I grew up Evangelical and although I certainly don't fit in with religious right stereotypes, my heritage is still important to me. But two recent news items have me wondering as never before: What's happening to my heritage?
First came news that Donald Trump was garnering Evangelical support. He was interviewed by David Brody of Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. Trump said he's a Christian -- a Presbyterian, in fact -- but admitted that he's not much more than a Christmas-and-Easter church attender. (Actually, he also said, "And during the Sundays. I'm a Sunday church person," which cast a strange glow of syntactic collapse over the whole interview.)
Of God, Trump said, "I believe in God." Of the Bible, he said, "I think the Bible is certainly, it is THE book. It is the thing." And of religion in general, he said, "I think religion is a wonderful thing. I think my religion is a wonderful religion."
Brody seemed to respond positively to this rather tepid testimony: "Donald Trump has piqued the interest of some Evangelical leaders. His bold talk is something conservative Christians like to hear." He added, "Remember, Evangelicals tend to operate in a world of biblical absolutes. Their world is very black and white. Not many shades of gray. That's how Trump sees the world, too."
I'm with Cathleen Falsani in her response to Brody's analysis: "Really, Brody? Really?!"
It's hard to imagine a worse indictment of Evangelicals than suggesting they would support a self-impressed, mammon-obsessed, morally compromised showman and business tycoon simply because his communication style is bold and black-and-white. (And maybe because he's rich, too, which may still be the ultimate sign to some of God's blessing. And of course, he attends church "during the Sundays.")
But then I came across an even more disappointing indictment, this one from a recent article by former Ohio Congressman Tony Hall. Hall, along with Jim Wallis and a number of other Christian leaders, is fasting in protest of a proposed federal budget which will disproportionately harm the poorest and most vulnerable among us while disproportionately aiding the richest and most secure. It will very literally reverse Mary's Magnificat, sending the poor away hungry and filling the rich with ever-more good things. Hall explains,
In 1993, as a Member of Congress, I fasted for twenty-two days, water only, to protest the lack of conscience of the U.S. Congress towards poor and hungry people. Now, almost twenty years later, the stakes are even higher, with Congress proposing budget cuts that will hurt the poor even more than the cuts provoking me to fasting and prayer two decades ago.
Budgets are moral documents by nature. They reflect the priorities of individuals, households and even nations, exposing our real notions of who and what is valuable. As elected leaders in Washington engage in shouting matches over how to solve America's looming sovereign debt crisis, the voice of the poor is still getting drowned out. They're obviously not our priority.
Every day 25,000 people worldwide die from hunger and preventable diseases. 50 million Americans go to bed hungry at least two or three times a month; 17 million of them are children. So when I saw a recent poll showing that my fellow evangelicals were among those most supportive of cuts to foreign aid directly benefiting vulnerable people, it broke my heart.
I think of voices like those of Tony Hall, Jim Wallis, Ron Sider and Tony Campolo who have been calling Evangelicals to action on behalf of the poor for more than 30 years. Then I think of people like Shane Claiborne, Rob Bell, Gabriel Salguero, Lisa Sharon Harper, Randy Woodley, Adam Taylor and others of us who have added our voices to theirs in more recent years. It's obvious neither the voices of the poor themselves nor ours raised in solidarity with them are being heard by most of our fellow Evangelicals.
Instead, they seem to be tuned in to Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Ann Coulter and others like them. They've discovered that by speaking boldly in black-and-white terms, they can sway Evangelicals to their bold way, their complexity-free truth, and their highly profitable life.
In my travels, I constantly meet Evangelicals -- especially young Evangelicals -- who feel deeply marginalized and disappointed by their religious heritage. It seems to them to have become the chaplaincy for an alien ideology. The Evangelical movement seems to be moving in the direction of Mammon, not God; of Pharaoh, not Moses; of Saul, not David; and of Caesar, not Jesus. Their old identity is dying, and what will replace it has not yet become clear.
As we move from Palm Sunday through Holy Week, many of us feel that Good Friday is our dominant reality: the guys on the side of money and power seem to keep winning and the guys on the side of compassion and justice seem to keep losing.
So a lot of us really need Easter this year -- for ourselves, for our own spiritual health. Here's how I put it in my book, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in Twelve Simple Words. When you're in the space of Good Friday...
...you do not feel heroic. You do not feel like a runner about to cross the finish line. You do not feel that a hopeful Sunday is coming after a nightmarish Friday and a blank, lifeless Saturday. You feel exhausted and finished. You feel as though you're fading, dying, letting go. And so you do.
But when you let go, you don't fall away from God. You fall into God. And you begin to see that just because the poor and meek get defeated on Friday, it doesn't mean the rich and powerful will inherit the earth. Sometimes (sorry, Charlie!), winning ultimately loses and losing ultimately wins.