Adding “Presidential Election” to Your Grievances about Christianity?
Updated: Nov 11, 2020
Faith has in no uncertain ways been compromised and corrupted, or perhaps you might say that its hypocritical downsides have been put on display like never before.
All over the United States there have been prayers and exhortations that Donald Trump win the election, even to the extent of reversing the way the vote count was transpiring through the week this early November. We saw in a scene of women on their knees praying outside a Nevada vote counting center. We saw it in a feverish prayer by Paula White-Cain, Trump’s spiritual advisor. We saw it in another televangelist, Kenneth Copeland maniacally laughing at the legitimacy of the American election. It's a silly if not destructive way to live out your faith, like praying that your sports team will win. But we do it, perhaps some more openly than others.
No doubt for most of us, these were surreal scenes, hardly representative of most faith practice in the US. That said, these are just one more data point in the disillusionment with Christianity so many are experiencing. A larger fact would be the overwhelming majority of evangelicals who voted for Trump in both 2016 and 2020.
If you never felt quite clear on what a dominant narrative of Christianity in the US might be, well now you have it. To varying degrees, just look at Trump’s personality and leadership approach--which has had an effect on us all--and you have your picture of American Christianity. It’s no wonder some Christians are angry. Their faith has in no uncertain ways been compromised and corrupted, or perhaps you might say that its hypocritical downsides have been put on display like never before.
Even without the collusions between faith and politics recently and over the decades, there’s always been a common complaint of the hypocrisy in American religion. And why not? As arguably the most prosperous superpower the world has ever seen, it should come as no surprise that the religion of many of its people falls prey to all the temptations any superpower might experience. The catch, however, is that we’re not isolated globally, and our religion and our spirituality is still meant to stand for something authentic.
So here in the US we often have strange extremes of religious expression, even sometimes wholesale vagaries: exceptionalism, racism, patriarchy, and classism. When these extremes are brought to our attention, it can lead to disillusionment.
I’m also often struck also by how embarrassed we can be of Christianity, even if we won't admit it. From the super devout who want to go evangelize but don’t and then feel shame, to those more nominal Christians who grew up with Christianity but can’t ever show their identity to others, we’re all often embarrassed to talk about our faith in healthy ways.
My point here is this. Ours is the dominant faith. With that comes responsibility not just to be humble, but also to not hide it, because that’s being complicit with bad religion.
In 2018, the streaming network Hulu released The Looming Tower, a one season fictional narrative about the FBI’s investigation into terrorist activity leading up to September 11, 2001. In the last episode of the season, an alleged al-Qaeda operative is interrogated. He claims that the Quran states that Muslims should be purged of all Jews and Christians. The agent interrogating him, who also happens to be Muslim, takes a Quran out of his shoulder bag and asks to be shown where it says such a thing. Met with a blank stare, the agent asks, do you actually read the Quran? Do you perhaps even know that Mohammad was married to a Jew?
The agent points the terrorist to a text that talks about not killing. The terrorist says he’s a good Muslim, and the agent says to him that "Islam is easy: it’s about peace, justice, and truth." He goes on to appeal to the extremist’s apparent devotion to his faith, with some pretty impassioned stares by the way, and the operative breaks, seemingly having a moment of clarity about what’s most important to him. It’s fictional television, so it works. But it was also a compelling moment of truth.
How many times have any of us wished we could so easily rebuke the perversions of what passes for Christianity in the US? How many of us, I might add, are as genuinely devout and proud of our faith as our Muslim neighbors and can express it in a healthy way? Would we know facts about our Bible like that FBI agent did about Mohammad?
In light of the women outside the Nevada voting center or Paula White, I am reminded that Jesus exhorted people to go pray in a closet, and not make a show of things. In light of Ken Copeland, I’m reminded of the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In light of so many Christians voting for whatever it is that they think Trump has brought to our nation, I am reminded that Christianity is actually easy, too. It’s also about peace, justice, and truth.
As we go forward into the days ahead, I hope to remain committed to talking about the stories of my faith, the text, the traditions, but also the simplicity of using good common sense in how they are applied, being careful of the sometimes horrible vagaries of a dominant religious narrative. There’s nothing wrong with showing your faith. It’s a good thing. But keep it real.