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A Colossal Failure of American Religion

 
The American church has enjoyed many successes. Unfortunately, it’s also been guilty of numerous failures. For example, large numbers of American Christians supported genocide of Native Americans, defended slavery, participated in Jim Crow segregation, and resisted the civil rights movement.

In more recent decades, the religious right movement fueled toxic partisanship, mean-spirited judgmentalism, rejection of science, denial of climate change, oppression of women, and hatred of gays, Muslims, and immigrants. However, failure in American religion has certainly not been limited to conservative Protestants.

One of the worst failures in American church history has been the despicable Roman Catholic pedophile priest scandal, with virtually no accountability for abusive priests or the bishops who covered it up. Mainline believers have initiated plenty of their own failures, including ugly schisms over human sexuality, accompanied by a spirit of hostility and rancor.

The most recent failure of American Christianity occurred in the realm of politics. Over the past four years, in one of the most colossal blunders of institutional religion in American history, evangelical Christians overwhelmingly supported and defended the most anti-Jesus president in modern history. Tragically, many conservative Christians today exhibit more loyalty to Donald Trump than they do to Jesus Christ.

This reality, which I call “Trumpianity” as opposed to Christianity, still befuddles and shocks me. For generations, evangelical leaders spoke forcefully about “character,” “family values,” and “godly living.” And for many years, they asked, “What would Jesus do?” But since 2016, many (not all) evangelicals completely jettisoned those principles when it came to Donald Trump.

It’s not a partisan statement to point out the obvious. President Trump violates every value Jesus taught and lived. Examples abound, including humility, empathy, self-control, generosity, kindness, love, marriage fidelity, truth telling, service over self, compassion for the poor, care for the sick, respect for women, welcome of immigrants, unity, hope, and common decency. And yet, in spite of that, the vast majority of evangelicals voted for Trump twice, constantly defended his vile and corrupt behavior, and still love and adore him.

This cult-like worship of Trump has done enormous damage to the credibility of Christianity and the church. Millions of people, especially young adults, have watched this gross hypocrisy and decided they want nothing to do with institutional religion. The damage done is both massive and irrevocable.

In spite of these critical observations, I still appreciate many things about the American church. And I believe American Christianity can do better than we’ve done over the past four years. I know that’s true because we have done better. In spite of our many failures, the American church accomplishes a massive amount of good.

American Christianity provides meaning, purpose, and hope for millions of believers. It builds significant relationships and faith communities. It motivates people to care for others. It promotes responsible ethics and high ideals. It inspires music, art, and beauty. Historically, American Christianity built large numbers of colleges and hospitals, founded numerous charitable organizations, and helped put an end to child labor. And a good number of Jesus followers fought against slavery, provided fuel for the civil rights movement, and continue to fight for justice in our land today.

If we want, American Christians can rise above our troubling failures during the Trump era. However, in order to do so, we must repent from our idolatry and change our behavior. Instead of worshipping at the altar of political partisanship, we must faithfully follow the example and teachings of Jesus, including his call for love, compassion, forgiveness, kindness, service, justice, and unity. If so, we can still be a great blessing to our nation.
 
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Martin Thielen has served as a minister in the United Methodist Church and the Southern Baptist Convention. He has pastored small, medium, and large churches, including a megachurch of ten thousand members. He also worked as a national denominational editor, consultant, and adjunct seminary professor. He holds a bachelor of arts, a master of divinity, and a doctor of ministry degree, plus a year of Ph.D. studies at Vanderbilt University. Martin is the author of hundreds of articles and eight books including: What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?The Answer to Bad Religion is Not No Religion: A Guide to Good Religion for Seekers, Skeptics and Believers and Searching for Happiness: How Generosity, Faith, and Other Spiritual Habits Can Lead to a Full Life. You can download for free his latest book An Inconvenient Loss of Faith at his website www.DoubtersParish.com.

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****  ProgressiveChristianity.org Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent the official policy of ProgressiveChristianity.org. Any content provided by authors to our website are of their own opinion; we are not becoming a political organization, but we feel unusual times like these times call for a theological response.

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