Van Ens: Don’t compromise basic Christianity
Basic Christian beliefs are non-negotiable. If watered down, these tenets focusing on Jesus, the Christ, are compromised. Then Christianity withers, like yellowed corn husks after a harvest.
The non-negotiable beliefs I learned attending private Protestant Christian schools from kindergarten through a decade of post-graduate study after college are: Theology matters. Character counts. Truth-telling is vital. Christ rescues us from our worst selves. Jesus’ hospitality embraced immigrants (who the Bible calls “strangers,” “aliens” or “refugees). Christ bestows dignity on us. Consequently, we are precious.
Some evangelicals compromise these Christian basics because they support a president who doesn’t study Jesus, lacks character, spins tall tales, rejects Christ’s forgiveness, shows slight empathy for refugees, and treats critics as scum.
How do evangelical leaders justify supporting a president who compromises Christianity’s basic beliefs? Interviewed on New Year’s Day, 2019 by The Washington Post newspaper, Liberty University’s President Jerry Falwell, Jr. defended President Trump’s lack of Christian faith. “You don’t choose a president based on how good (moral) they are; you choose a president based on what his policies are,” declared Falwell.
What are the consequences of Falwell’s faulty convictions? Don’t use Christian principles to measure Trump’s faith. Rather, commend the president for his policies that enormously benefit evangelicals and allow them to exercise more political muscle than their demographics warrant.
Many evangelicals rally around President Trump because he supports their anti-abortion and anti-same-sex agenda. He won their approval by attending the Jan. 24, 2020, March for Life on the National Mall in Washington. Trump’s anti-abortion address marked the first time a U.S president spoke at this demonstration on the Washington Mall.
Evangelicals also endorse Trump because he has tilted the Supreme Court by appointing conservative justices and packing the federal judiciary with constitutional originalist judges. Even though white voters will lose majority status in a few decades because of the growing Hispanic vote, their clout will remain strong because of a conservative judiciary supporting their political agenda.
Evangelicals also endorse Trump because of his fervent pro-Israel stance. Some evangelicals believe in end-time events coming soon, such as the conversion of Jews and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, that dovetail with Trump’s pro-Israel agenda.
History reveals this is not the first instance when conservative Christians rallied around a president who rejected basic traditional Christian beliefs.
On New Year’s Day 1802, President Thomas Jefferson received a very strange gift from Baptist Christians who milked cows in the Berkshire Mountains’ hamlet of Cheshire, Massachusetts. These Jefferson supporters in one day milked 900 cows they swore had udders dedicated to the glory of their presidential hero.
Citizens made a mammoth cheese, which weighed 1,235 pounds. Led by their revivalist preacher John Leland, these citizens presented the gargantuan cheese to President Jefferson. They hailed their gift as “The Greatest Cheese in America, for the greatest Man in America!” They endorsed making America great again in this “cheesy way.”
Who cared about Christianity’s basic beliefs? Jefferson’s policies gave political power to these persecuted Baptists. Every citizen from the town of Cheshire voted for Jefferson in the presidential election of 1800. When one ballot was cast for another candidate, it was thrown out because Cheshire town officials were convinced it was fraudulent. Each citizen, like the 900 cows, branded themselves Jefferson’s fans.
Their pastor John Leland believed in miracles. He revered the Bible as God’s very words. He worshipped Jesus as a divine savior. He confessed himself a sinner saved by Christ’s mercy. Each of these basic beliefs Jefferson refuted as not bestowed by God but invented by corrupt Christian tradition.
Because those Baptists achieved political power, they supported Jefferson. These persecuted Baptists ignored that their president honored basic Christian beliefs because his polities protected their political liberties.
Historian Jon Meacham, The New York Times op-ed contributor, urges Christians to oppose our amoral President Trump during Lent. How? Meacham suggests retrieving basic Christianity.
“The political hero of the Christian right of 2020,” writes Meacham, “has used the National Prayer Breakfast to mock the New Testament injunction “to love one’s enemies,” and it’s clear that leading Conservative voices are putting the Supreme Court ahead of the Sermon on the Mount.”
Will basic Christian beliefs convince conservative Christians to switch their votes from Trump whose religion compromises Christianity?
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.