A few weeks ago we looked at an interviews of pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas. In the video, the pastor erroneously uses Roman’s 13 to defend President Donald Trump’s rhetoric concerning the bellicose threats North Korea has made against the United States. The pastor made multiple appearances across many multiple media outlets the same day as the video.
It appears the pastor has become a bit of an attack dog for the president (as well as other pastors and Christian power brokers), when controversy arises around the president’s tweeting, speaking and policy making. Considering that there is little or no biblical instruction for servants of God to endorse, or defend political or government entities, should engender concern for the state of the Church and its leadership. Sadly Jeffress’ behavior is part and parcel of a broader historical error the church has fallen into, far too often, to its own detriment.
In the 2005 book “The Myth of the Christian Nation”, pastor and author Greg Boyd, details the harm this historical error has caused in the church.
“Jesus came to establish the kingdom of God as a radical alternative to all versions of the kingdom of the world, whether they declare themselves to be “under God” or not.”
“I believe a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry. To a frightful degree, I think, evangelicals fuse the kingdom of God with a preferred version of the kingdom of the world (whether it’s our national interests, a particular form of government, a particular political program, or so on). Rather than focusing our understanding of God’s kingdom on the person of Jesus—who, incidentally, never allowed himself to get pulled into the political disputes of his day—I believe many of us American evangelicals have allowed our understanding of the kingdom of God to be polluted with political ideals, agendas, and issues.”
“The evangelical church in America has, to a large extent, been co-opted by an American, religious version of the kingdom of the world. We have come to trust the power of the sword more than the power of the cross. We have become intoxicated with the Constantinian, nationalistic, violent mindset of imperialistic Christendom”
Boyd’s book came out of a sermon series he preached at his church before the 2004 election, called the “Cross and the Sword”. The result of his sermon series was 1000 of the church’s 5000 members leaving. Boyd also became a whipping post for evangelical conservative Christians leaders, who demonized him as a political liberal hack. Without face to face debate, they would consistently misrepresent his central premise.
Although I would not agree with every statement made in the book, Boyd is overwhelmingly correct in exposing the degree to which the church has been convinced of the need to be in union with politicians and their politics. I called this error historical because it really can be traced all the way back to the Roman empire in the forth century, but its destructive nature can be seen much closer to our day.
The thoroughly researched and very well written book “The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became A Religious Crusade” reveals the unequal yoke Christians take on, in marrying themselves to politics and governments, as well as its disastrous results. Author Philip Jenkins details how the major nations at war, during WWI, had believed they were doing God’s kingdom will in fighting their enemies. In fact, two of the nations (England and Germany) fighting against each other, believed they were God’s only Christian nation. the overwhelming majority of the German populations believed, that after gaining military conquest, they would be the nation that would bring God’s gospel light to the world.
Even in America, which made no claims to being “The” Christian Nation (at that time), politicians and preachers alike incited masses with crusade like rhetoric. It was not uncommon for American pastors, of all denominational stripes, to call for the annihilation of the entire German race.
This is what is so unsettling about the way that Jeffress called for whatever it takes, concerning North Korea, which could mean the annihilation of most of the North Korean race, if nuclear weapons are used. My point is not to judge the presidents’s authority to do what is deemed necessary for the U.S., but that a follower of Jesus Christ, should care more about the human toll of such military actions, on all sides. The question we really need to ask, is should an ambassador for Christ, be so engaged in politics that their actions, attitudes, and words, become apparently un-Christlike to the watching world? To answer my rhetorical question… No! ambassadors for Christ ought to be ambassadors for Christ, at all times.
I am sure that Jeffress is a sincere follower of Jesus, but he is no longer known for gospel preaching, or advancing the kingdom of God, but political activism and rhetoric. So why is this the case and why is he so adamant and animated in his defense of the president? Because in many ways, he and the other Christian leaders are existentially tied to the president being the right man for the job; because these leaders influenced a lot of votes from evangelical Christians. Therefore whenever something controversial happens, these leaders have to try to counter the controversy, because their ministerial credibility is on the line.
For example, during the presidential election campaign, candidate Donald Trump was interviewed and asked if he ever asked God for forgiveness. His answer was “I am not sure. When I do wrong, I just try to do better: I don’t bring God into that”. Donald Trump then proceeded to explain that his pastor growing up was Norman Vincent Peale; the same Peale who denied God was actually a being and that being born again was unnecessary. I am not suggesting that a president needs to be a Christian, but Trump’s answers made many evangelicals, beholden to the idea of the need for a Christian in the White House, very nervous.
Interestingly, another of president Trump’s “spiritual advisers” spoke to quell evangelical woes during the fall out from Trumps comments. Paula White the televangelist and pastor of New Destiny Christian Center, in Orlando Florida, spoke to defend the candidates spiritual life, going so far as to declare she led the man in a sinners prayer. Well isn’t that nice? Go figure a Christian leader is pronouncing someone, as in the kingdom, based on a prayer that Jesus never even used. Recently, White in and interview compares the president to Esther from the Bible. In later backtracking those comments, White again doubled down on the spiritual life of the President, “Our president, 100 percent is a Christian who understands to receive by faith in grace the Lord Jesus Christ. He understands repentance”.
Let me wonder aloud, for a moment, does this woman have the slightest clue what repentance is? Obviously not! how detrimental to a any person to pronounce them “saved” because they said a prayer or even declares “I repent”. Repentance is seen through the alteration of the life, brought about by faith in the work of Jesus Christ. Her declarations line up with the “prosperity gospel” lie she preaches, to the detriment of Christ’s glory.
Being that these statements are coming from a known purveyor of heretical teaching, one would think evangelicals would ignore Paula White’s character assessment, concerning the president. When it comes to many in the charismatic realm, her words are gospel, but because of her proximity to the president, her profile with rank and file evangelical Christian’s has been elevated. In fact Jim Dobson, of focus on the Family fame, cited her when attempting to assure his constituency of Trumps sincerity of faith. It appears as if discernment has taken a back seat for the purpose of political expediency.
Herein lies the bigger issue of why Christian leaders are defending and advocating for the president. The evangelical “brute squad” is not doing this for love of the man’s soul, or to be a prophetic voice from God, but to effect change that is beneficial for them. It is no different than the way the democratic party uses unions and civil rights to bolster their cause and remain in power. Republicans have been doing this for generations with white evangelicals, where leaders are brought up close and personal, to reassure the rank and file that the politician is on their side.
Take for example the “secret prayer” meeting at the White House on July 11. Now I believe it is a wonderful thing to pray for any person, but when did it become a matter of publicity? In fact Jesus warned us not to pray as to be seen, but this prayer was seen all over the world. The whole event was planned by Paula White, and was a thrill for more than a few who were present. Once more I am not against prayer for the president, but am against using prayer, as a photo opportunity, to quell real and growing cynicism concerning some of the president’s actions.
Maybe one would think I am cynical. I am not, but with God’s help we must be discerning. I am also not against President Trump. My desire is that he does very well, for his authority and power can either improve or make worse the lives of at least 330 million Americans. More sobering is that his office can literally impact the lives of billions more outside the United States. In spite of this, we must recognize that the president is what he is, and a follower of Jesus he does not appear to be, at this time. In spite of others proclamations, he has never overtly said he follows Jesus, nor behaved accordingly for any length of time. Although his twitter attacks are less frequent they still exist as does his penchant for character assassination when anyone disagrees with him. I am however hopeful, that the overwhelming nature of his job, will humble him and reveal to him not only his need for God’s help in leading, but for the redemption of his soul.
In his business life, Trump has always been a ruthless and cut throat money maker. This was the case if that meant appealing to the lusts of the flesh, or filing bankruptcy when the fall out in lost jobs would be immense, effecting multitudes adversely. Donald Trump is the P.T. Barnum of the business world, losing more fortune than the gross domestic product of many nations in the world, only to make it back by selling his name for big bucks.
I do not fault the man for his fortunes lost and gained, but he has been a “snake oil salesmen” of the highest order, convincing people that they need what he can alone provide. In writing that last statement my mind hearkens back to the Republican National convention where, he stated he alone could fix the nations problems. This is hubris of the highest order, and it seems little has changed in him since that time. Lately, rank and file Christians have been leaving off support, as they have seen him begin to cozy up to the democratic party, and appear to walk back on some campaign promises.
All the while, many of the evangelical elite, still seek to defend. This must stop, for it is pathetic not prophetic. Have they become addicted to power? Do they actually believe that being in the presence of presidents will change that leaders’ political agenda, or that they will advance their Christian Utopian dream? That kind of “spiritual counsel” almost always bears little fruit. In the broader context, we Christians are not called to pick winners or sides. We are called to preach Christ, live holy, and pray for the souls of all men. It is for that vision we are willing to suffer, not some warped Christian Candy Land where the right politician approves the funds, resources and protection for our preferred life.
The word of God does speak of men who were close to national leaders. they were the prophets. The one prophetic book which seems to be most apt to me, during our current climate is the Book of Daniel. Daniel was close to a hot headed, invective spewing, brutal, arrogant, extremely rich, national leader, who liked to build golden things (sounds like someone we may have been speaking of). Nebuchadnezzar was not unaware of God, but not quite convinced of His sovereignty over him. In fact, the king acknowledged the Most High God more than a few times, yet He was not a follower. Daniel knew this, and was not enamored with being in the king’s presence. He had a purpose to tell the truth of God, and live the truth of God no matter the risk. He did!
Eventually, Nebuchadnezzar would acknowledge God as the only true God, but not until God humbled him, removing his kingdom and sanity from him. This account is written in Daniel 4:34-35, please read it for the turn around in this wicked king is remarkable.
Let us pray for evangelical leaders to be like Daniel, and not the cohort of suck-ups, “wise men” that surrounded Nebuchadnezzar. The United States of America needs a truly humbled and repentant president. The president needs to find the reality of the one true God for the sake of his own soul and that of his family. The church needs to come out from among them and be separated, for we have lost our prophetic voice. may God help us all.