By Harrison Neville
I’m not part of a cult, but there are days when it feels like it. I grew up in a Christian family, went to a Christian school, went to church every Sunday and was part of a Boy Scout troop where we ended every meeting with prayer. Everyone around me was a Christian, and so as a child I was under the impression that all Christians should be in agreement on most things.
Yet, as I have grown older and more aware, I haven’t been impressed with the way visible aspects of the church have engaged with society.
I am ashamed to say that I have seen Christianity used to endorse hate speech against immigrants and embolden fear-mongering tactics, preying on fears among white Christians that their way of life is under threat from foreign influence. I have seen a rise in an us-versus-them mentality, an increase in rhetoric denouncing anyone who disagrees or seems to contradict the current Christian narrative.
I am ashamed to say that the American Church most visible to the public eye has morphed into an extension of conservatism that has far more to do with politics than actual faith.
I am not, however ashamed to admit that I am a Christian. Christianity has played a huge part on my life, and a desire to serve God by helping other people has been the driving reason I decided to become a journalist. I am unashamed of my faith, but I am ashamed of the way it has been weaponized.
I am not trying to call out individual Christians or call into question the reality of their faith in God, but I think it is past time that Christians remembered we didn’t swear an oath to a political philosophy.
Unfortunately, this is not a new issue. In 1984, during the Republican National Convention, Ronald Reagan attended a prayer breakfast where he claimed that society was no longer tolerant of religion.
“We began to make great steps toward secularizing our nation and removing religion from its honored place,” said Reagan.
He was speaking to an audience of primarily white Christians, and according to an article in the Washington Post by Dr. Steven M. Gillon – a senior faculty fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia – it was at this moment that white protestants and Republicanism became intertwined.
In his speech, Reagan comments specifically on decisions made around religion in the 1960’s, but the decisions he criticizes, such as the supreme court case that ruled schools could not endorse Christianity, came the same decade as landmark civil rights legislation such as the Voting Rights Act. Interestingly enough, during the 1980s, after years of support, the Republican party ignored supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, which provided for protection against discrimination for women.
Gillon points to a quote from Jerry Falwell, the founder of Moral Majority, who said at the end of the RNC that the incumbent ticket was “God’s instruments in rebuilding America.”
So, despite what he might believe, Trump was not the first to claim that it was time to make America great again. It’s an idea that has been with the Republican party for decades.
This narrative has continued to infect the American church and stained its message, because by refusing to acknowledge the fact that Christianity has been a tool of oppression in the past, we fail to see how it is one in the present.
It has a history filled with racism and discrimination, but instead of confronting it, we ignore it. I’m speaking as a Christian, not to condemn Christianity, but to say that is time the American Church revitalized itself.
Both the Ku Klux Klan and the League of The South – whom Southern Poverty Law Center classified as hate groups – claimed to be rooted in Christianity. During the 2016 election, former Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke, who also has claimed to be a Christian, endorsed presidential candidate Donald J. Trump, a move which should have caused far more Evangelicals to question their own support for the future president. Yet, despite this, according to Pew Research, 81% of white evangelicals in 2016 still voted for Trump.
Pew Research also shows that since 2004, support among white evangelical voters for Republican candidates never dropped below 74%.
The sad truth is, white evangelicals are in the pocket of the Republican party, and Republicans know it. They know exactly what catchy words to throw out in order to keep their supporters.
Continually, white evangelicals have blindly followed in the steps of leaders who clearly care little for the morals espoused by Christ. It’s no wonder that some of my friends view my religion as a cult.
Because it sure feels like it sometimes.