Over the past few years, I’ve had an enormous amount of time spend having conversations with family members about, what I had seen, as the growing hypocrisy in the American Christianity by cheer leading non-Christian lines of thought and action by American political conservatives. Americans have had conflicts between law and religion since, I’d presume, day one. For example, 154 years ago, this country outlawed slavery, which is an action that would be incompatible with the Bible, which doesn’t have a bad word to say about the practice of slavery.
I grew up in an anti-abortion family and personally participated in anti-abortion rallies in Washington D.C., and felt the first rumblings of awareness of Christian hypocrisy in my person. To this day, I do fully understand the whys of the mindset of the “pro-life” position, but despite enormous resources and efforts being spent by those that would like to see a end to legal access to safe abortions in this country, there is no comparable or greater amount of time and resources being spent on either preventing those unexpected pregnancies or supporting the women who find themselves with an unexpected or unwanted pregnancy. Exceptions to this would be the Christian run “crisis pregnancy centers”, one of which my mother had organized. If these centers made any meaningful difference in the grand picture of reproductive health or family planning or supporting women in a difficult situation, I didn’t see it then, and I don’t see it now. Years later, I would be made aware that there was criticism of these centers, accusing them of operating deceitfully to trick pregnant women who are looking for an abortion by branding themselves as “crisis pregnancy” organizations. As someone who spent years within that way of thinking, I have sincere doubts that the people who founded these places schemed to craft an image that would trick women in a difficult situation into believing they would be walking into an abortion providing operation. Having written that, I’m certain that there have been American women who have misunderstood where they were going, went to seek an abortion, and instead got a fistful of pamphlets attempting to guilt them out of an abortion.
The second, and much more difficult, area that really exposed the active hypocrisy in the evangelical church is the area of LGBT rights. The citation of a handful of Old Testament laws of the ancient Hebrew people rang pretty hollow to someone who has read the Bible, in its entirety, several times. The accusations of Christians “picking and choosing” were precise. Of the 613 mitzvot laid out in the Old Testament, the majority of them, even the other “abominations”, are ignored. The conflation of arbitrary conservative American moralizing with a religion of purportedly of love by way of dressing up with cherry picked scripture is high test hypocrisy and spiritual malpractice.
Ezra Klein (of The Ezra Klein Show) has an opinion piece for Vox, The post-Christian culture wars, which begins with focusing on the Attorney General William Barr’s recent speeches, and concludes with thoughts on why the American church is bleeding adherents, which appears to be from a “branding problem”.
Speaking at Notre Dame in October, Barr offered his answer. He argued that the conflict of the 20th century pitted democracy against fascism and communism — a struggle democracy won, and handily. “But in the 21st century, we face an entirely different kind of challenge,” he warned. America was built atop the insight that “free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people.” But “over the past 50 years religion has been under increasing attack,” driven from the public square by “the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism.”
I’d think that the Attorney General of the United States of America would remember the Establishment clause in the First Amendment, as when he uses the phrase “a religious people”, this does not include Hindus, as one example. Furthermore, his assertion that religion has been under attack for the last half century, and I might point out that a half a century again “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance (1954) and “In God We Trust” replaced “E pluribus unum” as the United States motto (1956). These two things really do not appear to me to be hallmarks of a losing war on religion, but instead an entrenchment of a established state religion.
As an aside, this is also the man who claimed zero tolerance for refusal to comply with law enforcement, regardless of the legality of a member of law enforcement’s commands, and suggested that communities that complain about how their law enforcement is behaving (or misbehaving), shouldn’t have law enforcement protecting them. I presume there are several communities in this country that wouldn’t mind taking him up on that. How predominantly conservative Evangelical Americans can stomach a man who is literally advocating for a police state and authoritarianism is quite the head scratcher for me.
Ezra Klein’s thoughts conclude with an argument that the combined evangelical/political right population has now embraced a cultural kamikaze mission, which, in his argument, explains why this group has embraced Donald Trump, a man who wouldn’t pass muster of the theological ideologies of a WWJD? bracelet, let alone any serious understanding of what claims Christianity makes about itself. I’m not certain if I wholly agree with this conclusion, however, he isn’t wrong. In the religious social circles that I did a good amount of my growing up in, we were all certain that the government was going to outlaw Christianity at any moment, and we’d all be led to camps, and probably shot in the back of the head and dumped into a trench that we probably had to dig ourselves. I’m not being hyperbolic about this, or exaggerating. We had conversations about this. My favorite artifact of this line of thinking, which was serious, is Ray Boltz’s I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb’s music video. Despite Christianity being an entrenched religion of the state and despite American Christianity losing people like a house on fire, the majority of Americans are Christians. Keeping all of that in mind, that strain of American culture believes that it is the most oppressed group in the country, which does lend to this bizarre mindset that it is fine to overlook incredibly un-Christian behavior (and laws and policies) out of someone who claims they’re looking out for your group.
In the final part of the piece, the issue of the “branding problem” is touched on:
The irony of all this is that Christian conservatives are likely hastening the future they most fear. In our conversation, Jones told me about a 2006 survey of 16- to 29-year-olds by the Barna Group, an evangelical polling firm, that asked 16- to 29-year-olds for their top three associations with present-day Christianity. Being “antigay” was first, with 91 percent, followed by “judgmental,” with 87 percent, and “hypocritical,” with 85 percent. Christianity, the Barna Group concluded, has “a branding problem.”
I think that the “branding problem” goes much deeper than what these few terms mean. I think that the problem is that America’s most visible Christians are frauds who dress up the talking points of the party of Trump as church and pump fictional fear into their flock to keep them coming back. The solution is for American Christianity to clean house. To refuse to accept the shouting demagogues who spend their time twisting their scripture to do anything that they can get away with that doesn’t actually leave them responsible with the tasks of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, or visiting those in prison that Jesus actually gave them.