Why evangelicals embraced Jan. 6 and the Big Lie

On Jan. 6, 2021, a large group of evangelical Christians attacked the U.S. Capitol on the understanding that they were fighting for God's president. (Not all of those who stormed the Capitol were driven by religious convictions, of course, but a large proportion were.) They were ready to kill for their president, take down a democratic system that has endured nearly 250 years, and follow Donald Trump at God's supposed direction until America became a Christian theocracy. As the House Jan. 6 committee concludes its investigation, I think the power and significance of these evangelical believers have been overlooked.

Most people now understand that the solid foundation of support for Trump is connected to evangelical theology, and that was never more clear than on that fateful day. The Jan. 6 committee has assigned itself the task of identifying those who are guilty of planning and inspiring this coup attempt, and while the former president was obviously the central figure, I would like to shift the committee's attention to prominent evangelical pastors. These religious leaders have enormous political and spiritual influence and in many cases have provided the moral authority that led their followers to work toward the overthrow of American democracy.

The cross was visible everywhere on Jan. 6. The Christian faith — at least as they understood it — was aflame in the hearts of most of the people who attacked the capitol. The hard and almost incomprehensible truth is that many of these people had never committed a single act of violence in their lives, and on that winter day found themselves chanting, "Hang Mike Pence," and actually ready to carry that out. That could not have happened without the sincere faith that God himself was supporting their actions.

Remember that Mike Pence is as devout an evangelical Christian as any politician in America. He is committed to evangelical theology in his personal life and his political career. And yet he became enemy No. 1 to a group of purported evangelical believers who viewed him as a traitorous criminal and became committed to murdering him. That could not have happened without the profound conviction that Trump was the ordained president chosen by the creator of the universe.

Faith in God can be dangerous, as both sincere believers and nonbelievers are aware. Faith is behind the oppressive nature of Iran's morality police. When you take people whose conscience, in any normal circumstance, would prevent them from committing a heinous or violent act and tell them, "This is for God," and their moral compass is pushed aside. Killing women for removing a garment from their heads — as has happened recently in the streets of Tehran — is literally insane. But for some people, if they become convinced they are following God's orders, it becomes possible to do it. Attacking the Capitol and seeking to hang Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi is equally insane. But a person who literally believes that God told them to do it suddenly becomes capable of evil deeds well beyond their previous experience.

I am an ordained minister and Bible-believing Christian, and I am also a firm believer in the separation of church and state. I want my faith far removed from the public school system, the Supreme Court, the White House and Congress. People in power who seek to force their religious beliefs onto the larger public are more dangerous than any group in America. Historically, combined political and religious leadership has proven to be capable of ruthless and unforgivable evil.

Of course secular laws are crucial, but if the assault on true religious freedom is to change, the response must come from within the Christian faith. Christian ministers must reject this evangelical political theology that is unswervingly loyal to Donald Trump. A new agenda based in the actual teachings of Jesus should be the centerpiece of Christian engagement with the public square. Such an agenda would be based on loving and welcoming the foreigner, healing the sick, serving the poor, standing up for peace and speaking the truth. True Christians would commit to serve the larger society as examples of grace, mercy, forgiveness and love. With such an internal reformation, perhaps the church can survive the theological pandemic that has almost destroyed both American democracy and the true Christian faith.

America is divided and broken — so is my church. Is there hope? Absolutely

It is easier to hate than to love. It is easier to cut someone off than to work on a relationship. This has never been more clear to me than in my own family this year. Suddenly people are not speaking with each other, vitriol is shared back and forth, and "I'm never talking to ..." has been uttered. It's crazy, and I believe my family is only a small reflection of the current state of this country. At the same time, I have also experienced tremendous unity, love and the good feelings of family this year. As I discuss the brokenness of my religious world in the evangelical church, I will share the unity that I have found all around me.

As I think about how to help my own family heal, I worry outwardly about my fellow evangelicals as this election approaches. I listened all last week to the Rev. Tony Evans speak about what he calls "Kingdom Politics." Evans is a big deal in evangelical circles and his message is absurdly and blatantly misleading. Evans leaves anything relating to the blue-collar, working-class values that I believe sustain this country out of his message. Listening to Evans preach this divisive doctrine, I realize that not only the evangelical leadership needs to be ignored but so do all the political talking heads, and most of our political leaders. We must start listening to each other — and being with each other.

My first unity story is about seeing my old high school football coach, a wonderful man with a wonderful family. He was turning 90 and many of his old players came to see him at a VFW hall. Coach was and is a unique individual. He's a former Navy SEAL who used to do push-ups on his fists at practice, and was both intimidating and incredibly kind at the same time. As a player you felt his love for you, and we loved him. As we gathered for his birthday we laughed together and shared stories of getting into trouble. We talked about our kids and the daily struggle of paying our bills. We talked about working hard and maintaining relationships. There was no politics, no division, just the unity of our shared experiences growing up in a blue-collar town. Of course there were political, class and racial division found within that VFW hall, but none of that was on display. Only the fellowship of sharing the difficult and wonderful parts of real life. That is the America we seem to have lost — and the America we can find again.

I'd like to issue a challenge to Tony Evans and his fellow evangelical candidates: Just back your chosen candidate — and start paying taxes. After all, Jesus told you to.

Pastor Evans seems intent on preventing that unity. He pretends not to favor a political party but then preaches about voting for the candidate who values "life" and "family" and, believe it or not, voting for a candidate who believes in more freedom and less regulation. He said that and still tried to claim that he favors neither party. People write me some pretty nasty emails in response to my articles in Salon, but at least I don't hide who I am. I'm also not trying to save my nonprofit status. I'd like to issue a challenge to the church, and especially to Pastor Evans and his fellow evangelical leaders: Just back your candidate — and start paying your taxes. It might mean you can't fuel your $12 million private jet this week, but I think you can afford it. Jesus did say, "Pay your taxes," as you may remember.

While Evans and the evangelicals divide us, real life brings many of us together. My second story is about visiting a church where I used to pastor, in Bristol, Rhode Island. It's a gorgeous old New England town, home to the oldest Fourth of July parade in the country. The families there are hard-working, good people, giving and kind. Their political views range from far right to far left to straight down the center. Yet there we all were, laughing and crying, and sharing about all the things happening in our lives. We remembered friends that have passed. We talked about people who are struggling, we talked about the joys and difficulties we find in our families. Love and unity are possible when we listen to each other and engage, work on what is similar and put aside what we find different, wrong and even evil about each other in favor of fellowship.

It's clear to me that evangelical leaders like Tony Evans would prefer division. They value nothing above their own fame, wealth and glory. Evans is currently offering a good deal on his new book (also called "Kingdom Politics"), but you need to act fast. He made it clear this past week that his followers had better buy the book before they accidentally vote for the wrong side and end up going to hell. That would suck.

I noticed some prominent issues missing from Evans' sermons last week. Not a word for the working class, for the poor, the sick, the foreigner, the prisoner or the importance of peace. Instead, it was all about deregulation and the importance of marriage between a man and a woman — assuming, of course, that the man and woman stick to their proper biblical roles. Any guesses what those roles are? Feel free to read my previous article about the evangelical ideals of sex and marriage. Spoiler alert: It's a sin for the wife to say no to sex with her husband. Sorry, ladies. Lastly, Evans made sure to mention that abortion is murder and that if you devalue unborn life during pregnancy, then God will devalue your life and the life of this country.

How in the hell can a country survive with divisive language like that? It is no wonder if liberals and progressives sometimes use divisive language themselves. We are not in a good place in this country.

Here's my last story: I recently had the pleasure of officiating my father's wedding. He and his lovely bride had a long journey before meeting each other. My father, a career plumber, has brought his knowledge and hard work to Haiti, to a few countries in Africa, to rural Mississippi and beyond. He has done nothing but work his tail off and help every person that has crossed his path and continues to do so in his 70s. He still works full-time and makes it to work every day by 5:15 a.m. His wife, a lifelong social worker, has brought her heart and love and service into every case she has come across. Those blue-collar values I was talking about have carried them through their entire life. She is also not retired at age 70. Here's a picture of my father and his wife on the day of their wedding, just after they got out of his pickup truck.

During the service they allowed me to share a brief message about love, family and the personal pathways that led them to each other. This was an emotional service, which ended up with an entire room of weeping people caught up in the idea of loving in all the shattered parts of who we are. I discussed how both of them had been broken by some of the most difficult things life has to offer. My father's bride is Jewish and to honor her tradition they broke the glass at the conclusion of the service and the room filled with people of all different faiths yelling out, "Mazeltov!" The glass is broken not to remember something good or glorious but to honor the Jewish temples that were destroyed. It is to remember the impermanence of life, of relationships, of family and even of love.

We are all broken, hurt, wounded and weak, yet we carry on. We still love, and if love fails we hope to love again. We still forgive, even those who will likely hurt us again. We still fight, even in a losing cause.

Some might think that's an odd thing to celebrate, but not me — and not anyone who has lost in this life. We are all broken, hurt, wounded and weak, yet we carry on. We still love, and if love fails we hope to love again. We still forgive, even those who will likely hurt us again. We still fight, even in a losing cause. We still serve each other, even if our service is not returned. Many are afraid to look at how broken they are, how broken their families and their country are. But not those of us who know that love, true love, is found in the brokenness.

This country, my family and certainly my Christian church are as broken as I have ever seen. That means it's the perfect time to come together and discover the truth. It is time to turn away from anyone who stands before a microphone to tell us how evil the other side of the political, religious and cultural divide is. It is time to come together, have a few drinks, share a meal, go on a date and make fellowship with people of all races, all faiths, all backgrounds. You might be surprised at what people say. We all have struggles in our families, our careers, our personal lives. We all struggle to finding our place, find our purpose. Perhaps we are broken and divided, but that does not mean we need to be separated. The truth of this country is found in our national motto: E pluribus unum, "Out of many, one." Nelson Mandela may have said it best: "It is not our diversity which divides us; it is not our ethnicity, or religion or culture that divides us. ... [T]here can only be one division amongst us: between those who cherish democracy and those who do not."

Understanding the Southern Baptist scandal: For evangelicals, women can't say no

The Southern Baptist Conference is under investigation by the Department of Justice due to numerous claims of egregious sexual abuse and sexual harassment within the denomination. Perhaps people wonder why there is such an overabundance of sexual misconduct of various kinds within evangelical circles. The truth is that many believers in Christ have struggled with what was right and wrong in regards to their genitalia. Is the creator of the universe worried about our private areas? For most conservative evangelical Christians, it is apparently all God thinks about. As an ordained and evangelically trained minister, I tend to disagree.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. — Ephesians 5

I can barely get through one week of evangelical radio where this scripture is not discussed. It is one of the evangelical community's favorites, and one believers often refer to when they discuss the downfall of American society. They contend that it all went to hell (almost literally) when women decided to be equal to men in the home. Then came Gloria Steinem, Geraldine Ferraro and eventually the ultimate devil herself, Hillary Clinton. These women represented the end of the American family and then the end of God's influence upon American society.

Submission to your husband is not simply a suggestion in the evangelical church, but a command put upon every married woman. This is no more clearly on display than in the sex life of an evangelical married couple. Simply put, a wife cannot refuse their husband when he wants to have sex. She is a sinner for refusing her husband and then can be held responsible for any sexual sin her husband may commit afterward. Naturally, with this being the basic mindset, accusations by women regarding sexual abuse or harassment seem ridiculous to the majority of conservative evangelical men.

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. — I Timothy 2

In the evangelical worldview, a woman must never appear to be in a place where she leads or holds authority over a man. Certainly women may teach children because that work is beneath men anyway. Somehow Biblical theology (in this reading) allows women to teach young boys but not older teenage boys or young adult men. A neat evangelical trick that allows men to neglect their children. Anyway, many evangelical churches enforce an actual age when it becomes inappropriate for a woman to teach a young man. I have heard the age prescribed as young as 13. Certainly by that age boys are taught that as men they are superior to all women. I would venture to guess that this becomes a problem in future relationships with women at work and school, at church and in romantic relationships and marriages.

I think this explains, in part, why so many evangelical Christians like Donald Trump so much. He doesn't like it when a woman says no to him either, or holds power over him in any way. He doesn't seem to like it when any woman has an opinion, wears a suit, doesn't show her boobs, has a brain and a career and, the greatest sin of all, disagrees with his opinion and tells him so. Well, to veer away from preacher-talk for a minute, fuck him and anyone else who sees women this way. The Bible mentions this submission thing for wives exactly once. You would think the whole Bible communicates this type of thing verse after verse and chapter after chapter, given the way evangelicals preach it every Sunday. The fact is, a few scattered Bible passages have provided these men with a supposedly godly and righteous to behave exactly as they would behave without the Bible. They just get to feel better about their abusive conduct this way.

As I understand it, the laws of the Bible were never meant to be used to control another group. They are meant as a guide to help everyone live a fulfilling and fruitful life.

"I have the right to do anything," you say — but not everything is beneficial. "I have the right to do anything" — but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. — I Corinthians 10

This scripture sounds more like God allows us to think a little and make our own decisions about what is right and wrong for ourselves as individuals. So what's with all the rules around our genitals? I would like to say to all those evangelical men to back off our junk, let love be love, and please stop sexually abusing and harassing your wives and the rest of the women in your lives.

When it comes to equality of men and women, there is always this piece of scripture most evangelicals would like to pretend doesn't exist.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. — Galatians 3

I guess God is nonbinary! That's cool. Jesus is woke, as we might say these days. Too bad many of his followers are closed-minded bigots.

This all comes back to control. Some seek control through shopping, having ideal families, having a big income and a guaranteed pension, having a luxurious house, traveling the world, an obsession with fitness. Some take a religion and use it to control an entire segment of society. But control never works. It is always short-lived, and so often leads to a tremendously unhealthy lifestyle. The evangelical church is no different. Controlling women physically, sexually, mentally and morally can only create unhealthy homes and families and an unhealthy society. Equality, freedom, opportunity, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness offer the only true path to a healthy society and a healthy home. Real control begins with letting go.

Do right-wing evangelicals really want a Christian nation? Hell no!

Perception is not reality. I know many people who are more obsessed with how they are perceived than with actually being the person they are claiming to be. The political world is no different. Many of today's evangelical Republicans desire the perception of wanting a "Christian nation," but without any intention of ever creating a truly Christian nation.

A genuinely Christian America would be forced to do some things that most evangelicals will never be on board with. Following the teachings of Christ would make certain demands upon our society that these evangelicals would vehemently fight against.

On immigration, the teachings of Jesus would demand that every foreigner residing in this country would be given citizenship. When I was a teacher, I remember one student who came in on a Monday morning and told the story of watching her uncle being dragged out of their car by INS officials. They never saw him again. This student was constantly scared that her father would just disappear in the same way. A Christian nation would never do such things, and instead would welcome all foreigners.

On health care, Jesus was clear about the importance of healing the sick, as is the rest of the Bible. I don't think he would ever turn anyone away for lack of money. I recently visited a friend of mine, a 70-year-old man who is physically disabled and currently lived in a nursing home that is understaffed and underfunded. My friend is regularly neglected while he and the rest of the patients live in filth and wait for death. It costs my friend $16,000 a month for that level of care. A Christian nation would never tolerate any of that.

It seemed that every other room at this nursing home had a sign outside the door that stated that the patient inside was a veteran. These men and women who served their country are now ignored and abandoned. A Christian nation would treat those who have served with love and tenderness. It would care for the sick and the elderly, and turn no one away.

When it comes to the military-industrial complex, to use President Eisenhower's famous phrase, I feel confident that Jesus would not be impressed with all these bombs, guns, missiles and tanks, or with the billions of dollars being spent so we can murder the so-called evildoers. A Christian nation would value peace as its first priority. Jesus spoke of turning the other cheek and loving our enemies. That is never an easy thing to manage, but I think it becomes much harder if you destroy an entire neighborhood with bombs in an effort to kill one supposed terrorist. A Christian nation would abhor violence. The Christian way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy without a gun.

On the educational system: I went to high school in a wealthy, largely white community. Almost everyone I graduated with now owns a home, has a good career and has done just as well as their parents. There was nothing so remarkable about my classmates, and they were certainly made their share of stupid mistakes. With their opportunity and privilege, however, they nearly all found relative success.

In my years experience working with first-generation and low-income students, I have seen tremendous disparities. Many of these students have been hard-working and highly engaged, with a keen awareness of social responsibility. One young man I had in class was working more than 40 hours a week, on overnight shifts, while trying to stay afloat in a poorly performing high school. His loyalty to his family, to his community and to the values of hard work that America supposedly cherishes will in all likelihood condemn him to a life of poverty and struggle. A Christian nation would be founded upon equality, and would never permit such unfairness.

In the justice system, as the Supreme Court and other federal judges hand down decisions that clearly treat people differently based on gender, sexual orientation, race and class, evangelicals who claim to want a Christian nation continue to fight on the side of the oppressors. A Christian nation would want a justice system based in compassion and mercy first of all.

Right-wing evangelicals claim to want a Christian nation, but continue to fight on the side of oppression, discrimination and inequality. A truly Christian nation would never tolerate those things.

I remember being in family court watching one person after another screwed over by an unequal and unfair judicial process. If a person could afford a lawyer, they generally won. If they did not, they always lost. Truth and justice were not relevant, only smoother legal arguments. I saw one woman who could barely speak English and came to court seeking to get her ex-husband to pay her child support. It was clear he had money, much of it off the books, and he also had a lawyer. Everyone in that courtroom could see that this woman was a caring mother, desperate for help. She lost her case. Whatever the arguments involved might be, a truly Christian nation would never allow such injustice to occur.

A Christian nation would hold that the entire society has responsibility for the elderly, the sick, the disabled and the poor. It would grant amnesty to all those who have come to this country in hope of a better life. It would demand peace, and extend mercy to all this country's enemies. It would demand equality in the education and justice systems, and extend special care to those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are persecuted and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, as Jesus put it in his most famous sermon.

But a Christian nation is not what these evangelical Republicans want. They, and especially their leaders, seek power, money and vengeance against anyone that stands in their way. If America's current health care system is killing people, then fine. If the justice system condemns the poor to prison and lets the rich walk free, then fine. If poor neighborhoods are plagued with violence and become traps nearly impossible to escape, then fine. These so-called Christians have no interest in equality of opportunity, in healing the sick, in welcoming the foreigner or in serving the poor. In other words, while conservative evangelicals may claim to want a Christian nation, they will do nothing to make that a reality. It's the last thing they want.

How evangelicals became such hypocrites

So who, what, why and how is an "evangelical"? I often forget after all my years of growing up in the church, going to an evangelical seminary and my work in ministry, that many or perhaps most Americans have little knowledge and understanding of the evangelical movement, the Christian faith and how it all connects to American culture and American politics. I would say that most Americans are frustrated at the disproportionate influence and political power that evangelical Christians hold. For some the frustration is more personal because of how they've been treated by the church types. Either way, this mysterious species — the evangelicals — seem to be a major problem in American society. As a trained evangelical, and an ordained minister, I would have to say I completely agree.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Who are these evangelicals? First off, their true ancestors are the Pharisees of the New Testament, whom Jesus describes as being obsessed with legalistic questions but neglecting "the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness." This is the primary group that had Jesus killed. Much like the Pharisees, today's American evangelicals do not represent the faith in any genuine way. They have done more damage to the name of Christianity than any group I can think of. Their misuse of the Christian faith as a political weapon against anyone they see as an enemy is driven primarily by greed and a thirst for power.

RELATED: Behind church doors: White evangelicals are quietly fueling Trump's Big Lie

The sheep who follow the most prominent evangelicals are also guilty of refusing to question these so-called leaders of the Christian faith. They should be measuring their pastor's words and deeds against the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Attending church does not mean we check our brains at the door.

What are these evangelicals? Currently and historically, they are nothing more than a political action committee. They have nothing to do with the foundations of the Christian faith. Their political agenda is based on hate, rejection, condemnation and self-righteousness. The biblical Pharisees, who were the enemies of Jesus, used their political connections to have him killed. In our own time, these new Pharisees use their enormous political influence to reject foreigners, deny health insurance to millions, judge the poor as lazy, refuse any and all regulation of deadly firearms and stand in opposition to equality of opportunity. In short, they stand side by side with the oppressors on virtually every issue.

Why are there evangelicals? As with the Pharisees of the time of Jesus, these evangelical leaders formed a group because their version of the faith was being pushed aside. The Pharisee movement arose during a time of perceived or actual moral decadence in the Roman Empire, which the evangelicals also believe is occurring today in America. Evangelicals panicked at the rise of the "social gospel" when it became the driving force behind the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and panicked further with the largely secular feminist movement and LGBTQ Pride movement. Evangelicals could see their power and influence waning and immediately went into action.

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In the last 40 years, America has provided enough political ammunition for these evangelicals to swing almost every election, dating back to Ronald Reagan in 1980. In that decade, AIDS was seen as God's judgment on the gay lifestyle, while cultural phenomena from Madonna to Howard Stern to hip-hop and increasingly open discussion of sexuality all became symbols of America's fatal decadence. In the '90s, evangelicals became obsessed with Bill Clinton's various scandals, TV shows that depicted gay characters or women who had abortions, and still more rap music (and video games). In the 20 years since then, evangelicals have fought a long battle to re-criminalize abortion (which they are winning), along with brand new issues like public bathrooms, health care for trans teenagers and how we teach about America's racial history or issues of sexuality in school. And then came their savior, in the form of Donald Trump, to solidify their hypocritical faith.

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!" says Jesus in Matthew 23. "On the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."

How are the evangelicals? As a believer myself in the Invisible Man in the Sky who is keeping score, I must admit that the church doesn't tend to draw in people who like to question things. As a result, when thousands of evangelical preachers push forward a message that has no basis in the most fundamental elements of the Christian faith, the sheep sometimes just say baaa. I believe that the most influential and most political pastors within the evangelical community, like Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress, deliberately pursue this misleading approach. They are enemies to the true message of Jesus — and to America.

RELATED: Evangelicals are teaching false doctrine. Who says so? Jesus Christ

Evangelical leaders are focused on making their followers feel righteous and good by pointing out others who they claim are visible and measurable enemies of God. In targeting abortion providers, the LGBTQ population and other unacceptable or "radical" forces, evangelical leaders have made billions of dollars, acquired political power out of all proportion to their numbers, and built massive churches with televised services and parking lots the size of football stadiums. None of these issues are actually based on the Christian faith or the Bible — indeed, many are directly contrary to it — but who cares about small details like that?

By targeting abortion, LGBTQ rights and other "radical" forces in society, evangelical leaders have made billions and acquired massive political clout. None of that is based on the Bible.

So now what? I'm not really sure. Exposing evangelical hypocrisy has been a crusade of mine since I listened to my first youth pastor say a lot of weird things about sex. He seemed a little too concerned with whether or not I masturbated or not. I was a 14-year-old boy feeling a little out of control at the time, so my answer remains private to this day. Either way, in the wake of its unholy union with Donald Trump, I'm afraid that it is too late to save the evangelical church. Their leaders have sold what remained of their souls for one last shot at political power. Among the few who do not support Trump publicly, most would probably still vote for him if he runs for president again.

History teaches me that in time, these people will lose. I remind myself of the millions among the faithful who still believe in welcoming the foreigner, healing the sick, serving the poor and fighting the oppressors. I am mostly grateful that I am not alone in my faith and philosophy. It's just that most of my brothers and sisters who share my most important views don't go to church anymore. Many don't believe in God. I'm all right with that. Those have always been my favorite people anyway — and as Jesus says, those are not the most important "matters of the law."

Some evangelicals claim Ukraine war means the end times — as usual, they're wrong

I remember a time when Barack Obama was seen as a possible Antichrist. Before that, it was Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the '80s. For those just catching up, the Antichrist is a diabolical figure who will unite the world against Christians and rule for a time. Don't worry, the story has a happy ending: Christ eventually returns and kicks the Antichrist's ass, like in a theological action movie. Either way, many Christians long for the return of Christ, along with the Rapture of the faithful and — perhaps most important — the suffering of those who have rejected Christ.

This article first appeared at Salon.

Right now, many evangelicals are ramping up their teachings about the end of the world. They can barely contain their excitement: Soon the people who have mocked their faith, changed the definition of marriage, given women the right to choose and supported feminism will finally be punished by God. The current war in Ukraine, for some of these supposedly devout Christians, yet another Biblical prophecy realized.

I have a family member who is part of an end-of-the-world Christian cult. They have lots of guns and own a lot of land, and they believe they can survive there for as long as the apocalypse lasts. I am pretty sure some of the older leaders in that group have even taken on a few concubines to "preserve the church."

RELATED: Evangelicals are teaching false doctrine. Who says so? Jesus Christ

For every fringe group like the one found in my family, there are the evangelical ministers who have broader appeal that have inspired the lunatics. Recently I communicated with historian and author Martyn Whittock about his latest book, "The End Times, Again? 2000 Years of Use & Misuse of Biblical Prophecy." Throughout his book, he argues with great clarity that these misguided discussions around Biblical prophecy are nothing new, but remain deeply dangerous, especially when mixed with the current political discourse. He makes the fascinating point that end-times beliefs used to be associated with radical politics, but more recently have become a tool of the far right:

End-times reflections have increasingly become associated with the outlook of the evangelical right in the USA; and this has influenced the political flavor of such views when adopted by those globally, who are influenced by US evangelical culture. This rightward political shift is highly significant and in direct contrast with the way that eschatological beliefs in periods of the past have been associated with political radicalism.

This apocalyptic pull has allowed the evangelical leadership to dominate the religious political landscape, far out of proportion to the actual number of evangelical believers. This has driven too many of their followers down a path that relinquishes any sense of responsibility to the current generation. Healing the sick, welcoming the foreigner and serving the poor are set aside, in favor of a so-called religious war for the soul of God's creation.

This movement toward the end of days isn't limited to American culture and politics. As Whittock suggests, it is prominent in the U.K. as well:

From the US nationalism that has characterized the evangelical right in alliance with Donald Trump, to the UK Christian Brexit-nationalists denouncing the EU, eschatology has become the preserve of many who wish to promote nationalism and conservatism, oppose international commitments and supranational organizations, and resist aspects of modernity as varied as credit cards, vaccination, gun control legislation, and action on climate change. It has become, for many, a component part of a besieged outlook that pits them against disconcerting aspects of the modern world and expects justification in the form of future catastrophe — from which they will be rescued, while those left behind will suffer tribulation.

The Biblical perspective on all this has also been misunderstood. The people who followed Jesus Christ in his own time believed he would destroy the temple, become some kind of political leader and start a revolution against Roman rule. That was why he was charged with sedition and crucified. Jesus was none of those things, however, as his teachings clearly reflect.

The faithful misunderstood Jesus during his lifetime; they misunderstand him now. Some theologians believe that the Book of Revelation — from which most doctrines about the Antichrist are drawn — was actually written in code as a set of warnings to Christians about the Roman Emperor Nero. He was hunting Christians down at the time the letter was written, and John's imagery was attempting a form of clandestine communication. Discussions about the Antichrist have also been interpreted as words of caution about a certain dangerous type of all-too-human leader, not about some mythological figure with supernatural powers taking over the world. After all, human history has seen many such leaders who come into power and then use that power to kill and destroy, and even more specifically to wage some form of genocidal murder.

A few years ago, the leading evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress made this comment about then-President Obama while promoting another one of his highly profitable books: "What I am saying is this: the course [Obama] is choosing to lead our nation is paving the way for the future reign of the Antichrist." You must understand that Obama, for many evangelicals, was an ideal fit for the role of Antichrist. In their minds, he was not a real Christian, he endorsed gay marriage, he pushed forward government health insurance — which for some reason is evil — he defended Islam (even setting aside those Christians who believed Obama actually was a Muslim) and he was a leader who inspired great unity. It is of course pure lunacy to see those things as profoundly evil, but there we are.

My bold prediction is that this moment, although certainly a dangerous time in human history, is not the end of the world either. Every single minister who has predicted the return of Jesus has been wrong for 2,000 years, and this generation is no different. I believe we should all stop looking to supernatural forces for answers and start looking within. If I had any significant influence among Christians, I would argue that this a time to put aside concerns about the end of the world and visions of the hereafter, and get back to loving your neighbor.

I'm an evangelical minister: Christian nationalism is a bizarre, misogynist fantasy — and totally un-Christian

During my time as a boy attending an evangelical church and then later, when I attended an evangelical seminary, it was hard not to notice an underlying misogyny that seemed consistently present. As a man, I would be the head of the household. I was like Christ to my future wife. In fact, I once heard a sermon by prominent evangelical minister Tony Evans where he declared that wives must refer to their husbands as "Lord." In my church youth groups, we were separated by sex and the boys had bizarre discussions on the type of men we should become. There was a strong emphasis on being what they considered to be manly and tough, whereas young girls, of course, were encouraged to be nurturing, submissive and, most important, sexually pure.

When contemporary evangelical leaders push a message around Christian nationalism, I can promise you it always refers back to a time when the "traditional" roles of American households held fast. Making America "great again" is truly about bringing back a time when women were subject to their husbands' wills and whims, and the husbands were lords of the house.

Someone recently wrote to me, in response to one of my previous articles, wondering why so many evangelicals chose Donald Trump, a vulgar misogynist who shows no understanding of any element of the Christian faith, over other candidates who were much closer to the evangelical movement. The difficult answer is that most evangelical men long for the days when misogyny was cool, when women were under the thumb of their husbands and sexual harassment was almost universally accepted. Trump exemplified that approach — and a great many evangelicals loved him for it. Trump remains the favorite of the evangelicals not because any commitment to Christ or the Christian way of life — since he has none — but because of the widespread desire among evangelicals to take back control over their lives, and their wives. One of the major ways this has been expressed lately is through the ideology known as Christian nationalism.

As I understand it, Christian nationalism is an idea now widely accepted within the evangelical church that the U.S. is a Christian nation founded upon Christian principles — no matter what it may say in the Constitution. This commitment to the Christian faith, as a nation, is the reason God blessed the U.S. as the greatest nation that ever existed. God will only continue to bless this nation, however, as long as it remains a Christian nation. As America becomes more progressive and increasingly secular in terms of politics, culture and faith, then in this view God will remove his blessing and protection and great evils will befall our nation.

This remarkable theory has no connection to any of the teachings of Jesus Christ or his followers, and is completely irrelevant to the Christian faith. I will certainly admit that I have a heart for American idealism. I have officiated at numerous Veterans Day and Memorial Day services, and I have felt the love of country enormously, on those days and all the days in between. None of that, however, has anything to do with Christianity. God does not play favorites when it comes to nations, people or cultures. That entire idea is morally and theologically absurd.

In truth, Christian nationalism is based not in the Bible or the teachings of Jesus Christ, but on the idea of the traditional American family. As roles for women have changed, as divorce becomes more common, as same-sex marriage gains a firmer footing, and now with the movement for transgender rights and visibility becoming more public, the panic of the Christian nationalists becomes ever more desperate. This is where all that rage among evangelicals is coming from. Understand, most people are motivated politically based on how they perceive policy decisions affecting their day-to-day life. Nothing affects our lives more than what is happening to our families. When things fall apart at home, it can feel helpful — even if it's not healthy — to blame someone or something besides ourselves. For myself, I know that all my personal failures are mine alone. I can't blame MTV or Eminem or the LGBTQI population, the evangelical church, Trump, Biden, Obama, my mom, my dad or anyone else. The problem is in the mirror, as it is for everyone. Any effort to pass that blame along to others is quite human, and quite wrong.

My final point on Christian nationalism is around all the macho tough-guy stuff that seems to be on the lips of every right-wing leader. Being "tough" seems to be the only thing conservative commentators and evangelical leaders care about. Trump is supposedly the epitome of that and his little posse loves him for it. I won't pretend to understand it. After I graduated middle school, being tough just didn't seem that important. But for people like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Jerry Falwell Jr. (before his fall) and of course Trump himself, it's important to keep pretending that they are a bunch of tough guys, even though they also claim to stand with Jesus Christ, a humble, meek and homeless teacher.

I'm no tough guy but I am happy to offer a challenge to any of these fake tough guys. Debate me anywhere, anytime. I am truly blue-collar, a member of the American working class. I am a Bible-believing minister and a flaming liberal. I believe that the Christian nationalist message comes from the devil himself. I am trying to save the name of the Christian faith and to stand up for American idealism. I oppose every part of the hypocritical, fake-populist agenda of the Christian nationalists and their enablers. I double-dog dare any of them, here and now, to stand up and take me on in public debate. Odds are they never will.

What would Jesus actually do? He'd never give up on the 'deplorables'

As a Christian and former evangelical pastor who strongly opposes Donald Trump and the current leadership of the evangelical movement, I believe this: The blueprint for stopping them can be found in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, who devoted himself to strengthening the downtrodden and exposing the evils of religious leadership. With many political experts predicting a pretty bad performance for the Democrats in 2022, and the possible or probable return of Trump two years later, it's a dangerous time. I think that would be bad thing for this country, very bad for the Christian faith and very, very bad for anyone on the wrong side of advantage in America.

This article first appeared in Salon.

If we look at the life of Christ, the central message was clear. Attacking Caesar and Rome — or, today, attacking Trump or anyone else who wields power — is not the path. The answer lies within the people that the church has typically ignored, while revealing the hypocrisy of the leadership and expose the modern-day Pharisees, a role now being played by evangelical leadership.

I must admit, as a side note, that my faith in the Democratic Party is not strong. I believe we need more political parties in the U.S., as that large corporations seem to be controlling everything from a celebrity's voice to the news media to politicians of both parties, the health care industry, the justice system and also, most certainly, the church. It often feels like too much to take on, and truly living a life of integrity has become more and more difficult. What I do see clearly is that Trump's form of leadership is dangerous for America. Stopping him is by no means the end of the battle, but it's a start.

RELATED: How Christian nationalism drove the insurrection: A religious history of Jan. 6

To start off with, I think the tactic of attacking Trump and his followers is a mistake that only makes him and his movement stronger. Calling his followers a basket of "deplorables" only encourages many more people to jump into the basket. Hell, when I heard that comment from Hillary Clinton back in 2016, I felt much more "deplorable" than not. I not only voted for Clinton against Trump, I believe she would have been a more effective president than her husband, and perhaps than Barack Obama. But the language of the downtrodden is the language of humility, and an understanding that we have failed in life in ways that makes us feel more deplorable than not. Trump was unapologetically deplorable and that felt good for the millions of Americans who have lost a hundred times over in their lives. So stop that approach, because it's not working.

I want to be clear that I am not talking about reaching a certain type of Trump follower. I'm not quite that naive. For instance, during my last haircut I was advised to watch out for the Nazis who were trying to check my vaccination status. After a remarkable conversation not based on any understanding of history or anything logical, I can only conclude that person is unreachable. There are millions of others who are simply too far gone, lost in a system of control and manipulation. But those people do not represent all Trump voters any more than my liberal neighbors in Cambridge, Massachusetts, speak for all Democrats.

In the ministry of Jesus, his church and message welcomed all who were willing to improve themselves through humility, forgiveness and grace. It did not matter what was happening in their life, how much or little they owned, what sins they had committed in their life or what their social station might be. His followers until that time had no agency, no voice, no acceptance. In a sense, that is how liberal or progressive leaders should approach these next two years. Learn the stories of all those who have struggled with the American dream. Provide them a voice, embrace them as brothers and sisters, and show them a path that leads to their own success, whether materially, spiritually or otherwise. Do not speak from a place of arrogance, success and superior knowledge but a place of humility and empathy.

In the ministry of Jesus it was equally important to show the great divide between the religious leadership and the needs of their followers. The Pharisees presented themselves as the arbiters of God's justice and as people of purity and goodness, while hoping to shield their misdeeds and hypocrisy in darkness. Things are much the same today: Nothing the evangelical leaders do is for their followers. They only seek to lift themselves up, and to be seen as both righteous and powerful. They have set themselves up as the gatekeepers to God's love, but in the words of Matthew 23, they have neglected "justice and mercy and faithfulness" and they serve the devil, making their followers "twice as much the children of hell" as they are.

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In truth, I am no one and I am everyone. I am a liberal, a deplorable, a minister, a father. I am alone and a failure. In the end I am just a man with two coat hangers, trying to solve a problem much bigger than I am capable of solving. About a year ago, I was locked out of my car at night, in the winter, in a state park with a closed gate, a dying phone and no coat. AAA turned me down, and the cops wouldn't open the gate. I had to run four miles back to my car, with no way of reaching anyone and with nothing more than two coat hangers, in an attempt to break into my car and get out of my jam.

My best friend and soulmate, who has asthma and is massively allergic to dogs, was stuck in a car with my mom, who has a dog and wasn't wearing her mask correctly. I needed to solve this issue with my two coat hangers and no phone signal. My friend was worried about me and told my mom, "Listen, Nate will die out there. He will not give up." She knew me well. That struggling, relentless part of me is a part of every working person in this country. None of us quit. We keep fighting, in spite of the structures that let us down, in spite of the God that seems to ignore us and in spite of our own personal failings, armed with our two coat hangers and the hope — or the faith — that somehow we will find our way through.

I say all this because I want those people who have power, voice and agency not to give up on the "deplorables." This country is heading in the wrong direction and the only way through is to look to a very old formula: one that goes back 2,000 years or so: Expose the hypocrisy of the religious leadership, lift up the downtrodden and reclaim the American dream. Our nation's "greatness" is not found on a slogan, at a fancy hotel or on an exclusive golf course. It is not found in the top circles of the news media, the deep pockets of the Hollywood elites or in any political party. It is certainly not found in the church. It is found with the people who understand what it is like to take on some of life's most difficult problems with a couple of coat hangers, your strength of will and a little hope.

'Tis the season, once again: Evangelicals must save Christmas from an imaginary enemy

Here comes my favorite season of the evangelical political calendar. It's time for the righteous war to save Christmas from the evil progressives with their "Happy Holidays" and their zero-tolerance policy for nativity scenes. Those heartless liberals will attempt once again to destroy the true meaning of Christmas, burn down all the Christmas trees (not just the one outside the Fox News building), spell it as "Xmas" and generally rip all mention of God from this holiest of holidays.

This article first appeared on Salon.

No of course I don't believe any of that, despite my personal background as an evangelical pastor. In truth, this yet another political and cultural issue that has been created entirely out of whole cloth by the great distaction agents of the evangelical Republican machine. I believe this issue perfectly illustrates the blueprint behind the evangelical approach to politics. They start with a fake issue that requires no grounding in scripture, zero biblical evidence and zero change for anyone within their own group. It is easily identifiable and pushes emotional buttons, which makes it an easy money-raising grift for politicians and pastors, and reliably provides a seasonal ratings boost for Fox News. It's another issue where evangelicals get to pretend they are fighting for God's cause while in fact ignoring every issue that affects God's people. Lastly, they get to declare victory every year because, no matter what Donald Trump and any number of leading evangelicals may claim, there never was a war on Christmas conducted by liberals, atheists, Muslims, Jews, godless Communists and other infidels.

The idea that somehow Christ's birthday — which definitely wasn't on Dec. 25, by the way — requires any form of annual celebration has no connection to Christ, his teachings or the Bible. I cannot even figure out what aspect of the "traditional" Christmas celebration has anything to do with Jesus. The madhouse shopping (both online and in person), the tree, the lights, the tinsel, the consumerist orgy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday and whatever other special days the marketing people can come up with this holiday season is a celebration of everything that money can purchase, and has literally nothing to do with the ministry of Jesus. Last I heard, according to Christian theology you cannot serve both God and money, and far too many are trying to do just that during the Christmas season — and for that matter all year round. Christ was removed from the Christmas season a long time ago, no matter what you call the holiday.

RELATED: Meghan McCain suggests Fox Christmas tree arson attack is worse than GOP's assault on democracy

No issue better exemplifies the misdeeds of the evangelical political machine than the fight to "save" Christmas from imaginary enemies who are supposedly trying to crush the joy out of the holiday with too much wokeness (or whatever). The enemy is said to be everywhere, yet somehow the fight is easily winnable. You will hear a handful of folks who announce, "I proudly say Merry Christmas," as if some committee of socialists or feminists were trying to prevent them from saying it. It is difficult for me to imagine Jesus Christ walking around an American town saying, "Hey, where's my nativity scene?" It's easier for me to imagine Jesus wondering why this country so many people claim is a "Christian nation" can ignore the plight of the poor, the sick and those newly arrived among us.

Fighting the war on Christmas also allows the evangelical movement to ignore larger issues that plague millions of Americans during this time of year. The Christmas season is known pose specific difficulties for homeless veterans, for people without health insurance, for those who are struggling to get by, and for the sick, lonely and desperate. If I'm not mistaken, those are the people Christ called his followers to serve — but fighting to save Christmas from the liberals allows the evangelicals to ignore that urgent call.

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The annual declaration of victory is my favorite hypocritical element of this ritual war. At one point some years ago, former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly declared he had personally won this fight, saving Christmas for all real Americans. There could hardly be a better example of everything that is wrong with this movement: O'Reilly got his followers worked up about saving Christmas, while in his own life he was sexually harassing numerous women he worked with. That's very much like the evangelical movement: Find an issue to draw attention away from what you're doing in secret, very likely being acts of cruelty, oppression and ignorance. Victory is easily declared because there was no fight, except in the overheated evangelical imagination. Christmas always comes around every year and fake victory follows, along with great ratings for Fox News, fundraising for sanctimonious Republicans and big money flowing into evangelical churches.

So, yes, for the next few weeks the battle will be joined again, and evangelical believers will once again be told the fight is difficult — but in the end (spoiler alert!) Christmas will be saved yet again. In truth, nothing much will occur to make this holiday season different: We will see no new laws enacted to help those in need, heal the sick, welcome the foreigner and serve the poor. But at least we get to say "Merry Christmas" — which of course we always did — and somehow that will make up for all our lost opportunities to make real change in Christ's name.

I don't begrudge anyone the "Christmas spirit." But as I said earlier, nothing about our current Christmas culture has anything to do with Jesus, no matter what we may call the season. The life of Christ had nothing to do with decorated fir trees, expensive electronic gadgets or ugly sweaters. Maybe we could say it had something to do with giving and receiving gifts — but not in the literal or material sense. If we were truly to celebrate the ministry of Jesus in America, that would mean a celebration of sacrifice, mercy, forgiveness and humility. We're a pretty long way from that right now.

Now evangelicals want to depict 'social justice' as un-Christian

Like so many people in the working poor, I have lost a lot more than I have won in this life. I have been laid off four times. I have lost a house and a car. I owe more on my student loans at 45 than I did at 25. Like millions of others in the working class, I have never stopped working — I've done every job you can imagine and I will continue to fight for a better life for my daughters, and my working-class brothers and sisters until my last breath. As an ordained minister trained at an evangelical seminary, I find that motivation to fight for the least of these within what is called the "social justice gospel." In recent years, however, that gospel has been twisted by the evangelical Republican machine, which now seeks to instill the belief that social justice is the gospel of godless socialism and communism.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Over the last few years, the evangelical movement has gone to great lengths to vilify any message coming out of any church that connects with the social justice movement. In a brief statement widely circulated in the evangelical world, prominent Christian leaders and pastors have claimed that the social justice movement is a danger to Christians, "an onslaught of dangerous and false teachings that threaten the gospel, misrepresent Scripture, and lead people away from the grace of God in Jesus Christ."

The problem for evangelicals is that the Bible is quite clear around the issues connected to social justice. Ignoring these issues requires completely ignoring the teachings of Jesus. It is fascinating to me, in a grim way, that the very people who claim to be holding onto the true form of Christian faith are in fact committed to destroying it.

Connecting the social justice agenda to socialism is an intentional lie — although of course it's true that Christians can be socialists, and vice versa. The Christian faith pushes its followers to fight for equality of opportunity, and teaches a belief in the possibility for every individual to be better, if given the chance. Our faith calls for providing every human being a chance to succeed while offering the basic need of forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love.

No one exemplified this calling more than a dear friend of mine who died a couple weeks ago. Her name was Gale Hull, and she created the finest example of a mission organization I have ever come across. Her organization, Partners in Development, started its work in Haiti and brought its mission to Guatemala, Peru and rural Mississippi. Her beautiful idea of "whole-person change" provided the opportunity for thousands to have a better life and inspired thousands more to be better people.

Gale understood that people needed an opportunity. Through a mortgage program, micro-business loans, child sponsorship and free medical care, families thrived. People within the program pay for their own homes with money they earn from their own businesses while having their basic needs of education and health met. That is the type of social justice that lies at the foundation of the Christian faith.

I have worked as a career and life coach for first-generation immigrants and low-income folks for more than 20 years, and I can say with authority that most people just want an opportunity to succeed. The people I have worked with desire an opportunity to earn their keep, provide for their family and, most important of all, the chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

How is it that using the Christian faith to serve the poor, heal the sick and welcome the foreigner is destroying America — in the minds of far too many evangelicals — but manipulating the Christian faith to condemn women as murderers and condemn LGBTQ people to hell is somehow proper Biblical teaching?

These political distortions within the evangelical movement are far advanced, and will be difficult to overcome. I still want people to understand that hateful and judgmental language has nothing to do with the core of Christian faith and everything to do with false evangelical hypocrisy. The truth is that the Christian faith should be used as a shield for the oppressed and a sword against the oppressors. The working poor have been completely ignored by the evangelical movement and it's time for people of good faith to find themselves some new leaders. Preferably among people who want to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, not the teachings of Donald Trump.

There are millions of people in the U.S. who remain in the working class, struggling to make a living and pull ourselves up just a little. We will continue to work our tails off. We manage your buildings, install your toilets, build and clean your homes, deliver your packages, teach your children, bag your groceries, serve your food and do the rest of the grunt work no one else wants to do. Many within the working class will keep fighting for the American dream, and will keep on losing a lot more than they win. Some of their dreams will be lived out by their children, and too many will not. But the fight never ends. My dream is that people of faith and people of conscience, especially if they have voice, power and influence in our society, will begin to align with the idea of equality of opportunity. That would be doing God's work for real.

When American 'Christians' turn away the Haitian people, they turn away from Jesus Christ

Loving thy neighbor and serving the poor are the foundations of what it means to be a faithful Christian. For more than and 200 years, this "Christian nation" has failed in that calling. Back when Haiti gained independence from the French in 1804, John Adams wanted to recognize Haiti as an independent country. He hoped to open trade with the newly formed government, but Thomas Jefferson refused, out of fear that American slaves would start to see themselves as equal. In the modern era, any new immigration laws created either by Democrats or Republicans over the last 50 years always finds a way to ignore the needs and requests of the Haitian people. Apparently, Haiti is too poor and too Black for America to love and to serve. The church has failed Haiti, the politicians have failed Haiti and America has failed Haiti.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Somewhere along the line in American Christianity, loving thy neighbor became loving ourselves, and serving the poor became the conviction that the poor get what they deserve. I hear it all the time. It is found in every level of our culture, in our books, our movies, in politics and certainly in the church.

"Blessed are the poor." That's the opening phrase of the Sermon on the Mount, and also of the sermon I gave in Cité Soleil, Haiti, in 2001. This was in a tiny church, in an upper-story room, and I had no prior knowledge I would even be preaching. It is a message that everyone in that room completely understood — and one that has remained a complete mystery to the American church. In America, those that have are blessed, and those that are blessed, have. In God's kingdom, however, the first are last, the cursed are rich and the blessed are poor.

The sermon continues with, "blessed are those who mourn," a phrase that was all too familiar for the Haitian people in that room. Death and loss is all around these amazingly resilient people. Their faith never wanes, their smiles never cease and their sense of God's blessing always remains. In America, where we have so much, our faith is limited, our smiles are infrequent and our sense of self-worth is minimal.

"Blessed are the meek"? Seriously, is anyone in the U.S. willing to embrace such a phrase? Those of us who have been put upon and forced to submit understand this phrase well. None of us enjoy the experience, but Christ believed the earth was ours. I can say that the Haitian people in that church that day knew this phrase well and their screams of "Amen" began to get louder. If there is such a thing as the Holy Spirit, then that small upper-room church in the poorest city in the Western Hemisphere was filled with it more powerfully than I have felt at any other moment in my life.

The sermon continues with blessings for those who hunger for justice, for those who show mercy and for the peacemakers. It was as if Jesus spoke these words specifically for the Haitian people. American evangelicals have attempted to reclaim that passage, but in their hearts they know those words are not for them. This is why evangelicals try to focus their attention on words that Christ never spoke — because he never once spoke about the values of current American white evangelicals. But with every phrase I spoke that day in that small upper-room church, the amens grew louder and louder.

And then I got to this phrase: "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness." The man who interpreted my sermon into Creole preached as if we had worked together for years, despite the fact that we had never met before and have never met since then. After I spoke these words from Christ I asked the church, "Have you not been persecuted?" Once my Haitian preaching partner repeated my words, the church exploded with the loudest and most passionate "Amen" I have ever heard. I was surprised the roof hadn't been blown off. That is still the most powerful moment I have experienced in all my years of ministry. The Haitian people knew that Jesus was speaking to them. They were seen and heard and loved, and their reward was to come.

As I watch Haitians being turned away at the Mexican border with such disdain and violence, I remember my time in Haiti. I remember the words of my savior in Christ. I remember the calling upon all Christians and the calling upon what some people try to call a Christian nation. We are lost today in the United States, in desperate need of a better understanding of what it means to be a member of a community. We are selfish, self-obsessed, isolated, hateful, greedy and lacking in empathy for anyone who is not experiencing our own painful path.

The Haitian people have very little but they know what it means to have faith. They understand community, they understand family, sacrifice, suffering, defeat, mercy, grace, love and forgiveness. These are the elements we are missing, and when we turn these people away at the border we turn our backs on what it means to be human. For supposed people of faith, to reject the Haitian people is to reject Christ. This could mean, if you believe in such things, that our lack of mercy will be applied against us when we look for entry into the kingdom of heaven. It certainly means we are lost and unhappy here on earth. The U.S. has so much potential and so much possibility to show love, grace and mercy. If we are to survive this trying time in our nation's history, we must look to those who already have these traits and try to live accordingly.

Evangelical theology is what made the Texas abortion outrage possible

During my undergrad years at U Mass Dartmouth I had the great privilege of being mentored by Dr Juli Parker, who was director of the Women's center, now called the Center for Women, Gender, and Sexuality. It was there, more than 20 years ago, that I was shown a small piece of what so many women face in this country. As the only football player volunteer at the center, I observed two very different worlds. The football locker room, with men saying some pretty awful things, and Dr Parker explaining the truth around sexual assault, abortion rights and the regular fight for equality that women face every day.

This article first appeared in Salon.

I felt a strong calling to ministry and I attended seminary, which, oddly enough, was an environment that sounded a little like the football locker room. I was hoping to change minds within the evangelical church. I failed, and 20 years later the evangelical church is stronger and more committed to prohibiting women the most basic right to decide what happens to their own bodies.

Evangelicals won a great and terrible victory with the recent Texas abortion law, but the plan was started more than 50 years ago. Millions if not billions of dollars have spent, and hundreds if not thousands of Republican politicians have come along as supporters, and the goal has been achieved: Tearing down Roe v. Wade. The plan was basic enough: Pack the Supreme court with enough judges who would be willing to ignore the rights of women. To do this, the evangelical church needed to support any politician who was willing to condemn abortion as murder, and willing to promise they would appoint anti-abortion judges.

And when I say evangelicals were willing to support anyone who said those things, I mean anyone. That means Clarence Thomas, a man credibly accused of sexual harassment. It means Brett Kavanaugh, a man credibly accused of attempted rape, as well as of being too unstable for a post on the Supreme Court. It means supporting Donald Trump, a pig who has been accused of sexual assault by numerous women. Nothing could stop evangelical support for Republican politicians, as long as they were willing to attack Roe v. Wade.

Defending things like the rights of the poor, welcoming the foreigner, healing the sick and promoting peace were all ignored for this one purpose. Now the evangelicals have won what I hope is a temporary victory, but a terrible victory nonetheless. In the words of Christ, "You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!" These modern-day hypocrites have won a victory for themselves while ignoring everything it means to be a follower of Christ. I am disgusted. If Christ did return, it would be these evangelicals who would hang him on the cross again. They are the evil that Christ warned his followers about long ago.

Their unhealthy teachings have hurt this country's progress towards equality and manipulated generations of Christians. Their influence has been harmful all along, but this is different. The law has changed, and I can promise you that in church after church, congregations are gathering to celebrate this "victory" on abortion rights in Texas. And Texas is just the beginning. More states will follow this blueprint, and the Supreme Court appears willing to turn a blind eye to the rights of women.

Evangelicals are celebrating with no concern for the lives this law will affect or the message it communicates. This isn't just Trump saying another stupid thing, or an offensive proposal, or another display of ignorance on display. This is an enacted law denying the rights of women to control their own bodies — and it was dreamed up and strategized by the evangelical church. Without evangelical theology this entire thing would be a non-issue.

Evangelical churches certainly aren't fighting to make their believers take the COVID vaccine. Pastors are adamant that this is a free country and we can all determine what happens to our own bodies. Unless, of course, you are a woman, in which case the church stops talking about fundamental American rights.

Whether I watch Fox News or CNN, everyone agrees that the Taliban's severe crackdown on the rights of women in Afghanistan is a terrible thing. The U.S. promotes itself as a democracy not a theocracy like the Taliban regime. I understand that evangelicals will see this comparison as unfair, but it is still a matter of people of faith using that faith to limit the rights of a group of people, using the strong arm of government.

I have no words of affirmation as I would normally when discussing other political and religious issues. These evangelicals have simply gone too far. I feel compelled to encourage those outside the evangelical church to stay away from it. If you are caught up in that mess, get out. Leaders of the evangelical church are blind guides leading you into the devil's trap. I thank God for a guide like Dr. Parker and her years of commitment to the fights that need to fought. I try to honor the time she spent with me by doing what I can to change some minds, and through them perhaps some. Politics is not my expertise, but my advice to President Biden is simple: Pack the court! Never mind precedent and tradition, or how it looks to your enemies. Just do the work to protect your nation's citizens.

Evangelicals, science and the vaccine: Refusal is built on deep-seated fear

When my daughters were coming of age I never prevented any book from being on our shelves. Any book or any topic they wanted to read about or discuss, I made sure I provided for them. I don't believe in editing information from my daughters, from the churches where I served as an evangelical pastor, from my students or from my family and friends. I never understood when people were unwilling to engage with material that threatened their own point of view. Unfortunately for my fellow Christians, this is a major part of church history and the current Christian culture. This close-minded approach has been on full display during this pandemic of the unvaccinated.

This article first appeared on Salon.

From Darwin to COVID the church has been wrong. It's really about fear among the Christian faithful when they turn away from science. Even scientific theory is dismissed out of hand by the church because of a fear that somehow science will prove that God does not exist. As the pandemic spreads from one church to another and global warming continues to be ignored by the evangelical movement, it is clear that practitioners of the current Christian faith have not evolved from their ancestors who condemned Galileo and Darwin.

This is why it has been so difficult to get evangelicals to accept things proven by the scientific community. You have probably noticed that many Republicans still will not confirm that climate change is even a thing. They almost certainly know better but are spineless, too afraid to alienate their hardcore Christian constituency, despite the clear ignorance behind the evangelical understanding of the climate crisis.

As I said, this is about fear. Understand that for many people of faith it has become very challenging to hold onto that faith. Christians are asked to believe in an invisible being in the sky who keeps score of all our sins, and in the literal truth of a giant book put together over thousands of years that describes people rising from the dead, seas parting and water becoming wine. Because of this intense insecurity, which they cannot admit, some Christians cannot tolerate any information that weakens the case for the existence of God. (The more liberal Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church have made some progress in this area, although even there the relationship to science remains uneasy.) When science becomes the enemy, something like a vaccine cannot be trusted — because it was created by the same people that are trying to destroy God.

If Darwin is correct, then Adam and Eve never existed. If Adam and Eve never existed, then the lineage from Adam to King David (of David and Goliath fame), and then to Jesus Christ must be questioned. Many Christians simply do not want to ask those difficult and complicated questions. If dinosaurs were real (I know it is not if — just bear with me) then God never created anything in six days and then rested on the seventh. Science has proven that the earth is a few billion years old, instead of just a few thousand years old as the Bible would indicate. Science appears to the evangelical Christian to be a relentless hunter of their faith.

But science is just science. It has no agenda except to discover the truth. That is precisely the problem it presents for the faithful. To a person of faith, at least in the evangelical or fundamentalist tradition, only God is truth. Only God can be trusted. There is no theory or scientific method to discovering one's faith. A person either decides to accept the truth of God's existence or reject it and be condemned.

The scientific evidence around the climate crisis has become a threat to many evangelicals because it suggests that God's ultimate plan for his creation is not working. You see, according to the evangelical reading of the Bible, after the time of Christ there is a distinct calendar of events that follows, culminating in Armageddon. Evangelicals are usually pretty excited about this idea. Those nasty non-believers finally get what's coming to them and the good Christians get to win the battle against evil. In that context, a warming planet cannot be understood as a real concern. Potentially, it is even a signal of the return of Christ — why would a true believer do anything to stop that?

This brings us to the COVID vaccines and the fact that evangelicals have a culture and a long history of rejecting science. Somehow this vaccine has become a symbol of government overreach, but what's even more important to evangelicals is the idea that science is telling people of faith what is true. No matter how many evangelical leaders encourage their followers to get the vaccine, this rejection of scientific data is completely ingrained in the church, dating as far back as Galileo. It is and has always been about the fear of losing their faith.

I have never understood this fear, and in my view neither should any other person of faith. I go out of my way to read theories I disagree with, to listen to preachers I deem heretical and to attend seminaries that are in direct opposition to my political and social beliefs. This is how my faith grows. Reading a book like "The God Delusion" should be required by all Christian leaders. Not because the book expresses the words of the enemy but because we all must explore our own doubt. The leap is a leap for a reason and people of faith should lean into it, not run away from it. There is nothing to fear from scientific data and proper research. There is something to fear from the fearful and ignorant. Anyone who is not willing to question their own belief structure, or anyone that remains in their own echo chamber, is dangerous. That is why there is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. It is expressing the fear of people who claim to have none. It must be addressed, but that will not be easy.

How evangelicals gradually replaced Jesus Christ with right-wing ideology

As a pastor I was always uncomfortable using God's word to pressure people to give money to the church. It seemed like a dirty trick: Play on the fear of disappointing God by convincing people on fixed incomes to provide for my livelihood. So I never did, much to the chagrin of my board of trustees. For the past 70 years, however, evangelical leadership has used this fear of God to raise billions of dollars to fight those the evangelicals have deemed to be the enemies of God. This naturally requires a private jet, a television network, a super PAC and a con artist pastor and politician to lead the way.

This article was originally published at Salon

The first set of enemies were of course the feminists, the pro-choice advocates and the LGBTQ community. Jerry Falwell Sr. said in 1980, "We must stand against the Equal Rights Amendment, the feminist revolution and the homosexual revolution." From that point forward, the blueprint to effect political change for God — and to raise money for that cherished cause — was created. God's call was clear, or so the congregations were told, and the enemies were equally clear. The evangelical movement was born and money started flowing to numerous evangelical organizations. Politicians used evangelical language to win elections, and the God vote became more and more aligned with the Republican Party.

My problem is that the Christian faith was lost — as I have argued previously in Salon — during these massive fundraising campaigns. Donald Trump and the evangelical political machine raised millions of dollars, while completely removing anything that even remotely looked like the Christian faith. I believe a Christian reformation in American evangelical politics is desperately needed — not only to save my beloved faith, but to save the country.

True reform of the evangelical political machine will never happen, however, as long as the current evangelical leadership holds the reins. Understand that the leaders who have recently been fighting for control of the Southern Baptist Convention are no different than Jerry Falwell Sr. or Pat Robertson in the past, or Robert Jeffress and Franklin Graham today. These new evangelicals feel the need to be more discreet about their homophobia and anti-equality agenda. Perhaps they will even reject Trump now that he's no longer president, but do not expect them to show up at the next Pride rally or Black Lives Matter march. The problem here is that this relationship between the evangelical leadership and the Republican Party has become what Christians call a covenant.

Over the last 70 years, Christian theology has been steadily replaced, within the evangelical world, by Republican or "conservative" ideology. I noticed this in my time at an evangelical seminary and during my years in ministry, whenever political discussion would go beyond abortion and gay rights. When the conversation turned towards gun rights, immigration, taxing the wealthy, education or health care, the tenets of Christian theology disappeared behind Republican talking points.

The evangelical political message was that the Bible should be used in politics to attack certain people, but never to question oneself. That's how you get people to donate: Make the enemy clearly visible and easily definable. That's why the Bible is almost never used in politics as a justification for serving the poor, welcoming the foreigner, healing the sick or promoting equality. That agenda is not likely to motivate donations from wealthy white heterosexual men. Therefore, over time the evangelical message became that "American" and "Republican" were more important labels than "Christian" — or that they were effectively the same thing.

This shift is most obvious around the issues of gun rights and immigration. If you want to reject the foreigner, build a wall and own a private artillery, go right ahead. That is your right. But it is not your right if you sincerely want to follow the teachings of Jesus. We are not gun owners; we are pacifists. We are not provided with the gift of freedom and independence by God just to make sure no one else can have it.

The ugliest part of this agenda is that evangelicals have come to believe in rejecting the foreigner and keeping their guns because they are protecting what is "rightfully theirs." A true Christian should understand that nothing except condemnation is rightfully theirs. This country, their home, their freedom and their very lives belong to God. So how in God's name can a Christian support an agenda based on violence and racism?

I have never understood the appeal of gun culture, but I understand that Jesus was a man of peace. He certainly had a large enough following to fight back with force against the false sedition charges brought against him. With one speech, Jesus could have caused great political and religious difficulty in Jerusalem by doing what Trump did on Jan. 6. But that is not the Christian way.

When one of Christ's disciples did use a weapon to defend Jesus, his words were clear: "Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." That should be enough for any follower of Jesus. We are not commanded to be violent people. If there is an enemy, we are to love that enemy and pray for that enemy, not murder that enemy.

This issue around immigration is quite clear in the Bible. Leviticus 19 tells us, "The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt." There is no greater call on a Christian than to embrace the foreigner. In fact, there is a theory that if a Christian does not accept the foreigner, then God may reject that Christian at those pearly gates of heaven.

Evangelical leaders have focused their agenda on protecting things they feel entitled to, while focusing the attention of their followers on what they define as the enemies of God. That fear of God's enemies has allowed billions of dollars of donations to flow into the hands of religious hypocrites. They have convinced millions of Christians that the enemies of God are people who live south of the border, who are coming for their guns, their jobs, their property, their health insurance, their taxes and even their families. Trump tapped masterfully into the fear planted by evangelical leaders in the hearts of their followers. In the end, millions of Christians have abandoned their faith for a narrow-minded political ideology.

True Christian theology commands quite the opposite. A person of faith is not driven by fear, but by love. Grace is extended to the foreigner, forgiveness is offered to the prisoner, health care is offered to the sick, food is offered to the hungry and equality is offered to all.

Evangelicals abandoned Christianity — and chose to be 'conservatives' instead

As a pastor I was always uncomfortable using God's word to pressure people to give money to the church. It seemed like a dirty trick: Play on the fear of disappointing God by convincing people on fixed incomes to provide for my livelihood. So I never did, much to the chagrin of my board of trustees. For the past 70 years, however, evangelical leadership has used this fear of God to raise billions of dollars to fight those the evangelicals have deemed to be the enemies of God. This naturally requires a private jet, a television network, a super PAC and a con artist pastor and politician to lead the way.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

The first set of enemies were of course the feminists, the pro-choice advocates and the LGBTQ community. Jerry Falwell Sr. said in 1980, "We must stand against the Equal Rights Amendment, the feminist revolution and the homosexual revolution." From that point forward, the blueprint to effect political change for God — and to raise money for that cherished cause — was created. God's call was clear, or so the congregations were told, and the enemies were equally clear. The evangelical movement was born and money started flowing to numerous evangelical organizations. Politicians used evangelical language to win elections, and the God vote became more and more aligned with the Republican Party.

My problem is that the Christian faith was lost — as I have argued previously in Salon — during these massive fundraising campaigns. Donald Trump and the evangelical political machine raised millions of dollars, while completely removing anything that even remotely looked like the Christian faith. I believe a Christian reformation in American evangelical politics is desperately needed — not only to save my beloved faith, but to save the country.

True reform of the evangelical political machine will never happen, however, as long as the current evangelical leadership holds the reins. Understand that the leaders who have recently been fighting for control of the Southern Baptist Convention are no different than Jerry Falwell Sr. or Pat Robertson in the past, or Robert Jeffress and Franklin Graham today. These new evangelicals feel the need to be more discreet about their homophobia and anti-equality agenda. Perhaps they will even reject Trump now that he's no longer president, but do not expect them to show up at the next Pride rally or Black Lives Matter march. The problem here is that this relationship between the evangelical leadership and the Republican Party has become what Christians call a covenant.

Over the last 70 years, Christian theology has been steadily replaced, within the evangelical world, by Republican or "conservative" ideology. I noticed this in my time at an evangelical seminary and during my years in ministry, whenever political discussion would go beyond abortion and gay rights. When the conversation turned towards gun rights, immigration, taxing the wealthy, education or health care, the tenets of Christian theology disappeared behind Republican talking points.

The evangelical political message was that the Bible should be used in politics to attack certain people, but never to question oneself. That's how you get people to donate: Make the enemy clearly visible and easily definable. That's why the Bible is almost never used in politics as a justification for serving the poor, welcoming the foreigner, healing the sick or promoting equality. That agenda is not likely to motivate donations from wealthy white heterosexual men. Therefore, over time the evangelical message became that "American" and "Republican" were more important labels than "Christian" — or that they were effectively the same thing.

This shift is most obvious around the issues of gun rights and immigration. If you want to reject the foreigner, build a wall and own a private artillery, go right ahead. That is your right. But it is not your right if you sincerely want to follow the teachings of Jesus. We are not gun owners; we are pacifists. We are not provided with the gift of freedom and independence by God just to make sure no one else can have it.

The ugliest part of this agenda is that evangelicals have come to believe in rejecting the foreigner and keeping their guns because they are protecting what is "rightfully theirs." A true Christian should understand that nothing except condemnation is rightfully theirs. This country, their home, their freedom and their very lives belong to God. So how in God's name can a Christian support an agenda based on violence and racism?

I have never understood the appeal of gun culture, but I understand that Jesus was a man of peace. He certainly had a large enough following to fight back with force against the false sedition charges brought against him. With one speech, Jesus could have caused great political and religious difficulty in Jerusalem by doing what Trump did on Jan. 6. But that is not the Christian way.

When one of Christ's disciples did use a weapon to defend Jesus, his words were clear: "Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." That should be enough for any follower of Jesus. We are not commanded to be violent people. If there is an enemy, we are to love that enemy and pray for that enemy, not murder that enemy.

This issue around immigration is quite clear in the Bible. Leviticus 19 tells us, "The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt." There is no greater call on a Christian than to embrace the foreigner. In fact, there is a theory that if a Christian does not accept the foreigner, then God may reject that Christian at those pearly gates of heaven.

Evangelical leaders have focused their agenda on protecting things they feel entitled to, while focusing the attention of their followers on what they define as the enemies of God. That fear of God's enemies has allowed billions of dollars of donations to flow into the hands of religious hypocrites. They have convinced millions of Christians that the enemies of God are people who live south of the border, who are coming for their guns, their jobs, their property, their health insurance, their taxes and even their families. Trump tapped masterfully into the fear planted by evangelical leaders in the hearts of their followers. In the end, millions of Christians have abandoned their faith for a narrow-minded political ideology.

True Christian theology commands quite the opposite. A person of faith is not driven by fear, but by love. Grace is extended to the foreigner, forgiveness is offered to the prisoner, health care is offered to the sick, food is offered to the hungry and equality is offered to all.