Is 45 Making Jesus Great Again?

For a long time I’ve felt that much of the deepest internal struggles in American culture have religious roots.

Sure, there’s also politics, class, race, gender and empire involved as well. But take off your Bubble-colored glasses and look closer, and religion pops up in most of these contexts too.

Making Jesus Great again?

Further, one passage, Romans 13:1-7, has long been close to the center of these conflicts. It equates worldly rulers, and  their use of “the sword”, with God’s divine order. and has long been used to support whichever ruler a preacher most favors.

Blogger Doug Muder, who on most Mondays puts out “The Weekly Sift,” reviewing the past week, has an excellent brief summary of the current version of this larger struggle, summed up in the question: “Is Trumpism Becoming a New Religion?”
In technical terms, my  initial answer to Muder’s query has to be “No.” That’s because whatever it is, this new cult is definitely not “new.”
But on Muder’s main point, if there’s a religious character to what we face, and a struggle between gods, or at least idols, my answer is not just “Yes,” but “Hell, yes.”
In the U.S. we’re faced with the resuscitation (I almost said “resurrection”; but it’s more like zombies) of a religion-based outlook that goes back to the pre-Civil War struggle over slavery; then it provoked several historic church schisms (Southern Baptist, Southern Presbyterians, Southern Methodists, etc.), and clearly helped sow the seeds of civil war. One sometimes wonders if it isn’t doing much the same today. 
The “New” old-time religion at work, citing the Bible to wish Obama dead . . .

Certainly something like that is what’s happening in U.S. Quakerism;  there has been more division among American Friends in the past two generations than at any time since 1827, the year of the big Orthodox-Hicksite break, and maybe even more than that. It takes a lot of focus for some Friends today to bury themselves so deeply in local  bubbles that they can’t see this unpleasant reality. It often amazes me that so many seem to manage this degree of myopia.

Muder correctly notes that:

It’s hard to find any line of the Sermon on the Mount that Trump would support: He’s not just anti-immigrant, but also anti-health-care, pro-weapon, anti-feeding-the-hungry, and just generally against the poor and the meek wherever they show their miserable faces. He’s a compulsive liar who brags that he can grab women “by the pussy” and get away with it.

And he got 81% of the votes of white evangelicals.

The evangelicals who didn’t back Trump are starting to feel like they don’t belong; some are dropping the evangelical label altogether. The largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptists, may become a battleground.

I  hope he’s right about the Southern Baptists; but a few resolutions does not a reformation make.

Muder’s hardly the only one who’s noticed the cultic character of what’s been loosed upon us.  Washington Post writer Elizabeth Bruenig was vehement:

Or grow up in a concentration camp along the Texas-Mexican border. . . .

In Christianity as billions of faithful have known it, order and lawful procedures are not “good in themselves” and it is not “very biblical” to “enforce the law” whatever it might be. Rather, there is a natural order inscribed into nature. Human governance can comport with it or contradict it, meaning Christians are sometimes morally obligated to follow civil laws and are sometimes morally obligated not to.

The hard part here is translating this religious insight & understanding into meaningful & sustainable action. Protests are one thing; but they are usually evanescent. Electoral campaigns are a duty, but they can become an idolatrous obsession too.  And what if the political playing field gets further tilted toward the new cultists (a tilt many in authority are working furiously to achieve)?

What then? (This is not an abstract question. In much of flyover America, local jurisdictions are pretty much already in that tilted condition.)

There has been some thinking and writing about reconceiving social struggle as religious struggle. Here’s a description for one such scenario, called “Study War Some More (if You want to Work for peace).”

The early abolitionists vowed to end slavery by purely “pacific”, i.e., nonviolent means. Despite their sincerity and determination, it didn’t work out that way. There’s plenty of similar work to be done today; only we need to do it better.


3 thoughts on “Is 45 Making Jesus Great Again?”

  1. When people use the Bible to justify something, whether I agree with it or not, I wonder if it wouldn’t be more honest to say, ‘That’s just the way I prefer things to be,” and eliminate the Biblical support for their idea. Let the idea stand on its own and see how it fares.

  2. There’s a certain growing trend in the Pauline Letters, where syntax, word choice and sentence structure changes along with a shift in emphasis away from the radical ideas of Jesus. We see the introduction of obedience to the State, outright support of slavery, and patriarchy. The State Conservatism creeps in as you go along. These Pauline Forgeries were made to tone down the radical messages of Jesus and the original Paul, especially the parts indicating spiritual independence from the State, gender equality, and the coming end of slavery (although Jesus was passively OK with slavery). There is no authentic bible from which to quote biblically. It’s a shell game that Christians play, seeking to lay claim upon the “real” bible. It has been massaged, rewritten, and gerrymandered many times. Constantine, here we come!

  3. Pacific means of change don’t work with small numbers. Demonstrations are as you point out evanescent: here today, forgotten 6 months from now if not before.

    I see a doable path forward, but by definition (that it hasn’t been laid out before) that path is non-obvious. It starts with getting unProgrammed Quakers to open up Meeting for Worship beyond our usual cast of well-educated characters in a way that opens Meeting for Worship to all in our communities. We (SAYMA Outreach) started the process with our (well-received) workshops at SAYMA this past weekend. That’s the first step on a long path. We’re talking 6 to 10 years in my estimation, if all goes well.

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