Not long ago, we lost a volunteer at QC Family Tree right in the middle of her orientation. She showed many levels of discomfort with her position with us, much of it because she was being asked to confront the ways that she was privileged by a system of white supremacy, and to consider what that meant for her work in our organization, which serves primarily black people. She could not yet give words to what was troubling her spirit. So to justify her quick departure, she said — and I am not making this up — this: “I come from a Baptist church where religion is shoved down people’s throats. You all do not operate that way.” This was a problem to her.
I recalled this when I read Jerry Falwell Jr.’s words over the weekend. Speaking of Donald J Trump, he said, “I think Evangelicals have found their dream president.” What our former volunteer was saying is that she lives very comfortably inside her chains. At Falwell’s institution, they had taught her to talk about the God of Moses, but to love Pharaoh.
Falwell is to be applauded for his honesty, I suppose. He does appear to believe that white evangelicals have found their dream president. There were probably some groups of ancient Jews during the exile who found a way to make a profit off of Nebuchadnezzar’s meanness, too. This particular cruelty is not novel. Falwell’s is a cheap imitation, the theological equivalent of the guy at the train station who will sell you a new Rolex for $15.
Rejecting his false teaching is easy enough, or ought to be, but here is where the real work begins: What Falwell embraces infects all of Western theology. Our strategies for reading the Bible, our systems of ordering church polity, our understanding of mission, and our “personal Lord and Savior” soteriology have all been affected by the stench of the imperial religion of domination. To state it personally, it lives in me, too. The Southern Baptists who wrote Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Sunday school literature wrote mine. Like all Sunday school teachers, mine were humble and kind, and none of us had learned to see yet where we were headed.
But now we know. We could have known then if we had listened to the cries of neighbors in other parts of town. We did not, but we see now that the fruit we have produced is not love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, but fear, cruelty, demagoguery, intemperance, ugliness, alternative facts, xenophobia and greed. We have reached a cultural moment where neither dispassionate analysis, nor careful moderation, nor silent contentment, nor running away and pretending not to see will suffice for the moral crisis facing us. “Choose this day whom you will serve,” Joshua commands the Israelites. Will it be the gods of the imperial slave-drivers or the God of Liberation? Do you want to continue to make the bricks to build the walls that will lock you in, or do you want to be free?
There is no neutral position here. Love sometimes requires choosing a side. The One whose side was pierced upon a lynching tree did not come to encourage polite discourse and balanced panel discussions between Roman occupiers and malnourished peasants. The lesson of his brutal execution is not that we should try to be nice to each other. Jesus showed up as an oppressed one to set the oppressed free. The surprising good news of this salvation is that Jesus setting the oppressed free is not only for the oppressed. When they get free, everyone does.