Saturday, May 19, 2018

Four Horsemen of Evangelical Hypocrisy and Some Counterparts (Part 1)

Tony Perkins; Robert Jeffress; Franklin Graham; Jerry Falwell, Jr. (AP/Getty/Salon)

This post has limited connections to interpretations of the parables of Jesus (one reference to the parable of the Good Samaritan), but I want to write a two-part post about an article I had published on Salon on Friday: “The Four Horsemen of evangelical hypocrisy: How they whitewashed Donald Trump.” 

This first post is about the article; the second post will be about a couple examples of evangelicals who I believe are actively trying to follow Jesus's message and are coming closer, in my view, to what Jesus believed and taught. The Salon article originally had a positive postscript, but I had to cut it because of the essay's length (~1200 word limit). 

In the Salon article I connect Margaret Chase Smith’s “Declaration of Conscience” speech (June 1, 1950) against McCarthyism, the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem this week, and the hypocritical support of Donald Trump by white evangelical leaders:
This week’s opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem is another reminder that Sen. Margaret Chase Smith’s “Declaration of Conscience” speech, an early denunciation of the evils of McCarthyism in the 1950s, still remains politically relevant, particularly to the Republican Party in the age of Donald Trump. Smith decried the lack of leadership that she believed could result in “national suicide” and urged her Republican colleagues to maintain their political integrity and intellectual honesty: “I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.”
Smith’s speech alludes to the “Four Horsemen” of Revelation 6:1-8. In its biblical context, these horsemen serve as apocalyptic images of God’s judgment awaiting humankind in the end times. Her four horsemen, though, are human-inspired pestilences damaging both the Republican Party and the United States.

Then I use the biblical context and Smith’s “Four Horseman” context to talk about how white evangelical leaders (and their followers) have whitewashed and enabled Trump. For the Four Horsemen enablers, I select Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr,  Robert Jeffress, and Tony Perkins:
Smith’s biblical imagery makes the speech especially applicable to a certain subset of the Republican Party — white evangelical Christians who support a president whose life exemplifies everything Jesus’ teachings oppose. But for some white evangelicals, the ends justify the means. For example, since many of them believe that the restoration of Israel with Jerusalem as its capital is one of the factors leading to the end of the world as portrayed in the Book of Revelation, it is no accident that two white evangelical pastors offered prayers at the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem.
Donald Trump rode to political victory on all four horses of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear — but his white evangelical enablers provide religious rationalizations for all of them.
After I discuss how Graham, Falwell, Jeffress, and Perkins defend Donald Trump. I look at some aspects of what all four have in common. One common thread is the "Two Kingdoms" idea, such as when Jeffress argues that individuals are called upon to act as Good Samaritans, not governments.
All four white evangelical leaders distinguish between the obligations of Christians to follow Jesus’ teachings and the political obligations of governments. As Falwell argued: “Jesus said love our neighbors as ourselves but never told Caesar how to run Rome — he never said Roman soldiers should turn the other cheek in battle or that Caesar should allow all the barbarians to be Roman citizens or that Caesar should tax the rich to help the poor. That’s our job.” Likewise, Jeffress insisted, in defense of Trump’s 2017 “refugee ban,” that “the Bible never calls on government to act as a Good Samaritan.
Jesus was an eschatological Jewish prophet who proclaimed, in some sense, the restoration of Israel. As such, he is similar to the prophet Amos, a poor, marginalized outsider who calls for justice and righteousness and proclaims the judgment of God against an entire nation because of social injustice, judicial and economic corruption, and religious arrogance. 
Jesus, an impoverished first-century artisan — not an adviser to the emperor — also spoke prophetic words of judgment against the oppressors of his people. Even his famous “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” statement is a classic example of non-elite resistance against an extractive taxation system that transferred wealth from the majority of people in the Roman Empire to the ruling elites. Since the denarius coin that Jesus referenced would have been inscribed, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus,” Jesus is in fact suggesting, “Give that blasphemous coin back to that blasphemous emperor.”
The defenses of Trump by these white evangelicals are incredible. Falwell, for example, compares Trump not only to King David—which I debunk in the article—but he also compares Trump’s actions in Washington DC to Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple (which I cut from the final version because, again, my word count was way over):
Are there any of the Ten Commandments that Donald Trump hasn’t broken? These white evangelical leaders have excused all sorts of behavior they allegedly believe is sinful, such as lying and adultery; their code of ethics has proved to be flexible, not biblical. They have turned from the ethics of the Ten Commandments to the idolatrous political allure of the Golden Calf, an idol made by the Israelites while Moses was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments.
These white evangelicals, by rendering to Caesar what is God’s, have not only lost their integrity; they have lost their credibility as religious leaders. Their hypocrisy, their worship of political power and money, damages the cause in which they claim to believe and betrays the teachings of the person they claim to worship. Whatever political advantages they gain will be short-lived. As Amanda Marcotte writes, “the Christian right may be winning elections in the short term, but it’s also driving people out of the pews, which is likely to lead to long-term defeat.”
What happens when you render unto Caesar that which is God’s? To paraphrase another saying of Jesus: You may gain the whole world, but you lose your soul. 
The nation’s nightmare of McCarthyism lasted four years after Sen. Smith’s speech, and its demise is often credited, among other things, to Joseph Welch's famous rebuke to McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
The answer to that question about white evangelicals is that — in stark contrast to Margaret Chase Smith — they do not.
 As I promised, in my next post I will write about some very positive and important things happening with some Christian evangelicals.

1 comment:

  1. To use coins that claim the emperor is "son of the divine Augustus" is not only blasphemous and hypocritical for Jews and Christians. As Jesus knows, the whole word and everything ini it is God's. You cannot separate out any part of it from God's will or God's love for His creation. To say "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" is ironic (and very like Jesus to say such a thing)) because nothing really is Caesar's at all. To attempt to separate political life from God's will is nonsense, and to justify unfair taxes, oppression, sexual abuse, lying, self-gain--and so much of what these Four Horsemen and their leader do--as a means to promoting God's will won't ever work.

    ReplyDelete

Selfish and Proud: The Good Samaritan, Octavia Butler, and Wearing a Mask

Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images I wrote this essay in late May--started it shortly before the murder of George Floyd-- but did not po...