As the build up to the Iowa caucus has come and gone, there was a heavy focus on the Evangelical Christian vote as a key to winning. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump all sought the support of the voting block of Christians so crucial to winning the GOP nomination. It was Trump who made the greatest public effort towards being a “Christian” and it made all Christians look bad — very bad.
Donald Trump cozied up to Jerry Fallwell Jr. when he spoke at Liberty University to capture support from the traditional support system of Evangelical voters when he said, “Christianity is under siege.” What really made news is that he quoted scripture saying, “Two Corinthians,” which prompted laughter among students listening because the reference is “Second Corinthians.” For the 10,000 students in attendance, Trump accomplished what he sought out to do: to look and act like a conservative Christian.
Trump was not finished with his Christian pandering. In a worship service in Iowa, Trump put in his offering money into the communion plate, prompting commentators to point out that Trump is not familiar with basic Christian worship. On the eve of the Iowa caucus, Trump posted an online video of his family Bible while carefully pointing out how he would not let “the Evangelicals” down. In many speeches to crowds he promised to “make Christianity great again.”
It is embarrassing to watch a politician try so hard to make himself look like a conservative Evangelical Christian. It is troubling to see Christianity on display in such parody. It is saddening to watch Christianity be used as a political football for politicos and prognosticators to diagram and dissect. It is disheartening to watch Christianity be used as stepping stone to the presidency.
We Christians had a moment in the public eye and we missed it. Again.
Instead of television coverage of Christians making a difference by serving, as Jesus called us to serve, “the least of these,” we see Christianity on parade to make Donald Trump look good. The impression among non-church goers of Christianity is that Christianity is a religion of bigots, political conservatives and homophobes. Why? The nightly news are usually stories reporting obscure or fringe Christian groups or people doing something very un-Christian. It makes for dramatic news when signs are held up by Christians with words of hate.
I was once asked to comment on Harold Camping’s end of the world prediction on a local television station newscast. I explained to the local reporter in great detail that the Bible contains no specific end of the world clues but only vague references. When I saw the story on the news that night, my segment of the interview lasted all of eight seconds and the people partying got more airtime. Another Christian moment. Another focus on crazy.
Christianity only has a few moments in our culture’s short attention span. We no longer live in the days were folks had a positive relationship with Christianity. Fewer people go to church and fewer people affiliate with Christianity.
No politician can “make Christianity great again” by holding up a Bible, quoting scripture or making religious promises that they cannot keep constitutionally. There needs to be a fundamental change in the way we live out the commands of Jesus Christ instead of defending Christianity’s relationship with civil religion. Christian moments in the public’s view need to be about how we Christians make Christ real. Christian moments need to be about churches making a dramatic impact in their community. Christian moments need to be about Christians defending those who cannot defend themselves. Christian movements need to be filled with acts of compassion, love, sacrifice and hospitality — the acts that Jesus embodied in the Gospels.
Christians need to take Christianity back from politicians and opportunists looking to use our faith as a means to an end. Christian moments need to be filled with churches and pastors finding opportunities to serve their communities in a radical fashion so that the media cannot help but ask the question, “Why would a group of people do something so good for others?” That type of Christian moment points others not to Christians themselves, but to the person of Jesus Christ.