By Bill Mefford
This week Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo both spoke to the far right wing group, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which, to no one’s surprise, maintains absolute support for Israel right or wrong. I have actually spoken with members of CUFI and they have more confidence in Israel than in the United States (this was under President Obama) and even with all of their confidence in the nation of Israel they still hold to the belief that Jews are going to hell unless they accept Jesus as their “personal Savior.”
CUFI also supports trump right or wrong. Yet, despite both of these troublesome absolutes, they also claim to follow Jesus. Holding faith in Jesus and trump is increasingly untenable day by day. One attendee’s comment from this year’s conference after Pence spoke stood out to me. She said she supports trump because, “To have a president openly professing that the land belongs to Israel — that’s what scripture says.”
Now, if she is genuinely interested in supporting someone who follows what Scripture says she might want to check out the thousands of verses that allude to welcoming sojourners and providing hospitality to the most vulnerable. Or she could look up the verses that condemn deceit and lying and that lift up honesty and transparency (they are not hard to fine). Or maybe she might be interested in the numerous passages that condemn employers who cheat their employees and refuse to pay them for their work.
trump is an anti-immigrant nationalist, a pathological liar, and a cheat to those who have worked for him. But I am sure none of the thousands of verses that deal with these three issues make a dent in the members of CUFI, or in the hearts and minds of millions of evangelical “Christians” nationally. And let’s be honest, these are just three character issues; there really isn’t a character issue highlighted in Scripture that trump does not violate on a weekly basis. Yet, for this one attendee, and perhaps for many more like her, recognizing the land where the nation of Israel currently resides is far more importantly than the character of a person who sits in the most powerful position in the world. That is truly one very screwed up theology.
It never ceases to amaze me how selective we all are in our reading of Scripture. Yes, liberals do it along with conservatives, but no one who claims to follow Jesus has ever exegeted Scripture as selectively as evangelicals do it today. It literally baffles the imagination. This is why American evangelicalism has, in my mind, ceased entirely to be a movement in any spiritual sense at all. American evangelicalism has become solely a cultural and political movement, following the lead of historical xenophobic and nationalist movements. The American evangelical movement exists almost solely to protect the identity and economic welfare of its adherents.
Being a part of a nationalist movement is not in and of itself a crime. But claiming to be disciples of Jesus, the Savior of the world and who intentionally and repeatedly rejected nationalism, is obscene and MUST be called out each and every time it is done. What is so fascinating to me is that nationalism is one of the things that Jesus - who was Jewish - was perhaps most known for. In fact, his last instructions to his disciples before his transcendence back to Heaven in the first chapter of Acts, were to gently rebuke them for asking a question - when would the Kingdom of Israel be restored to international prominence so that the disciples could assume power. The disciples’ question was entirely steeped in nationalism. And Jesus’ rebuke reminds them that are not called to defend a nation. Instead, they are called to wait until the Holy Spirit is poured out (as it was in the next chapter on the day of Pentecost) so that they could be equipped and empowered to serve the people of the world.
The logical part of me thinks that if I were to sit down with evangelicals in the United States and show them this verse and the hundreds of others that trump violates literally dozens of times a day, then they would repent of their support for trump and their participation in a xenophobic and nationalist movement that has promoted an especially toxic and nauseous form of Christianity.
That’s the logical part of me. The heart part of me - my gut - knows this will never happen. It is the toxic part of Christianity that has sadly given far too many evangelicals their identity. And it is the toxic form of Christianity that has selectively blocked any passages in Scripture that call them to repent of their nationalism and to love and serve the world; to put the needs of others above their own. Selective biblical amnesia is more than bad theology; it is the way in which harm and destruction gets unleashed into the world. We are witnessing it right now.