Barabbas, Trump, And The Death Of The Right-Wing Jesus

jesus-on-trump-cross

I will begin this post with a note to my religion-minded readers. I’m not opposed to religious belief. I’m not opposed to spirituality. I’m not opposed to faith in a higher power. What I am opposed to is the cult of certainty that surrounds so many religions or belief systems. I’m opposed to fundamentalism, to the kind of beliefs that lead to the beheading of infidels in Syria and to the murder of abortion providers in Kansas.

I also want to say that I’m not even opposed to belief in Jesus. Even though I am a former conservative evangelical Christian, I don’t get too worked up over anyone who still does believe, who holds on to the idea that Jesus was killed and then awakened by God as if he were merely sleeping. Such beliefs are your business, as far as I’m concerned. If they motivate you to do good, all the better. If they motivate you to put down others and condemn them, shame on you.

But because I am a former conservative evangelical Christian, because I still closely follow the Religious Right and its attempt to influence, if not control, public policy, this post is about the Jesus of the conservative evangelical movement, the Jesus who conservative Christians say we all should follow and submit to as we await his promised return. This post isn’t necessarily about your Jesus, the one you worship in your church. It is about the Jesus I grew up with, the one I worshiped as an evangelical right-winger, the one that so many prominent evangelical leaders present to us from their pulpits, or on television or through the radio or the mail or, these days, online. And that “family values” Jesus—the Jesus of Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Ralph Reed, and other prominent Religious Right leaders—is at this very moment hanging on a cross, a Trump cross, being tortured to death in a way even Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ understates.

The New Testament tells us that Pontius Pilate, the governor of Roman-occupied Judea from AD 26-36, observed the alleged Jewish Passover custom of allowing the public to commute the death sentence of one prisoner held in custody. According to the biblical accounts, Pilate offered to the crowd a man named Barabbas, who was an anti-establishment revolutionary, or Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed to be the son of God. Unfortunately for Jesus, the crowd chose Barabbas. I thought about that story when I read this morning about yet another evangelical pastor who is endorsing Donald Trump. We can add Reverend Tony Suarez to a long list of evangelical Christian leaders who have chosen their Barabbas over their Jesus.

Three months ago, a prominent and influential conservative theologian, Wayne Grudem, authored a piece for Townhall called, “Why Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice.” Grudem’s intellectual credentials are sterling: the man graduated from Harvard (BA), Westminster Seminary-Philadelphia (MDiv. DD), and took a PhD from Cambridge (yes, that Cambridge). In his pro-Trump article, Grudem says he “has taught Christian ethics for 39 years.” In other words, he’s no Jimmy Swaggart from Ferriday, Louisiana.

Grudem told us in July that, despite Trump’s many, many flaws, voting for him “is the morally right thing to do.” Here is a stunning paragraph from a professor of conservative Christian ethics:

He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages. These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.

Please note something very important: Grudem categorized Trump’s infamous call for the murder—the murder—of the families of terrorists as just one of several “mistaken ideas.” To Grudem, Trump’s call for murdering innocents was not a morally disqualifying policy statement, not a terrifying glimpse into Trump’s terrifying mind, but merely a mistaken notion that can easily be overlooked because Trump abandoned it (well, no he hasn’t). If such reasoning represents Christian ethics, then there are no Christian ethics.

Grudem came to regret that article, after Trump’s “pussy” recording came out. Suddenly, our pedigreed professor of ethics found his moral footing. Writing again for Townhall, he said,

I previously called Donald Trump a “good candidate with flaws” and a “flawed candidate” but I now regret that I did not more strongly condemn his moral character. I cannot commend Trump’s moral character, and I strongly urge him to withdraw from the election.

The respected evangelical theologian said Trump’s “vulgar comments in 2005 about his sexual aggression and assaults against women were morally evil and revealed pride in conduct that violates God’s command, ‘You shall not commit adultery.'” Yes! Finally, Grudem was on an ethical roll:

I have now read transcripts of some of his obscene interviews with Howard Stern, and they turned my stomach. His conduct was hateful in God’s eyes and I urge him to repent and call out to God for forgiveness, and to seek forgiveness from those he harmed. God intends that men honor and respect women, not abuse them as sexual objects.

Amen! All was right with the world after all. A prominent Christian professor of ethics had found his way back to the ethical! Thank you, Dr. Grudem!

But wait. What? He changed his mind again? Again? Yes. A week ago. He wrote:

I overwhelmingly support Trump’s policies and believe that Clinton’s policies will seriously damage the nation, perhaps forever. On the Supreme Court, abortion, religious liberty, sexual orientation regulations, taxes, economic growth, the minimum wage, school choice, Obamacare, protection from terrorists, immigration, the military, energy, and safety in our cities, I think Trump is far better than Clinton (see below for details). Again and again, Trump supports the policies I advocated in my 2010 book Politics According to the Bible.

Without Trump repenting, without Trump calling out to God for forgiveness, without Trump seeking forgiveness from those he wronged—in fact he’s called them all liars and threatened to sue them after the election—Dr. Grudem nevertheless has, again, chosen Barabbas. And that deplorable turnabout represents the Jesus I have known all my life being nailed to a Trump cross. Such tortured reasoning by a renowned evangelical theologian represents the slow torture of the right-wing Jesus, the one shoved down our throats election after election, the one used to trash Democratic candidates and Democratic policies, the one offered as condemnation of liberalism’s alleged moral failings, or of the real moral failings of liberal candidates.

The conservative-created Jesus is up there hanging on a cross in front of Trump Tower, where so many right-wing evangelicals have gone over the past year to cast their lots with the Republican candidate. The Trump-branded Jesus of conservative evangelicalism is dying before our eyes. And no matter whether Trump wins or loses the election, that Jesus will soon be dead and buried. Like the crowd who supposedly stood before Pontius Pilate so long ago, evangelicals on the Religious Right could have chosen Trump or they could have chosen their family-values Jesus. But they couldn’t choose both. Overwhelmingly, judging by the polls, conservative evangelicals have made their choice. And this time there will be no resurrection from the dead. There will be no Easter Sunday for the Jesus of Wayne Grudem or Jerry Falwell, Jr., or Pat Robertson. And I, for one, will be glad to see that Jesus gone forever.

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14 Comments

  1. Robert J Roberts

     /  October 26, 2016

    Well said. I have the same feelings but you express them far better than I.

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  2. Ed Stockton

     /  October 26, 2016

    As a left wing Christian, (yes, we exist) I couldn’t agree more. I will not sit in a church with the kind of people you describe. Thank you for your keen insight.

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    • Thanks, Ed. I know about you left wing Christians! I used to really like Tony Campolo when he was on TV debating the conservative evangelical (I forgot his name). He always struck me as the real deal, when it comes to Christianity. I wish there were more of you guys.

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  3. In a weird way, it could be argued that the evangelicals are actually following the ethics of Jesus. I mean JC was all about forgiveness, and loving your neighbor, and not being judgmental and doing most of the other stuff from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7.) Of course, Trump won’t get into heaven with all that money (if he actually has any) because he wouldn’t fit in the “eye of the needle.”

    And Trump wouldn’t do well with the beatitudes either. As a builder, Trump might want to consider this passage, “Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it didn’t fall, for it was founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine, and doesn’t do them will be like a foolish man, who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” — Matthew 7:24–27, World English Bible. Seems to fit, doesn’t it?

    But not to worry, all Trump has to do is be “born again” and his little world will be set aright.

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    • Herb,

      My problem with the mixture of politics and conservative religion is well illustrated by your point about forgiveness. In real life, most of the evangelicals I know would readily forgive even the most grievous sin of someone who they saw as seeking forgiveness. So long as they were in their camp, or their tribe, as we like to say. But in politics, Hillary Clinton doesn’t get any of that forgiveness because she is of a different tribe. So, that is why it is all so phony to me. Trump can be forgiven the most horrendous sins. Clinton is forever doomed for hell.

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  4. But, Duane, surely you see that against this, one must weigh the fact of email carelessness. Somewhere in the large new batch of Huma Abaden’s emails there will surely be one or more with a small “c” or “s” at the bottom. Then we will be certain that the sky has actually fallen and we are doomed.

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    • Robert J Roberts

       /  October 29, 2016

      Jim, LOL as the youngsters say.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
    • Jim,

      I have been absolutely appalled at Comey’s actions. Either he is as stupid as a rock in not anticipating the response to his letter, or he purposely meant to do Hillary harm. Either way, I have lost all confidence in him as a law enforcement official. If he wants to maintain any amount of integrity, he should resign immediately and tell us that he messed up in July when he decided Hillary Clinton should be treated unlike any other person under investigation by the FBI. Last Friday was just an extension of that original sin.

      Duane

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  5. King Beauregard

     /  November 4, 2016

    Hey Duane, I thought you might find this interesting: the crime spike in the late 80s / early 90s that nobody can explain, may have been a delayed consequence of our use of leaded gasoline (and our subsequent shift to unleaded). Take a large number of urban children hotboxing leaded auto fumes, some number of them are going to manifest developmental issues that steer them towards poor impulse control and violent behavior.

    http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/02/lead-exposure-gasoline-crime-increase-children-health

    If this article is as sound as it seems, it’s a game-changer as far as law enforcement goes. The 1994 crime bill and our whole approach to policing has been built around the unexpected return of violent Crips and Bloods at any moment — except they CAN’T return. Our police can demilitarize and return to a peace-time mindset. Tough-on-crime is now scientifically less productive than making sure kids are taken care of (as liberals have been claiming for decades but now have the numbers to prove it). Finally, it looks like the EPA of all people solved our crime problem decades ago, and entirely by accident … now THAT’S an efficient federal agency.

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    • KB,

      Thanks for the link. I have at least twice written unpublished pieces about this phenomenon (I haven’t published anything on it because I have been focused on the Trump thing) ever since I first learned about it earlier this year. It is something that I expected to hear in media discussions of the crime issue, but I have never heard it brought up on any segment I have seen on CNN or MSNBC. Months ago I heard the now-former NYC police commissioner discuss his law enforcement techniques that, he claimed, led to decreased crime rates. I waited and waited for him or someone on the panel to mention the lead issue. Nope. There is too much motivation to take credit (or to cast blame) in order to point out that lead poisoning is significantly responsible for the decline in crime rates. It is really amazing how little people on television news know about the world.

      Duane

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      • I should have said “the reduction in lead poisoning” leading to the decline in crime rates.

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        • King Beauregard

           /  November 8, 2016

          Maybe it’s just as well, maybe Hillary will be able to roll this into her police agenda. She’s been so busy trying to defend against accusations of how “superpredators” was racist, I don’t know that it would have worked out to be able to say “but we now know where the superpredators came from and why they won’t come back”.

          That said, my little crusade of late has been to try to inform parties who might know what to do with it: BLM, Campaign Zero, and the like. We were nationally traumatized by the skyrocketing crime rates up thru the early 90s, most people assumed the crime rates stayed there and therefore the police have to remain tough just to survive. But that’s not the case at all, and if that mindset changes, demilitarization makes much more sense.

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          • You are so right. Most people don’t know how much things have improved (no matter the reason right now) and it hasn’t helped at all that Trump has been on television every day for months telling his numb-skull voters that crime in the “inner cities” is absolutely out of control. I like your idea of spreading the news to those who can use it in a positive way. Seems perfect for BLM. Also good idea about Clinton using it, if she makes it (I’m very superstitious about pre-game talk).

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