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.

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

I was raised by a pair of wild hippies, so my heart has always been committed to liberal ideology. As a Bible-believing Christian, however, I was surrounded by evangelical theology throughout my youth, in various churches, Bible camps and so on. When I decided to enter the ministry to attempt to change that conservative theology, I attended an evangelical seminary. It was clear on my first day on campus that no reform was going to occur.

This article first appeared in Salon.

If I happened to mention voting for Al Gore, I was told by my classmates that God keeps a record of my voting history and that I had voted for a man who endorses baby-killing and tearing down the American family. Honestly, I was just hoping that President Gore might help save the planet and not make up a reason to go to war in Iraq. Anyway, in my 10 years in ministry I had even less luck making any changes, which is why I left the formal ministry a couple of years ago.

The truth then, and even more so now, is that we cannot separate Republicans, and now the Trumpists, from the evangelicals. I have seen my fellow "Christian left" types attempting to reform the God vote — in fact, I've done it myself — but I feel we have been too timid in our approach. Stronger language and a pure rejection of evangelical theology is needed. From a purely Christian point of view, the evangelical leadership are false teachers teaching a false doctrine. Trumpism cannot be defeated without first facing down evangelicalism. Jesus Christ, who these people claim as their savior, himself provided a warning against these religious hypocrites in Matthew 23:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

The only real threat to Christianity is Christianity itself. Leading evangelical pastors like Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress made a passionate plea for Christian voters to ignore Trump's shortcomings as a man because he stands with the Christian church on all things that are right and true. Apparently, that means Christians must shut the door to all LGBTQ people, abortion providers, liberals, immigrants, Muslims and anyone who happens to mention taxing the wealthy.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

Many of the false American evangelical teachers demonize and look down upon the people in poorer countries. I have seen these "missionaries" in places like Haiti building their churches and making sure "proper doctrine" is followed. It is this type of modern-day colonialism that has provided foreign governments the religious authority to enact terrible anti-LGBTQ laws and restrictions on reproductive rights for women.

Woe to you, blind guides! You say, "If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath." You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?

False teachers have always believed that their financial wealth means favor with God. I have seen many Christian leaders give praise to God for their big homes, nice cars and million-dollar sanctuaries. This belief that God has blessed them with great stuff prevents them from ever understanding the need to fund programs that provide equality in the education, health care, justice and economic systems.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

These false evangelical leaders may have stayed within the law, but they know nothing about being merciful. They could never understand the message to reach out to undocumented immigrants because of God's call to treat the foreigner as native born — because we were once foreigners ourselves. They only understand the language of rules and law without mercy and grace.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

Many of these false evangelical leaders have spent a lot of time and money making sure their public image is clean. Ideal marriages, wonderful children, kind and loving people who are financially affluent and pay their taxes. Christ reminded his followers to be careful of such a well-crafted persona. Behind the curtain there are many filled with hypocrisy and wickedness.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, "If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets." So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

Many of these current evangelical leaders love to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his message of love and forgiveness. Many would like to forget that most conservative Christian leaders rejected Dr. King's message while he was alive, and some believed he was a communist. It is no mystery to me why there is no picture of the great Rev. Billy Graham marching with Dr. King. These false evangelical leaders expose themselves again as they reject the Rev. William J. Barber II's message about honoring and uplifting the poor, which is far more clearly based in Christian doctrine than anything they preach. These false evangelical Christian leaders never understood Dr. King's message to follow Jesus into those places in America where poor people struggle and suffer and too often die, and they never will.


Nathaniel Manderson

Nathaniel Manderson was educated at a conservative seminary, trained as a minister, ordained through the American Baptist Churches USA and guided by liberal ideals. Throughout his career he has been a pastor, a career counselor, an academic adviser, a high school teacher and an advocate for first-generation and low-income students, along with being a paper delivery man, a construction worker, a FedEx package handler and whatever else he could do to try to take care of his family.

Two reasons we can't ignore evangelicals — and two ways we can break their political power

It is difficult to carry a message like mine, one that doesn't have a real audience. As a Bible-believing liberal, I lose the liberals with the whole "Bible believing" thing, and I lose the Bible believers with the whole "liberal" thing. At times I feel like the only person in America with this perspective. I am not into converting anyone, either: Each individual's faith journey is their own. I am also not sure I can change the hearts of many of the followers of the evangelical movement, so that is also not my goal. I do believe, firmly, that for this country to progress it needs true liberal progressives in positions of power and influence for a long time. This will not happen if people overlook or underestimate the power of these Christian nationalists. Secondly, I see a clear way to stop this evangelical political nationalist movement.

Two reasons we can't simply ignore the evangelicals, post-Trump

The first reason is that they have lots and lots of resources: Think tanks in Washington, massive "nonprofit" ministries that bring in millions of dollars, Fox News, Newsmax, QAnon, talk radio, all their current politicians in office, plus one crazy ex-president.

I understand the temptation to just move ahead without facing down the evangelicals, but recent history suggests it is a mistake. Two recent presidential candidates who struggled to connect to the evangelicals were Hilary Clinton and John Kerry. Both had incredible résumés and were much more qualified than the people they were running against, but the evangelicals greatly favored George W. Bush and, more recently, Donald Trump.

During the Bush campaign Karl Rove put together a state-by-state push to get evangelical issues on state ballots to motivate the evangelical votes in various swing states. At the time Bush's approval ratings were terrible, the economy was a disaster, and the country was stuck in a war that many Americans disapproved of — yet the evangelicals bridged that gap and gave Bush four more years. The story around Clinton losing to Trump is well documented, and the fact that at least 80% of evangelicals voted for Trump is well known.

These political victories for lesser candidates were not accidents. The evangelical movement is well financed and has far-reaching influence. All the recent activity since Trump lost the 2020 election has only emboldened them further. The evangelical leadership, because of its vast network, is funding political campaigns, news networks and legal defense teams for Trump — through an organization called the American Center for Law and Justice — in a never-ending push to overturn Roe v. Wade and create some form of Christian theocracy. Ignore them at your political peril.

The second reason is that the evangelical message of returning America to traditional Christian values connects with millions of voters. Anytime people talk about the "good ol' days" and how evil the world is now, that connects. No one is better at that then these evangelicals. We're all guilty of this a bit, by the way. I am 44, and I hate how things are right now. It's a world where Bruce Springsteen is selling cars and Bob Dylan sells lingerie, and every actor, musician and athlete is a brand to themselves. The movies all look the same, the music all sounds the same and millennials drive me nuts. It's a tempting message, and they know how to communicate it.

Change does not come easy to anyone. I have seen this in my ministry and my educational career, and perhaps more so in my work in the trades. Anyone who has ever had a job for a while, only to see some new idea come out at their company or school has had this experience. People resist. I know I do. Furthermore, people tend to remember the way things were in a much better light than the way things are. Evangelicals tap into this tendency brilliantly, and make the same kind of connection in talking about America. Any information that threatens this false version of American history and the connection to God is seen as coming from an enemy.

Many of the messages I hear on evangelical radio talk about biblical societies that turned their backs on God, and felt God's wrath soon afterwards. There is a clear and obvious warning that America has done just that. They certainly do not mention that America's relationship with Christian values is complicated, to say the least The facts and the real history does not matter: The fantasy of the way things were is what works works. As I suggested earlier, this kind of message works on most people. People fantasize about how things were in past relationships, in old work situations, in almost everything. So the evangelical leadership and the politicians they support tap into this human desire to bring back the good times.

Two ways to stop the evangelicals and break their political power

First of all, we must call out their leaders — the evangelical leadership care only about wealth, power and proving their own righteousness. It needs to be shouted from the rooftops that they selected issues that raised money and kept them in positions of power and influence. They are the very religious hypocrites that Christ himself warned his followers about.

Calling these leaders out is easy, but convincing their followers that their leaders are conmen has proven to be difficult. I go biblical here, which is hard for my fellow liberals. Many of the liberals I know have put aside their faith for some solid reasons. For some it's about rejecting the experiences they had in church as kids, and for some it's simply a matter of choice to reject all this God stuff. I get that. Believing in God is no joke: An old guy in the sky with rules, heaven and hell, and a son on the cross dying for our sins. It is a big leap.

But this lack of faith means that evangelical leaders are easily able to dismiss liberals' arguments. That's why I go biblical on these evangelical hypocrites. The Bible is a problem for these guys in many ways. My best argument lies in two places in the book of Matthew, the first of those being the only time Jesus loses his cool. The religious leaders of Christ's time had turned God's house into a den of robbers and thieves, and this is the case again. I cannot get through five minutes of listening to some evangelical minister without them selling me their books or asking for a donation. Most followers notice this and question it in their hearts, so it's time to announce that these evangelicals are nothing short of the robbers and thieves that Christ confronted.

The other passage from Matthew is a sermon by Christ warning about religious hypocrites. The basic gist is about religious leaders obsessing over how they must appear to the public as holy and righteous. The outside of their cups are clean but inside they are full of all kinds of evil. Remind you of anyone? This is how we take away some of the political power of the evangelical leaders. They are a poison in the veins of this country, and their own savior condemned them more than 2,000 years ago.

The second thing we need to do is address the concerns of the evangelical followers. These people, in real life, don't care what happens with the LGBTQ population and, believe it or not, don't care much about abortion. They mostly care about their own families and their ability to take care of them. This is where the connection can come in.

I know it sounds wrong-headed to believe that the followers of these evangelicals are concerned about anything besides issues around Christian "liberty," abortion and gay rights, but I promise that in their heart of hearts they do not care about anything but taking care of their own family and finding a job that gives them value. It is hard to see through all the embarrassing behavior of the evangelical movement to find something worth addressing, but it's there.

I am not denying that much of the reason they follow Trump reveals some serious ignorance around race, women's rights and immigration. I am not saying that we all need to be friends. But it is important to understand the core of what many people from the blue collar working-class poor need, of all races and faiths. They want to be heard, valued and even loved. Reaching them is simply a matter of talking to them. That is all the evangelical leadership has ever done. They've never truly done anything for them truly and neither have the politicians they support, but they gave the blue-collar evangelicals love and a sense of value. That goes a long way.

Liberals can give them the same thing but actually offer them the real progress that can come from supporting leaders who will pursue policies that actually benefit the working class. Understand that to ignore this group sends this country down a path of bitter division. Just focus on the economic disparity that so clearly exists in this country. Finding common ground on core issues like that has been the basis of all progress in this country. Every great leader in the past 200 years has understood the need to find common ground and we should do likewise.

America's issues around religion, politics, power and oppression are not going away anytime soon. But perhaps for a little while the better angels of our nature can lead this nation away from the selfishness and greed that have driven it for so long. In this moment I choose to focus on one key article of faith: Theocracy is never a good idea.


Nathaniel Manderson

Nathaniel Manderson was educated at a conservative seminary, trained as a minister, ordained through the American Baptist Churches USA and guided by liberal ideals. Throughout his career he has been a pastor, a career counselor, an academic adviser, a high school teacher and an advocate for first-generation and low-income students, along with being a paper delivery man, a construction worker, a FedEx package handler and whatever else he could do to try to take care of his family.

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