Al­ter­na­tive Chris­tian­ity

Their agenda is con­tra­dic­tory

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - By Phil Zuck­er­man Phil Zuck­er­man is a pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy and sec­u­lar stud­ies at Pitzer Col­lege and the au­thor of “Liv­ing the Sec­u­lar Life.”

Evan­gel­i­cals have never had it so good, po­lit­i­cally speaking.

Since Pres­i­dent Trump took of­fice in Jan­uary, the White House has be­come a Chris­tian round­table, with just about ev­ery top-tier seat filled by a faith­ful mem­ber of the fold or some­one who is happy to fur­ther the fold’s agenda.

The lineup of be­liev­ers who are in po­si­tions of power is dizzy­ing. Betsy DeVos, who leads the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, has said her goal as a pub­lic ser­vant is to “ad­vance God’s kingdom.” Sec­re­tary of En­ergy Rick Perry used mass prayer as a means of ad­dress­ing so­cial prob­lems when he was gover­nor of Texas. Ben Carson, sec­re­tary of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment, be­lieves the the­ory of evo­lu­tion was en­cour­aged by the devil.

It doesn’t stop there. Atty. Gen. Jeff Ses­sions has said that peo­ple who don’t be­lieve in God can’t be truth­ful. Mike Pom­peo, the di­rec­tor of the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency, is an evan­gel­i­cal who op­poses abor­tion even in cases of rape. The pres­i­dent’s at­tor­ney, Jay Seku­low, an­other evan­gel­i­cal, has defended school prayer at the Supreme Court, and Trump’s spir­i­tual ad­vi­sor, Paula White, is a Pentecostal tel­e­van­ge­list who teaches that if peo­ple give her church thousands of dol­lars, God will re­ward them with fa­vors. Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence might be the most pi­ously anti-gay politi­cian in Amer­ica.

What’s re­ally re­mark­able about this group, how­ever, is not that so many ar­dent wor­ship­pers of Je­sus are run­ning the coun­try, but how non-Chris­tian this os­ten­si­bly Chris­tian gov­ern­ment is prov­ing to be. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Bible devo­tees are push­ing an agenda that flies in the face of their own sav­ior’s mes­sage.

Je­sus taught that wealth was deeply prob­lem­atic, if not in­im­i­cal to spir­i­tual health, for in­stance. He preached that a per­son can­not serve both God and money (Luke 16), that it is nearly im­pos­si­ble for the rich to get into heaven (Matthew 19) and that if you want to be in good graces with the Lord, you ought to sup­port the poor (Matthew 19). It’s those liv­ing in poverty, Je­sus said, who are truly blessed (Luke 6).

And yet Trump’s ap­pointees are do­ing all they can to in­crease the wealth of the wealthy and cut funds and ser­vices for the poor. Some of the most sup­pos­edly Chris­tian mem­bers of the ad­min­is­tra­tion have worked the hard­est to take away health­care from mil­lions of poor Amer­i­cans.

Je­sus was big on mercy (Luke 6) and for­give­ness (Colossians 3), and was him­self tor­tured and mur­dered by a bru­tal regime. Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion have called for harsh penal­ties for non­vi­o­lent drug of­fend­ers and dra­co­nian sen­tenc­ing in gen­eral.

Con­sider what Je­sus taught about vi­o­lence and weapons: They’re bad. “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword,” he said (Matthew 26). The White House em­braces Amer­ica’s pow­er­ful gun lobby and does so de­spite ter­ri­ble mass shoot­ings that have be­come rou­tine.

Je­sus loved and pro­tected those who were tar­geted and deemed out­casts by so­ci­ety’s re­ac­tionar­ies. But it’s Trump’s as­so­ciates and other Chris­tian politi­cians who show the least em­pa­thy for gay peo­ple, trans­gen­der peo­ple, Mus­lims and other vul­ner­a­ble groups.

Oh, and how about that inn? The one where poor Joseph and preg­nant, un­mar­ried Mary, who had left home for Beth­le­hem, couldn’t get a room (Luke 2)? Surely Je­sus would welcome the refugees of the world to the most wealthy of na­tions. Yet his most zeal­ous fol­low­ers in the White House want to keep the poor and per­se­cuted out. No room at this inn, they say. You have to won­der: Do they make such de­ci­sions be­fore or af­ter Bible study?

Mil­lions of Chris­tians across the world take the teach­ings of Je­sus se­ri­ously, of course. They work in soup kitchens, home­less shel­ters and or­phan­ages. They help peo­ple over­come ad­dic­tion. They sup­port the most vul­ner­a­ble, ad­vo­cate non­vi­o­lence and com­pas­sion, fight for hu­man rights. They care about the pain cli­mate change will cause. Unfortunately, they are not the Chris­tians run­ning this coun­try.

Many Amer­i­cans shud­dered when Kellyanne Con­way used the phrase “al­ter­na­tive facts” to de­fend White House claims about the size of the crowd at Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion. But the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s al­ter­na­tive Chris­tian­ity may prove just as detri­men­tal as its loose grasp on truth. While these men and women pro­fess love for Je­sus, they cre­ate suf­fer­ing and mis­ery in his name.

As­so­ci­ated Press and Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

TRUMP’S RE­LI­GIOUS ROUND­TABLE in­cludes, from left: Mike Pence, Ben Carson, Jeff Ses­sions and Betsy DeVos.

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