Castles in the Sand

When the waters rise, will our castles remain?

I saw a story today announcing President Trump’s plan to offer updated guidance to “safeguard” students’ rights to pray in school. It is by no means the biggest story about the president in the news today, but I think it’s important to consider what it actually means.

I’ve written previously about what religious liberty actually means compared to how white evangelicals in America use the term, and this is another time when we need to make sure we’re truly supporting the religious liberty promised in the First Amendment.

First of all, like so much of Trump’s bluster, this is really not changing anything. As an NPR story on the announcement says, “There is no change to existing law or regulations, but the White House says it wants to empower students and teachers to exercise their rights.”

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Truth is a big topic, both in our modern culture and in Christianity. To be honest, it could cover several posts (and likely will over time), particularly as we examine the odd juxtaposition of current white evangelical Christian culture essentially abandoning any desire for truth in an effort to faithfully support Donald Trump.

That last sentence probably lost a good chunk of potential readers, but that actually proves my point as you’ll see if you keep reading.

I was raised in the white evangelical Christian culture, and one of the key tenets that came with that was a devotion to absolute, unchanging truth in the face of a culture that was all about relativism (white evangelical Christian culture devotes almost endless effort to creating these misleading dichotomies that set us up as victims in a massive “us versus them” battle against pretty much everyone else). As culture shifted to question truth and reality, I was taught that Christians believed in the absolute truth of God. That doesn’t change. There is no moral relativity; good and bad are foundational. As is truth.

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men signing the Declaration of Independence in a large room

My wife and I returned a few days ago from a trip to the east coast to visit friends and family and see some fascinating historic sites. Among those fascinating sites was a visit to Thomas Jefferson’s estate Monticello.

I was curious to see how Jefferson would be memorialized at his famous plantation home. Growing up in a right-wing conservative home, we were proud Christians and (possibly even prouder) Americans.

While no one would admit it (since to do so would be essentially confessing idolatry), we placed the Founding Fathers (must be capitalized) on pedestals along the apostles (who also do not belong on pedestals, but that’s a tangent for another day). We pointed to their references to God and the Almighty in their writings and their regular church attendance records (or, if they didn’t have regular church attendance records, we kind of ignored that) and that lofty language to praise their great Christian virtue.

These men weren’t human; they were something more (like, as I said before, the “heroes of the Bible”). That’s why they had monuments in their honor in our nation’s capital.

The problem with such glorification is it whitewashes flaws and installs blinders. When researchers began pursuing strings of evidence that Jefferson had several illegitimate children with one of his slaves, we cried foul and claimed that was liberal propaganda trying to undermine a great Christian man. I distinctly remember a specific example of this conversation. (As another side note: it’s curious that any time we were confronted with an inconvenient possible truth that didn’t align with our preconceived notions, it had to be a vicious liberal plot to undermine Christianity and our country. That’s another tangent for another day.)

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“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12

I’ve written before about how the far-right cries for “religious liberty” actually mask efforts to limit the religious liberty of non-Christians. In that post, I mentioned a few examples Christians use to claim persecution and a need for freedom to choose to honor their religion by withholding service from others. I went on to suggest we should create alternative scenarios that switch roles and question how we would want to be treated in that situation.

Jesus spoke the words above – known as the Golden Rule – in the midst of a lengthy message that, quite frankly, undermines quite a bit of what white Evangelical Christianity in America stands for. But these words from Matthew 7:12 should sum up our entire attitude toward others, particularly outside the church. Unfortunately, non-Christian culture in America far better embodies this command than white Evangelical culture.

The entire heart of this command is self-reflection. In order to do to others what we would have them do to us, we have to really contemplate what we would like to have them do to us. Then we have to consider how that would look for us to do the same to them, and finally we carry it out. That’s all very wordy, and partially why the “Golden Rule” is often expressed as “treat others how you would like to be treated.”

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Every single person was made in God’s image.

The idea of “Imago Dei” is one of the core tenets of Christianity and is rooted in the creation narrative in Genesis 1. It’s something Christians cling to as assigning personal value and identity in tough times, something meant to both encourage and challenge us.

This is not controversial to Christians. However, I think we gloss over it way too easily. I think we discuss this premise of faith in the context of “all humankind was made in God’s image.” We look at it from a collective lens rather than from a personal lens. I think that needs to change. Because there is a subtle but significant difference between “all people were made in God’s image” and “each individual person was made in God’s image.”

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Protester holding sign that reads "no intelligent species would destroy their only home & planet"

There’s a reason admitting you have a problem is the first step in Alcoholics Anonymous. Unless you recognize your own faults and issues, you cannot hope to get better.

That’s really hard. It’s not human nature. Unfortunately, it’s true, though, so it’s something we have to come to accept if we want anything to improve.

We’re really good at convincing ourselves that other people have problems. We’re really good at pointing them out and judging them. We’re also really good at deflecting blame as soon as the focus shifts to us.

I’ve written before about our issue of caring more about our surface-level image that others see than the substance of what we do. This is similar, as it also focuses on creating the best appearance for ourselves, but this side focuses more on bringing down others than falsifying our own façade.

I’m seeing this a lot right now with climate change. Sixteen-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg delivered a passionate speech to the United Nations yesterday, calling out the older generation that occupies the leadership positions in the UN for its callous lack of action on an issue that quite literally could lead to the end of humanity with continued inaction.

I wrote about climate change a couple months ago and the issue with Christians disregarding the health of the earth. Today my focus is on Thunberg and the response she’s received.

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Person holding sign with words: "what lessens one of us lessens all of us"

The 1987 classic film The Princess Bride features countless memorable quotes. One of my favorites comes when Vizzini repeatedly uses the word “inconceivable” to describe things happening around him. Finally, Inigo turns to him and says simply: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

That line pops into my head every time I hear republicans and/or President Donald Trump speak about “religious liberty.”

That phrase is supposedly the biggest concern prompting the republican party to abandon virtually all of its professed priorities in favor of Trump. And that transition has been powered by, rather than opposed by, white evangelical Christians.

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