My life, unremarkable as it is, has since 1973 been dedicated to trying to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I believe the gospels are historically accurate as well as revelatory gifts from God. I'm an old-school Jesus Freak -- even live in a "commune" started by Jesus People and called Jesus People USA. We're in many ways vanilla-flavored Evangelical Christians -- looking to the Old and New Testament Scriptures as our primary guide in all matters of faith and practice. (In 1989, we joined an egalitarian, woman-positive denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church.) We also share the American experience and many American distinctives culturally, and realize how intertwined (for good and for evil) America's history and Evangelical history have become.
I have a novel idea for Evangelicals. Let's look at evil as conceptualized by the Republicans of 2000-2008. Evil is postulated as a "them" problem. Remember George W. Bush's comment that we were going to eradicate Evil in the world? This view puts evil out there, as a "them" problem. But biblically speaking Evil is an "us" problem. WE -- individually and corporately in our various communities of faith, social networking, and national identity -- are the place where Evil exists. Further, more often than not, Scripture specifically speaks to "us" and "I" rather than "them" and "he" or "she." The Bible is a relentlessly personal book addressed to us / me.
Here' s another novel idea, building on the above. Let's look at history as evidence. That is, history will reveal to us our own complicity in the Evil of our world. Consider, for instance, racism. Evangelicals show a remarkable and commendable eagerness to dismantle any remnants of racism. Yet, I gently suggest we often do so while far under-estimating the breadth and depth of racism's legacy in these United States. I am old enough to have personally watched a bigot dancing -- literally -- on his lawn, celebrating one warm April morning the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. "They shot him -- they shot that commie nigger Martin Luther King!"
And who created the historic context and social rationalization for slavery in the United States? Christians. No, there's no dodging it. Just as South Africa built a sophisticated God-frame around apartheid, their torturous system of color and class, America did so. And Christians rationalized with proof-texted Scripture (as they do now in regards to oppressing women in churches and in marriage). Christians bought slaves, whipped slaves, destroyed black families by selling parents from children and wives/husbands away from one another. Christians raped slaves, using the Old Testament stories in an a-historical manner to justify these "relationships." Our Constitution, for a convoluted set of reasons, defines a black slave as "three-fifths of a person." The largest Evangelical denomination of today, the Southern Baptists, came into existence as the result of a church split with northern Baptists over slavery.
Regarding history and Evil, human beings have a funny way of not seeing its most obvious lessons. For instance, as another Christian leftie co-worked said to me recently, "When we look at Nazis as inhuman monsters instead of human beings inspired by their own sense of right, we are on the verge of becoming Nazis." That is, he continued to explain, when we recognize Evil in others yet fail to understand the commonality of that Evil with all humans throughout history, we risk endlessly repeating history in a demonically naive manner. We "other" the other. This is true of all of us, this writer included. As much as I loathe George W. Bush's thinking, policies, and acts as President, believing he's the worst President this nation has ever suffered, I suspect he's quite a nice guy in person. That is, a lot like me.
That raises the possibility that I could, given the amount of power a President has, create and activate deeds of Evil as a Christian every bit as horrendous as those he's committed in Iraq. And maybe worse... who knows? Fortunately for all of us, I'll never hold such power.
But in light of the above, there's yet another issue we as Evangelicals have to confront. That issue is nationalism. The previously spoken, more often now unspoken, assumption regarding America is that it is God's chosen nation. There is no biblical basis for that idea. Only Israel -- not modern-day, but Old Testament Israel -- is called by Scripture "God's people." And, as any Jewish scholar will tell you, it appears that being God's people usually involves a lot of pain.
We Evangelicals assume a lot of things about our centrality in God's plan, our expectation of material blessings, our belief that militarism is not only a necessity but a positive good. And much more. But beneath all of that runs a river of arrogant pride. We often fall into the root error of believing in our own goodness, our "deserving" blessings both material and relational.
And here is where history and the present collide. The Republicans sell us two things successfully. Fear and Anger. What are we to be fearful of? The Evil in the Other, that evil that our President promised us we would defeat and destroy. What are we to be angry with? The resistance of the Other to our goodness and rightness.
Jesus was murdered by people who thought that way.
People like us.
And Jesus continues to be murdered. "As you have done to the least of one of these, you have done it to me." Those Iraqi mothers and children and fathers and sons who died via American bombs, missiles, and bullets died at the hands of America. And America is us.
Yes, I believe the gospels to be about Jesus in history and (as Kierkegaard warns) even more about the contemporaneity of Christ. Jesus is here now, calling us now, consistently reminding us of our absolute need of Him. He is Love, and His Way does not include pride but rather the crucifixion of pride. We are not a Christian nation and should not expect to be a Christian nation. We as Americans are a nation of individuals and groups of people with thousands of differing beliefs. As Christians we are citizens not primarily of this world but of a coming kingdom.
That kingdom is to be rooted in Jesus' command: "Love one another." This idea is not historical -- that is, it rarely appears as an actuality in history. It is a dark thought with which I end this rambling. But I think that true love can only be actualized by people who see their own Evil, and capacity for Evil, most or all of the time. This is not the way Republicans think these days. Evil is Other, Good is Us.
Fear sells in this setting because we are truly afraid, we have not yet laid our lives down in surrender to Christ the way we think we have. Anger excuses our fear, legitimates it. Anger is the illusion of being righteous, the emotional ace that overrides the suffering heart. To love is to suffer.
History's lesson is that especially in recent years since 9/11, the Republicans have taken this fear/anger paradigm to incredible lengths. Democrats in the past have done the same thing. But Democrats have not tried to sell Evangelicals a bastardized version of the Bible. Obama is a committed, regenerate Christian, yet more importantly than that his attempts to integrate faith and politics are impressive in their cautious humility.
I, as one Evangelical, cannot agree to uphold the Republican Party. The crimes of Iraq -- one million more times worthy of impeachment than a former president having his penis sucked by an intern and lying about it -- will never be punished on this earth. But I am damned if I will support a party, or a candidate, who uses the same language, the same cynical reliance upon god-fearing people, to garner power. Damned because how can I love my neighbor while caving in to the Christless hate and arrogance such language and actions reflect? For the past two elections, we Evangelicals have helped elect an administration rooted in the godless, ultra-elitist ideas of Leo Strauss.
Will we do it again? Will we?
History says we will. The gospels say history is important, but the present potentially even more so.