Christ has made a claim on my life
I often say one reason I feel confident that my faith in Christ is secure is because of the claim that Christ has made on my life. My faith isn’t just a tertiary part of my life, it has transformed my life. I hope every area of my life is transformed by my faith, with nothing left for granted. When it comes to politics, which I write about a lot, my pursuit of peace and justice has come from the church. I wouldn’t think about race and poverty in the same way if it weren’t for the revelation of God. That is to say, my Christian ethic preceded my political participation.
I grew up in an Evangelical household. My parents, who lived in Egypt as religious minorities, suffered oppression under the culturally Muslim country. When they immigrated to the U.S. the fear of oppression turned into hatred. So they allied with the political party that was most hostile to Muslims, which would be the Republicans. Their fear turned to hostility, even at their own expense. My parents suffered as Arabs under the Islamophobia that they voted for, so to speak.
But they did bless me with my faith, which I made my own. But as I observed the life of Jesus and read the Bible, and was in a youth group (even an Evangelical one), led by a youth pastor who allowed me to explore my own beliefs, I thought that the Jesus of the Bible was much different than the Republican version that I had heard so much about it. But it was my faith that drew me away from the politics of my parents. Ironically, though, it was the faith that they gave me, that led me to believe that they’d been sold a lie that informed their political understanding, and that the hostility they had toward Muslims would even turn to hostility toward them. You see, hatred is an imprecise tool, and allying with those who hate, will surely backfire.
And it did, in fact: my parents suffered oppression, as a result of hysteria around Islam fostered by Fox News pundits. It pains me to say they received their oppression, and accepted the lesser dignity that White and Christian Supremacists offered them, just so they wouldn’t experience again what they did in Egypt. I’m prepared to say that the racism of the United States puts minorities in these positions, and as much as I disagreed with my folks, I am sympathetic.
But I found another way, through the life of Jesus and his revelation today. And I can’t let that go because my parents had a different, and even flawed, faith. I’m holding on to what God gave me. I have my own claim to make about my faith, and working on developing it on my own, gave it value for me, and that value will not be easily stolen.
Christians are complicit in so much evil in the United States
I said it was an Evangelical youth group that helped me own my faith, and I’m grateful for them, despite all the trouble Evangelicalism has caused me over the years. In fact, I am particularly saddened by them because of how influential they were to me. For better or worse, I came from white Evangelicals (and even as second-class citizens, they accepted our family). And it was the faith that I birthed there that allowed me to be where I am now. So I’m not very quick to dismiss them out of hand now, but I do feel the need to be truthful about where they’ve failed.
And I think their failure, as of late, has been horrific. Trump really did bring out the worst in them. (More here.) In fact, it’s been so terrible, it’s created a fissure in the largest Evangelical denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, see Russell Moore here. And their syncretism with American civil religion over the years, and even White Nationalism, has born a horrific offspring. And it was on display a few weeks ago during the Capitol siege. Jennifer Rubin says that the “The code words ‘defending Western civilization’ or ‘war on Christians’ are fig leaves meant to disguise Trump followers’ conviction that White Christians are the ‘real Americans.’” The Proud Boys used a Christian website to raise money.
The crowd that protested and eventually rioted in the Capitol were full of Christian imagery. And the Christian hypocrisy about syncretism here—rage when it’s with black and brown cultures and often silence when it’s not, points back to Rubin’s point about the common denominator here: white supremacy. It hit the hardest when I watched this remarkable footage from the New Yorker where a so-called shaman from QAnon led a prayer and regularly invoked the name of Christ. It startled me when I heard one of the rioters declare their own martyrdom, “you can die standing up, or live on your knees.” What has happened to White Evangelicalism is far from the White Evangelicalism that I grew up with. I’ve opted to merely name it as Christian Nationalism. And I grieve less for the Christian Nationalists, who seem to be such a mutant variety of Christian they are hard to recognize. Yet, they take up the air space and damage the witness. So I won’t hesitate to name their motivation and work against it. The fact the church’s complicity with white supremacy has led to this moment means we need to do a reckoning so that this doesn’t keep happening. The goal here isn’t necessarily to name these folks as “not Christian,” which I think has very limited value. We need to call it what it is, and not mince words or protect ourselves.
But those Christians will not take my faith from me
But even as we name the evil and sin in Christian Nationalism, and lament over how they’ve fallen away from God, I hope we keep our faith and claim it too. I started by saying that the claim Christ has on me can’t be taken from me, and I definitely will not cede any territory to the Christian Nationalists. Not the term Christian, not even the term Evangelical, and certainly not my faith. I’m revolted and disgusted by their violence, but I am revolted and disgusted because Jesus also is. And it’s because Jesus has authored me and my ethics that I am disgusted. And so my passion against Christian Nationalism in fact comes from the one they name themselves after. They are the ones taking the Lord’s name in vain and tarnishing it and their witness, and they can’t be left to get away with that. Don’t retreat, keep the claim that Christ has made on you.
So when Christians speak against Christian Nationalism, they do so because of the presence of Christ in their life. They do so from a position of authority because of their faithfulness. Faithful believers losing faith because of evil actions is heart breaking. And when Jesus hears of this, he reserves his harshest words:
Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.—Luke 17:1-2
You are protected by a God who is righteously angry against those who cause the little ones to stumble in His name. So we too can bring that righteousness because we are Christians too. And so our job then as Christians isn’t simply to prophesy against the Nationalists, but to prophesy about the Way of Jesus now and how the church can be an instrument of peace and justice. And yes, this might mean your local church, it may even be your local witness. I am proud of the witness of Circle of Hope as an alternative to Christian Nationalism.
But may we use this opportunity to also elevate the voices of others who make it into the headlines. Even on this week as we remember Martin Luther King, Jr., we can remember his prophetic witness, as well as many other Civil Rights Leaders. We recall the Christian abolitionists who freed the slaves in the name of Jesus. We remember the liberationists from Latin America and from the United States who took the words of Jesus and the witness of the Church of Acts seriously enough to actually make a material change in the moment. We remember the church all over the world which is hardly white. We remember the LBGT Christians who loved the Lord so much they fought a church that actively opposed their inclusion. We remember the women ministers who fought to be heard just like men were in their churches. There is no shortage of Christian witness that we can remember and declare now in the face of the evil of Christian Nationalism and White Supremacy that we saw on display last week. Our declaration of what the church is and can be does not silence the truth we speak against the worst incarnations of it, but let us not be dismayed by those incarnations, and hold the territory we rightfully have.