Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. – Yeshua/Jesus in Mattthew 26:52
God’s Kingdom, you see, isn’t about food and drink, but about justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. – The Apostle Paul to the Romans, chapter 14, verse 17.
The large majority of American white Evangelicals have adopted a particular brand of militant, militaristic, and America-is-God’s-chosen-land centered “gospel”. In their view, the message of peace and reconciliation so loudly and clearly proclaimed by Jesus and the early Christians is relegated to the sidelines as a sort of wimp-out only fit for acceptance after the Second Coming when Jeus will destroy all the infidels and mete out hell-fire justice on all unbelievers.
This thinly disguised, racialized and military form of “gospel” has seized control of the dialogue in the “good-ole-USA” and driven the socio-economic divisions between the haves and have-nots in that great nation deeper and deeper. Despite the heroic “we’ve got to save the country from the Beast (whatever the latest appearance of that may be)” rhetoric, it is a gross distortion of the spirit of everything Jesus exemplified and taught. It uses very select excised Bible references to create a pseudo-Jesus transformed from the Redeemer, the Reconciler, and the Prince of Peace to the ultimate warrior and avenging angel.
Interestingly, the deepest roots of this dark ideology are in the Deep South, the states that once formed the slavery-based Confederate States of America and launched the Civil War, which very nearly destroyed the United States. The current ideology does not, of course, promote old-style slavery, but preaches the need for virile white evangelical manhood to stand up strong and keep the wrong sort of people from running the USA. From these roots, southern-style colonial enclaves of “Jesus the ultimate Manly-man and Warrior” ideologues have established camps in other key areas, such as Colorado Springs. This baptized and thinly spiritualized socio-political ideology appeals most deeply to white working class and middle-class people feeling threatened by the rise of egalitarianism and the progressive movement’s quest for recognizing in fact and not mere words the full equality of women, Afro-Americans, and other long-sublimated ethnic groups.
To legitimize this “Church-militant” stance, a crusade is always essential. Causes against which to take up the battle for the national soul and throw down the social gauntlet may shift as needed. First there was Communism in the Cold War, along with its many leftist disguises, such as disarmament. That old bogeyman still lurks in the closet to be pulled out whenever the Left moves into power and espouses radical changes ranging from social medicine to gay rights (and all the latest addenda to that original social revolutionary sex-wedge). Terrorism is another and Islam is its most virulent form, making Muslims a choice target. Family values and issues are always a great rallying point, as is abortion.
Even fellow Christians of the more moderate and liberal strains can be good foils to mobilize the troops. After all, the clear-eyed warrior must push out those who compromise and even betray the “true Gospel”. This “gospel” somehow seems to be found only in America and only among the right kind of passionate disciples who stand on a particular set of principles regarding Biblical inerrancy and exclusive male leadership and headship, especially as regards the family and the Church.
What has all or any of this to do with 666, the Apocalypse (Revelation), and Eschatology? It is essential to hold to the imminence of Christ’s return in order to stimulate the necessary zeal and garner the necessary funds to keep all the machinery of evangelical empire and socio-political culture strong enough to heavily influence the power-brokers and decision-makers in Washington and the states which form the core of this power-bloc. Fanning the hope of Christ’s imminent return creates urgency, and the threat of the latest iteration of 666 and the Beast makes that more real, and justifies the massive propaganda machine that has been erected and underpins this huge bloc.
To expose all of this is far beyond the scope of this blog and its blogger. What is of enormous concern here is that this whole worldview permeates the lives and lifestyles of between 80-100 million Americans, the massive majority of whom are white Evangelicals who have adopted a triumphalist, ultra-nationalist ideology disguised as “true Christianity”. Its chief promoters are no doubt fanatically convinced that they are the exclusive elite who truly understand and must lead the rest, even at times by subterfuge and outright manipulation of the truth, if necessary.
It matters little how often such distortions and manipulations are exposed for what they are. It matters little how often the preachers of purity and righteousness and strong family values are caught out in flagrant scandals that totally discredit what they proclaim themselves the champions of. The other leaders then provide covers and excuses and half-truth justifications, or offer some token of reprimand, but then declare that the truths are still true and the cause is still pure and just.
The narrative declares that America is still the only real hope of the world, the home of freedom and the true light among the nations. Despite whatever seems to contradict this, the USA still has its sacred mission, appointed and anointed by the Lord Jesus Himself, built on the faith of the Founding Fathers as the City on the Hill in the New World.
There is no mistaking that at times America has been an agent of enormous good in the world, and still has the potential to be so again. But it has also produced another image and persona of itself that puts it out of line with anything the true Gospel of Jesus Christ could be as a genuine reflection of the Master who willingly died on Golgotha at the hands of the ancient world’s greatest Superpower and the instigation of the ancient world’s most God-fearing religious establishment.
What the US brand of ultra-Evangelicalism most resembles historically is the fanatical Crusaders who believed that killing those who refused to accept Christ or opposed the preaching of His message was both just and essential if His Kingdom is ever to be brought into the world. There is none of the humility and self-understanding of being a fallible sinner who might even betray the Master that we find in the Apostles or the Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Fathers and Mothers of the ancient Church. There is no hint of the first believers who “turned the whole world upside down” and shook the foundations of the Empire itself by turning the other cheek, turning back to be crucified with his people, as Peter did, or heading to Rome to face the Emperor himself even if it meant death, as Paul did. There is no hint of “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you and persecute you, and so you will prove yourselves to be the children of your Heavenly Father”.
Instead we see a militant, militarized, triumphalist pseudo-Gospel ready to wage war on all evil-doers (as identified by the rabble-rousers naming the latest incarnation of anti-Christ) and changing the Jewish Rabbi Messiah into a westernized Terrible King of vengeance bringing the wrath of God on all sinners because the time for soft-hearted mercy has passed. In the world of America’s iteration of Evangelicalism, “true Christian men” must stand up and man-up and take up arms to defend their wives (who need to submit and accept what hubby says as God’s will) and protect their children.
It is perhaps not too far-fetched to say that in all this what we are witnessing is a national cult, and a genuine 21st-Century heresy.
(Suggested reading for the dubious, the curious, or the furious: Jesus and John Wayne, How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, by Kristin Kobes du Mez, 2020)
TO BE CONTINUED