICALS cannot call themselves consistently “pro-life” when their political choices and allegiances do not support the lives of the poor, racial and religious minorities, immigrants and refugees, low-income families and children. Indeed, all the facts show that support for low-income women’s health care, nutrition, and security is the best way to reduce abortion and the Trump administration is undermining all of that — making their pro-life stance hypocritical. Greatly reducing abortion in our society is a commitment that should be made by all our leaders — including the Democrats — and that should include both pregnancy prevention and support for vulnerable women. It’s about far more than Supreme Court appointments, which is one narrow issue to trade off for a political leader who threatens the truth with darkness and democracy with autocracy.

During this Holy Week, I implore you to read, study, and pray over the Reclaiming Jesus declaration — a timely reflection for this special week.

Ask yourself how you can get this declaration about Reclaiming Jesus out into the public and deeply into our churches — your churches, your schools, workplaces, and communities. Go to the website and download the resources.

From Easter to Pentecost, we will all be taking this to the churches for civil discourse, discernment, and action. Use this declaration as a signal that church leaders have broken the silence by speaking with one voice in unison to address the national moral, political, and even constitutional crisis we now face.

Make it clear that the TRUMP EVANGELICALS don’t speak for you. After we celebrate the resurrection of Christ this Easter Sunday, let us say with the early church that “Jesus is Lord!” meaning that Caesar, nor any other political ruler, is not. Jesus says, “They will know we are Christians by our love,” instead of by fear and hate. And this will be the message of Pentecost when, like the early Christians, we will take our faith to the streets — more to come on that!

Have a blessed Easter.