I’m attempting to wrap my mind around the idea of a former Army general telling me I should preach from the U.S. Constitution.
I mention this only because Michael Flynn has been occupying American pulpits, recommending the Constitution as a second holy book for preachers.
“What (preachers) need to be doing is they need to be talking about the Constitution from the pulpit as much as the Bible. They have to do that,” Flynn has said. Really.
It is hard to know which is worse — the former general displaying historical ignorance of Christian preaching or congregations applauding his remarks. Flynn admits he doesn’t know much about the Bible. He also doesn’t know much about the Constitution, because he had to receive a presidential pardon to stay out of jail for violating that same Constitution.
Yet he seems positively intoxicated by the grandeur, the sheer holiness of the Constitution. I wonder if he thinks Moses brought the Constitution scribbled on stone from Mount Sinai, signed by God.
When a man convicted in federal court but pardoned by the president claims preachers should be preaching the Constitution, you know you have a problem. Flynn’s attempt at posing as a professor of homiletics counts as blasphemy.
Flynn led chants to lock up Hillary Clinton in 2016. In 2020, he posted a video of himself taking an oath associated with QAnon. He has endorsed crackpot fabrications of the extreme right: Italy used military satellites to switch votes from Trump to Biden in 2020, COVID-19 is a hoax perpetrated by a malevolent global elite, the vaccine infused recipients with microchips designed for mind control.
Now, Flynn is taking part in the traveling religious circus called “ReAwaken America.” Politicians and preachers are peddling religious Kool-Aid, pushing conspiracy theories galore. They include claiming Satan is the liberals’ ally in an attempt to destroy the nation, and also global elites fabricated the COVID pandemic to turn people into something called “transhumans.”
Growing evidence suggests the idolatry of nationalism has become a standard feature of worship for many evangelical churches.
Growing evidence suggests the idolatry of nationalism has become a standard feature of worship for many evangelical churches. Tim Alberta spent a year attending evangelical congregations and discovered a liturgy consisting of 40 minutes of praise music, 40 minutes of political rant and a 40-minute sermon. He found pastors who hold forth on conspiracy theories, dispute the science of COVID vaccination and promote Donald Trump.
This is the strangest expression of religion since the prophets of Baal “cried aloud and, as was their custom, cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. They raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response” (1 Kings 18:28-29).
And yet many congregations have come to expect these political, emotional performances from their preachers. New members report they attend these churches for the political rants. The powerful emotional appeals, the fiery, weaponized rhetoric, the relentless attacks on liberals, science and history, as well as partisan politics are a powerful draw in an age given to emotional appeals. The congregants are like Naaman: ‘I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy” (2 Kings 5:11).
Temptation for preachers to preach from texts other than the Bible needs no encouragement from Flynn. Preachers are prone to ignoring biblical texts. On the left, preachers often are more comfortable preaching what they read from The Atlantic. On the right, preachers often are more at home ranting about politics and uttering their personal opinions. After all, preachers are free to say anything they want in the pulpit — from attacks on church members, to confessions, political rants and what they did on summer vacation — complete with a PowerPoint presentation.
I once watched a mega-church pastor preach a sermon he called “Dog is God Spelled Backward.” He treated us to slides of his dog, and I have no idea what any of this had to do with the gospel. As Ellen Davis muses, “One does not have to do much church-hopping to know that many clergy no longer consider it necessary to speak in careful response to the biblical text rather than out of their own musings.”
If Flynn keeps ranting from his ahistorical abyss much longer, he’s likely to claim baseball, hot dogs, Chevrolet and the American flag are founded on the Bible.
Flynn banters evangelical distortions about the Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence, as well as the United States being founded on the Bible. If he keeps ranting from his ahistorical abyss much longer, he’s likely to claim baseball, hot dogs, Chevrolet and the American flag are founded on the Bible. He just might offer the Pledge of Allegiance as our national creed in worship.
When a politician says preachers can’t preach without the Constitution, he has moved into the realm of “no quarter given” by all rebuttals. Here’s what Flynn said: “All I know is they can’t preach that without that thing called the United States Constitution. A pastor, a priest, they cannot stand there at the pulpit – nowhere else in the world – they cannot stand there at the pulpit and preach the Bible without the United States Constitution.”
The most charitable reading I can imagine is Flynn is trying to say only the protection of the Constitution, specifically the First Amendment, makes it possible for preachers to have the freedom to preach. But he says nothing about the First Amendment, and his words seem to add the Constitution as a second sacred text for pastors. To the amens he received for telling this whopper of a lie, I can only add a reverent “B.S.!”
Besides, preachers have a history of preaching, even when and where they are not free to do so. During World War II, the Gestapo arrested the Lutheran bishop of Norway after warning him to stop preaching. In prison, he still preached. They threatened him with isolation if he didn’t stop preaching. In the isolation cell, he still preached. The Gestapo hauled him into an interview room and told him, “If you don’t stop preaching, we will kill you.” The bishop responded, “Then what will you do to me?” He kept preaching.
Preachers do not preach because there is a Constitution; they preach because they are called of God.
Preachers do not preach because there is a Constitution; they preach because they are called of God. They preach with holy boldness. We preachers belong to a holy tribe from the book of Acts. When told to stop preaching, Peter and John said, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
Imagine a preacher reading a portion of the U.S. Constitution as the text for the morning sermon. Assuming the congregation would have a copy of the Constitution in the pew rack, the preacher could begin by saying, “Our text this morning is from Amendment #14, Section 1 of the Holy Constitution of the United States of America. It reads as follows: ‘All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’”
This may not be the best text for an evangelical nationalist to use, because the congregants probably would boo the reading. After all, these Christian nationalists want to do away with the 14th Amendment.
Maybe the preacher could read from Amendment 14, Section 3: “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.” Oops! That will not do. The haunting images of Jan. 6 cover us like a thunderstorm cloud.
Well, there’s the 20th Amendment, Section 1 for consideration: “The terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.”
For the life of me, I can’t imagine Flynn’s presumption to tell preachers they should preach from the Constitution deserves anything other than mockery.
I tire of this exercise in mockery, but for the life of me, I can’t imagine Flynn’s presumption to tell preachers they should preach from the Constitution deserves anything other than mockery. His tearful piety and sickly metaphysical optimism about the spiritual power of the Constitution span the whole spectrum of Christian nationalism.
If his advice were taken seriously, in no time at all, a tribe from the Southern Constitutional District would insist the Constitution is inerrant and literally true, and only the original meaning is acceptable. A prominent theologian would be recruited to equate the Bible and the Constitution as inerrant and literal. Next, a delegation from the Constitutional Reform District would assert God predestined every word of the Constitution, along with everything else, including making the United States God’s new chosen land.
Within months, preachers would be finding excuses for not preaching from the Constitution. They already are afraid to preach many of the texts of the Bible. How many preachers shy away from difficult texts?
How many preachers will preach Leviticus 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination,” but never will mention Leviticus 19:33-34 – “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
How many preachers are quoting the imprecatory psalm as a prayer against President Biden: “May his days be few; may another seize his position. May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow” (Psalm 109:8-9), but never bother with the teaching of Jesus: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45).
Flynn should be dismissed from the pulpit and not allowed within 50 yards of one again. He’s no preacher; he’s a false prophet dressed in the robes of self-righteousness. Preachers should keep struggling with biblical texts and preach the gospel with boldness.
The Christian faith has only one book — the Bible. The Bible is not some old book that needs propping up by other documents. Christians do not go tearing through pages of the Constitution to know the will of God. The Bible is still a light unto our path.
That a retired U.S. Army general would include the Constitution as a preaching text means some people no longer understand the nature of idolatry. The “preaching” of Flynn is not Christian preaching. Flynn’s Christianity turns out not to be Christian. It is one more glaring example of the failure of the church to stand against the powers and the principalities of secular politics.
General Flynn should do a lecture tour on subjects like “Counter-Terrorism Strategies,” or “How to Secure a Presidential Pardon.” He should stay out of the preaching business.
Rodney W. Kennedy serves as interim pastor of Emmanuel Freiden Federated Church in Schenectady, N.Y. He is the author of nine books, including the newly released The Immaculate Mistake, about how evangelical Christians gave birth to Donald Trump.