I watch more reality TV in the summer than at any other time of the year. I love Big Brother (it’s like chess but with people and emotions!), So You Think You Can Dance (Mary Murphy’s screams!), America’s Got Talent (real people doing amazing things!), and there’s usually at least one Housewives franchise I watch to see other people act ridiculous for an hour. To that end, on a recent episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County, one of the wives’ sons spoke openly about his support of Trump. His brother, however, does not share his opinion. When the right-wing brother was called a racist by his left-wing brother, it caused a rift in their relationship that, if previous seasons tell us anything, will play out over the next several months on the show. It’s setting up a true brother-against-brother dynamic that’s as old as the Civil War and, as calculated and overly-plotted as their disagreement is, as well as being opportunely timed with the start of a new season, it’s also perhaps the most of-the-moment episode of any on TV right now.
We, America, are in the middle of a cultural civil war. It’s happening in large swaths all over the country and no one is immune from exposure. It’s on every newspaper, magazine, TV show, Twitter feed, Facebook timeline, and website banner. Our entire discourse is a large scale “they said/we said” mudslinging extravaganza all day, every day. However, there are battles playing out in various sub-arenas of our culture which have sizable implications to the larger culture war in which we find ourselves entrenched. The most pronounced of those arenas is the church.
“The church” means different things to different people. There’s “the church” in terms of a specific place of worship and the people who make up that organization. There’s also “the church” as referenced by people outside of it, as a movement of people who’ve been mobilized politically, as a place where priests abuse kids and wind up in the headlines, or as an passé ideology. But to many, “the church” constitutes the entire breadth of people who believe in Jesus. This includes all sorts of denominations and dogmatic variations, all of which are, at least by my reading of the Bible, on the same team. It’s this “church” where I’ve seen battles breaking out like fires along a California highway.
Beth Moore, a well-known evangelist and author within the Christian community, is someone I enjoy following on Twitter. She’s encouraging in a way that isn’t condescending, compassionate without being disingenuous, and speaks her heart even if she knows it may make her target demographic uncomfortable. Her conferences sell out all over the country and her books were/are staple literature for many Evangelical women.
Recently, she found herself in the crosshairs of conservative Christian media for removing a passage from the digital version of one of her books, Praying God’s Word, in which she called homosexuality, “another deadly assault of the evil one in our society.” This removal may not seem like that big of a deal, but the deletion of such specific anti-gay rhetoric was a sizable move for someone like Moore to make. In fact, it caused such a stir, she wrote a blog to address her decision. In part, it read:
When I wrote PGW many years ago, I exceeded Scripture and singled out same-sex sin as particularly satanic.
As the years passed, I increasingly winced at what I’d conveyed but the basic rule of thumb in authorship is that it is better not to go back and edit an old book but, rather, let it just phase out and simply don’t make the same mistake in the future. The problem was, because PGW is a handbook and not a regular nonfiction book, it didn’t phase out in the same way. I have had many years to test the fruit of what I wrote and have seen over and over again that numerous readers, who had gone to this chapter with their struggles, came to my words and proceeded no further. My words had kept them from God’s words. That, to me, is a pretty serious stumbling block.
I also heard from some heartbroken mothers about their kids who were having a hard enough time feeling ostracized as it was. This prayer book sits on the bedside tables and on the shelves in many Christian homes. Picture a 13 year old struggling with an onslaught of sexual feelings and temptations who has no idea what to do with them. The child picks up the book and reads my words, only, in this case, comes to the conclusion that he or she is particularly demonic. Not only is that devastating to the child. It is not even biblical.
In a conversation with someone on Twitter about the topic, she commented, “It was not a fast decision. I took several years to contemplate what to do about it as I watched the damage it caused. It’s an old book but still widely used. It was not my intention but I made people feel demonized. I overshot Scripture by a mile.”
It was a bold move within the change-adverse Evangelical community who favor “that’s the way it’s always been” and “let’s go back to good ol’ days,” but it was only one of the bold moves she made in the past few months. She’s also called out the “hypocrisy burgeoning from hyper fundamentalist Christianity,” the “sexism and misogyny that is rampant in segments of the Southern Baptist Convention,” and made it known she believed the pastors who supported Trump were motivated by sin, power, misogyny, sexism, and arrogance. She also chastised the teenagers in MAGA hats who taunted the Native Americans protesters in Washington, DC, stating, “To glee in dehumanizing any person is so utterly anti-christ it reeks of the vomit of hell.”
In every situation, the backlash was swift. Christian websites claimed she “jumped on the bandwagon with other Trump critics,” showing their hand in their unwavering support for America’s misogynist-in-chief, and faceless nobodies with Bible verses in their social media bios decried her as a heretic.
After taking time away from social media because one can only handle so much vitriol from people who pretend to be Christ-like, she tweeted, “I will not be the last witch in this witch-hunt. I’m just the handiest one for the object lesson: ‘This, too, will happen to you.’ Think long & hard, Evangelicals, about what the public landscape will look like with everybody elbowed out as heretics but the hyper fundamentalists.”
It should come as no surprise that someone speaking out against the Christian establishment’s obvious wrongs has been pounced on. Even with decades of books written and conferences led, she’s dared to speak out against our national nightmare and the church’s complicity in it. I don’t know that she and I agree on everything, I’m sure we don’t because we’re human, but I do know she’s put her neck on the line to stand up for women and marginalized people to have seats at the table. She’s also called for the church to act like “the church” and not a political party at the same time as speaking out against one of our nation’s enduring cancers, white nationalism.
After the most recent round of Trump-supporting, American-born, white terrorists murdered dozens of people in El Paso and Dayton, she tweeted, “Any ‘Christ’ that can be invoked in support of white nationalism is a false Christ of the highest, most hellish order. An anti-christ. A wholly-opposite christ. No such christ is the Christ Jesus of Scripture who taught His followers a love that sacrifices life & limb for others.”
Well consider me triggered.
From the time I was a young boy, I was afraid of the Antichrist. He’s the diabolical villain of the book of Revelation, a “Ghost Stories To Tell in the Dark” caliber monster we were warned lurked right around the corner. Though Revelation is almost exclusively allegory, that hasn’t stopped many Christians from reading it as a literal outline of the end of days and the Antichrist, whose mutant abilities are powered by Satan, is said to be the one who brings about the world’s demise. Fictional novels have been written about what this man could look like in today’s cultural/political climate, movies have been made that have done the same, and among the hellscape described in Revelation, he looms large as the ringleader.
When I was a kid, I was told the people who’d follow the Antichrist wouldn’t know they were playing into the hands of evil, they’d just be doing what they thought they were supposed to do. When I read Beth’s message, I, for the first time, considered that maybe the Antichrist isn’t a man at all but is instead a malformed and warped version of Christ; an ideology that bears the same name but none of the holy hallmarks; a blasphemous false doctrine disguised as fundamentalism.
There is a blatant and glaring disconnect between the teachings of Jesus and the fundamentalist church who espouses his name. It’s not such a reach to see this anti-Christ spirit is alive and thriving, not in the embodiment of a physical man (though our current president aids and abets all of these sicknesses so he can remain in power) but in the minds of those who have lost sight of what it actually means to be a Christian, a Christ-follower.
There are a few key tenets of Jesus’ ministry on Earth, bullet points in the narrative of his time teaching on hillsides and in home groups. One of those is to give big and give freely. This meant giving in many different capacities, all of which were equally important and necessary if you were to follow in Jesus’ then-literal footsteps. He said to give money—in some cases, all your money—to the poor. He said to give people the clothes off your back. He said to bring water to those who were considered unclean. He said to feed people even if they didn’t do anything to deserve it. He said to put yourself in the place of a the servant and wash the feet of the people who enter your house. He said to take in those who had no place to sleep.
This was a tough reality for many to stomach back then but not much has changed. There are still many churchgoing, “the Bible is black-and-white” Christians who make no qualms about their belief they shouldn’t have to use their hard-earned money to subsidize the “freebies” liberals want to hand out to the poor. Yet, that’s exactly what Jesus said to do time and time again, right there, in black and white (or red depending on your Bible).
Another tenet which piggybacks on this is that of bringing people in. This didn’t just include those who looked good on the trifold temple fliers. Jesus talked of bringing everyone in. That included the vagrant, the widow, the poor, and the sick. It included the disenfranchised, the homeless, the outliers, and those with whom religious folks refused to interact. It included the refugees as much as those with penthouse views of the Temple Mount.
Perhaps one of the reasons this was such a cut-and-dry issue with Jesus is that at one point in his life, he too was a refugee, having to flee to Egypt to escape the literal threat of death in his homeland. But that hasn’t stopped the overwhelming majority of the “faithful” from chanting “build the wall” in order to keep foreign peoples out of a country they view as exclusively theirs. I’m not sure how any of these people can claim to follow Christ’s teaching as he would, in no way, support ICE. In reality, unless someone is 100% Native American, they’re here became someone immigrated, but that hasn’t stopped many from flaunting their unabashed, Civil-War-caliber racism on every platform. In truth, they sound like the Death Eaters in Harry Potter who were only interested in pure-blood wizards. (The Death Eaters lose in the end.)
This tenet was also born out of a time when the Jewish people were living under enemy occupation, a point in time when the political unrest was high and the frustrations of the people were equally so. Yet Jesus didn’t say to fight. He said to love your neighbor.
So who is this christ who has taken up residence in the hearts and minds of fundamentalist Christians? How did it get there? At what point did their sense of nationalism replace their Christ-based compassion? Well, it didn’t happen overnight. It seems like they shot up like weeds but it’s been a slow process of culling these fundamentalist anti-christs from the garden. This president gave them the Miracle Gro in which to blossom and the church’s support of his election cosigned these people’s behavior, but it’s been a slow process.
I love dinosaurs, I have since I was ten years old and Jurassic Park changed my life. As such, I also love dinosaur bones and I dream about one day going on a paleontology dig to uncover them with my own two hands. One thing I know about dinosaur bones is that as impressive and awe-inspiring as they are to look at in a museum, we aren’t looking at their actual bones. Once the dinosaur died and was buried by whatever means it found itself in the ground, minerals slowly replaced the bone, eventually leaving what we find today: solid rock copies of the original dinosaur bone.
In many ways, I feel something similar has taken place in America. It’s been slowly seeping in, replacing people’s humanity and their Christ-based compassion with a hatred they can’t even recognize as such. The practical teachings of Jesus, the hands-on, tactile, live-out-your-beliefs tenets of what he said a life of fullness in God warranted, have been replaced by nationalism, by the idolization of the Second Amendment, by an “us vs. them” ideology which encompasses everything from race to sexuality to citizenship, and by an unquenchable need for power. The parts of them that are supposed to live as Jesus led has been replaced with a lifeless copy of a Christian, hardened and stoney, fruitless.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “Here’s what we have to say to all of America’s men and women falling in the grips of hatred and white supremacy: Come back. It’s not too late. You have neighbors and loved ones waiting, holding space for you. And we will love you back.”
I want to say the same to the Christians who were duped by the political party that methodically overtook their pulpits, who let that party convince them to militantly vote right no matter what because “that’s what God’s will,” and who have allowed their racist, separatist, violent animal urges to run unabated. The moment is coming when a decision to abandon this amoral, anti-everyone, hateful concept of “Christ’s love” must be made. The world watched as the church embraced this president, his money-and-power-obsessed cronies, and welcomed his rhetoric of hate into the global stage. The world is still watching. When Jesus stepped onto the scene, he was a counter-culture heretic to most in the religious establishment. He preached goodness, giving, unity, and welcoming. It’s time for his church to do the same.