Gangster Theology


White evangelicals seem to support Trump more than ever. Somehow folks like Robert Jeffress believe the President’s policies of redistributing wealth upwards through tax policy, separating immigrant children from parents and rolling back air pollution regulations so thousands more will die of lung disease are “Christian.”

Jeffress dreams of returning to a mythical Christian American past, but his understanding of Americas’s bible reading history is confused. Begin with Jefferson, who removed all references to “miracles” from his bible. Next consider that it was immigrant Catholics who first fought to have the bible removed from schools in the 19th century. The imposition of the Protestant Bible was part of a broader Anti-Catholicism taught in public schools.

In Union Square station I was handed (silently which I appreciated) the “Alamo Christian Ministries World Newsletter.”  One might mock Tony Alamo, whose 1980s photo–looking like a young gangster–colors pink the haggard sexual abuse convict who died in prison last year. But how different is the theology of this “cult leader” from that of Jeffress, who is so ready to label other religions “cults.” Like Alamo, Jeffress is confident in his singular interpretation of documents at least two thousand years old written in languages no longer spoken.

William Blake wrote in The Everlasting Gospel:  “Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou readst black where I read white.”  The problem of course with the belief in “Biblical Truth,” is precisely the suggestion that scripture lacks ambiguity. This is profoundly anti-intellectual since it dismisses historical scholarship that tries to understand who wrote the bible and why.

If evangelicals believe in a loving god, how could they believe the majority of the world’s population will burn in hell? This was the question that transformed Carlson Pearson as documented by This American Life and recently made into a feature film. I think about directing this question to the evangelists who shout at me about eternal damnation on subway trains and city streets. Instead, I walk by and quietly bless them, believing, as Buddhist philosophers R.E.M. put it, everybody hurts.

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