Monday, November 23, 2020

Thank God for Evangelicals

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, and therefore it is proper to give thanks for God’s blessings on America this holiday season. Near the top of my list is the 2020 presidential election. In my estimation God has saved our country from great harm, and I am grateful. Threats to democracy will undoubtedly continue in the months and years ahead, but at least the attacks will not be coming from within the White House.

In particular I would like to thank white evangelicals for electing Joe Biden as president. I am not being facetious. People may be surprised to learn that a small group of evangelicals played a pivotal role in the election. An examination of the election results reveal that the defection of some evangelicals from President Trump made the difference.

White Evangelicals still overwhelmingly voted for President Trump. 75% of them in fact, but that is down 6% from the 2016 percentage of 81%. That six percent made the difference. White Evangelicals made up 26% of the 2020 electorate, which by my calculations means these defectors made a difference of 1.5% in the number of total votes. That was enough to change the results.

For example in the state of Georgia, Biden won by only two-tenths of one percent. In Pennsylvania he won by one half of one percent. In Wisconsin and Arizona the difference was seven tenths of a percent. The margin of victory in Michigan was 2.7%, but in that state only 70% of the evangelical vote went for Trump, down eleven percent.

Although it would take more research and statistical skills than I have to explore the precise difference that these evangelical votes made in each state, it is likely that the overall difference of 1.5% determined who became president. Thank you, evangelicals.

I would also like to thank Jewish voters. More than three-quarters (77%) of them backed Biden. That was up 6% from 2016.  A big thank you to Catholics as well. A majority of Catholics (51%) voted for Biden this time, up 6% compared with the 45% who voted Democrat in 2016. Lastly I give thanks for Muslims, 69% of whom voted for Biden. This was especially important in Michigan, which has a sizable Muslim population.

In short, religious people developed a conscience in 2020. I am especially grateful for that six percent of my Christian sisters and brothers who changed their mind since 2016. I have been praying that God would show Christians that President Trump is not the champion of Christian values that he is made out to be. That is obvious to me, but it is clearly not obvious to most evangelical Christians. Hence my prayers.

In biblical history there have always been a “faithful remnant” that has remained true to God when the majority of people turned aside. For example God destroyed the ten northern tribes of Israel for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. In the 8th century BC, 80% of Israel disappeared from history, leaving two remaining tribes in Judah. The 25% of evangelicals that voted against Trump in 2020 are such a faithful remnant. Well done, good and faithful servants.

It is difficult to be an independent thinking Christian in this polarized and politicized environment. I have a niece who was bullied into voting for Trump this year by her church. She was told that she was going to hell if she voted for Biden. If this happened in my family I can only imagine how many other families faced the same sort of pressure from their churches. I am grateful for those who had the courage to resist their partisan church culture and remain faithful to God’s leading.

There are other people I am grateful for this Thanksgiving. I am grateful for state and local election officials, as well as higher government officials, who stood up for truth and resisted attempts to subvert the election results, even when that meant public criticism or losing their jobs. They are the real heroes in this election. 

On Thanksgiving Day I will hold hands with family around our Thanksgiving table and offer a prayer to God. I will thank God for this country and for all the people who continue to protect and preserve our democracy from enemies within and without. May God bless America.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Are Christians the Problem?

I have been doing some reading on the decline of democracy and the rise of populism in the world. My reading began with Pulitzer Prize winning historian Anne Applebaum’s new book Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism. To be quite honest, the book scares the hell out of me.

It shows how democracy is under siege in Europe, Britain and America from nationalism and autocracy. She shows how authoritarian political movements use the news media, social media, conspiracy theories, political polarization, and an appeal to an idealized past, to undermine individual freedoms. It is all done in the in the name of patriotism, God and morality.

An article in the most recent issue of Time magazine shows how this has played out in Hungary under the rule of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who took office in 2010. The article says, “In the decade since, Hungarians have seen judges and bureaucrats appointed for their political fealty, the media transformed into pro-government propaganda and civil-society groups starved of resources.” The Washington-based human rights group Freedom House says that Hungary no longer qualifies as a full democracy.

During the pandemic in Hungary, “COVID-19 data was to be strictly controlled, with doctors telling inquiring politicians and journalists that they were forbidden to talk publicly about the crisis. Those who criticized the government online faced arrest.”  “Orban has brazenly flouted Europe’s rules ensuring press freedom and an independent judiciary.”

If that sounds like 2020 in America, it is no accident. These are the same forces at work in our country. Americans could lose our freedoms if the right wing in our country gets its way.  If this happens, much of the fault will rest on the shoulders of white evangelical Christianity. It is no accident that they are cheering President Trump while he undermines confidence in the integrity of our election.

For the last four years I have been scratching my head trying to understand why Christians would support Donald Trump. Why would they believe conspiracy theories? Why would they accept the demonization of Democrats, the election process and the press? Then it dawned on me. They see these people and institutions as the enemies of God and Christian values, in much the same way that radical Muslims sees them as enemies of Allah and Islam.

For Christians, God is King. Anyone who opposes Godly values is the enemy. They believe that God has the absolute right to enforce his will on human society. Even though Jesus insisted that his kingdom was not of this world, for 2000 years Christians have been praying: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth and it is in heaven.” And gosh darn it, as the people of God, Christians have the obligation to advance God’s will on earth in these United States!

That is why evangelicals can unabashedly advocate outlawing abortion in the United States, even if it means stacking the Supreme Court and legislating from the bench. They see it as a moral crusade. It does not matter that the majority of Americans believe this moral choice should be left to individuals and not given over to the state. Individual rights and freedoms are expendable when God’s law is concerned. For them it is proper to use the power of the state to force people to adhere to their understanding of divine moral law.

It is not that we Christians should compromise our moral principles. I also am pro-life. But I do not have the right to impose my morality on people who do not share my religious values. We give that up to live in a democracy. That is what it means to be an American. Let each person decide according to their own conscience and faith. That is what individual freedom, religious liberty and human rights are about.

But the Religious Right does not share my commitment to those democratic values. That is why they love strongmen like Donald Trump. He will do the job that career politicians trained in the values of western democracy will not. He has no qualms about trampling on his enemies rights. Trump is willing to force his will on the country, regardless of whether it violates the rights of people who disagree with him. They see Trump as an instrument of Almighty God, who has the power and the divine right to impose moral and religious values on society. Democracy is useful if it advances God’s Kingdom. If democracy gets in the way of God’s will, democracy be damned.

This theocratic worldview is the problem. Politicized Christianity is the problem. A weaponized gospel that hates enemies, rather than loving them, is the problem. Such a Christianity has no room for democracy. It believes the fictional narrative that the United States is a Christian nation founded on Christian values, and that these values must be maintained at all costs - even if they go against the will of the people. People are sinners, after all ... miserable depraved sinners. They need to be reined in. If elections oppose the will of God, then election results are wrong.  As the song says, “Our God Reigns.”

If people’s rights get in the way of the exercise of Godly values, then rights are expendable. God’s will be done. In this worldview, Christians have the right to discriminate against anyone who disobeys God’s will – whether that be gays wanting to get a marriage license or buy a wedding cake, or Muslims wanting to wear a head scarf or build a mosque in our neighborhood. This is a “Christian nation” after all. Christian America first – under a Christian God!

This theocratic understanding of American history and identity is one of the greatest threats to our country today. It is far more dangerous than Central American immigrants or Islamic extremists, because right-wing Christians have influence that those groups do not have.  I never thought I would see the day when fellow Christians would be a threat to the nation I love. But that day has come.

So are Christians the problem? We don’t have to be. We can be the solution! We can champion our Christian values within the broader framework of democratic values upon which our nation is built. We can be unapologetically Christian, but let others live according to their own faith and values. We can choose to bring in the Kingdom through moral persuasion, not government coercion. People from all religious and political perspectives can live together in freedom and peace, if we respect each other’s rights. As history teaches us, that is better for both the church and the state. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

My Election Predictions Examined

On March 2, 2020, I made five predictions about the Presidential Elections on my blog. Here is a link, if you want to read it in full. Those predictions were made before the term COVID 19 was widely known and before the subsequent stock market crash and economic downturn. It was before Biden won the Democratic primary. In that post I promised that right or wrong, I would write a follow-up post to see how I did.

Prediction # 1 – “Trump will lose the 2020 election.” Well I had a 50-50 chance on that one, and got it right. Although I never would have guessed how long the vote count would go on.

Prediction # 2 – “Trump will not concede defeat on election night, November 3, 2020. He will not phone his Democratic opponent and congratulate him.”  Trump has still not conceded defeat or congratulated the President Elect. Instead he has claimed that he has won … by a lot!

Prediction # 3 – “There will be demonstrations and rallies across the country by Trump’s supporters who believe everything he says about the election.” That has happened, but they have been few in number. Perhaps more will follow. I think that the five day delay in knowing the results of the election has dampened the furor of the moment. For that I am thankful. The delay has given the country time to settle down and approach things more calmly.

Prediction # 4. “It will be the beginning of the end for the Religious Right.” The accuracy of that prediction cannot be known for years, but I stand by my prediction. The Religious Right, which has promoted a return to a view of America from the mid-twentieth century when there was a Christian hegemony in this country, has been discredited by its support for this president. Especially in the eyes of the young, who are the future voters of our nation. White Evangelicals are the only ones unaware that their “glory days” will never return.  America is not the White, Male, Christian, Straight, Anti-Choice nation they thought it was.

There were two more predictions that I wrote down that day in March but did not include them in the blog post. I had a hard time believing them myself, and so I did not share them. I will share them now. They both concern the inauguration of President Biden.

Prediction # 5 – I predicted that Trump will not leave the traditional letter from the outgoing president to the incoming president on the desk in the Oval Office, wishing him well and promising him his support. That seems like a pretty safe bet now.

Prediction # 6 – Trump will not attend the inauguration of the new presdient. He will say that he is an illegitimate president, and for that reason will not attend – just like Representative John Lewis did to him. Other presidents have done that before in American history, so it is not unprecedented.

Prediction # 7 – I have one more prediction to round the set off to the holy number seven. It is customary that former presidents keep a low profile for years after leaving office out of the respect for the new president. I predict that Trump will not follow that precedent.  I think that once out of office the ex-president will use this twitter account and public statements to undermine the work of the new administration. I would not be surprised if he begins his twitter tirade on Inauguration day.

I think that in time it will get worse. I am concerned that by his anti-government rhetoric, Trump will embolden a domestic terrorist network that will increase violent attacks against our country. White Supremacist and Christian Nationalist organizations are the most dangerous threats to our country, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Far worse than Islamist extremists. During his presidency Trump has pandered to them and sought their support. He will continue to do that after leaving the White House. Trump’s anti-democracy rhetoric will embolden domestic terrorism in the coming years, causing great harm to our country.

Those are my predictions. Like I said in the previous blog, I am not a prophet so they will not necessarily come true. I hope they do not come true. They don’t have to. Jesus said that some evil can only be driven out by prayer and fasting. So let us pray that Jesus binds this strongman. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Once to Every Man and Nation

On this Election Day morning, as I get ready to go to the polls, I find myself singing the words of James Russell Lowell’s 1845 hymn. I share them with you today:

Once to ev'ry man and nation 
Comes the moment to decide, 
In the strife of truth and falsehood, 
For the good or evil side; 
Some great cause, some great decision, 
Off'ring each the bloom or blight, 
And the choice goes by forever 
'Twixt that darkness and that light. 

Then to side with truth is noble, 
When we share her wretched crust, 
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, 
And 'tis prosperous to be just; 
Then it is the brave man chooses 
While the coward stands aside, 
Till the multitude make virtue 
Of the faith they had denied. 

By the light of burning martyrs, 
Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track, 
Toiling up new Calv'ries ever 
With the cross that turns not back; 
New occasions teach new duties, 
Ancient values test our youth; 
They must upward still and onward, 
Who would keep abreast of truth. 

Tho' the cause of evil prosper, 
Yet the truth alone is strong; 
Tho' her portion be the scaffold, 
And upon the throne be wrong: 
Yet that scaffold sways the future, 
And, behind the dim unknown, 
Standeth God within the shadow, 
Keeping watch above His own.