I don’t know where to begin. In truth, I keep not knowing where to begin. The non- presidential tweets from the president and the non-pastoral proclamations from big-name pastors and other evangelical leaders continue to stagger the imagination.
Last year Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, told us: “Whether this president [had an affair with a porn star] is totally irrelevant [to evangelicals].” The audacity, the hypocrisy, the complicity of that statement still won’t sink in.
A few weeks ago the president of Liberty University, the second generation of famous Falwells, declared that Jesus’ teachings should not be the basis of national policy. According to Jerry Falwell Jr., Jesus’ teachings are about individual responsibility and personal morality only. (But apparently not the personal morality of having adulterous sex with a porn star.)
“It’s such a distortion of the teachings of Jesus to say that what he taught us to do personally – to love our neighbors as ourselves, help the poor – can somehow be imputed on a nation,” Falwell said.
On the other hand, it should be no surprise that anyone who can separate the personal morality of adulterous affairs with porn stars from other issues of personal morality could just as easily divorce the ethic of Jesus’ challenge from any conversation about national morality.
“Evangelical leaders have always taught that the U.S. is a ‘Christian nation’ and have argued vehemently that the Bible should frame our laws.”
As a Baptist, trying to be true to our founding principles of theological dissent, radical freedom and church/state separation, I often find myself in an unusual role, defending positions that surprise many. In the matter of prayer in schools, for example, I’m fine to “take God out of the schools” (as if anyone could actually take God out of our schools). Teaching prayer is the job of the Church, and public schools are supposed to be, well, public.
In the matter of displaying the Ten Commandments, I’m comfortable with the Supreme Court’s ruling that such a religious display is inappropriate in municipal buildings. To justify such a display, without violating the First Amendment’s “establishment clause” in religion, one would have to eviscerate the commandments of any religious value and agree that the monument was an historical artifact only.
On NFL players taking a knee, while I’m as patriotic as I suspect those players are, I support our nation’s powerfully-unique history of dissent and non-violent protest. And I refuse to allow an allegiance to any arbitrary border to take precedence over “liberty and justice for all.”
Church/state issues have always been fraught with complexity and difficulty. We do not elect a Pastor-in-Chief. Our nation was designed for religious freedom. It is not a “Christian nation.” We should not expect a secular government to uphold anyone’s religious values as if it were a theocracy. However, we should expect Christians to consistently advocate for national policies based on our beliefs – and we should expect the same from Jews and Muslims and secularists, etc.
“America has never needed the message of Jesus articulated more clearly than it does now.”
Fraught as it is, the issue is not Falwell’s stance on religious liberty. Here is the issue: Evangelical leaders have always taught that the United States of America is a “Christian nation” and have argued vehemently that the Bible should frame our laws. The pious furor over the display of the Ten Commandments, the opposition to same-sex marriage, the zealous anti-abortion stance are all based on their insistence that the Bible should shape our nation’s laws. Further, Falwell and other leaders have claimed that God ordains presidents, chooses and sets them apart to lead this country. So, if any president were actually ordained by the Christian God to be the anointed leader of the Christian nation, wouldn’t one expect such a leader to lead with Christian morality and to promote the teachings of Jesus, personally and nationally?
One has to wonder why so many evangelicals have sold out their own professed core values? And why now?
The tragedy and irony is the utter hypocrisy of the evangelical position at this difficult moment in history. America has never needed the message of Jesus articulated more clearly than it does now. Even if Jesus’ teachings were only about personal morality, ethics and integrity, now would be a fine time for Falwell and other evangelical leaders to begin putting their money where their mouths are.
If we could count on that kind of faithfulness, imputing the values of Jesus to the nation would never be in question.