What a January. From Insurrection to Inauguration Day, it feels like the longest month of my life, yet it isn’t over. As I’ve been reflecting on the events this past month, so many emotions welled up – happiness, joy, frustration, confusion. Frustration seemed to get the best of me. This comes from the polarizing events in America that have waved the banner of Christianity when it has clearly been misrepresented. Long gone are the days when “Christian” leaders can hide in the shadows without denouncing such hate and rhetoric spewed by the outgoing administration. I’d like you to join me as I do a bit of self-discovery and try to understand why the far right chooses to use the guise of Christianity to unravel the ties of democracy in America.

I’ve been around my fair share of churches. Growing up Southern Baptist, hell, fire, and brimstone was a quintessential part of every effective sermon. Like every good conservative in 2008 (I was 16), Obama was the enemy – “who could blatantly support the killing of unborn babies, and, is he even an American?” These comments filled the halls of my high school, the walls of my church, and the dinner table late at night. I was an outspoken young republican, a true definition of “sixteen in the south.” Looking back on my Twitter feed in 2008, I barely recognize the person composing those tweets over a decade ago. Fast forward to 2021, as a 28-year-old gay man who loves the Lord, my views have drastically shifted. Ironically, they’ve shifted because over the past 10 years, I’ve not only come to a deeper revelation of who Jesus is, but I’ve also experienced the transformative power of how His love can make an impact.

I’m still a very outspoken person when it comes to politics. I have aspirations to run one day. I also know the boundaries of spirituality and politics seem like a blurred line at times. We can often forget that while our moral compass and spiritual purviews guide us, Christ never aligned himself with a political party. 1 His politics were that of a Kingdom mindset. A mindset that is far beyond any earthly political battle. There is a lot to unpack here, but for far too long I’ve been asking myself why has Christianity been a bedrock guise of the Republican Party when the Democratic Party aligns closer to the values and lifestyle of Jesus? Fortunately for us, Christ didn’t concern himself with this. However, He did say to be 2 be imitators of God. From this, we can delineate how a Christian should act, engage with, and understand politics.

Everything starts with Jesus. Everything. To understand the why behind the mischaracterization of Jesus in politics, we first must understand the heart in which Christ approached people.

The Heart of Christ

As I began to think about who Christ is and the point I’m trying to get across, the book of Matthew paints the best picture. The message of Christ is simple, Grace and Truth. Those two points paired with His purpose, the Kingdom of God, is where the modern train of Christianity gets derailed. There’s not a better example than in Matthew 7 and The Sermon on The Mount.

‘“Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it. “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord! ’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’‘

Matthew 7:13-23

Now, let’s not take this out of context, the real story here begins in Matthew 5 with the start of The Sermon on the Mount. Within the context of Matthew 5-7, Christ is essentially speaking to his disciples and a large crowd that had gathered about how to be Christian. This is the ultimate scorecard for what Christ began saying in 3 Matthew 7:15. This is an example to use when affirming our political leaders. While Christ doesn’t align Himself with a party, He does give us an example of how those in leadership should carry themselves. We are able to judge these leaders by the fruit of their life.

How Jesus became the Exploited Figure of the Republican Party

Before we go any further, we have to address just exactly how Jesus became associated with the Republican party – the elephant in the room. Although this may seem one-sided, Republicans were just the first to “claim” Jesus. They have somehow taken on the title of the “Christian” party. This fundamentally doesn’t make sense to me. Since much of the unchurched world associates the Republican Party with Christianity, I had to take a deep dive into how and why this is the case.

Abortion
Most think the modern rise of right-associated Christianity happened during Roe. v. Wade in 1973. This is only partially true. In fact, most of the evangelical community was indifferent about abortion before and a few years after Roe. In 1968, for instance, a 4 symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. They even endorsed birth control over abstinence in the same meeting.

Paul Weyrich and Jerry Falwell
Paul Weyrich was a power-hungry political activist in the 1970s who found a prop in conservative televangelist and friend, Jerry Falwell. The two had a thirst for the moral retention of “white America” and developing a “moral majority.” “The new political philosophy must be defined by us [conservatives] in moral terms, packaged in non-religious language, and propagated throughout the country by our new coalition,” Weyrich wrote in the mid-1970s. “When political power is achieved, the moral majority will have the opportunity to re-create this great nation.” Weyrich believed that the political possibilities of such a coalition were unlimited. “The leadership, moral philosophy, and workable vehicle are at hand just waiting to be blended and activated,” he wrote. “If the moral majority acts, results could well exceed our wildest dreams.”

Weyrich was hungry for a platform to build the “moral majority.” But this hypothetical “moral majority” needed a catalyst—a standard around which to rally. For nearly two decades, Weyrich, by his own account, had been trying out different issues, hoping one might pique evangelical interest: pornography, prayer in schools, the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, even abortion. “I was trying to get these people interested in those issues and I utterly failed,” Weyrich recalled at a conference in 1990.

Jimmy Carter
During his Presidency in 1977, Carter was known for his more liberal-leaning Baptist views. This was especially true when it came to views of race. In 1978 the IRS proposed new 5 guidelines that would uphold certain tax status for private schools that refused to integrate. This was mandated by the Nixon Administration but upheld through the Carter years.

The far-right, predominately private Christian schools did not like this. At last, an issue for Weyrich and Falwell to stand on.

Bob Jones University
Bob Jones University — a fundamentalist college in Greenville, South Carolina—was especially obdurate and did not like Nixon’s new 6 Tax Policy. The IRS had sent its first letter to Bob Jones University in November 1970 to ascertain whether or not it discriminated on the basis of race. The school responded defiantly: It did not admit African Americans.

Although Bob Jones Jr., the school’s founder, argued that racial segregation was mandated by the Bible, Falwell and Weyrich quickly sought to shift the grounds of the debate, framing their opposition in terms of religious freedom rather than in defense of racial segregation. For decades, evangelical leaders had boasted that because their educational institutions accepted no federal money (except for, of course, not having to pay taxes) the government could not tell them how to run their shops—whom to hire or not, whom to admit or reject. The Civil Rights Act, however, changed that calculus.

Bob Jones University did, in fact, try to placate the IRS—in its own way. Following initial inquiries into the school’s racial policies, Bob Jones admitted one African-American, a worker in its radio station, as a part-time student; he dropped out a month later. In 1975, again in an attempt to forestall IRS action, the school admitted blacks to the student body, but, out of fears of miscegenation, refused to admit unmarried African-Americans. The school also stipulated that any students who engaged in interracial dating, or who were even associated with organizations that advocated interracial dating, would be expelled.

The IRS was not placated. On January 19, 1976, after years of warnings—integrate or pay taxes—the agency rescinded the school’s tax exemption.

On May 25, 1983, the Supreme Court 7 ruled 8-1 that the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had the authority to deny tax-exempt status to Bob Jones University, Goldsboro Christian School, and other private and religious schools with racially discriminatory educational policies.

As we enter the mid-1980s the Republican Party shifted and adopted the position of restoration of school prayer and opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, which the Christian Right believed would guarantee universal abortion rights and the right for homosexuals to marry.

The domino effect of the modern era has perpetuated a reality in which non-biblical truths are used for political gain. Not only do these falsehoods have no merit, but it also has undeniably hurt generations of Christians and those who have been affected by these non-biblical beliefs.

Current “Biblical” Rhetoric in Politics

Now, to the final point and purpose of this article. The rhetoric we are seeing in the United States today isn’t that of a loving God, it’s anti-Christ. The hatred, repulsive conspiracy theories, the senseless desire to go against the constitution, why has it come to this? I’ll go back to an earlier quote by Jesus himself, “You’ll recognize them by their fruit.” We have enabled men and women hiding behind the guise of Christianity to rise up and contort our faith to something that is not sound in theology, not based in scripture, and is definitely not reflective of imitating Christ.

With a new Administration comes a fresh start – an ability to ingest new ideas, new policies, and work for the American people. While the Biden-Harris Administration has shown their heart for America and for Truth, we still live in a divided country. Our politicians hide behind Christianity not because they believe it, but because that’s exactly what voters want. We live in a society where it’s ok to simply talk-the-talk without walking-the-walk. Should politics and Christianity agree? I don’t believe that’s the right question, because it will never happen. Should they intersect? They often do. It’s our job to understand that morality cannot and should not be legislated, that’s not how this country was designed. What we can do is vote for those who unite us and best represent the values we hold dear.

We are called to be imitators of Christ, to love, to find empathy and compassion within one another. The most radical thing we can do in our country right now is to have one-on-one, life-giving conversations that birth understanding and overwhelming grace.


Footnotes

  1. ‘Then Pilate went back into the headquarters, summoned Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews? ” Jesus answered, “Are you asking this on your own, or have others told you about Me? ” “I’m not a Jew, am I? ” Pilate replied. “Your own nation and the chief priests handed You over to me. What have You done? ” “My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here.” “You are a king then? ” Pilate asked. “You say that I’m a king,” Jesus replied. “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.”’ John 18:33-37
  2. ‘Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children. And walk in love, as the Messiah also loved us and gave Himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God.’ Ephesians 5:1-2
  3. “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit.” Matthew 7:15-16
  4. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/05/religious-right-real-origins-107133
  5. https://scholarship.law.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2368&context=wmlr
  6. https://scholarship.law.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2708&context=wmlr
  7. https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3527&context=faculty_scholarship