Thursday, December 28, 2017

How Can True Evangelical Christians Glorify the Godless Trump?

How Can True Evangelical Christians Glorify the Godless Trump?

This article first appeared on the History News Network.
This Advent season, while watching Donald Trump in front of a garishly green-and-red banner which proclaims “Make America Great Again,” take the opportunity to reflect on the Faustian bargain which allowed conservative evangelical Christians to “Keep Christ in Christmas” while seemingly divorcing Christianity from Christ.
That Republican supply side economics, exemplified by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell’s cruel tax “reform,” contradicts Matthew 5:3 is clear. That Trump’s draconian immigration policy, which new reports indicate could now involve splitting families apart, violates the essence of Exodus 22:21 is obvious.
And it shouldn’t have to be said that the new nationalism, this new fascism, with its “blood and soil” metaphysic, stands in opposition to the sublime universalism of Galatians 3:28.
For those 81 percent of white evangelicals who voted for Trump, and more troublingly for the profoundly inhumane, greedy, wrathful ideology that he embodies, and who have seemingly forgotten their scripture, I have another passage to remind them of: Matthew 4:10.
Following the dark Adversary who took Christ up “an exceeding high mountain, and shewith him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”
And Christ, choosing to follow the small, humble, yet sacred path, rejected the temptations of worldly power declaring, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”
America’s conservative evangelicals, however, have taken up that diabolical offer. Witness the self-debasement of a man like neurosurgeon and current H.U.D. secretary Ben Carson offering prayers for Trump on December 19, with the president “quipping” to the press that they “need the prayer more than I do…. Maybe a good solid prayer and they’ll be honest, Ben, is that possible?”
Or when at that same meeting Vice-President Mike Pence (one for whom we are perennially reminded of his piety while he seemingly forgets Matthew 6:6) offered a master class in saccharine sycophancy when he grovelled to Trump with, “Mr. President, I'll end where I began and just tell you, I want to thank you, Mr. President. I want to thank you for speaking on behalf of and fighting every day for forgotten men and women of America… the forgotten men and women of America are forgotten no more, and we are making America great again.”
Or if those examples condemn the powerful at the expense of regular evangelicals, consider that 80 percent of white, self-identified evangelicals in Alabama voted for the disgraced and disgraceful losing pedophile Roy Moore.
Presiding over this nightmare of abandoned principles (or perhaps more disturbingly the embrace of principles that were always there) is Trump himself, the philandering, vulgar, immoral New York real-estate developer of seemingly no authentic faith who promised evangelicals that “I am your voice.”
The Public Religion Research Institute reported that over the past five years the “percentage of white evangelical Protestants who said that a politician who commits an immoral act in their personal life could still behave ethically shot up from 30 to 72 percent. The percentage saying such a politician could not serve ethically plunged from 63 to 20 percent.”
The difference, it would seem, is a certain Fifth Avenue resident who promised them that “If I become president, we're gonna be saying Merry Christmas at every store .... You can leave happy holidays at the corner."
What easily bought faith! In 2017, all it takes for many right-wing Christians is to be taken to the top floor of Trump Tower, be shown all the kingdoms of the world, and they’ll gladly prostrate themselves before an idol for a bit of temporal power.
Christianity, by its own definition, is a countercultural faith, one which stands in opposition to the things of this world while still being in this world. But humans being humans the history of the religion is replete with moments where Augustine’s City of Man has overwhelmed the City of God in the heart of the believer.
From Constantine’s usurpation of the Roman Church to Henry VIII’s appropriation of ecclesiastical power, Christians have been more than willing to sell their allegiance for thirty pieces of silver. Trumpian Christianity is but one chapter in a long lineage of hypocritical capitulation of principle to sovereigns in the name of worldly power.
A supreme irony, for one of the most important aspects of the Constitutional principle of disestablishment is that it preserved the independence and sanctity of religious practice from the machinations of a meddling state.
But while there is a long custom of right-wing evangelicals bellyaching about their perceived oppression (when such calls for “religious freedom” are often really just a justification for denying the rights of others), there are now no compunctions about jumping into bed with the most manifestly irreligious of presidents in modern history, for whom the only scripture is that of Norman Vincent Peale’s prosperity gospel combined with an endlessly renewable faith in himself, regardless of what reality dictates.
There is an irony in all of this. Since the resurgence of politicized evangelical Christianity with the ascendency of Ronald Reagan, many apocalyptic minded conservative Christians made a sort of prophetic parlor game out of conjecturing who the potential anti-Christ could be.
Figures from Hal Lindsey, to Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, and Jerry Falwell often fingered world leaders or liberal politicians as being in league with Satan. An irony, since if the anti-Christ is supposed to be a manipulative, powerful, smooth-talking demagogue with the ability to sever people from their most deeply held beliefs who would be a better candidate than the seemingly indestructible Trump?
Well, I don’t believe in a literal anti-Christ, and to accuse Trump of being one gives the president far too much credit. At his core he is simply a consummate narcissist with little intelligence and less curiosity, one who has somehow become the most powerful man in the world. And that’s certainly dangerous enough without invoking anything supernatural.
Still, it’s surprising that evangelical Christians, who for years preached about such a figure, seem to lack the self-awareness to identify something so anti-Christian in Trump himself. Or worse yet, they certainly recognize it, but don’t care.
I don’t wish to engage the “No True Scotsman” fallacy; conservative Christians presumably arrived at their faith and their conclusions for their own reasons, and the fact that I disagree with them on a litany of issues theological and political, from abortion to taxes, does not invalidate the legitimacy of their own faith.
But there is something undeniably strange and supremely hypocritical in seeing the embarrassing spectacle of religious leaders bow to such a spiritually illiterate man, a moral midget.
Jerry Falwell Jr., cognizant enough of the disjuncture between personal piety and support of Trump but apparently not cognizant enough to avoid uttering inanities like the following, has compared the president to King David. That is to say that he acknowledges Trump’s copious personal failings (and steadfast refusals at contrition for any of them) but sees the president as a tool of the Lord meant to enact Christian policy, and so it behooves evangelicals to support him.
One imagines that whatever makes it easier for the good Rev. Falwell to sleep better at night, but perhaps he is the sort of man whose sleep is untroubled, for hypocrisy has a handy ability to cleanse the conscience.
Currently evangelical Christianity in the United States is certainly still classifiable as a flavor of orthodox Nicene Christianity. But it’s not like there isn’t precedent for the church to contort itself to the heresies of a totalitarian regime.
Consider the promulgation of an Aryan “Positive Christianity” in the Third Reich, in which all Jewish elements of the faith were expunged, and the gospels rejected in favor of a deadly and noxious blood-and-soil ideology, where the “Fuehrer is the herald of a new revelation.”
This consolidation of all the Protestant denominations of Germany featured no Apostle’s Creed, or Nicaean, rather only allegiance to the state, a complete capitulation to the Prince of this World and an ascent to the temptation upon that desert mountain top.
We must remind ourselves of such compromises, bargains, and contracts as a perennial threat to the inner life of the faithful. While there is certainly no corollary to such a phenomenon in the United States today – yet – one must be vigilant and on guard to those like Rev. Falwell who see no blasphemy in comparing a president to the Anointed One.
Trump is arguably the logical culmination of some strains of right-wing evangelical Christianity in America, from the political theology of dominionism to the hermeneutics of presuppositional apologetics, dogmas which see no inconsistency to rendering all to a Caesar whom they have declared to be a Christ.
We may have yet to see the arrival in the United States of a type of powerful, theocratic, fascistic Protestant Falangism enabled by the opportunism of a Trump, and which makes the traditional Christian Right look positively liberal.
And with the global rise of the new nationalism there is a disturbing degree of collaboration between rightest religion and racist ideology, from the Orthodox mysticisms of those in the Kremlin who follow the crackpot historian Aleksandr Dugin to Stephen Bannon who wishes to preserve his understanding of Christendom not because all of us are children of God but because only some of us are white.
Christianity, when allied to the powers of the world, has a way of promulgating distinctly anti-Christian beliefs. Do not read me as hyperbolic, the threat is global, powerful, interconnected, and real.
When 60,000 Polish fascists marched in November, promoting a Poland without Muslims and Jews, they chanted “We want God” – a phrase from a speech delivered in Warsaw by Trump earlier that year.
Nazi “Positive” Christianity was countered by the resistance of the Confessing Church, the underground network of pastors and parishioners who operated in opposition to the glorification of worldly power as represented by the regime.
One of the greatest of souls and theological intellects was the Confessing Church minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyred by the Nazis at Flossenb├╝rg Concentration Camp in 1945.
Witness to the rise of compromised fascist Christianity in his own country, he aptly diagnosed the equivocations and capitulations some Christians were willing to make in order to sup at the table of power, but he also understood that from a theological perspective there should be nothing surprising about this.
He explained that for “evil to be disguised as light… is quite bewildering to anyone brought up on our traditional ethical concepts, while for the Christian who based his life on the Bible, it merely confirms the fundamental wickedness of evil.”
But even while acknowledging the fundamental wickedness of that evil, Bonhoeffer stood in opposition to it, and lived a life testament to that gospel.
So, this Advent, if you’re looking for a bit of the promise of that first Christmas consider this: whenever some persons trade their faith for the treasures of this world, elsewhere a remnant of true faith always seemingly endures. A faith that answers power with mercy, hate with love, a shout with a whispered prayer.
It’s written that nobody can serve two masters, even as many evangelicals seem content to try and serve God, Mammon, and darker gods aside. But a compromised faith, a tainted faith, an implicated faith can only flourish for so long, and genuine faith can never be extinguished.
Writer and scholar Burke Gerstenschlager writes for our current moment that “In the midst of Propaganda and Gospel, we must resist … with love where there is hate. Resist with kindness where there is abandonment. Resist with grace where there is cruelty. Resist with justice where there is impunity. Resist with knowledge where there is ignorance. Resist with truth where there are lies. Advent is our season.”
For if Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church provide us any Advent succor it’s this: even at the darkest of hours when faith seems all but extinguished a faint light can still glimmer so that we may see.
And to those implicated, those collaborators, those who’ve traded faith for power, and those who chant “We want God” – consider that you should be careful what you wish for. God may be precisely what we get.
Ed Simon is the associate editor of The Marginalia Review of Books, a channel of The Los Angeles Review of Books.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The art of the pejorative


When his old campaign manager was indicted Monday, Mr. Trump called me on the phone, crying like a baby, and begged me to endorse him. I said, “You’re already president, Mr. President. You were elected.” He said, “I’d still like your endorsement.” I have a recording of the phone call. It’s so sad. Donald Trump is done. He couldn’t get elected dogcatcher in New York, his hometown. I was very very nice about it. Very nice. But New Yorkers love dogs and he does not. There are 14 recorded instances of him kicking small dogs, and I have documentary proof of all but two of them.
Plus many other instances of him running around grabbing women’s cats. Knocked on the door, grabbed the cat, walked away. Just to show that a famous rich guy could get away with it. Where is the apology? No, the man couldn’t even get a job as a school crossing guard in New York. Look at him leading his grandchildren toward the helicopter — thank God there’s a Marine there to keep them from walking into the rotor.
He’s very wary of children, afraid they’ll pull off the wig. It’s from La Bouffant on 8th & 45th, 3rd floor. Horsehair. Palomino filly. I have receipts.
Trump shot a man on Fifth Avenue last year just to see if he could get away with it and he did. His base said, “Well, some people just need to be shot, that’s all. As a warning to the others.” Why is he so hung up on virility? Because the Army rejected him on account of bone spurs that you get from wearing high heels. Everybody knows that.
Just look at how he salutes the Marine honor guard — TOTAL DISASTER — it’s not a salute, it’s a little yoo-hoo. Uniforms are a huge turn-on for him. And when he salutes the flag, he doesn’t even look at it. Total disrespect for the flag. And the salute is very weak in the wrists. Know why there’s ABSOLUTELY NO video of him hitting a golf ball? Because (pardon me for being politically incorrect) he swings like a girl. And when he slices it into the parking lot, he tees up another ball. Mr. Mulligan. Mr. Multi-Mulligan.
He sits at that ridiculous little desk in the Oval Office and signs a presidential proclamation as if he’s Kim Jong-un or something and he holds it up like a kid holding up his school project that his mama wrote for him. The man can barely read, that’s why he hates TelePrompter. Total lightweight.
He is NOT A NICE PERSON and so the name Trump is as popular as herpes these days. Trumpet players have taken up the cornet. Card players refer to the lead suit as the jump suit. Tramps prefer to be called hobos, town dumps are now refuse heaps, and girls named Dawn are becoming Cheryls. To residents of his crummy building on Fifth Avenue, it’s now known as Chump Tower because it’s caused so much grief and tragedy for people. It wasn’t constructed — it was fabricated. FABRICATED. Plywood modules shipped down from Canada and installed by minimum-wage temps from Hoboken. I can prove this. I have documentation. The wind whistles through the tower at night, roaches the size of rats. Ask anybody.
People who voted for him are humiliated. So his ratings have tanked. The same people who admire him tend to drive Dodge Darts and wear sweatshirts from schools they didn’t attend. Nobody stays in his hotels except foreign CEOs and their tootsies. He is weak. Weak on #s, weak on 1st Amendment, worst president in history. Failed @ real estate and now @ politics. His record = BAD. First president in my lifetime who DOES NOT KNOW the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The lips are not even moving.
He quit holding rallies in stadiums because nobody wants to go hear a loser brag about his manliness for an hour, you can hear that in any barroom. Only places he can draw a crowd are rural areas where billboards are riddled with bullet holes, shot by men who are angry because they can’t read. He is so over. Totally irrelevant, exhausted, flamed out. The sleepytime eyes and la-di-da hair and the tweet-tweet-tweet say it all. Real men don’t tweet. Ask anybody. We bark, we protest, we thunder, condemn, denounce, we give ’em hell, sometimes we post. Wimps tweet. And now the perps are going to start walking and talking. And the fat lady is waiting in the wings.

Garrison Keillor is an author, entertainer and former host of “A Prairie Home Companion.”
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Monday, October 30, 2017

"Reformation? Why Remember?"

October 30, 2017
1 Corinthians 16:13-14 - Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

As far back as I can remember, I have celebrated Martin Luther and Reformation Day. 

When I was a little Lutheran, I grew up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood. That means, every Friday, I said to the Catholic kids: "You have to have stinky, smelly, bony fish, while I'm having a burger for supper. I can have a burger because of Luther and the Reformation."

Back then I could run fairly fast.

On Ash Wednesday, all the Catholic kids had a cross of ashes prominently placed on their foreheads. That's why on Ash Wednesday we Lutheran lads would say to our Catholic counterparts, "What's that on your forehead? It looks like a target. I don't think I'd like the priest to put a target on my head. We don't have targets on our heads because of Martin Luther and the Reformation."

Yup, back then I could run fairly fast. But times have changed, haven't they? In Catholic homes, Friday fish is an option, and in Lutheran churches the imposition of ashes is no longer a heresy.

All of which explains why many people don't celebrate Reformation Day.

Think about it: how many Reformation Day presents have you received? The newspapers haven't reminded us of how many shopping days were left until Reformation Day. The TV stations haven't told us where we can go to see the houses with the best Reformation Day lights, and my community doesn't have a Reformation Day parade or Reformation Day fireworks.

I wonder how many of you are having a special Reformation Day meal today. There's no such thing as a Reformation Day turkey, and you don't hunt brightly-colored Reformation Day eggs, and Martin Luther doesn't come down your chimney to leave gifts.

That's why Reformation Day has become a custom which is pretty much reserved for, and remembered by, a diehard group of pastors and laypeople who are perceived as having nothing better to do with their afternoons on the last Sunday in October.

You see, we are living in an age which still needs a Reformation. In Luther's day the Church was making up laws and saying, "These have come from God." Today, many churches are taking God's laws and saying, "These no longer are in effect." In Luther's time the Church said, "You need to buy indulgences to be forgiven of your sin." Today, more than one church says, "Sin? What is sin?"

Truly, our battles are not the same as Luther's because the pendulum of heresy has swung. That being said, in an age when political correctness has usurped the authority of the Word, the need for faithful preachers and committed Christians remains as strong as ever. The Savior still stands, His nail-pierced hands extended in welcome to all who are called to faith by the Holy Spirit. It is right that we point clearly and unerringly to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Ours is a time when God's people need to join with Luther and say, "Here I stand."

THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, for the Reformers of the past, we give thanks. Grant that we, in our own age, may stand fast to the Scripture, and the Savior -- whose life was given so we might have forgiveness and eternal life. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
In Christ I remain His servant and yours,
Pastor Ken Klaus
Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
Lutheran Hour Ministries

Thursday, October 26, 2017

"Crying Wolf"

"Crying Wolf"
October 25, 2017
1 John 2:2 - He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
We can all remember the childhood story of the boy who wrongly cried, "Wolf!" He got great pleasure out of watching his friends respond to his false alarms. Unfortunately, the lad did this so many times his fellow villagers stopped believing him. The last time he called for help, the people no longer were inclined to listen, and the lad ended up being supper for the wolf pack. That's a sad story. 

Yes, we all know that story, but has anyone ever heard the counterpart, the opposite of that story? Has anyone ever heard about the boy who, when a wolf was present, didn't sound the alarm?

Actually, most of us have.

According to the timeline reported by ABC World News Tonight, the staff at the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay Hotel didn't let the police know anything was wrong until after Stephen Paddock started shooting at the 20,000 concert-goers. No, they didn't cry "Wolf!" and they didn't cry "Shooter!"

• They didn't call out "Shooter!" when security guard Jesus Campos informed the hotel              authorities he had been shot in the leg.

• Nor did they cry "Shooter!" when a maintenance engineer Stephen Schuck reported                someone had taken a shot at him. Schuck said, "Call the police! Someone is firing a gun up      here. Someone is firing a rifle on the 32nd floor down the hallway."

Those shots in the hotel took place a full six minutes before Paddock opened up on the concert. Although nobody can say what might have happened if the police had been given those six extra minutes, I'm willing to suggest things couldn't have gotten much worse.

Sadly, the same sort of thing is happening in the religious world. More and more pulpits are choosing to silence themselves and refusing to call wolf and warn people about the dangers of sin. In short, even though sin can kill eternally, these churches are not shouting any warnings.

High up on these pastors' reasons for not preaching about the dangers of sin is they say "Jesus accepted everybody just the way they were. And since Jesus told us not to judge, we would be overstepping our boundaries by pointing out people's flaws and failings."

In reply, pastors who are loyal to the Word, say, "It's true, Jesus did accept everyone the way they were, but He didn't leave them that way." More than once the Savior told people to go and "sin no more" (see John 8:11). If Jesus didn't believe in pointing out sin and calling people to repentance, why did He do so Himself? Matthew 4:17 says, "From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'"

The truth is Jesus was born to save us from our sins, not let us sit and stew in them. John said it better than I when he wrote, "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."

THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, I give thanks that Your grace sent Your Son into this world to carry my sins and save my soul. Grant that pulpits may proclaim the wonders of Your love and the greatness of Jesus' sacrifice to save us from sin. In His Name. Amen.

The above devotion was inspired by a number of sources, including one carried by RARE news on October 12, 2017. Those who wish to reference that article may do so at the following link, which was fully functional at the time this devotion was written: click here

In Christ I remain His servant and yours,
Pastor Ken Klaus
Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
Lutheran Hour Ministries

Sunday, September 24, 2017

"Does Jesus Know You?"

Daily Devotions from Lutheran Hour Ministries
By Pastor Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
"Does Jesus Know You?"
September 21, 2017
Matthew 25:10b-12 - (Jesus said) "... the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open to us.' But he answered, 'Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.'"
Pastor's Note: this devotion is probably not for you, but it may be for someone you know. If so, won't you make sure they get it? Thanks, Pastor Klaus
Did you pay attention to the reading? Did you hear the last statement? Listen carefully: "He answered, 'Truly I say to you, I do not know you.'" That parable leads me to ask, does Jesus know you? It's an important question, one which I'm sure most, if not all of you, would be able to answer: "Yes, absolutely! The Holy Spirit has introduced us, and Jesus has personally forgiven my sins." Still, most of us can name someone who probably isn't known by the Savior.

Let me explain. The president of the USA is Donald Trump. You probably know a few things about him. For example, you may know the name of his wife, some of his children, what he used to do for a living, and the address of his home when he is in Washington.

Now, let me ask, since you know so much about President Trump, what do you think would happen if you went up to the White House and asked to see him? Maybe, in this day of heightened security, you might get to the front gate. There you'd be confronted by a guard. You tell the guard you'd like to see the president.

How far do you think you're going to get? Do you think the guard will say, "No problem, come on in. The president is always glad to have strangers show up off the street"? That isn't a likely scenario, is it? In all probability, the guard would check his list to see if you were expected or had an appointment. He might ask, "Does the president know you?"

What do you think would happen if you said, "Well no, the president really doesn't know me. Truth is, I never voted for him, and have spent some time criticizing him"?

Having heard that, I think the best you could expect out of the guard would be "I'm sorry, sir, the president doesn't allow strangers to walk in unannounced."

But suppose, just suppose the guard asked you, "Look, just how long do you think your visit with the president will take? Ten minutes? Fifteen? A half hour? How long do you think you'll want to be staying?"

To that question you reply, "Well, I actually haven't thought about this as a visit. I really thought I'd come and live here."

Hardly able to contain himself, the guard shoots back: "Let me get this straight. You don't like the president, have no use for him, have no appointment with him, and now you want to come in and freeload off him the rest of your life? Buddy, get out! We don't know you."

Yes, that's the way it would be if you, uninformed, unannounced, and unexpectedly tried to go and live with the president. And that's the way it will be for those who try to get into heaven without any kind of relationship with the Savior. People cannot expect to spend their lives ignoring the Lord and, at the end, without any change, be invited in to stay with Him.

So, does the Savior know you? There is still time for the Holy Spirit to make an introduction. There is still time for the Lord, who died and rose to rescue you, to extend a personal invitation to join Him in heaven.

THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, grant that those who work so hard at ignoring Jesus, may have their hearts softened and be brought to a saving faith in their best and dearest Redeemer, Lord, and Friend. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
In Christ I remain His servant and yours,
Pastor Ken Klaus
Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
Lutheran Hour Ministries