Christian Evangelical: I'm Deeply Ashamed of the Right-Wing Demagogues Who Call Themselves Christians
I am an evangelical Christian, which means that I openly share the “good news” of the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and I have personally accepted that saving grace for my sins.
As a trained Southern Baptist minister and a political scientist, I am bothered by many politicians and preachers who proclaim what God intends for me, or us, to do. Our world is populated by countless religions, denominations and self-proclaimed religious leaders that are always telling us what to do, and they make their pronouncements in the name of God.
There are many conflicting messages I hear from the mouths of some demagogues in the United States at the present time. In 1967, I wrote my Master’s thesis at the University of Texas in EI Paso. It was a 272-page study titled, “Slavery As A Political Instrument In The Name Of Christian Principle: The Growth Of A Political Theory Through Congressional Debate, 1789-1861.” My research and writing involved a detailed study of how the Bible was used during congressional debates by U.S. legislators from the American South.
Most of those were known as evangelicals, and most of them owned and used black slaves as their labor source. At the height of American slavery, another element was obvious in the United States, and many evangelicals subscribed to it. The element became known as Manifest Destiny.
Many people subscribed to the idea that God intended that the United States control all of the land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Many evangelicals, particularly in the South, accepted the elimination of native tribes or their removal to unprofitable lands. Remember the Trail of Tears from the South to Oklahoma? Many said it was “God’s will.”
Many people said that natives who stood in their way were “savages.” They were viewed as non-Bible-believing individuals. Such individuals were told they would go to hell unless they “accepted” Jesus. The teachings of “God’s will” for greedy causes helped lead to decades of Indian Wars, war with Mexico and even the U.S. Civil War.
God’s will was often enforced through the use of guns and whips. Many evangelicals saw no hypocrisy in their actions. Some believed that it was good for “pagan Africans” to have been brought by force “so that they could find Jesus and go to heaven.” Many missionaries came from Europe to lead so-called “pagan natives” to Jesus.
After the Civil War, some thought things would be different. They weren’t. There arose racial discrimination and racial segregation. When I was young, I was told that some of my very own evangelical ancestors from Arkansas fought in the Confederate Army. The Ku Klux Klan, a home-grown terrorist group that began in evangelical Tennessee, wrapped its members in white sheets while lynching blacks. Tennessee was declared by some to be “the buckle of the Bible Belt.”
Evangelical-dominated state legislatures passed all kinds of black codes and laws that were effective in keeping blacks from voting, in spite of U.S. constitutional amendments adopted following the Civil War. In addition, many legislatures, such as the one in Texas, adopted laws or permitted many local governments to discriminate against Hispanics. Many whites praised freedom and opportunities for themselves but not for other ethnic groups.
I was born in 1937 in a racially segregated farm town near Lubbock, Texas. Blacks were not permitted to live in town, although they could enter to do menial labor. There were racially segregated schools, public facilities, business enterprises and even cemeteries.
Nearly all of my relatives were viewed as evangelicals. The relatives that I knew overwhelmingly supported racial segregation. They were Christian segregationists. Many of them used racial slurs in their daily conversations, at least until I began to question their attitudes when I was in junior high school.
I received a bachelor’s degree from Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas. In the late 1950s and early ’60s, when I was there, the school was at the forefront of accepting blacks, Hispanics and other ethnic groups. It was a diverse educational culture, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Many of my fellow students were at the school because they had been evangelized in their home countries: Cuba, China, Columbia, Canada, Nigeria, Mexico and others. The school became famous partially because of its international choir.
Years have passed, but I remain very skeptical of religious demagogues in our time who use a mixture of religious and political rhetoric to justify their claims for financial or political advancement. When a politician or a preacher shouts that America is an “exceptional land blessed by God,” or shouts that we are a “light on a hill” or, “we are the greatest nation ever created under the hand of God,” I listen with a degree of skepticism.
I suspect that enslaved blacks and isolated, dying natives did not appreciate such declarations. Many blacks, Hispanics, gays and religious minority groups have experienced long and expensive battles in the streets and the courts in order to win rights that were granted by the U.S. Constitution.
Sadly, many evangelicals fought against equal rights for all.
Among the great treasures of the United States are the concepts of liberty and opportunity. Those concepts should belong to everyone.
In a 1973 book that I wrote I defined a demagogue as, “A person who takes political advantage of social and political unrest through the use of highly emotional and prejudiced appeals to the general population or a particular segment of the general population. A demagogue is usually characterized by such things as scapegoating, utopian idealism, evasiveness, egocentrism, propaganda development, untruthfulness (with lying and half-truths), prejudice, corruption, emotional rhetoric, persecution complexes, Messianic complexes, dogmatism, and aggressiveness.”
Do any of these characteristics apply to any so-called evangelicals active in far-right politics?
I remember how religious personalities in the time of Jesus abused their powers while running profitable religious businesses. I remember how they mistreated mixed-race Samaritans, prostitutes and adulterers. (Government tax collectors weren’t treated very well either.)
I also remember that Jesus said that those religious hypocrites and their followers were like beautiful coffins. They were pretty on the outside, but they were dead and corrupt on the inside.
We need to be wary of political hacks who wrap themselves in American flags and religious rhetoric in order to gain our support. Remember to check the fruit before you consume it.
All of us, evangelical or otherwise, are free to choose good or evil. My grandmother, named Anna Goldilee Bevers, taught me the Golden Rule: “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” Mean-spirited and mean-mouthed evangelicals scare me. I feel certain that they disappoint Jesus as well.
One of the Ten Commandments is, “You should not take God’s name in vain.” To me, that does not mean just using God’s name in vulgar language. It also means using God’s name in vulgar political and religious ways.
Lying is also mentioned in the Ten Commandments. We also should learn from the past that when government and religion are wrapped in an unholy embrace the general public is endangered. In such situations, religious groups are very likely to be the biggest losers. When American evangelicals who run for public office engage in unsavory and untruthful tactics, they damage the reputations of those who truly seek to live by the precepts of Christ.
When any of my friends or relatives praise and support demagogues who engage in immoral political techniques, I lose respect for them. When they use vitriolic language in attacking political opponents, they become bad evangelicals. When they openly or secretly support vicious and negative advertising about political opponents, they are directly contradicting the beatitudes of Jesus.
We need to learn the lesson from Jesus who spoke to Satan when the Grand Deceiver offered him political kingdoms. Jesus said, “Be gone, Satan!” In our time, we need to remind evangelicals who say, repeat or joke in negative ways about people who are “different,” that they should walk in Jesus’ steps.
If anyone reads this material and thinks that I hate the United States and that I am unpatriotic, think again. For many years, I have been involved in delivering patriotic speeches and serving as Uncle Sam in patriotic events.
I am glad to see that our nation is not the one that I was born into in 1937. I see many changes in the ways that ethnic minorities, religious minorities and even gender minorities are openly treated. Our nation has come a long way, but it has a long way to go to overcome the poison of prejudice and discrimination.
Some laws have helped, but the greatest need is for hearts to change. That is what Jesus taught. Even as Jesus hung on the cross he said, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.”
Leon W. Blevins is professor of government at EI Paso Community College in El Paso, Texas.