“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal… if I have faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.. .” (1 Corinthians 13:1, Holy Bible, New International Version).
Love, in that exquisitely sublime poem from the Christian New Testament, is acknowledged as the center of life, of meaning.
Many Christians, of all types, believe in those wise words. They desire to reach that hope. How noble a goal, how hard a journey. How great the rewards! Who, among “Christians,” hears, follows, achieves?
Even if you partially remember the rest of the passage, you might recall—as a child—the seeming elusiveness of that goal. In the search for Love, many are helped in this effort by their religion. About 54% of US residents claim to be “religious.” (Interestingly, 75 percent self-identify as “spiritual.”) “Religion” is defined as “belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” Such a belief or identification has dropped steadily since at least 1990.
Nationally, of those who still do identify as religious, 65 percent call themselves Christians. Of those, 43 percent are Protestants and 33 percent of those are Baptists, 6.5 percent Black Baptist. The Catholic Church is the largest single Christian Church—21 percent (Religious Landscape/Pew Research Center). Of Protestants, Evangelicals register about 25 percent.
“Evangelical” comes from the Greek, euangelion; it refers to those who believe in spreading the gospel, the “good news,” as they see it, of Jesus as the savior of humanity. In some areas, the proportions differ. In Hidalgo County, Texas (800,000), where I live (at odds with national figures), Evangelicals count only 11 percent of the churched; the number of Catholics is greater – 25 percent, Mainline Protestants, six percent (ARDA, Association of Religious Data Archives).
My own “mainline” past—from the little rural church my Grandfather helped found, shaped me and still provides inspiration for this and other opinions about religion and politics. Those Disciples of Christ simply taught: “No Creed but Christ, No Law but Love.” The Corinthians’ verses were some of the most beloved, along with the Sermon on the Mount and memorable hymns, such as “Nearer My God to Thee,” and, in Sunday School, “Jesus Loves the Little Children of the World.”
One of my first encounters with a hard-line Evangelical was a kid who made fun of my early involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. I reminded him of our singing about Jesus loving the children, whether “Red or Yellow, Black or White,” but he persisted in disparaging me as a “N . . . Lover.” His parents, also members of the church, had taught him to hate. The love expressed in the scripture eluded them all. He and other haters grew stronger. Now, here we are, in the 21st century.
They should know better, but some people of “faith” persist in their denial of their own Sunday-school teaching, their own professed religion. They deny science. Their “know-nothing” attitudes endanger our very lives (Daniel Dorsa, “Religious Right’s Hostility to Science is Crippling Coronavirus Response.” – New York Times, 27 Mar 20). Don’t wear a mask? Don’t obey scientific, sensible social distancing? My Bible does not condone suicide or murder.
Some of this perverted “theology” comes from Trump’s “pillow guy,” Mike Lindell. This TV salesman and staunch ally touts untested, unapproved “Oleandrin;” (yes, THAT plant, known in the Rio Grande Valley as poisonous). He also claims Trump has been “chosen by God.” Note: he also is now on the Board of Phoenix Biotech, producing Oleandrin. Surprised?
Some evangelicals have been appalled and have pushed back. Mark Galli, former editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, major Evangelical journal, penned a scathing editorial before his retirement, noting the president’s behavior (and hypocrisy of sycophant followers) has damaged “the Gospel and the Church” (Emma Green, Trump Lost an Evangelical Stalwart,” – New York Times, 19 Dec 19). His reward? Only to be hounded—called a “traitor”–by extremist pastors and writers.
The Christian Right is neither – neither Christ-like, nor scientifically correct. Consider: “Pat Robertson blamed 9/11 on abortion and Hurricane Sandy on gay marriage” (Alex Morris, “False Idols: Why the Christian Right Worships Donald Trump,” – Rolling Stone, 2 Dec 19). Trump’s own “spiritual adviser,” televangelist Paula White, promises donors their own “personal angel.” She ignores Trump’s theft and family patronage, racist and misogynist behavior, as she spreads her “prosperity gospel.” God supposedly will reward those who donate to her TV program.
Other Trump supporters are called “Christian Dominionists.” They assert U.S. laws should be founded on Biblical ones, especially Old Testament, including “stoning of homosexuals.” Such beliefs replicate “Sharia Law” from extremist groups in the Mideast. These and other extreme Evangelicals persist. They have power. They have Trump’s ear. They stand aside as he attacks the democratic right to vote, the Post Office, the mail, jeopardizing even their own medicines and checks.
Trump threatens “let the cities rot.” He callously dismisses over 170,000 deaths from COVID-19 – “it is what it is.” His egoism echoes the self-proclaimed “prophet,” Jeremiah Johnson, who claims “God speaks to me; for Johnson, when a Christian dies, no problem, for “he is with the Lord” (Jason Wilson, “Right Wing Christian Preachers in Deep Denial over COVID-19 Danger,” Guardian, 4 Apr 20).
Trump, for his part, goes even farther, now siding publicly with QAnon, happy that “they like me.” Conspiracy “theorists” of QAnon claim Trump is “saving the world from a satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals.” He asks, “is that a bad thing?” Yes, said in open mic, not a tweet, at a press conference, in the White House, on Thursday, 20 Aug 20! There is no longer any way to deny the Trump connection with absolutely insane and dangerous right wing zealots.
Are all evangelicals alike? Are they all so extreme? A few, perhaps, still sing “Jesus Loves the Little Children of the World—Red and Yellow, Black and White, All are Precious in His Sight.” Perhaps enough are changing—and voting. A massive 70 percent of evangelicals supported Trump, 2016. That figure is now only 39 percent (Ruth Terry, “Christian Right and Left Share the Same Faith” 24 Dec 19, Yes Magazine). So, something is happening—there may be a shift, a progressive trend, as good Christians awake.
Dare we hope for a change? Christian scripture places on a high plateau the meaning and virtue of agape, divine love, and of brotherly love, filia. Good Christians ache for both. Finally, co-existing with Love is the search and need for Truth. Most can agree with Ecclesiastes: “Love rejoices with the Truth.” Will there be enough and will it come soon enough to “set us free?” God grant that outcome!
Editor’s Note: Credit for the main image accompanying the above guest column goes to Dhanya Addanki/Sojourners.