We are living in a time of apostasy. We might call it the American Captivity of the Church, or of at least of an appallingly large segment of the American church.
It has abandoned the heart of Christianity and obscured the face and voice of Jesus.
Ted Budd, running for Senate in North Carolina, has been on the campaign trail talking about our “God-given Second Amendment rights.” Surveys over the past couple of years find an increasing number of Americans, including many Christians, have said political violence may be needed to save America. The non-violent way of Christ who died by the sword rather than taking it up is hard to find.
In a recent Washington Post article. Annie Gowan describes the most recent two-day event in the nationwide ReAwaken America Tour. At the end of the conference, former President Trump was called in to speak while more than a hundred were in line to be baptized in a black plastic animal trough. This is the controversial tour’s 16th stop across America, and more than 4,000 people have been baptized as “patriots”of Christ.
One of the tour’s leaders, Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, introduced as “America’s General,” spoke — he who pled guilty of knowingly and willingly making false statements to the FBI, later pardoned by then Donald Trump. The ReAwaken America Tour has been welcomed by many large and influential evangelical churches, some of whom have hosted the events. The U.S. flag and the Bible are entwined as one. Strains of “holy war”are in the air.
Flynn has said America was designed by God to be a “one religion nation.” Mike Pence in his likely run for president in 2024, said this past week that the U.S. Constitution guarantees “freedom of religion” but not “freedom from religion,”a dangerous and misleading reading of the First Amendment.
Theocracy is on the move.
Kevin Philips, the former Republican strategist who helped develop the Southern Strategy” that flipped the South to the Republican Party, warned us that it was coming his in 2006 book, Theocracy in America. He saw the Republican Party now becoming “the first religious political party” in American history. He devoted most of one chapter to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was a case study in the joining of the Religious Right and the Political Right, and he sees now that this is a ruinous path for his party and the nation.
“He sees now that this is a ruinous path for his party and the nation.”
What are we to do in such a time of Christian apostasy with the rise of Christian supremacy and Christian nationalism with no small ingredient of white supremacy thrown in? We are called to a revolutionary patience as a form of biblical hope. Biblical hope is, at its core, waiting on God. But it is not a passive waiting.
The Jewish Talmud instructs us on such a form of hope: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.“
A revolutionary patience turns from despair. “The kingdom comes not by observation,” Jesus said. Sometimes it is a seed growing secretly. We can help plant the seeds.
A revolutionary patience refuses to adopt violent means to accomplish the goals of the kingdom of God. Rather, the ends of the kingdom — justice, love and peace — are present in the means.
Revolutionary patience takes the long view. Using Wendell Berry’s phrases in his poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmers’s Liberation Front,” it invests in the millennium, it plants sequoias. “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts,” Berry urges. Revolutionary patience has an audacious joy, not quenched by the evil, in the world.
Such a revolutionary patience does not diminish the anguish and cruelty of the world; it turns such pain into creative action. It protests the way things are as a sign of hope. It continues to be, using Martin Luther King’s phrase, “morally maladjusted” to the world as it is.
Revolutionary patience trusts not in human power alone; it calls upon the power and wisdom of God. It persists and endures.
Such a revolutionary patience was voiced in these words of American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr in 1951: “Nothing worth doing can be achieved in a lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone. Therefore we are saved by love.”
“Revolutionary patience goes to vote, but does not depend on the results.”
Revolutionary patience goes to vote, but does not depend on the results. It is willing to be a “moral minority”and distrusts the claims of the self-proclaimed “moral majority.”
Perhaps our best current hope is to join with other moral minorities, religious and secular, who resist religious and political coalitions that seek to turn our nation into a nation of one kind of religion. We began as a nation fleeing the unholy union of church and state. In such a union, both parties use the other to serve their own ends, and both lose their true moral authority.
Stephen Shoemaker serves as pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Statesville, N.C. He served previously as pastor of Myers Park Baptist in Charlotte, N.C.; Broadway Baptist in Fort Worth, Texas, and Crescent Hill Baptist in Louisville, Ky.
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