In one of my favorite scenes from “The Simpsons,” Homer answers the door to find Rev. Timothy Lovejoy, the busybody, sanctimonious preacher at his door, accompanied by a mob.
“This isn’t about Jesus, is it?” Homer asks.
“All things are about Jesus, Homer,” Lovejoy replies.
“Awww,” a frustrated Homer grunts.
I keep on coming back to that scene, and it’s becoming less funny by the day.
In their zeal to stoke the fires of a culture war, conservatives have drafted Jesus into their army, with some, including soccer-mom-turned-goofball Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, proudly espousing that she’s a Christian nationalist — which combines two of my favorite character traits, religious zealotry and fascism.
It’s a clever political position that takes some Americans for granted, co-mingling a love of Jesus with a fuzzy, non-specific appeal to patriotism, tailored especially for those too lazy to parse out nuance. Today’s form of Christian nationalism, served American style, makes all things about Jesus. Allegedly.
To stand up to this emerging mix of religion and politics is to invite scorn. I mean: Declaring you’re against Christian nationalism is akin to saying you’re anti-Jesus and possibly have misgivings about America itself.
Yet my reading and study of America and its founding documents, plus academic studies of Christianity, lead me to believe that Jesus wouldn’t endorse America’s new found love of Christian nationalism, and nothing in the Constitution reserves an elevated position for Christianity.
The problem seems to be that no one wants to be the critic going up against the formidable combination of both church and state. Disagreeing with America is one thing; disagreeing with our Lord and Savior — well, that’s something else.
Maybe the largest failure isn’t reserved for the folks who have been duped into thinking that Jesus would don a star-spangled tunic, it’s for those Christians who feel the discomfort of having Christ coopted by people who believe Christianity should be placed on a pedestal, and yet will not speak out against such twisted theology.
This is a problem that exists, in part, because politicians have embraced the Gospels with their own secular spin. In other words, politicians have been aided in this deception by charlatan theologians who have given them religious cover enough so that they can be assured that Jesus would vote Republican, loves guns, wants you to be rich, and doesn’t mind the idea of forcing prayer in schools.
The wall that should exist between church and state is crumbling, and that was predicted — or at least contemplated long ago by the Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
It will fall to the the silent majority of ministers, pastors, preachers, and theologians to discount, discredit and ultimately debunk the growing heresy of Christian nationalism.
Thousands, maybe millions, of Christians sit silently on the sidelines because they were told that religion and politics weren’t subjects for polite conversations. Those same Christians are rightfully frozen because they don’t feel comfortable enough in their own religious convictions to challenge these preachers who spew politics from the pulpit. Instead, they sit uncomfortably, staring at church bulletins and their own shoes, waiting for the fury to pass.
It’s not just the political system wracked by toxic partisanship that is sick and in desperate need of moderation and civility. For those of us who grew up in a church that was a social force but eschewed politics, we must reclaim both.
Christians who should know better can look at the militant religion that has been twisted for political gain and respond confidently enough to say, “That’s not right.”
Granted, it may be hard to know what Jesus would do with a complicated issue like abortion, but you kind of have to think a man who routinely wept at the suffering of humanity would have enough compassion to not make children who have been raped carry an attacker’s child.
Confidence in grace
We should have enough confidence in divine grace to know the truth of what we learned in Sunday School — that red, yellow, black, or white, we are all precious in Jesus’ sight — so that cannot mean America is placed above others in this world.
We should be able to read the Gospels plainly enough to remember that Christ himself faced the greatest political power in the world at the time (the Roman Empire) and didn’t claim power for himself or his followers, rather had the faith to ask, “Who do you say I am,” a stunning response for a man whose life hung in the balance.
And it would stand to figure that while Jesus was mum on subjects we care so much about from transgender athletes to climate change, he was clear about people who would co-opt his message, and it wasn’t politicians whom he blamed just because they engaged in political chicanery. Instead, in the book of Matthew, he sent the warning to his own followers — not to the politicians: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
Folks, we’ve been warned.
This piece first appeared in the Daily Montanan, a member, like the Florida Phoenix, of the nonprofit States Newsroom network.