By Darrell Ehrlick
In one of my favorite scenes from “The Simpsons,” Homer answers the door to find Rev. Timothy Lovejoy, the busybody, sanctimonious preacher at his door, accompanied by a mob.
“This isn’t about Jesus, is it?” Homer asks.
“All things are about Jesus, Homer,” Lovejoy replies.
“Awww,” a frustrated Homer grunts.
I keep on coming back to that scene, and it’s becoming less funny by the day.
In their zeal to stoke the fires of a culture war, conservatives have drafted Jesus into their army, with some, including soccer-mom-turned-goofball Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, proudly espousing that she’s a Christian nationalist — which combines two of my favorite character traits, religious zealotry and fascism.
It’s a clever political position that takes some Americans for granted, co-mingling a love of Jesus with a fuzzy, non-specific appeal to patriotism, tailored especially for those too lazy to parse out nuance. Today’s form of Christian nationalism, served American style, makes all things about Jesus. Allegedly.
To stand up to this emerging mix of religion and politics is to invite scorn. I mean: Declaring you’re against Christian nationalism is akin to saying you’re anti-Jesus and possibly have misgivings about America itself.
Yet my reading and study of America and its founding documents, plus academic studies of Christianity, lead me to believe that Jesus wouldn’t endorse America’s new found love of Christian nationalism, and nothing in the Constitution reserves an elevated position for Christianity.
The problem seems to be that no one wants to be the critic going up against the formidable combination of both church and state. Disagreeing with America is one thing; disagreeing with our Lord and Savior — well, that’s something else.
Maybe the largest failure isn’t reserved for the folks who have been duped into thinking that Jesus would don a star-spangled tunic, it’s for those Christians who feel the discomfort of having Christ coopted by people who believe Christianity should be placed on a pedestal, and yet will not speak out against such twisted theology.
This is a problem that exists, in part, because politicians have embraced the Gospels with their own secular spin. In other words, politicians have been aided in this deception by charlatan theologians who have given them religious cover enough so that they can be assured that Jesus would vote Republican, loves guns, wants you to be rich, and doesn’t mind the idea of forcing prayer in schools.
The wall that should exist between church and state is crumbling, and that was predicted — or at least contemplated long ago by the Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
It will fall to the the silent majority of ministers, pastors, preachers, and theologians to discount, discredit and ultimately debunk the growing heresy of Christian nationalism.
Thousands, maybe millions, of Christians sit silently on the sidelines because they were told that religion and politics weren’t subjects for polite conversations. Those same Christians are rightfully frozen because they don’t feel comfortable enough in their own religious convictions to challenge these preachers who spew politics from the pulpit. Instead, they sit uncomfortably, staring at church bulletins and their own shoes, waiting for the fury to pass.
It’s not just the political system wracked by toxic partisanship that is sick and in desperate need of moderation and civility. For those of us who grew up in a church that was a social force but eschewed politics, we must reclaim both.
Christians who should know better can look at the militant religion that has been twisted for political gain and respond confidently enough to say, “That’s not right.”
Granted, it may be hard to know what Jesus would do with a complicated issue like abortion, but you kind of have to think a man who routinely wept at the suffering of humanity would have enough compassion to not make children who have been raped carry an attacker’s child.
Confidence in grace
We should have enough confidence in divine grace to know the truth of what we learned in Sunday School — that red, yellow, black, or white, we are all precious in Jesus’ sight — so that cannot mean America is placed above others in this world.
We should be able to read the Gospels plainly enough to remember that Christ himself faced the greatest political power in the world at the time (the Roman Empire) and didn’t claim power for himself or his followers, rather had the faith to ask, “Who do you say I am,” a stunning response for a man whose life hung in the balance.
And it would stand to figure that while Jesus was mum on subjects we care so much about from transgender athletes to climate change, he was clear about people who would co-opt his message, and it wasn’t politicians whom he blamed just because they engaged in political chicanery. Instead, in the book of Matthew, he sent the warning to his own followers — not to the politicians: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
Folks, we’ve been warned.
Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming. This piece first appeared in the Daily Montanan, a member, like the Florida Phoenix, of the nonprofit States Newsroom network.
If you are a believer, I understand how some have a difficult time with MAGA-Jesus because that is not the same Jesus I learned about in Bible study. Jesus wasn’t a fascist. He was the original ANTIFA. He was a socialist. He was loving of all, LGBTQ (he never says a word about them), he never said anything about abortion, he believed that we should treat others like we want to be treated. For Jesus sake, he was as woke as they come.
Nazi’s co-opted Christianity too. Did things in the name of God. MAGA is no different. Perhaps people forget, but Trump held a speech, with Marines behind him where he called Democrats fascists. Democrats didn’t get upset because we knew it was a lie. The eff my feelings crowd is showing who the real snowflakes are with how they’re reacting to Biden speaking the truth. Fascism starts small, saying elections were stoked or rigged, then moving up to influence education, banning books, then banning subsets of people. My god, look at DeSantis. He claims it’s “for the children” and it’s “parents making choices.” But what children? Who’s parents? Yeah, straight, white cis-het, Christian ones. The rest cast out, ostracized, and targeted.
I honestly don’t recognize the world anymore. So much hate. It’s vile. It is. I look around at my neighbors and wonder, “Do they want me dead for xyz?” It’s such a crazy time and yes, it all does go back to Trump because he released it into the open, but it begins so much further back in time, during the Ford days (not Ford but the group working at getting Regan elected).
Want to know who rules the world? Watch The Family on Netflix – they influence everything from putting a radical SCOTUS in place to Russian assets like Trump. People have no idea how deep he is in bed with Russia and the Saudi’s.
The dude says
They’ve replaced Jesus with their orange stain.
LAW ABIDING CITIZEN says
Great article, writer summed it up at this point, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolf’s, we sure have seen them here and in own county!
Dennis C Rathsam says
Another god fearing democrat….In case you have forgoten the money we use states IN GOD WE TRUST!!!!!! Pedal your hate eslewhere! The problem in todays woke views has shown its ugly ideas of hate & no concern for are kids.
Deborah Coffey says
Some projection is almost as good as Donald Trump’s!
Have you been writing speeches for Herschel Walker? The rhetoric is uncannily similar!
Michael Cocchiola says
Christian nationalists are frighteningly dangerous to our democracy. First, they are not Christians… at least not what I was taught to believe about Christianity. They seek to bring their vengeful god into our global society to lay waste to all who do not believe as they do. Very Christ-like.
As nationalists, they demand that America be the center of the world. And if that takes a sociopathic strongman leader (Note, “man”. Never a woman.) a repressive government, and military force to get there, so be it. Forget the rest of the world. America… the White Super Race Reich.
We are in Civil War II. We are in an existential fight for the heart and soul of America.
It’s so sad that people who claim to be Christians are happy to use him and his name to promote their selfish agendas. As a non religious person, even I am offended by this. They make Jesus sound like a mean spirited, extremely intolerant person, and that type of person should be worshiped. It’s all about power and control.