In the first part of this presentation I addressed my thinking about religion in general and my personal spiritual position. In this part I want to discuss Christianity in the United States. Specifically, I want to present my concerns about what I see as serious corruption within part of the Christian community and in one case a dangerous threat to our democracy:
As an outside observer it never fails to amaze me how Christians can fight over the most insignificant technicalities in scriptural language. That seems especially silly since the Bible was not even fully assembled until 400 years after the events and teachings depicted. And it was men, not God, who, as late as the 16th century, were still deciding what to keep in the Bible and what to throw out.
Further, these scriptures have undergone multiple language translations and official interpretations since they were written. As a result of disagreements on details there are probably more than 200 hundred different Christian denominations. Each has decided everyone else’s understanding of Christ’s teaching is so wrong that they cannot reconcile their differences and must separate from each other and go their own way.
Thankfully, I believe most Christians endorse a moderate and rational interpretation of Christ’s teachings and generally try to follow the moral lessons presented in the New Testament. I personally know many who are among the most selfless people I have ever met. They live the life Jesus taught; they work tirelessly to spread the love of God and to improve the lives of their fellow human beings in keeping with Biblical doctrine.
Corruption in the Christian Church
Every Christian denomination seems to attract a few charlatans who live on the fringes and disrupt the message and good works of the faithful. And denominations are continuously evolving, often painfully, as they adapt to societal progress and new social norms. I am sure that contributes to internal confusion, strife, and some level of corruption. However, the leadership of two broad Christian denominations in the US stand out to me as seriously corrupt. In both cases they flirt with criminal behavior. One is the Catholic Church hierarchy; the other is a self appointed group of Evangelical leaders who claim to exclusively speak for real Christianity and Biblical truth. The problem is not with the faithful in either group but with the abuses and excesses of their leaders.
I remain confident that the majority of Catholics are sincere practitioners of their faith. I don’t doubt that they revere and believe in the sanctity of the Christian scriptures. From the good works that Catholic laypeople do everyday it is clear they are a credit to their faith and a cornerstone of service to humanity in our democracy.
However, the Catholic Church’s hierarchy has a dark history of covering up sexual abuse of children by priests and other church authority figures. That has only come into full light in the past couple of decades. According to media and law enforcement investigations priests have been regularly sexually abusing children for decades. When church leaders discovered such abuse they did not report the crimes to law enforcement or even take adequate internal punitive action. They quietly transferred offenders to other churches where they could continue their predatory behavior.
The Church hierarchy has historically been unwilling to be transparent about the problem, admit the extent to which such behavior was tolerated, or even address it in a meaningful way. Leaders apparently value Church property and revenue streams more than the safety of their children. They have been seriously reluctant to be open and proactive in combating these crimes. Hopefully though, with more media attention they may finally be loosing that battle. With public attention on victim’s accounts, legal and law enforcement pressure appears to be exacting pain on covering up the crimes with some beneficial effect.
As an outsider though, I do wonder why Catholic parishioners have allowed the Church leadership to ignore or cover up this criminal sexual abuse behavior for so long after it became known. I would have expected a membership revolt; they could have demanded a wholesale “house cleaning” of offenders as well as Church leaders who allowed it. Parishioners have the power of the purse; they could have withheld financial support until such reforms were achieved. Though law enforcement agencies have forced the Church to address the problem, as best I can tell there has been no broad membership uprising. That seems complicit to a non-Christian like me. Unfortunately, again as a pure outside observer, that encourages me to wonder how much abuse still continues.
Just as I believe most Catholics are faithful followers of Christ’s teachings, I also suspect evangelicals are generally sincere in their faith. Sadly though, the Godly efforts of dedicated laypeople cannot match the loud hateful rhetoric of extremist evangelicals who claim to represent them and are pursuing political power rather than Christian objectives. In that quest for power they are pushing parishioners to abandon traditional Biblical guidance and their own moral compass to accept an “ends justify the means” political dogma with reactionary politics at its center. That is both un-American and un-Christlike. It also endangers our democracy and the very religious freedoms we cherish as a free people. Sadly, apparently many evangelical practitioners are either too intimidated to speak out against that extremist ideology, or they actively endorse it themselves.
The evangelical movement is not structured as the Catholic hierarchy is. Instead, there is a small group of powerful self-appointed evangelical leaders who claim to speak exclusively for God and the Christian community. They do have a massive evangelical following who seem to unquestioningly support their ideology and authority over it.
These leaders, people like Robert Jeffress, Ralph Drollinger, Paula White, Jerry Falwell Jr, and others, are political extremists in every sense of the word. They are the Christian equivalent of the ISIS leadership. They are similarly sophisticated in the use of the media; they use Biblical scriptures as weapons to successfully manipulate evangelical Christian support for their political agenda – just as ISIS does. They use wealth, mega-churches, massive televangelist operations, and slick publications as the preferred platforms to advance their integrated medieval religious and political dogma.
The most common thread among members of this group of extremist leaders is Donald Trump. Brilliantly, Trump recognized these individuals are media savvy and could be used to help him manipulate the political opinion of a large segment of the American electorate. Likewise they saw Trump as a vehicle to advance their own political agenda. A useful symbiotic relationship developed. They began colluding as early as 2011 when Trump was first thinking about a 2012 presidential run.
If these people were the typical fringe elements of our society they would essentially be irrelevant, but they are not. Today they have a seat at the table with the Trump Administration where they operate as a secret (their word is “informal”) evangelical advisory board to the Administration. Most of what we know about their influence over the Trump Administration comes from the bragging of members. They provide no public record of participants or proceedings of meetings and advice given to Trump or members of his administration. There is actually a federal law against what they do. It is the Federal Advisory Committee Act. And it was enacted specifically to prevent secret influence of an administration by special interest groups.
They use both their public platforms and their secret influence to promote a doctrine within the Trump Administration that is reactionary politics wrapped in extreme interpretations of Biblical scripture. Their activities, besides being un-American and largely illegal, certainly also violate at least the spirit of separation of church and state. Collectively, I believe they pose an existential threat to our liberal democracy.
Within this group of evangelical extremists, Ralph Drollinger is probably the most dangerous. He seems to have the most secret access as well as more substantial influence over Trump and his cabinet than the others. He holds a weekly Bible study with Trump’s Cabinet where he teaches what I would call 18th and 19th century religious thinking; and he weaves together imaginative, mostly old Testament, Biblical justifications for, and endorsements of, Trump Administration political policies. He also seems to use his White House access to get Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and other individual cabinet members to help advance his personal international religious business agenda in other countries.
Since the relationship between these evangelical extremists and the Trump Administration is so opaque it is hard to tell with any certainty which Trump Administration policies they are driving and which they are just advancing manipulated scriptural interpretations to cover. Regardless, it is instructive to look at the political philosophy they are promoting to their evangelical membership. From public speeches, sermons, and published papers we can see their worldview closely matches Trump’s.
Here are some of the divisive, hateful, intolerant, and dangerously un-American positions Drollinger, Jeffress, and other of these influential evangelicals have espoused and are promoting in concert with the Trump Administration:
1) The idea that human activities are endangering the earth’s climate is a hoax. It is un-Christian to think that God would ever allow human beings to negatively impact the earth’s ecosystem; “environmentalism is a false religion promoted by secular fad theorists”;
2) The construction of a border wall and separation of children from their parents at the southern border is supported by Biblical scripture (Romans 13); separating children from their parents is also an appropriate punishment for “illegal immigrants”;
3) Federal deficits must be eliminated, the federal budget balanced, and the national debt reduced. The way to do that is: first, to lower taxation and reduce regulation of business and industry to spur economic growth; second, reduce or eliminate social spending; such programs are not an appropriate role for government or use of governmental funds. “The institutions of marriage, family, commerce, and church should be the institutions to meet the needs of those who, for whatever legitimate reason, cannot satisfy their own needs”;
4) The Democratic Party is under the control of a “non-biblical system – socialism”; therefore the White House does not need to cooperate with Congress in an impeachment inquiry.
5) Following are a few additional quotes from these evangelical leaders reflecting the level of tolerance and respect they have for other faith traditions as well as the American social order:
- “The Catholic Church is following Satan’s path. Catholicism is one of the primary false religions of the world”;
- “former president Barack Obama was paving the way for the antichrist”;
- “Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell”;
- “Judaism and Hinduism lead people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell”;
- “Islam is an evil, oppressive religion. It is a violent religion leading its followers straight to hell”;
- “Women with children at home who either serve in public office, or are employed on the outside, pursue a path that contradicts God’s revealed design for them. It is a sin”;
- “Homosexuality is an abomination and illegitimate in God’s eyes”;
- “Abortion is a slippery slope to infanticide”;
- “The Bible’s use of male pronouns entails a prohibition on women’s teaching the Bible to grown men”.
Again, the thing that makes these individuals so dangerous to our democracy is that they have mostly opaque but substantial access to and apparent influence over the Trump Administration. They have a major media presence in the evangelical community and substantial political influence over a very large segment of those followers. They promote the idea that evangelicals should ignore Trumps wholesale violation of moral, ethical and other Christian principles because God is using him for good. They even hint that separation of church and state is only a political concept, but is not necessarily real.
It is inconceivable to me that evangelicals, who as a class, are utterly intolerant of the slightest inconsistency in the practice of other faiths, and even other Christian denominations, would endorse the likes of Donald Trump. But vast numbers of them seem ready and willing to cast aside every tenet of their own faith to support such an amoral degenerate, racist, xenophobe. Religion and politics do indeed make strange bedfellows in the evangelical community.
If you doubt any of what I am reporting here you have only to read the literature these zealots generate. You could subscribe to Ralph Drollinger’s Capital Ministries online bible studies. It’s free. If you read it, remember, it reflects the version of the Bible he is teaching to Trump’s cabinet members. Or read some of Robert Jeffress’ writings and sermons. You will get your own opportunity to see what they are all about, and given their near dictatorial influence over their followers, how dangerous these evangelical leaders are to our liberal democracy.