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Beware of Presidents Waving Bibles

The President of the United States holding up a Bible in front of a church, as he did moments ago in Washington, DC, may be the most disgusting and cynically manipulative thing I’ve seen in a long time.
What an unspeakable desecration of that sacred book. The President must take us for fools.

It’s time for serious Christians to stop allowing our faith, centered on the cross of Jesus Christ and calling for radical change of heart, to be used any more to endorse a particular political party or a particular strongman’s agenda.

The evangelical church in America must reclaim its moral and spiritual independence now, or it is going to be irrepairably discredited for generations to come.

The clearest evidence of genuine Christianity is that it speaks courageously and prophetically to all imperfect leaders and all political parties. It commends them when they do right, and calls them out when then don’t. A morally and spiritually strong church will call everyone alike to higher ideals of truth, decency, self-discipline and compassion. It never surrenders its spiritual freedom to one side or the other. It has only one leader.

For Jesus’s sake, fellow evangelicals, stop getting played. If you are offended or still unconvinced, read some history of European politics and the European churches in the 1930s and 1940s. If we don’t maintain our spiritual independence, what goes round could come around again.

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Dishonorable Evangelical Leaders

For a long time, the prevailing assumption in evangelical circles has been that you don’t call out your own. Evangelicals are the good guys, and you don’t criticize a brother. Such reticence to hold our own self-styled leaders responsible for what they say on behalf of our movement demands reconsideration.

The reputations of evangelical Christianity, and more seriously, the Christian faith itself, are being severely damaged–one fears, irrepairably–by the frequently fatuous, grossly untrue, and downright anti-Christian statements made, and attitudes espoused, by our so-called evangelical spokespersons.

Here is another example that has just gone viral. During a very recent interview, 88-year old Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), ventured to comment on the horrific torture and murder (and most likely, dismemberment) of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi critic and Washington Post journalist, inside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Istanbul last week. The whole world is aghast at the brazen evil of the crime.

But Robertson calmly mused: “You’ve got a 100 billion dollars of arms sales . . . we’ve got to have some Arab allies . . . you don’t blow up an international alliance over one person. I mean, I’m sorry.”

And there you have it. What is most important? Arms sales. Political alliances. An evangelical minister of considerable influence weighing in on the relative value of an eternal soul. As late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel remarked with irony: Why would any Christian think that the death of one person should ever be a big deal?” Robertson exudes the kind of crass calculus we would expect of a ruthless leader, of a Caiaphas perhaps (see John 11:50), but surely not a pro-life follower of Jesus Christ.

Plain and simple, Pat Robertson does not speak for thoughtful, sincere evangelicals. He and those who parrot him have drifted from the tradition. He speaks only for himself and his fan base. It is unfortunate that the media, instinctively drawn to the loudest voices, do not always understand how little Robertson speaks for the rest of us. Or, for that matter, for real Christianity.

I am not calling Pat Robertson out with any malice. But if as evangelicals we are unwilling to censor ourselves, who will?

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The Exploitation of Billy Graham

My previous blog was a warning against mixing pulpits and politics. I feel even more strongly so this week. A few days ago an aged Billy Graham allegedly came out in support of (Mormon) presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, calling all Christians (read evangelicals) to vote for him in the upcoming election. There are so many things wrong about this. Frankly, it just doesn’t sound like something the Billy Graham we have come to know and admire would do or say, especially in this final season of his very long life. I’m guessing that the 93-year old evangelist and his reputation are being exploited by right-wing politicos and certain key family members. Whatever is really going on in the backrooms, it is further proof of the Republican captivity of the contemporary evangelical church.
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Pulpits and Politics Don’t Mix

The fifth annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” is coming up again this weekend. It’s organized by (mostly conservative evangelical) Christian pastors concerned that their rights to free speech from the pulpit (and, they would say, freedom of religion) may be at risk from an intrusive government and a dubious amendment back in 1954 to a pivotal section of the federal tax code.

The specific legislation in question, 501(c)(3) states that tax-exempt organizations (like churches) are prohibited from “participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” The Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization supporting these pastors, is trying to goad the government into attempting to act on this legislation. They are gunning for a showdown on freedom of religion. I confess to very mixed feelings.
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