By Bill Mefford
Though national evangelical leaders have lost all credibility due to their acquiescence to donald trump and their silence in the face of his nonstop assault on the freedoms and basic dignity of non-white males, they still have not given up lecturing the rest of us on how we have fallen short. The latest comes from Tony Perkins who wrote this past weekend that the reason why we have an epidemic of gun massacres has nothing to do with the white supremacist rhetoric coming from the White House or the unlimited access to guns in states like Texas, which passed a whole new slew of permissible gun laws granting even greater access to guns on the very same day that another white man went on a gun rampage killing seven, wounding far more, and creating over 15 different crime scenes in the process. No, the reason why we have an epidemic of gun violence is because we need more Christianity in our “public square.”
Yes, I can hear your eyes rolling.
Perkins stunningly claims that we do not need more laws, we need more Jesus. I admit, that’ll preach well, but more sermons by repressed white men is not the thing that will stop gun violence no matter how many “Amens” you might get on Sunday. The problem is that making the United States more overtly Christian than it already is will not stop the violence. In fact, it could very likely increase it. Besides the fact that nationalizing Christianity is unconstitutional, imposing Christianity on others does not have a good track record. Just take a brief glance at history, the greatest purveyor of violence in the world have been countries that have nationalized religion and fought with other nations (or with itself) over supposedly religious reasons.
Making your country more Christian has been tried and tried again since Constantine did this with the Roman Empire and he barely had a superficial knowledge of Christianity to begin with. Hmmm, maybe Perkins has that in mind with trump….Regardless, one of the many problems with nationalizing Christianity is that it provides leaders and citizens of the nation divine legitimacy to pursue their agendas with no consideration for others who do not share their specific theology. This is literally how we have had “holy wars.”
And I am not just talking about medieval Europe; religious language and imagery was often used in the horrific and illegal invasion of Iraq. Throughout US history we have utilized Christianity as a tool for warfare and violence, particularly during the Civil War when southern clergy especially proof-texted biblical passages as a means to justify war, slavery, and white supremacy. A thin Christian rhetorical veneer is not needed if you want to stop violence. Just the opposite in fact.
Mr. Perkins would do well to actually read some Scripture before he lectures us on it’s importance. I am thinking particularly about the first chapter in Isaiah, when God’s people are praying, worshiping, and engaging “in the public square” as Perkins likes to say, but their actions do not align with what God requires of them; that is to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (1:17) They had the look of following God without the actual disposition of following God. And I am pretty sure rescuing the oppressed and defending the orphan does not entail deporting immigrants with terminal diseases, or caging kids, or separating families (isn’t that how you make children into orphans?), or turning a blind eye to never-ending gun massacres. Again, it is better to actually follow God than to loudly proclaim you do.
No, Mr. Perkins, we do not need more civil religion.
We do need repentance though. We need leaders to repent of their white supremacy and racism (we’re looking at you donald trump). We need leaders to repent of the violence they have helped perpetuate throughout the world by pouring billions and billions of dollars into the coffers of nations willing to commit violence against their own people or nations they have some conflict with. We have sent military aid to Afghanistan, Israel, Egypt, South Sudan, Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and so many more. We have given military aid to countries with the worst human rights abuses in the world. We need repentance from the supposed leaders who have bowed and submitted themselves to the NRA instead of taking seriously their oaths to public safety and passed laws to make guns harder to access.
Yes, we need repentance. But Perkins does not ask for repentance. He wants more triumphalistic Christianity to make him and people who look like him feel better. Civil religion is the form of godliness without the power of God for the power of God cannot bless those who shield themselves with worldly power as they marginalize and oppress others. The power of God only is present when we choose to shed ourselves of power and serve and love others sacrificially.
Perkins has no desire for repentance because he has no desire to serve or sacrificially love others. If he wanted to serve others then he would have encouraged Jack Phillips to bake the wedding cake for Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins and not hide behind Phillips’ skewed misunderstanding of Christianity in order to discriminate against LGBTQ people. If Perkins wanted to serve people then he would have worked tirelessly to pass an even stronger form of Obamacare that would have provided health insurance to even more people than work tirelessly against it’s passage. If Perkins wanted to serve people he would retract this op-ed and redemptively use his tremendous power and resources at the Family Research Council to actually defend and protect families from the devastating impact of gun violence.
But Perkins isn’t interested in repentance because he knows he really can’t even mention the word, “repentance” because repentance would have to start with him and his boy in the White House (and Lord knows he has a helluva lot to repent of). No, there is no need to ask for repentance when all you want is the cover of civil religion. Repentance might challenge the comforts of white nationalism.
No, if you are Perkins you don’t need more repentance, you need more non-transformative Christianity. The kind of Christianity that you will find almost every Sunday in almost any church. This is the kind of Christianity that trump feels most home in because it upholds an unjust status quo and maintains the gun violence that is tearing our society a part.