Fear and Loathing In These United States

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By most accounts, evangelical Christians are concerned about the path this country is taking and encroaching restrictions on religious liberty. This is usually cited as their main reason for supporting the former president, despite the fact that he possessed almost every character trait they had vocally opposed in past leaders. Beyond supporting the president, they have appeared, at times, to almost want to make him their king.

Attitudes among evangelicals are shifting on a number of topics. NPR reporter Tom Gjelton from Morning Edition” cites a disturbing new survey that shows a number of Americans consider violence a legitimate political tool to achieve their desired outcomes.

The survey found that nearly three in 10 Americans, including 39% of Republicans, agreed that, If elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves, even if it requires violent actions.”

What should be most shocking about the appetite for violent action is that much of it is coming from those who consider themselves Christians.

The AEI survey found that partisan divisions were also evident along religious lines. About three in five white evangelicals told the pollsters that Biden was not legitimately elected, that it was not accurate to say former President Donald Trump encouraged the attack on the Capitol, and that a Biden presidency now has them feeling disappointed, angry or frightened.

It’s important to remember that the term evangelical means to evangelize, or seek to convert someone to Christianity. Who is going to be convinced that a Christian holds the key to ultimate truth when they can’t even accept the obvious truths in front of them?1 If someone feeding them a narrative that is counter to the facts so easily sways them, what does that say of their witness?

I don’t want to be dismissive of fears of anti-Christian bias, though I have yet to see evidence of a systemic problem in the US. I do think that some US Christians have developed a sense of persecution beyond what is warranted, particularly when drawn in comparison to the persecutions in other countries and those that are set in the cement of history. The fact that a practicing Catholic in the White House has them so distressed is evidence of their relative safety and outsized concern with regard to religious issues. Do people really believe that Joe from Scranton is going to mark the end of Christianity in America?

As a thought exercise, let’s imagine that Christians are facing a difficult climate in the US, with secularism dominating the systems of power. How does scripture command us to respond? I think this piece from Alan Jacobs, which touches on themes he has written about before, adds some clarity here (emphasis mine).

Do people twist the truth or simply lie about us? Are we treated with subtle and not-so-subtle bigotry? Are we mocked and belittled? Might we, soon enough, be facing actual persecution? If so, then we have our instructions:

We are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

If people take our coats we should give them our cloaks as well.

We should never return evil for evil, but should strive to live at peace with everyone.

If these seem like difficult objectives, it might be helpful to study the history of the ancient Christians and the evidence of their fidelity to these teachings. The book Destroyer of the Gods by Larry W. Hurtado proves especially instructional here, as it accounts the early Christians, what made them distinctive, and what put them at odds with their neighbors.

I do think that some US Christians have developed a sense of persecution beyond what is warranted, particularly when drawn in comparison to the persecutions in other countries and those that are set in the cement of history.

Ancient Christians were put to death by the Roman Empire for their faith. They were martyred for being obstinate,” in the translated words of the much venerated (even now) stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelias, and refusing to worship the Roman Emperor. Nevertheless, in the face of violence, they did not return in kind. They held fast to the words of Jesus (and Paul) that were cited by Professor Jacobs above.

What would it look like for American Christians to follow the words of Christ as they speak to enduring hostility with grace?

(📸 Photo by little plant on Unsplash)

  1. In this case, that Joe Biden was legitimately elected. ↩︎

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