Jeanette Strong: Using God as a convenience
“[God] will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of heaven as a shortcut to the nearest chemist’s shop.” C.S. Lewis, Christian author
In nine days, billions of people around the world will celebrate Christmas, honoring the birth of Jesus. Many of those celebrating don’t identify as Christians, but most people appreciate a time of year dedicated to the ideals of peace and good will among all people.
In America, Christianity is the dominant religion. A group called Evangelicals is a subset of American Christianity. They’re a minority of American Christians, but their political influence is disproportionally high. Their beginnings can be traced to 1979, when Jerry Falwell Sr. founded the Moral Majority. His specific goal was to make the Religious Right a powerful political entity.
In 1989, Falwell disbanded the organization, saying, “Our goal has been achieved… The religious right is solidly in place and … religious conservatives in America are now in for the duration.” These are today’s Evangelicals.
Evangelicals want their interpretation of the Bible to be the dominant version. They are the kind of people who supported slavery in the 1800s because they said the Bible endorsed it. They’re the people who opposed women’s right to vote, based on their reading of Scripture. They’re the people who defended segregation, again because they manipulated Scriptures to fit what they wanted. What issues do they focus on today? Abortion and homosexuality.
Evangelicals try to claim these are the beliefs that distinguish true Christians from others. In their eyes, anyone who doesn’t condemn abortion or homosexuality must be anti-God. Interestingly, Jesus never talked about these issues. People who actually read the four Gospels know this.
What Jesus did talk about was how we are to treat the poor, the sick, immigrants, prisoners, and others who are suffering. His teachings are clear throughout the Gospels, such as in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7, especially 5:38-39; 6:24; 7:12) and Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus also taught us to treat others as we want to be treated (Luke 6:31).
This matters because Evangelicals are creating official U.S. policy based on their twisted view of Scripture. Under President Donald Trump, millions of Americans are hungry, sick, facing homelessness and plunging into poverty. Hundreds of thousands are dying. And Evangelical leaders stand by doing nothing.
Instead, they are focused on appointing conservative judges whom they think will overturn abortion laws and gay rights, while they ignore those in our country who need adequate housing, food, medical care, and other necessities for survival. Just as the priests and soldiers spit on Jesus (Matthew 26:67; 27:30), these Evangelicals are spitting on everything Jesus actually taught, while obsessing over issues he never even mentioned.
Whom did Jesus himself criticize? The business people of his day who profited by cheating people (Matthew 21:12-13; John 2:13-16). He also blasted the hypocritical religious leaders who used their power and prestige to enrich themselves instead of looking out for those less fortunate (Matthew 23:1-33; Luke 20:45-47).
In Luke 4:1-13, Jesus was tempted by Satan. In verses 5-8, Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus bowed down to him. Jesus could have taken a shortcut to worldly political power. He refused. This was the same choice given to American Evangelicals. What did they do?
Many of these Evangelical leaders are doing just as C.S. Lewis said. Instead of promoting Jesus’ teachings, they’re using Christianity as a political tool to achieve their political objectives. They are taking the shortcut in order to gain political power. Falwell’s goal has indeed been achieved.
In 2016, 81 percent of Evangelicals who voted, voted for Trump. In 2020, around 80 percent again voted for Trump. Knowing his corrupt and cruel history, they decided voting for him was still justified as long as he passed laws they liked. Upholding Jesus’ teachings became irrelevant.
Whether a person follows Jesus or not, everyone ought to agree that treating others as we want to be treated should be reflected in our political behavior. Caring for those who need help and rejecting policies that increase suffering should be concepts anyone can support.
Not everyone who celebrates Christmas calls themselves a Christian; that’s fine. Those of us who do should honor Jesus’ birth by living the way he taught us to live. I hope everyone has a blessed, safe, and very Merry Christmas!
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.