Email #256: “faith into action”?

A.R. Bernard, pastor of the Christian Cultural Center, resigned from the president’s Evangelical Advisory Board on Friday, saying: “It became obvious that there was a deepening conflict in values between myself and the administration.”

James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, left the board in October. He said of the President this week: “It’s the height of hypocrisy to demand that people use the term ‘Islamic terrorism’ and then turn around and refuse to use similarly candid terms when referring to racial hate crimes.”

After President Trump’s remarks about Charlottesville, even the President’s most vocal evangelical supporter, pastor Robert Jeffress, acknowledged the failings of his own church:

“In our church — First Baptist Dallas — we have a number of people of diversity, diverse races, economic backgrounds. And, I believe quite frankly, there has been a failure on the part of the Church, even a failure on conservative Christians in decades past, to denounce racism, to embrace segregation, which is so wrong. I think we did have some catching up to do but I think that in this environment, we need to say clearly, that racism is abhorrent in the eyes of God.”

And yet Jeffress also defended President Trump: “I know the president, you know the president, there is not a racist bone in his body.”

But how do we know this? It seems many evangelicals still believe in the President based on faith–but not Christian faith. They believe in him out of political convenience. James Dobson, another member of the President’s advisory committee, said before the election:

“Only the Lord knows the condition of a person’s heart.  I can only tell you what I’ve heard.  First, Trump appears to be tender to things of the Spirit.  I also hear that Paula White has known Trump for years and that she personally led him to Christ.  Do I know that for sure?  No.  Do I know the details of that alleged conversion?  I can’t say that I do… If anything, this man is a baby Christian who doesn’t have a clue about how believers think, talk and act.  All I can tell you is that we have only two choices, Hillary or Donald.  Hillary scares me to death.  And, if Christians stay home because he isn’t a better candidate, Hillary will run the world for perhaps eight years.  The very thought of that haunts my nights and days.  One thing is sure:  we need to be in prayer for our nation at this time of crisis.”

That need for prayer has only increased as our nation slips into deeper crisis under President Trump’s unchristian leadership. And yet people who consider themselves good Christians continue to support him because he has given lip service to their political agenda.

Last spring, the President signed an executive order “to protect and vigorously promote religious liberty” by allowing religious organizations to be more politically active while also remaining tax-exempt. The President said: “We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore. And we will never, ever stand for religious discrimination. Never, ever.”

The following week, the President gave the commencement speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg, an hour from my home in Lexington. He said: “America is better when people put their faith into action. As long as I am your president, no one is ever going to stop you from practicing your faith or from preaching what’s in your heart.”

Since white evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for President Trump, many see the executive order as freeing conservative Christian leaders to increase their support of the GOP. But religion is diverse.

In North Carolina, Reverend Stephen Handy, senior pastor of a United Methodist Church, helps lead the grassroots activist organization Moral Movement Tennessee in protests against repealing the Affordable Care Act. He said during a governor’s office sit-in in April: “We are gathered here today to remind our governor and those in this beloved state of Tennessee the obligation to a moral reality and ensuring that there’s a moral compass that is reset in this state. There are 280,000 people that don’t have affordable or accessible health care. We’re standing in the gap for them.”

In California, PICO, People Improving Communities through Organizing, is an organization of congregations of over fifty different faiths and denominations, who believe “that religion brings us together rather than divides America; that our varied faith traditions call on us to act to make our communities and our nation better places to live.” They are advocating to preserve ACA Medicaid and to expand it even further.

In North Carolina, Reverend Dr. William Barber, pastor of Disciples of Christ church and former NAACP president, has been leading Moral Monday protests in Raleigh. He told a crowd of 80,000: “If you think this is just a left-versus-right movement, you’re missing the point. This is about the moral center. This is about our humanity.” He calls the conservative Christian approach of focusing on abortion and homosexuality instead of the needy a form of “theological malpractice.”

When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, my family joined a Catholic congregation led by labor activist and civil rights marcher Monsignor Rice. My parents then co-founded their own grassroots activist organization and took our township to court and forced it to desegregate the all-white police department. Right now in Lexington, two of our ministers are also two of our major progressive voices. Other members of our local activist group 50 Ways Rockbridge have been organizing prayer vigils, including one which urged gathers to “please pray for federal employees of EPA that believe in their mission.”

So I am glad that you praised the President’s executive order. You said on the same day: “The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ensures that we have the right to express our views and religious beliefs… No American should live in fear of reprisal from the federal government based on what they believe.”

I agree. And now I ask you to put your religious beliefs into action and speak against the anti-Christian bigotry of our President.

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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