The Message of Jesus and Political-Bourgeois American Christianity

The Message of Jesus and Political-Bourgeois American Christianity

If the Gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News for all and indeed Good news for the poor, it must also be Good News for all refugees and for all people in the world, not just for Christian refugees and the Christian poor. The message of the Gospel transcends religion, ethnicity, class, race, and gender. American bourgeois Christianity is a dead and soulless religion; it is the antithesis of true and biblical Christianity. Lifeless Christianity (American political-bourgeois Christianity) is not sacrificial, loving, empathetic, compassionate, relational, and Jesus-centered.

A Christianity that turns itself from the poor, the immigrant, the homeless, the orphan, the widows, and the refugee is a dead faith.

A Christianity that chooses to close its eyes to the most crucial problems of the modern world and the most critical problems– global poverty, immigration crisis, refugees crisis, women’s rights, labor exploitation, political corruption, local and global oppression, local and global racism, hunger, etc. — in the society in which it is lived and practiced is a religion that is not worth practicing and saving.

A Christianity that ignores the message and Gospel of Jesus Christ is an anti-Christ faith.

A Christianity that evangelizes strategically in order to (neo) colonize, rule, and exploit the weak betrays the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

A Christianity that exploits its principles for deceit and ruse is a soulless religion.

Contemporary (political-bourgeois) American Christianity is unable to transform the human condition and solve its most crucial problems in modern times. It is a religious enterprise that is rooted in collective hypocrisy, ethnocentrism, egocentrism, and deceitful philanthropy.

*We need to decenter political Christianity not Jesus Christ. The Biblical Jesus is a different figure than the cultural, political, and white (American & Western) Jesus. He is certainly not the Jesus of the colonizer, slave master, oppressor, and capitalist. He is certainly not the white savior. The real Jesus existed in real history and real time. He is not a fabrication or a myth. In many aspects, Western Christianity has perverted real and biblical Christianity. Contemporary American Christianity has abandoned the message and ethics of Jesus for political gain and cultural influence. Interestingly, American Christianity entrenched in American politics and culture is a joke and mockery of biblical Christianity.

 The author of Proverbs gives a fair warning that “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him” (Proverbs 14:1). To humiliate the poor and exploit the labor and resources of those with dire material needs is to scorn God himself; to act in such an ungodly manner toward the poor is to ignore the biblical mandate to treat all people with dignity and respect and to care for the poor and the oppressed.  When one honors the poor, God is honored; when one mistreats the needy, the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow, God is mistreated.  This verse in Proverb prioritizes the material needs of the poor, while not undermining their spiritual needs. To give preference to the poor and the needy is to  have a God-entranced worldview and to celebrate the supremacy of God in all things.

Elsewhere, the same author of Proverbs insists that “Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor” (Proverbs 22:9). From a biblical perspective, one is counted “blessed” and “happy” because he prioritizes the material needs of the poor and does not withhold his goods from him. Comparatively, the author of Leviticus draws a parallel between the poor and the stranger/immigrant, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong” (Lev. 19:33). The idea here is to treat both the poor and the immigrant with dignity because it is simply the will of God. The love for the immigrant and the needy is predicated upon one’s love, and affection for God: “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself… I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 19:34). One’s spiritual devotion to God is materialized in one’s treatment of the poor, the needy, and the stranger/immigrant among us. Living the (message of the Christian) Gospel means to stand in solidarity with refugees and immigrants. 

True spirituality is practical spirituality, and Christ-centered discipleship. The concept of caring hospitality and generous relationality, and exceptional love toward the immigrant, the needy, and the poor is rooted in God’s idea of inclusive justice and God’s generous lovingkindness toward all people; it is more pronounced in Deuteronomy, ” For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.  He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore…(Deut. 10:18-19).  To do otherwise and contrary is to “follow Jesus at a distance” with a politically-culturally driven worldview.Christ must be the “center” of our politics, and biblical ethics must be the “catalyst” of our life choices, as well as our political decisions and cultural preferences. The Biblical Jesus is  above culture, ideology, and politics; He is not subservient to cultural traditions, political ideologies, and national and ethnic identity.

As followers of Christ and Children of light, let us not politicize the message and gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to divorce biblical Christianity from American Political Christianity. We need to treat our neighbor and the stranger among us with love, compassion, and dignity. We need to tell our friends and neighbor about Jesus. Jesus only!

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Why Wayne Grudem and Other Evangelical Leaders are Wrong about The Donald Trump Presidential Preference!

Evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem, whose theology books have substantially shaped my own theology and theological imagination, has penned a reasonable and  fair article (“Why Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice“) by comparing the ideologies and policies of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump. Using biblical lessons and theological exegesis, he infers that a Donald Trump presidency will be a morally good choice for the future of American democracy and freedom, the religious freedom and triumph of Christianity in America, the welfare of the state of Israel, and many other things. Unfortunately, like Grudem, other Evangelical leaders such as David Jeremiah,  James Dobson, Robert Jeffress, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr, and many influential American Christian thinkers have given Mr. Trump their divine blessings. Interestingly,  as Michael Horton has remarked in his important article (“The Theology of Donald Trump:Four words that reveal what his followers really believe“), “Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. hailed him as “one of the greatest visionaries of our time” and a wonderful Christian brother “who reminds me of my dad.” The redoubtable Pat Robertson gushed in an interview with the empire-builder, “You inspire us all.” Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, who has introduced Trump at rallies, says, “We need a strong leader and a problem-solver, hence many Christians are open to a more secular candidate.”

In a recent article (“Pew: Most Evangelicals Will Vote Trump, But Not For Trump“) published in Christianity Today, the author has remarked that most White Evangelical Christians will vote for Trump and favor his presidency.  The opening words of the article is startling:

More than three-quarters of self-identified white evangelicals plan to vote for Donald Trump in the fall (78%). But they aren’t happy about it.

According to a Pew Research Center survey of 1,655 registered voters released today, more than half of white evangelicals said they weren’t satisfied with their ballot options (55%), reflecting the feeling of Americans at large (58%).

And 45 percent of white evangelicals said they meant their vote as opposition to Hillary Clinton, not as an endorsement of Trump.

Interestingly, the great divide among American Christians of different racial and color shades pertaining to their political voice, views, and preferences is very disturbing, and makes one question the future of American Evangelicalism and the meaning of the Christian faith in America. The competing voices in American evangelicalism have questionable implications for the relevance of Christianity in the public sphere and missional evangelism in the culture. Take a look at this statement from the same article:

Half of black Protestant voters said their vote was in support of Clinton (53%), while one-third said they were voting against Trump (34%). This preference lines up with African Americans at large, who favor Clinton.

Black Protestant voters diverge from the much larger group of white evangelicals, who make up one out of five registered voters and one out of three Republicans.

On the other hand, many Americans–both Christians and non-Christians, religious and secular–who  have favorably decided for a Clinton presidency have advanced the following (gender-based) argument. If Hillary Clinton gets to become the next President of the United States of America, she will be the first woman to occupy that post in American history. It will be a historic election and an aspiration to little girls (i.e. brown, black, white, yellow, mixed, etc.) and other women who have similar aspirations. Electing a woman as President of the most powerful country in the world will be a terrific step forward toward the promise of American democracy and the democratic ideals we stand for as a nation, and people. For them, a Clinton presidential choice will symbolize the triumph of gender equality in the history of American democracy and freedom and opportunity for all–regardless of race, gender, sexuality, disability, etc. “Change,” they confess, is the most accurate word!

Nonetheless, like Grudem and other evangelical thinkers, I believe a presidential preference for Hillary Clinton is potentially dangerous to the future of the American Nation.  She is not concerned about the welfare of the poor and the most vulnerable Americans.  I have serious problems with her political views on Gun laws and rights, abortion, war, terrorism, foreign policy, racial justice, immigration, etc. In her political career, she has not done  enough to ameliorate the plight of the American masses, the underclass, the immigrant, and the poor. In fact, her policies greatly favor the wealthy class and has consistently  supported big American corporations and businesses detrimental to the welfare of the common good and American entrepreneurship. On the other hand,  unlike Grudem, I’m appreciative of her great accomplishments such as her commitment to public service and relentless courage and efforts in defense of women and children’s rights. On this account, she is undoubtedly a champion. Yet, I do not trust Hillary as a political leader nor will I vote for her to become the first Woman President in the November  presidential election.

By contrast, in the same line of reasoning, a presidential preference for Donald Trump is tentatively disastrous for America’s diplomatic relations with the global world. Trump wants to isolate America from the world.  His  messianic rhetoric is a gospel without hope and human relationality; his prosperity gospel is characterized by an apocalypse of vengeance, trauma, and despair. Trump’s rhetoric is very consistent. It is anti-immigrant, anti-American religious freedom, xenophobic, divisive, and God-human dishonoring language.  Trump rhetoric is not reconciliatory and will not foster national unity and improve race relations in America. I prefer justice over order, friendship over retaliation, Globalism over arrogant (Trump’s) American ethnocentrism and exceptionalism, and planetary love over transnational alienation. A possible Trump presidency is potentially a threat to the triumph of human rights, race relations, and religious freedom in America. Like Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump has always worked in the best interest of big corporations and institutions that consistently exploit the labor of their employees, the underclass, and workers in the Third World. Trump’s own companies have robbed their workers of their fair salary. Evidently, there’s something questionable about the character, integrity, and leadership of both presidential candidates. After all, Trump’s presidency is a serious menace to American democratic ideals, progress, and future advancement.

Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton do not value life  of the unborn, and have no interest to alter their conviction on this matter–an important point in Grudem’s article.The great Rabbi Abraham Herschel once observed:

Reverence for God is shown in our reverence for man. The fear you must feel of offending or hurting a human being must be as ultimate as your fear of God. An act of violence is an act of desecration. To be arrogant toward man is to be blasphemous toward God…The future of the human species depends upon our degree of reverence for the individual man. And the strength and validity of that reverence depend upon our faith in God’s concern for man.

While I have great respect for Wayne Grudem, I’m afraid that he has allowed patriotic zeal  to influence sound biblical and theological exegesis–as he has modeled for the Evangelical community in such his best selling textbook,  Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.  After his close examination of Clinton’s political ideologies  and past record as compared to Donald Trump who has no political experience, he concludes the article with this provocative statement: ” When I look at it this way, my conscience, and my considered moral judgment tell me that I must vote for Donald Trump as the candidate who is most likely to do the most good for the United States of America.”

Grudem’s essay  is a clear example of what’s wrong with us Evangelical Christians in America: the intentional (re-) appropriation of scriptural teachings and truths in the service of political agendas and cultural ideologies. Christian identity should not be equated or conflated with American cultural nationalism and identity. They are in conflict with each other. The kingdom of God is not the Kingdom of man. We can’t have two lords: Jesus and Caesar; it is either we serve Caesar or Jesus. Jesus cannot and should never be subservient to our unhealthy cultural and political habits masked in biblical theology. Jesus will always be supreme over the culture.

There’s nothing wrong for an “American Christian” to be proud of America and even celebrate the American freedom and democracy; however, it is definitely a theological crisis to assume that American freedom is parallel to Christian freedom, and that the future of American politics is equated with the future of Christianity in the world. The validity of the cross of Christ or the meaning of the Christian faith is not dependent upon the success of America nor is it vindicated by the triumph of America in the world. It is also noteworthy to highlight this national crisis: Given the current state of American Evangelicalism and its paradoxical attitude toward human life, America’s culture of violence and death, race relations, and the “Evangelical Preference” in the current presidential election, etc., Mark A. Noll’s 1995 provocative statement still rings true today about American Evangelicalism:

The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind….Notwithstanding all their other virtues, however, American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking, and they have not been so for several generations.(The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, p. 3)

The great divide between Biblical Evangelical Christianity and American Evangelicalism is quite wide. The Biblical Evangelical culture is the antithesis of the American Evangelical Christianity in terms of confession and practice. The pitfalls of American Evangelicalism is that it is trapped in the American culture of political correctness, and it promotes ideologies that do not honor the God of the Bible or glorify Jesus Christ. American Evangelicalism has for several generations abandoned the biblical worldview on matters of life and faith.  Michael Horton is probably correct in his concluding words in the same article we quoted above: “Trump reveals, in short, that for many evangelicals, the word evangelical means something that many increasingly do not recognize as properly Christian, much less evangelical. Then again, if the working theology of American spirituality is a combination of “moralistic, therapeutic deism” (Christian Smith) and pragmatism (William James), then perhaps Donald Trump is after all exactly the right candidate for the moment.”

 Allow me to close this short essay  with these words:

 Given the nature of human relations and interactions and the destructive political climate in the American culture, we who are Americans of different shades and cultural traditions and practices need to cultivate the spirit of Ubuntu and integrate its inherent values and moral vision in our society. If we try it in the present, we will see tremendous results in the future. While the worth of the political nation-state in the modern world is measured by its historic accomplishments and unrelenting strive to promote the democratic life, justice, and peace for all its citizens, as well as political stability and the protection of human life against both internal and external forces, the worth of a racial group, ethnic group , or an individual should never be assessed by his or her achievements in society or life. The dignity and worth of a person lies in the mere fact that both man and woman, male and female are created in the Image of God to the glorious praise of the Triune and Eternal God.

 The cultural trap of American Evangelicalism is that culturally-sensitive-biblical exegesis and  politically-masked- theological interpretation still enslaves the Evangelical soul, and comparatively, modern Evangelical theology crafted in the discourse of triumphal American exceptionalism and the rhetoric of exulting American ethnocentrism still wages war against the cross of Christ and the Gospel of grace in both American civil and political societies. For me, my faith is in nothing or no one else but in Jesus Christ died, buried, crucified, and resurrected.

Chukwuka–“Chukwu is Supreme”: When Religious Beliefs Collide, and “Things Fall Apart”

“Neither of them succeeded in converting the other but they learned more about their different beliefs.” —Chinua Achebe, “Things Fall Apart” (1958)
 
Chukwuka–“Chukwu is Supreme”:
When Religious Beliefs Collide, and “Things Fall Apart”
I guess that I have not succeeded in convincing my students in my literature class–in which we have read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the most influential novel in the Anglophone Africa, written by Chinua Achebe in 1958– that the Igbo people of Nigeria are monotheists just like the Christians, Muslims, and Jews, they “worship” one God. Those how have written their final essay on the subject of religion in the novel or have done a comparative analysis of African traditional religion and Christianity as their subject of research have emphasized that the Africans are polytheists and believe in strange religious customs and traditions. (Not all of my students made that claim, but most of them do.)
Interestingly, in the story itself, there’s an important debate on the very nature of God in African theology, as well as what is deemed religious; this conversation about faith occurs between an important Igbo character and intellectual named Akunna and the British missionary named Mr. Brown who, along with the colonial administrators, came to “civilize” and “Christianize” the Igbo people. According to Akunna, Mr. Brown misses the mark and misinterprets both the nature of religion and the nature of God in Afrian religious tradition. Consider the following conversation:
“You say that there is one supreme God who made heaven and earth,” said Akunna on one of Mr. Brown’s visits. “We also believe in Him and call Him Chukwu. He made all the world and the other gods.”
“There are no other gods,” said Mr. Brown. “Chukwu is the only God and all others are false. You carve a piece of wood–like that one” (he pointed at the rafters from which Akunna’s carved Ikenga hung), “and you call it a god. But it is still a piece of wood.” The tree from which it came was made by Chukwu, as indeed all minor gods were. But He made them from His messengers so that we could approach Him through them. It is like yourself. You are the head of your church.”
“No,” protested Mr. Brown. “The head of my church is God Himself.”
“I know, said Akunna, “but there must be head in this world among them. Somebody like yourself must be the head here.”
“The head of my church in that sense is in England.”
“That is exactly what I am saying. The head of your church is in your country. He has sent you here as his messenger. And you have also appointed your own messengers and servants. Or let me take another example, the Disctrict Commissioner. He is sent by your King.”
“They have a queen,” said the interpreter on his own account.
“Your queen sends her messenger, the District Commissioner. He finds that he cannot do the work alone and so he appoints kotma to help him. It is the same with God, or Chukwu. He appoints the smaller gods to help Him because His work is too great for one person. “
“You should not think of Him as a person,” said Mr. Brown. “It is because you do so that you imagine He must need helpers. And the worst thing about it is that you give all the worship to the false gods you have created.”
“That is not so. We make sacrifices to the little gods, but when they fail and there is no one else to turn to we go to Chukwu. It is the right to do so. We approach a great man through his servants. But when his servants fail to help us, then we go to the last source of hope. We appear to pay greater attention to the little gods but that is not so. We worry them more because we afraid to worry their Master. Our fathers knew that Chukwu was the Overlord and that is why many of them gave their children the name Chukwuka–“Chukwu is Supreme.”
“You said one interesting thing,” said Mr. Brown. “You are afraid of Chukwu. In my religion Chukwu i a loving Father and need not be feared by those who do His will.”
“But we must fear HIm when we are not doing His will,” said Akunna.” And who is to tell His Will? It is too great to be known.” (Things Fall Apart, 178-281)
For Chinua Achebe, Christian missionaries from Western countries who have set their foot on the “dark soil” of the “Black Continent,”  have misinterpeted African traditional religion (s) and, as a result, misunderstood the African people, their culture, cosmology,  and worldview. Achebe has underscored this phenomenon as one of the major failures of (historic) colonial Christianity in colonial Africa in the project of mission civilatrice and christian evangelism. Sometimes, the real enemy is within. Unhealthy religious ideology just like cultural supremacy can be an arrogant thing, especially in the case that when one’s religious confession or piety becomes the very hindrance that blocks communication and defers understanding between people of different religious persuasion. Arrogant faith could be the most dangerous weapon that destroys faith itself, and hinders  interreligious dialogue and religious conversion.
I wish my students would have read the passage noted above more critically and responsibly. Indeed, Chukwuka–“Chukwu is Supreme.”