A few weeks after the 2016 election, after I had been posting action items for my Facebook friends in order start mounting resistance to Trump, I got a curious comment: “What about praying? Like God urges us to do in I Timothy 2:1-6?” The comment had been left by one of my old church friends, and so I wasn’t surprised by the Bible verse. What did surprise me is how the comment implied that I had been choosing the wrong path in suggesting action, that somehow protest was in opposition to prayer rather than a natural conclusion to having prayed.
A few days later another Christian friend posted I Peter 2:13-17 on her wall: “For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
It didn’t matter that Trump was already proposing oppressive legislation that would threaten the lives and freedom of the marginalized and those who were economically struggling. Apparently, if he was in power, it was because God allowed it, because God wanted him there. It didn’t matter that it was our constitutional right to protest, that the Civil Rights Movement was created through protest because our laws and government were unjust. Already, evangelicals were and still are using scripture to assert the authority of Trump (whether or not they personally like him, whether or not they even voted for him). Apparently, resistance was futile. Prayer and obedience was the only Godly option.
I grew up with this spiritual coercion to support those in authority. Back in the 1982, I was terrorized with more than one sermon on how one is never ever to come against “the Lord’s anointed.” The phrase is pulled from I Samuel 24-26, where David twice has the opportunity to attack Saul, the king of Israel who has been hunting David and wants to kill him. When urged by men to take his opponent’s life, David replies: “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to raise my hand against him; for he is the Lord’s anointed.” David still saw Saul, a king now corrupt and half mad, as appointed by God. Another passage, perhaps even more threatening, is from God himself: “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm” (Psalm 105:15).
Such verses are often wielded to silence Christians who would oppose leaders—whether pastor, priest, or president—whose actions and motivations are unethical. “Come after me, and you will have to deal with God himself” is the unspoken threat. Many evangelicals knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate this threat when they quote verses about submitting to all authority that God has ordained, especially during times of civic oppression. Political activism (unless it’s an anti-abortion rally) is seen as antithetical to holiness because one isn’t trusting God enough or praying enough, and that person is actively going against “the Lord’s anointed.” If we are Christians arguing for pro-choice, LGBTQIA rights, etc., evangelicals will probably add “backsliding” to the list of charges. One can argue that Trump and Pence are vindictive and corrupt. God is in charge, the evangelicals will say, even those who don’t agree with the policies of Trump and Pence. Your job is to pray, they have reminded me.
I don’t see many, if any of them, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. and his use of the scripture to justify peaceful resistance. It might serve them well to re-read “Letter From Birmingham Jail” and King’s indictment of the White Moderate who claimed to be Christian, yet didn’t fight for justice, preferring instead a “negative peace.” It should be noted that both of my Christian acquaintances who posted those verses are white. It should be noted that much has already been written that the majority evangelicals who support Trump and his policies are white.
This rhetoric of submission too closely resembles the rhetoric of the White Moderate who told King to wait because he was creating too much of a disturbance. The White Moderate of 1963 and the white evangelical of 2017 are both “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; [and] prefer a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” But King points out that “we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”
It is time for white evangelicals to stop being the spiritual doppelgängers of those White Moderates from the 60’s who will be always be remembered as the stumbling block to racial equality and social justice. Quoting verses about prayer and submission to authority in order to keep yourselves comfortable while the most marginalized are being targeted is not obedience to love and holiness. It is a sad, misdirected violation of both.