The Privilege of Christianity

trump church


It is somewhat ironic to be writing about Christian privilege; the very basis of our religion is the abolition of earthly-based privileges that cause the oppression and stratification of persons because of their social class or bodily condition. Jesus taught that God’s love is more powerful than the stain of sin, and that while we humans cannot create a perfectly just society—which is what we confess as the Kin-dom of God—through the example of Christ we have a model for behavior and spiritual living that is enduring and perfect.

Along the way—and, really, an historical analysis would be long and somewhat pedantic—Christianity emerged as the de facto religion in the United States, especially for politicians post-Nixon. Carter was actually the first president to be endorsed by what came to be known as the Moral Majority, and the modern Evangelical political movement was such a huge force, they propelled George W. Bush to two terms, an accomplishment his more reserved Episcopalian father could not accomplish.  While this is not a nuanced explanation of Republican religio-politics, the facts are unquestionable and in the right order.

I consider myself an evangelical (small “e”) Christian; I’m ordained through the United Church of Christ, which has deep roots in the historic evangelical movement, and I currently serve a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation. The Dean of United Theological Seminary, Dr. David Watson, has written a wonderful piece on what makes a person an evangelical. I don’t fit the category neatly, even though evangelical can be defined in a wide variety of ways; I don’t consider myself an evangelical Christian in the Republican model. For me, an evangelical is someone who focuses on issues of social justice as being central to the faith confession. Absolutely, the work of Christ on the cross is central, but I do not adhere to blood atonement theology. I do not think that Jesus had to pay a debt to God, and as God’s son was the only person who could provide atonement for all human persons through the spilling of blood. I do believe that humans are sinful, but that we are inherently created as “very good”; that we too often center ourselves on the wrong things, like a desire for material possessions and social standing; that the life of Jesus Christ is definitive in terms of exemplifying how we are to create what Dr. King called Beloved Community; that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross reveals the depths and power of God’s agapic love and that it is made available to us regardless of our works or failures; that the Holy Spirit animates the lives of those who commit themselves to a continued and rigorous self-examination and deconstruction of selfish motives; and that the most important thing for any Christian is to exist in a community that is radically inclusive and unwaveringly seeking of justice.

Some of my Christian brothers and sisters may disagree with my definition, and that’s fine. Great, even. I love discussions of theology and faith; I’m not saying that I am correct, and I have no need for others to believe as do I. It works for me. I’m far from perfect, but I can look you squarely in the eyes and tell you that the most important person in my life is Jesus Christ. Period. End of sentence. No doubt. No hesitation. I’m a Christian in everything I do, even my sinning. At the end of the day, I think that most Christians would say that, even if they disagree with my theological hermeneutics, my faith confession is in line with what we define as Christianity, and those who know me can attest that I am serious about matching my actions to my words.

But Trump. Oh my sweet blessed Jesus suffering on the cross, Trump. That brother tests me, friends. He really does. I know that hate is the tool of the enemy; I know that, as Booker T. Washington said, I should not allow myself to be brought so low as to hate. I know that Dr. King would tell me that I can love Trump in a disinterested way; that I cannot allow his actions to create a rise in me of anger and frustration that mutes my love. That love we receive from God. That love that does not belong to us. It is not ours to hoard or to redirect. It must flow through and from us in a disinterested fashion. No matter what you do, that love is not going to wane. Whatever you do, that love is not going to go away. Agape.

But it is hard, friends. It is hard to do this with a man who not only claims to be Christian, but also claims to be Presbyterian. He is not, at least the latter. There is no record of Trump holding membership where he claims, and the Presbytery National Office has made it clear that he is not a member in good standing. And let’s also get out of the way that the man doesn’t know scripture, he doesn’t understand Communion, and he doesn’t know the difference between Eucharist and the Offertory.

But he claims Christian persecution and Christian pride. This fucking pisses me off. And, yes. Pastor just dropped the “f-bomb.” Because how dare he. How. Dare. He. Our Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt and Syria are dying. Being slaughtered. Targeted for their faith. And I know that Christians across time and space have committed terrible atrocities. That’s not this discussion. All lives matter, yes. But right now we are talking about Christian ones. How dare Donald Trump assume the mantle of martyr when he does not have the first idea about what it means to follow the Prince of Peace. He has the audacity to say that he has no need for repentance, essentially putting himself on par with Christ.

But let’s also be honest. For too long, Christian privilege has allowed people to rise up through social ranks and corporations. Christianity has been the litmus test for politicians. And it is a rank Christianity. It is one that envisions a muscle-bound, gun-toting, liberal-hating, white-skinned Messiah who kicks Muslims in the teeth and no longer condemns Jerusalem. Christian privilege has been paired with white skin and a penis in an unholy trinity that postulates everything else as an “other.” So the American obsession with Evangelical Christianity is now a roosting chicken. Christianity has become such a malleable plaything that Evangelicals are voting for Trump in droves despite him representing nothing that is important to the faith. And we’ve let it happen.

It would be easy for me as a Progressive evangelical Christian to point the fingers to the other side of the tent and say, See?! See?! We told you that you were playing with fire! It would be easy, but it would be wrong. We in the Progressive movement are just as culpable. We have—rightly, in the main—been pushing hard for the doors to never close on those who wish to enter. We have marched and prayed and advocated and protested for the rights of GLBTQ persons in the Church. Many of us continue to work for the full equality of women within the Church. And a great number of us who are pastors oversee congregations with people who identify as atheist, agnostic, spiritual but not religious, Buddhist, Wiccan, and a whole host of other identities, but who feel comfortable within our communities for a wide variety of reasons. And we love these people, care for them, and pastor to them as we are able; it is an increasing reality of contemporary Christianity.

So we don’t often draw the line. We try to focus on the things we have in common rather than the things that separate us. But we have gone too far, I think. We have ceased to have standards for which we will stand up and say, Being a Christian is a privilege. And you don’t qualify. You don’t get to use the label if you display the sort of beliefs that we see.  We haven’t drawn that line because we loathe these types of statements and actions. It goes against our very fiber as loving, accepting people. It does not feel good to have one’s faith questioned.

But we have to now. Here. Immediately. And with force. We have to cry out that Donald Trump is a loathsome demagogue who will not and cannot use the name of our Lord and Savior for his own gain. In order to garner the respect of those outside of the faith, we need to be loud right now. We need to dig in our heels and say no more. If we don’t, if we do not get ourselves on record, we deserve that we get: more declining numbers in our congregations and the total loss of respect from the rest of our country.

We’re really good at telling Muslim leaders that they need to decry the extremists within their traditions. It is time for us to do the same, to such an extent that the only way Donald Trump will ever call himself a Christian again is after he has truly accepted Jesus Christ into his heart.

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