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The Challenge for Evangelicals

 
Everything changes, and often not for the better. Life on this planet will end eventually, possibly sooner rather than later, due to, for example, nuclear annihilation, still quite possible but no longer front page, eruption of earth’s core, as in a Yellowstone caldera catastrophe, or collision with an asteroid, even though we humans think we can stop that with the appropriate technology.

On a lesser scale, we could very well be witnessing the end of the human experiment with democracy, at least in America. The triple threat of pandemic, the politics of power, and climate change, all of which come together as one package, have the capacity to totally change life as we know it.

We continually are warned by the medical community that the way to beat covid is to be vaccinated, but the number of people who refuse that simple social obligation staggers the imagination. Add to that the fact that industrialized countries do not share the medicine sufficiently with the developing world, and thereby allow a breeding ground for new, perhaps more dangerous mutation. The solution to the pandemic threat is at hand, we have the wherewithal to end the pandemic, but we lack the will-power and sense of responsibility to do it.

The second threat lies within the human lust for power and prestige. Democracy relies on a basic respect for one another, a recognition that we are together on this planet, and that we need to cooperate in order to survive. Instead, we see a resurgence of an autocratic frame of mind, accompanied by increased willingness to denigrate and demonize those who differ and to use violence against them. The masses who have been stripped of dignity through the unequal distribution of wealth, and who suffer loss of food, shelter, education and health, cheer on the dictators who promise a good future but who in reality amass ever more wealth and power unto themselves.

The third threat is climate change, both recognized and denied by the purveyors of fossil fuel for years in their lust for profit. They knew decades ago where the process was headed, but insidiously denied the evidence of science. That evidence is now irrefutable, the challenge today being not to admit the truth but to have the willpower to deal with it.

These threats, although distinguishable, are intertwined. Autocrats, sowing the seed of chaos, misinform the masses about covid, exacerbating the fear and anxiety of those to whom they promise salvation. Dealing with climate change requires that the rich and powerful temper their greed, a move they find most difficult. Viruses continue to mutate and replicate in those forgotten corners of the world, even as the changing climate of earth alters and increases those corners, perhaps now no longer forgotten, but instead abandoned. The turmoil ready to unfold, because of our inability to deal with these threats, stands naked before us, the result of our own doing, and perhaps the cause of our undoing.

The greatest challenge is not an asteroid or a volcanic eruption, but a result of our own volition, and therefore at least theoretically fixable. The required response includes many dimensions, all of which need to be addressed. One of those elements is religion, and in America the culprit is fundamentalist Christianity, which has become linked to white supremacy in a re-run of the good-old god-and-country unholy alliance. So-called Christian values are tied to the founding of America, such that we are a “Christian nation”, an ideology reminiscent of the Crusades.

A common characteristic of almost all religion is that it claims to have the inside track on who god is and what god wants, and therefore how people must behave. This is certainly true of the fundamentalist heresy of American Christianity. I say “heresy” in the spirit of John Shelby Spong, who identified the worship of the Bible- not God- , as the foundational belief of American fundamentalism. But bibliolatry is only one aspect of the “I know the truth and you don’t” superiority complex of this group, and their attitude wouldn’t be so dangerous were they not the backbone of the Republican party in the US. Were it not for American “christian” fundamentalism supporting Republicans, we would not be divided as we are now, a division becoming daily more dangerous as the Republicans and the conspiracy theorists become increasingly more unhinged.

Joining the forces of political power and religion is nothing new. In fact, that is precisely why Jesus was crucified. He lived in a time of extreme inequality when the rich and powerful oppressed the poor and cared naught for the wretched of the earth. Jesus, in contrast, gathered a community of disciples, who cared and shared, little though they had. The movement caught on, threatening the powerful who in turn infiltrated both the thinking and the structure of the nascent community, and by the close of the New Testament period, the threat that Jesus initiated had been neutralized. We read in the New Testament book of Timothy that slaves must obey their masters, no matter how brutal, wives must obey their husbands, and everyone must obey the ruling authorities, who, of course, are the rich and powerful.

No, the conjoining of religion and power politics is nothing new. It has been and will continue to be the prophetic calling of the church to speak truth to power. And in particular, it is the task of the new young voices in the evangelical churches to liberate their institutions from that unholy alliance with the unhinged power brokers of the Republican party. Their dedication to Jesus must call them back to his vision of peace and justice for all, and not power and prestige for the select few. At this point in our history, faced with the threats of pandemic, autocracy and climate change, that challenge has never been so great.
 
Dr. Carl Krieg received his BA from Dartmouth College, MDiv from Union Theological Seminary in NYC and PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is the author of What to Believe? the Questions of Christian Faith and The Void and the Vision. As professor and pastor, Dr. Krieg has taught innumerable classes and led many discussion groups. He lives with his wife Margaret in Norwich, VT.

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