Why Aren’t Christians Obsessed with Throwing Out Their Trash?

Their faith is damaged by the crazies

I sometimes wonder why there isn’t a League of Decent Christians Against Abusive Evangelicals. Not too long ago, I saw a photo of Franklin Graham praying with Donald Trump, whom he had embraced as a defender of his brand of Christianity. In 2019, when Trump was still president, John Pavlovitz wrote a scathing article about Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr., in which he wrote:

“History is recording the Evangelical Right’s abomination of a marriage with this godless President, and though there were what surely felt like short-term wins, the lasting damage to the Church will be irreparable. People outside Christianity suspecting that religious people are all hypocritical frauds, are being given plenty of evidence for it. Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, and the multitude of lesser known spiritually compromised leaders, need the barrier-breaking, wall-obliterating Jesus whose name they invoke, even as they praise a President who is completely antithetical to him. They need the knees-in-the-dirt repentance they so demand of the world, so that they can admit culpability in the violence of these days and push back against the walls and the bans and the barriers.”  (emphasis added)

Pavlovitz could very well be on the Board of Directors of the League of Decent Christians, but Obery M. Hendricks, Jr. qualifies as well. In 2021 he published Christians Against Christianity: How Right-Wing Evangelicals Are Destroying Our Nation and Our Faith. He opens the book with this powerful indictment: 

“A travesty. That’s how I would characterize Christianity in America today. A travesty, a brutal sham, a tragic charade, a cynical deceit. Why? Because the loudest voices in American Christianity today—those of right-wing evangelicals—shamelessly spew a putrid stew of religious ignorance and political venom that is poisoning our society, making a mockery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” (p. xi, Kindle)
Hendricks points out that he cannot be “dismissed as a contentious outsider.” He is, in fact, “an ardent insider of the faith”: an ordained minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, at one time president of a seminary, and a Bible scholar as well. 
“But most significantly, I speak from a lineage of faithful Christians who know the Gospel of Jesus Christ that right-wing evangelicals seem to have left behind: the Gospel that tells us to love our neighbors, to respond to the cries of the poor and the vulnerable, to accept the immigrant stranger, to seek fairness and justice for all.” (p. xi, Kindle)
I recommend Hendricks’ book because it is a powerful example of what Christianity at its best can be: a commitment to caring and compassion. This is based on his understanding on Jesus, and I will note later the weaknesses of that approach. But more power to him as he speaks eloquently against the cruel, abusive evangelicals who adopted Donald Trump as their hero, for the benefit of their agendas. I recently saw a meme, with a photo of Trump, and the words: “Living Proof: Rock Bottom Has a Basement.” It is hard to fathom how this utterly corrupt person became the idol of so many evangelical leaders. Well, actually, no, it’s not hard to fathom. Trump championed their corrupt agendas, and Hendricks does a fantastic job in providing the details. 
It is brilliant that, right up front,  he condemns conservative Christians for their anti-gay fanaticism. He notes that in 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its diagnostic manual: it was no longer considered an abnormality to be cured. This angered evangelicals, and provoked responses:
“In 1977, Anita Bryant, a born-again Christian and a former Miss America runner-up, founded Save Our Children to repeal an ordinance passed in Miami–Dade County, Florida, that made it illegal to discriminate against homosexuals in housing, employment, and social services. Bryant was supported in her campaign by the National Association of Evangelicals, with its three-million-plus members, and by major evangelical figures Pat Robertson, Jim and Tammy Bakker, and Jerry Falwell. Bryant unleashed a campaign of strident attacks on Miami’s gay community.” (p. 57, Kindle)
This quote is from Chapter 4 of the book, “A New Commandment I Give You: That You Love One Another: Right-wing Evangelicals, Homosexuality, and Marriage Equality.” Hendricks here provides analysis of the so-called clobber texts—the Bible verses commonly used to condemn gay people. These texts do not, in fact, make a powerful case against same-sex relationships. And Hendricks concludes that ancient texts, which require thorough knowledge of the original languages and the cultures that created them, should not be a decisive factor in deciding how to treat gay people. He insists that the compassion advocated by Jesus should be that factor. He expresses his horror at the reaction of evangelical pastors to the 2016 massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida: 49 people killed, 53 wounded. One such pastor declared that the earth was a better place because they’d been killed. Another said it was a pity more didn’t die. 
Hendricks illustrates a better way. He once had a colleague who turned out to be gay. 
“After working with him for about a year, I learned that he was gay when another colleague asked about his partner. I later learned that he and his partner, an equally beautiful human being, had lovingly lived together for almost four decades…this loving, giving, faithfully self-sacrificial man was worthy of all the respect and consideration I could give him, no matter whom he shared his life with.” (p. 76, Kindle)
But the sins of abusive evangelicals extend to other areas as well. Hendricks devotes chapters to their hatred of immigrants and Muslims; their so-called pro-life advocacy, that is, strident opposition to abortion; their support for the NRA. The book’s epilogue is titled, “The Spirit of Anti-Christ,” and includes this blunt analysis:
“…their full possession by a spirit of antichrist can be considered to have occurred when their leaders made a devil’s bargain with Donald Trump to defend his avalanche of lies, hate mongering, blatant moral indecency, and outright attacks on the democratic rule of law in return for his support of their agenda to dominate American society.” (p. 162 Kindle)
Who Donald Trump is cannot have been a secret. Among his many sins and corruptions, Hendrick notes: 
“In 1973, Trump—who was then running the family real estate firm—and his father were sued by the Department of Justice for refusing to let black people live in their buildings, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Federal investigators found an unquestionable pattern of racial exclusion using a number of schemes.” (p. 31, Kindle)
Again, Pavlovitz took aim specifically at two of the most prominent evangelicals: 

“…it’s little surprise that Graham and Falwell have found affinity with Donald Trump, as they are frighteningly similar animals; men cradled from birth in wealth, position, and privilege; buffeted heavily by the deep coffers of others, and handed riches and influence most people will never possess—rarely, if ever considering that they may not be worthy of it.” 

These evangelical leaders are driven not by compassion, but by power. Theocracy is the primary goal.

Indeed, Christians have a lot of trash to throw out, and we can be grateful that Pavlovitz and Hendricks have spoken out so forcefully. 
Their emphasis on the compassion of Jesus—providing the justification for their outrage—is understandable. But does it really hold up? Does it make sense? The case can be made that this is more of the common idealization of Jesus. Hendricks points to Matthew 25:31-36, as an illustration of Jesus’ compassion. But there’s a major flaw here, a very harsh edge. Those people who fail to show compassion—“…for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing…”—what is their fate? “You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…” (v. 41) Wouldn’t a great moral teacher have recommended helpful tutoring for those who didn’t display adequate kindness, not  “you’ll be tossed into eternal fire”?
When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach in villages, he assured them that a sorry fate awaited those who turned them away, i.e., those villages would be treated like Sodom and Gomorrah—utter destruction. At the end of John 3—where verse 16 is about God so loving the world—we find this verse: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life but must endure God’s wrath.” In Matthew 12:36-37, we find this warning: “I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” And one of the worst Jesus quotes is Luke 14:26, i.e. you have to hate your family, and even life itself, to be a disciple. 
It’s not hard at all to find texts that undermine the claim that Jesus was overwhelmingly compassionate. This is hardly a surprise, since the gospels were written by men who were promoting the early Jesus cult. There were strict rules for those who wanted to be members, and woe to those who didn’t follow the rules. New Testament scholarship has been struggling for a long time with the issue of authenticity: there is no way to know for sure what Jesus actually said. The case can be made that all Jesus-script was invented by the gospel authors. We can’t really blame devout, decent Christians like Hendricks who choose to focus on their cherished compassionate Jesus. But this requires ignoring too much of the content of the gospels. 
David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, now being reissued in several volumes, the first of which is Guessing About God (2023) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). The Spanish translation of this book is also now available. 
His YouTube channel is here. At the invitation of John Loftus, he has written for the Debunking Christianity Blog since 2016.
The Cure-for-Christianity Library©, now with more than 500 titles, is here. A brief video explanation of the Library is here


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