Two ostensibly unrelated items on the religious news landscape caught my eye this week. On closer inspection however I think they are intimate dissections into the dysfunction of American evangelicism and into the dysfunction of my own warped soul.
First, Texas Senator and possible 2016 GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz stormed off the stage after being booed for comparing Israel’s plight to that of Middle Eastern Christians.
Second, Southern Baptist leaders for some reason felt the need to argue that Christian just war tradition calls not only for bombing ISIS but for a total war of annihilation against the jihadist fiefdom.
I encourage you to read the links and get a feel for each story on a deeper level.
It’s tempting to brush stories like these off as typical conservative bravado. However, I think there is something far more sinister at work here.
These two stories reveal the fatal flaw of the evangelical world: namely that it is utterly welded to political nihilism and seems wholly unaware of it.
Evangelicals across America have changed their Facebook profiles and Twitter avatars to the Arabic “N” in solidarity with the ancient Middle Eastern churches facing genocide. But have we stopped for one second to think about who these churches actually are? Of course not. We assume all Christians are just like us
Ted Cruz not even considering that a room full of Arabic Christians might have a slightly different view of Israel is Exhibit A of our arrogance and superficiality.
But Ted Cruz isn’t really the issue. I’m not so much concerned or surprised that a politician used an event to score cheap political points, I’m concerned evangelicism is incapable of looking past scoring cheap political points. While thinking we are basically the only or most faithful Christians in the world, we are in reality being manipulated as the cultural and electoral shock troops for a narrow political agenda. Did we really think our individualistic, rationalistic sect represented more than a small branch of the global Christian family? Do we really believe the Lord would uncritically endorse a Tea Party platform?
I think Ted Cruz spoke for all of us with a resounding yes.
Let’s turn to the SBC for elaboration.
You would think the leaders of the only major religious body on the planet to support the unilateral 2003 invasion of Iraq (some even tried to baptize our government’s use of torture) would be a bit hesitant on the bellicose hee-hawing this time around. You would be wrong.
I’m a life long Southern Baptist. I love my church. But this is ludicrous.
As the late Baptist ethicist Glenn Stassen put it, Baptists own human rights. We have since our inception struggled and suffered so that all people might have a voice and follow God as they see fit. We literally invented religious liberty. So how did we get here? How have our theologians become more filled with war lust even than those whose job it is to make war? How have the heirs of Bunyan and Leland become uncritical apologists for raining state sanctioned mayhem from the sky in part of the world few of us understand? What makes them think they are qualified in any way to speak publicly on matters of international affairs; much less to push for violence even beyond what any government thinks necessary? What is gained by doing so? All I can think of is . . . political points. They see a promising wedge in a zero sum cultural war. But again, they are only representing the rest of us and doing it well.
We are now only capable of viewing our fellow Americans through an “us vs. them” prism. We are constantly seeking a tactical advantage in an ever running rhetorical street fight.
Do we know how to be holy anymore . . . or just ultra conservative?
Do we know how to repent . . . or just how to be do presuppositional apologetics?
Do we remember how to preach Pauline enemy love . . . or only Randian self love?
Do we even know the difference?
“Lord and master of my life, take far from me the spirit of laziness, discouragement, domination, and idle talk; grant to me, thy servant, a spirit of chastity, humility, patience, love; yea, my Lord and King, grant me to see my sins, and not to judge my neighbor, for thou art blessed for ever and ever. Amen.” –-Ephraim of Syria