The newly elected Brazilian president Jair Messias Bolsonaro promised: “God above everything. There is no such thing as this secular state. The state is Christian and the minority will have to change, if they can. The minorities will have to adapt to the position of the majority.”
The statement of the far-right Brazilian president sounds sweet to the ears of Christian supremacists and dominionists in the US, who are rejoicing in what they see as the important international fruit of the leadership of the American president Donald Trump. In their view America and Brazil are being conquered for Christ. Like the recently resigned Attorney General Jeff Sessions they would like to see the separation of church and state dismantled first; this archaic obstacle in their path to the ushering in of the Kingdom of God in the US, Brazil, and elsewhere soon. So, the emerging of the Brazilian president, barely elected and already declaring that the non-Christians of Brazil will have to submit to the rule of Christians, comes as a glad tiding to the ears of American Christian supremacists.
In their view Jair Bolsonaro is a God’s choice, divinely appointed and anointed at this time to lead Brazil the same way the current US President was “divinely” elected two years ago. This should not come as surprise when one considers that Brazilian “evangelical leaders have used their pulpits, church rolls and massive media outlets to unabashedly push Mr Bolsonaro’s upstartcandidacy,” despite the fact that president’s pre-presidential record has for years been anything by godly. The same man was reported as having said that Afro-Brazilians are “lazy and fat”, in the same breath calling refugees from Haiti, Africa, and the Middle East as the “scum of humanity”. About the use of torture, the love of all dictators, he said: “The dictatorship’s mistake was to torture but not kill.” He was also reported saying about a fellow female Brazilian politician: “I would never rape you because you don’t deserve it”.
Should anyone think that the religious radicalism of the newly elected Brazilian president is just a coincidence with no serious consequences, consider that in the US, which still holds the banner as the world’s leader in the advancement of religious freedom, a far-right Washington Republican winner of the reelection bid Matt Shea, apparently holds and promotes even more radical views for which he is investigated by FBI at this time. He believes that in “Christian America” all ‘unbelievers’ will eventually have to yield to armed Christians. Matt Shea recently constructed “Biblical Base for War”, a four page “Bible study” document intended to guide ‘the church militant” in how and whom to kill in the “holy war”, led by a “holy leader” and executed by “born again” warriors, under the direct guidance of the “warrior God”.
Apparently Matt’s ‘holy war’ outline explains “how to establish Christian law through armed struggle, calls for the end of same-sex marriage, abortion, and the death of all non-Christian males in the US if religious law is not upheld”. The document is actually an elaboration of the Old Testament theocratic rules for war applied in the days of Moses. They look very much like what a jihadist rule book might look like that describes how to treat ‘the infidels’ who would not “yield” to their particular interpretation of Islam.
Matt Shea is a Christian Dominionist. He is a part of a small but vocal branch of Evangelical supremacists who believe that Jesus gave Christians the authority to rule over the world in his name, in the most literal sense, with guns and full assistance of the law. He and many other Evangelicals believe that their day has come to “reclaim America for God”, by all means necessary. Over the past two years we have been witnessing the increase of people from the religious fringes coming out of their ideological closets of political insignificance, united in the belief that the current US President is God’s gift to them to finally bring about “the reign of God” in America.
Their intentions are not a secret. They are using Google, Facebook, YouTube and many other social media platforms generously to promote their radical worldviews. You will see them featured in videos, praying for God’s favor, with their guns and Bibles proudly in their hands. Their self-styled prophets are mass-producing “the word of the Lord” in support of President Trump as their champion, while their heavenly dreams and revelations are warning their audiences of former President Barack Obama’s plot to return, this time as the Antichrist, and declaring the judgments of God upon America for all “the sins of Democrats”. They appear convinced that their fight is for Christ, His kingdom, and the rebirth of America as an undiluted Christian nation. And when that day comes, their versions of “Christian nation” will not tolerate homosexuals, Muslims, communists, immigrants, and – rest assured – Christians who do not fit their ideological paradigm.
It would not be fair to present Donald Trump as a Christian Dominionist. Certainly not yet. Neither are most Evangelicals there yet. But all kinds of Christian supremacists and reconstructionistslove love to be around the president, serve in some capacity close to him, be his spiritual advisers, take photographs with him as they lay their hands on him while prophesying over and about him. They all believe that Trump is their man, God’s anointed, the Cyrus of our days who will make the work of their radical evangelism flourish.
And Donald Trump loves them too.
Earlier this year I wroteabout a somewhat unsettling gathering of prophetic minds called “The Turnaround: An Appeal to Heaven National Gathering”, that took place, with the blessing of the President, in the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC last March. Over one thousand Dominionists in attendance prayed in earnest for the “unleashing [of] angel armies against Trump’s enemies.” The organizers claimed claimed that the gathering will launch a worldwide spiritual revival, and spiritual breakthrough at home. All who dare stand in opposition to the current president were portrayed as “the Antichrist forces”. They declared that “now that the church woke up” it needed to “move from pleading with God to ruling with him and Trump”. They decreed also that God is now “authorizing the church to destroy all God’s enemies and all the enemies of America, in the name of Jesus Christ”.
Dutch Sheet, the self-proclaimed prophet and driving force behind the event, “decreed” that Donald Trump “will accomplish everything Almighty God sent him into that House to do, regardless of who likes it or who doesn’t”. He prayed defiantly against everyone who dared oppose the president: “You will fail! The (Church) will take you out. The outpouring of Holy spirit will take you out. Angels will take you out. You are no match for any of the above. You are no match for his prophetic decrees. So, we push you back. Your finest hour has come and gone. And the church now raises to the place that he has called us to walk in. We now rise up and I call that new order into the earth.”
When one considers the threatening arrogance and raw boldness of such ‘prophetic’ utterances, it does not take much to imagine what groups of fanatics, biblically illiterate militants eager to “do the bidding of the Lord” could be capable of doing “in the name of the Lord”, provided the circumstances are favorable. Imagine what the rallies of “God’s warriors”, caught up in a holy frenzy, could literally do to former president Barack Obama, if only “the affirming word of the Lord” comes to some of them? Imagine, under such circumstances, what an ugly scene it would be if former Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton were to be delivered into the hands of a mesmerized crowd of ‘holy warriors’ yelling “Lock her up! Lock he up!”?“People are never so completely and enthusiastically evil as when they act out of religious conviction”, wrote Italian novelist Umberto Eco.
Freedom of religion has become a fashionable promise under the current US leadership. However, the best safeguard against finding ourselves one day ruled by any form of Christian dictatorship, fascism or tyranny is to guard jealously a state of clear separation between church and state, whether we speak of the US, Brazil, or the countries of secular European Union that are increasingly becoming vocal about the need to protect their millennial Christian heritage; and there are more of those in Europe today than Hungary, Italy and Poland only. Tragically human history has amply demonstrated that when Christianity and earthly power blend into a single entity instead of staying apart, a beautiful promise always turns into a beast that devours not only non-Christians but Christians who are not of the desired brand too.
Are we heading that way?
Only a few days prior to the midterm elections I was driving along a major Houston highway when I saw a domineering billboard (two weeks later it is still there) displaying the image the American President, posing seemingly as an emerging American evangelist, overlaid with the Biblical quote “The Word Became Flesh”, and undersigned with “Make the Gospel Great Again”. It is dubious who is behind this highly visible and costly piece of advertising displayed along important highways in at least several US cities, although Facebook hosted a group that claimed to be responsible for its placement. The group that is calling itself MGGA, or “Make the Gospel Great Again” explained on their Facebook page (the Facebook page has been taken down a few days ago): “God does send his messengers to us, and just as King David liberated the faithful in his day, President Trump is doing this today through his protection of the unborn, defense of our land against foreign invaders and standing up for Israel. Compared to the disaster of a president we had in Obama, how is this not the “word become flesh” for Americans”?
Was someone joking, intending to insult, having a good laugh in the pre-midterm election days of hyphened anxiety, or trying to evangelize America in a highly provocative way? Or, could it be that the whole visual and verbal billboard design penetrates much deeper into the hidden parts of the soul of average white American Evangelicals who, unlike Jesus, are not willing to resist the addictive temptation to get hold of “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” if only they bowed down to the Deceiver? Whatever the case the billboard left me with a feeling of disgust, because its display has become a metaphor for the hijacked Christianity in the US, in which many white, right-wing American Christians are in so many ways placing a divisive, deceitful, vane, narcissistic, self-serving, discernment-lacking and hate-filled Donald Trump on par with the loving, serving, truthful and saving mission of Jesus Christ.
In other words, the billboard depicting a preaching Donald Trump as “the word becoming flesh” is a painful reminder that over the past two years the outlook of American Christianity has become morally degenerated. The outcome of the 2018 midterm elections has demonstrated that deliberate cognitive dissonance still governs the minds and hearts of the 80% of white American Evangelicals, whose zealotry made the election of Donald Trump possible two years ago. It seems obvious now that no repentance or sobering-up has ever taken place in their hearts and minds. Instead they are continuing quite comfortably to sell the historical Christianity, and the Gospel of Christ for a bowl of plausible and fictional national greatness.
And what does the bowl of American national exclusivism, that tastes sweeter than the Gospel of Christ, consist of?
Historian John Fea describes it well in his sobering and recently published book “Believe Me – The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump”: “Trump promised to place a conservative on the Supreme Court, to build a wall along the southern border, to protect white America from all the ‘rapists’ who were illegally streaming across the border; to round up undocumented immigrants and kick them out of the country – even if it meant dividing families; (to) prevent Muslims from entering the United States; to bring an end to the Affordable Care Act; to defend ‘religious freedom’ by repealing the part of the IRS code that prevents churches from endorsing political candidates; (and) to move the location of the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem;” – all of which would only boost white nationalism, racism, pride, control, injustice, militancy and wrong theology; none of which would ever advance Christlike empathy and compassion for the poor, homeless and immigrants. Meanwhile the love for human life in its holistic entirety (and not only from the conception to birth) has been completely forgotten.
So, when ahead of the midterm elections Franklin Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, urged Christians to “vote for the candidates who most closely align with the Biblical values”, one should have had every reason to ask what candidates and principles did Mr. Graham have in mind, considering that his entire faith-based and political constituency continues to prefer loyalty to Trump’s promises of the new American supremacy, to the clear counsel of the Lord that “whatever we do to the least of those – immigrants, refugees, homeless, beggars, the poor, and the racially, ethnically, religiously ostracized – we do it for the Lord!”
What kind of Biblical principles are the 80% of white Evangelicals really adhering to if by their choice and continuing support they have become an accomplice in the creation and sustenance of the national and international nightmare? What kind of leader are we recommending our fellow Christians too when, according to the words of Michael Gerson, The Washington Post columnist and former top aide to George W. Bush, Trump’s “unapologetic materialism, his tribalism and hatred for ‘the other’, his strength-worship and contempt for ‘losers’, smacks more of Nietzsche than of Christ”? Moreover, what principles of Jesus are we talking about when the white Evangelicals, with their willing submission to Trump, are holding the rest of Christendom hostage?
Finally, lest we missed the main point, the Trump evangelism billboard implies that Donald Trump has become just as sacrificial, effective and living “Word of God” in his work of “making America great again”, as Jesus Christ was effective in the work of salvation of the world from our sins. Apparently, God sent both of them for our salvation: one for our spiritual salvation, while the other for our national salvation. In this way this billboard broadcasts a blasphemous message that confuses the kingdom of God with the kingdom of the United States of America.
We are living in the days of humiliating transition for the Christian church. To quote again the words of a well-known columnist Michael Gerson, followers of Jesus, like myself, are finding it “difficult to see something (we) so deeply value discredited so comprehensively.” 80% of white Evangelicals in the US have kidnaped Christianity, stripped it of its clothes, and given it the character that is offensive to the character of Jesus. Many have gullibly fallen for a deepening deception that the Kingdom of God looks like a wistful “kingdom” of America. Together with Christian dominionists, nationalists, supremacists, racists, lovers of the prosperity gospel or “health and wealth gospel,” and the leftovers of Christian Right – they all see it as the golden opportunity to “reign” with Trump in the re-emerging American Christian nation.
Gregory A. Boyd, a Christian writer with a clear grasp of the Gospel, warned us in his book “The Myth of a Christian Nation”: “A Kingdom of God citizen could (and should) argue that the Christian version of the kingdom of the world was actually the worst version the world has ever seen. For this was the version of the kingdom of the world that did the most harm to the Kingdom of God. Not only did it torture and kill, as versions of the kingdom of the world frequently do – it did this under the banner of Christ”. He wrote, ”If violence and oppression are demonic, violence and oppression ‘in the name of Jesus’ is far more so. The church of Christendom thereby brought disrepute to the name of Christ, associating his kingdom with the atrocities it carried out for centuries. Hence, in the name of winning the world for Jesus Christ, the church often became the main obstacle to believing in Jesus Christ.”
Someone warned and it has been repeated millions of times: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” How much have we learned? Have we learned anything at all?
PS: April 17, 2019: Read also “The plot against America: Inside the Christian right plan to “remodel” the nation”
PS: April 6, 2019: Read also “The Power of the Bible Bench, How a right-wing Pentecostal media empire won the Brazilian presidency”.
PS: Nov 14, 2018: A few thoughts from the John Fea’s book “Believe Me” would strengthen the argument of this article that flirting between the President and militant elements of the Evangelical America is a much more serious issue that what we would often like to admit: “Trump was appealing to a different kind of evangelical voter. His business success and wealth made him attractive to those Christians sympathetic to the gospel of prosperity, or the ‘health and wealth gospel’ movement. Some of the powerful leaders of the Independent Network Charismatic (INC) Movement, an oft-overlooked segment of American evangelicalism, prophesied a Trump victory. In September 2015, when Trump met with nearly three dozen evangelical leaders at Trump Tower, the room was filled with Pentecostal, prosperity gospel, and INC leaders, such as Gloria and Kenneth Copeland, Jan Crouch, Paula White, and Mark Burns. By January 2016, Trump had also secured endorsements from Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, and Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world.”
PS: November 15, 2018: Another few eye-opening thoughts from the book “Believe Me – The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump by John Fea that complement the subject of this article, which I came across after the completion of my article. This time they are about Ted Cruz: “Ted Cruz’s grassroots campaign among evangelicals led to his eventual victory in the Iowa caucuses. Endorsements rolled in from James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family ministries and one of the architects of the Christian Right’s ‘family values’ campaign, and Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council. Ted Cruz turned fear-mongering into an art form. The Cruz campaign mirrored the old days of the Moral Majority. Anyone who attended one of Cruz’s rallies or watched him on television came away from the experience with a sense that he and his followers were on God’s side and that everyone else was working with the forces of evil to destroy America. Cruz talked about the need to ‘reclaim’ or ‘restore’ America. His father, traveling evangelist Rafael Cruz described his son’s campaign for a Senate seat as a direct fulfillment of biblical prophecy. The elder Cruz told the congregation that God would anoint Christian ‘kings’ to preside over an ‘end-time transfer of wealth’ from the wicked to the righteous. This ‘end-time transfer of wealth’ would relieve Christians of all financial woes, allowing true believers to ascend to a position of political and cultural power so that they could build a Christian civilization. When this Christian nation would be set in place (or back in place), Jesus would return.