I’m a Baptist. A real Baptist.
Steeped in the American tradition of a free church in a free state. Political factions aren’t to be named and aligned by religion. So it hits me hard, up close and personal, when world news shows Christianity directly, intentionally, visibly aligned with political repression. In my heart, I have judged other countries for their abuse of religion in the service of political oppression.
Then, 2017. I was out of the country. Mesmerized by live television from America, I was brought up short by our American shortcomings. I was traveling during the same week as the terrible demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia. American Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and others of the “alt-right” gathered to protect the statue of Confederate traitor Robert E. Lee. They lit up the night in that college town with mob torches.
Heavily armed with military-grade weapons, the traitors marched through town that night, and again the next day. They chanted Nazi slogans, saying “Blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us”. Police in riot gear stood with their backs to the traitors, facing off with peaceful counter-protestors, visibly protecting the hate. By the end of the day, a peaceful counterdemonstrator had died, literally run over by evil.
Three years later, I’m not judgy any more of politico-religious repression elsewhere around the world. Trump shattered that self-pretense of American self-righteousness. Shortly before he lost his bid for re-election, Trump crossed the road from the White House to wade through tear-gassed Black Lives Matter protestors. He stood in front of a church in a cheesy photo-op, upside-down Bible in his upraised hand. He conflated his re-election with saving white Christianity.
Right-wing religious strategists urged Christians to re-elect Trump as a contemporary Emperor Tiberias. An emperor- dictatorial, ruthless, amoral, heathen, and authoritarian. A godlike ruler of lands and colonies. Let that sink in for a moment in the land of the free and the home of the brave. White America, bend the knee and bow your heads. Raise a fist salute to America’s Tiberias, who alone can save America’s white Christians.
We’ve seen coups d’etat in other countries. We’ve also seen violent confrontations in other countries almost as performance art, to show off for the people. Short-lived as they are ineffective, more theatre than war. Order restored, government and community life returned to normal. But a normal that our American eyes see as substandard, precarious, and dysfunctional, on a good day. We pity them.
Back to America. On January 6, 2021, thousands of white nationalists gathered in Washington to install Trump as dictator. Many of the traitors came with banners, shirts, crosses and other symbols of a Christian god on their side. They inextricably mixed these religious symbols with their Trump messaging: one and the same. Their god railed at a microphone to send them into the fray to fight his battle with Congress. He then left them, saving himself, and returned to his White House office.
Sent down the street by their savior, they invaded the US Capitol in a chaotic, unorganized attempt at a coup d’etat. There’s no need to recite those fresh details for American eyes and ears. The Capitol was breached. A police officer died.
At the Capitol, with terrorists inside, the mob outside built a makeshift gallows next to a large wooden Christian cross. The gallows and its noose, a terror to Black people lynched for generations, was a threat to the Congress inside. The cross was raised in expectation of a blessing from a god on their side. Now the rest of the world pities us.
Now more than ever, America has to reclaim its heritage and principle as a free state welcoming to a free church. We totter on the edge of a precipice, with a growing band of Christian nationalists coming up fast from behind to push us over. Now more than ever, we have to turn around and make a stand, backs to the precipice.
We must stand up as true Christians to face down nationalism and ethnic pride that falsely claims a captured god on its side.
Prevent Trumpism from becoming a new Lost Cause.
Take back the Bible in the name of the Jesus who graces its pages, who stood with those the haters despised.
Take back the cross, so it cannot be used as a gallows for their enemies.
Pray with open, welcoming hands, in contrast to upraised fists, to God who in Grace has the whole world in His hands.