I believe we are coming to a fork in the road where the Civil Religion of America will distinguish itself from biblical Christianity. In one direction it will be Country and god; in the other Jesus and Church.
With the Constitution as the sacred text, the founding fathers its saints, and common sense individualism its sanctified goal for humanity, our civil religion offers a seductive religious counterfeit to Christianity. When it comes to American politics, one needs an immense amount of discernment to distinguish between religious sounding talk and actual Christian talk.
This is why Jerry Falwell Jr, in December 2015, saying, “If more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed them," is so concerning.
Notice, his statement talks of preemptive violence that “ends those Muslims before they walked in.” Let’s be clear, this is not the way of Jesus. In the Kingdom of God, violence does not defeat violence. The cross of Jesus unmasks the false power of violence to bring about peace by defeating evil in a show of weakness. We may be allured by the promises of power; hopeful in the force of military general. But do not be mistaken, this is not Christianity.
If it was just one instance where one person said one wacky thing, then okay. But Falwell’s statement was met with cheers!
Not only that, but we have Donald Trump, who says his favorite book is the Bible, saying we should discriminate against Muslims, keep them out of the country whose First Amendment is the freedom of religion, and give them special I.D.’s. It’d be nice to chalk those comments up to a xenophobic outlier, but it’s hard to make the case that he’s an outlier when he is the GOP's presidential candidate. Thousands upon thousands of people support him, meaning they believe Trump is speaking for them. He is saying what they believe. That should frighten the hell out of us!
But again, we don’t just have the glorification of guns, and we don’t just have a crotchety old man spouting off hatred for a major religion. We also have the active demonization of a people who are fleeing terrorism. Governors across the nation have worked to block refugees from coming to their states out of fear. As Christians called to help the widow and orphan, to welcome the stranger, and to love our neighbor as ourself, blocking refugees in the name of security isn’t a cut and dry answer. We cannot simply abandon these clear teachings of Jesus because we are scared.
Civil religion is not interested in the stranger. It is not interested in love of neighbor. Civil religion is interested only in love of country; which, as a utilitarian faith, must serve the individual. Christianity seeks to love the world, and in doing so, point to the one who so loved the world that he gave his only Son.
I do not want to stand idly by as the lines between civil religion and Christianity are blurred. I believe we are in a moment where Christians have to stand and proclaim with whole-hearted conviction that Jesus is Lord. Not Caesar.
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