I can’t even begin to explain the horrendous mix of emotions I felt this morning when I woke up and saw the news: President Trump, standing in front of St. John’s Church in Washington D.C., holding up a Bible, surrounded by riot police and soldiers, deaf to the cries of protestors all around him, silent to the anger and despair surrounding George Floyd’s death.
If this is Christianity, then I want no part in it.
I’ve long felt a growing sense of shame about the actions and attitudes of American Evangelicalism, and have long stopped using the term ‘evangelical’ to describe myself or my faith. The word has become irreconcilably tainted and marred, more connected to anger and violence and the spread of hatred than to the declaration of good news for all people.
In the last week, I’ve struggled with cynicism and a sense of powerlessness about the situation in the US, bothered by what often feels like virtual-signalling social media activism, and unwilling to wade into the 24 hour alarmist news cycle, which I have been pulling away from for months, due to its corrosive effect on my mental health. But the image of Donald Trump, posing with a Bible in front of a Church, holding it, but not reading from it, has caused me to feel incredibly ashamed and appalled. It is the very image of the Abomination of Desolation.
In the 2nd century BCE, following the conquests of Alexander the Great, Antiochus IV, king of the Seleucid Empire, ordered two blood-soaked military responses to two Jewish rebellions in Jerusalem against their Greek rulers. In his response to the second rebellion in 167 BCE, Antiochus installed the “desolating sacrilege,” a statue of the Greek god Zeus, on the alter in the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem, demanding that the Jews worship the god of law and order instead of the God of covenant. By extension, this implied a call to worship Antiochus himself, who had taken the name Epiphanes (God Manifest). The Jews widely believed this to be what the prophet Daniel had predicted in Daniel 11:31 of the Jewish & Christian bibles.
In a stunning parallel, Trump has set himself up as the president of Law & Order, and has embraced religious symbology in front of the ‘Church of the Presidents’ (a church that stands across from the White House, where previous presidents have spent time worshipping and praying), to promote his own image of strength. The leadership of St. John’s Church and the Episcopal Diocese immediately condemned the photo-op, with Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde saying that the entire thing was “a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.” In an interview, a news anchor quotes Jesus to Budde: “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Bishop Budde responds by saying, “Jesus was very clear that God was far less interested in the show of our prayers than God is in the ethical way that we live our lives and how we treat our fellow human beings created in God’s image. So that was a sharp rebuke to all of us, people like me in leadership who lead prayers, to anyone with privilege and authority, anyone who dared to substitute the trappings of religion with the actual practice of it. … [Trump] did not come to pray.”
As someone who used to identify positively with conservative fundamentalism, it’s a little strange to find myself in a place where I see the non-evangelical church upholding and defending the teachings of Jesus while evangelicals care more for their own image, power, and influence than in defending those with no voice. Today, I am ashamed to call myself a Christian. I am worried that my friends who do not know the Jesus of the Bible will presume that this desecration of my faith is representative of my faith. But more so, I’m appalled that those who have been called to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” are standing in silence, or applauding shows and words of force and power, instead of addressing systemic and cultural inequality, injustice, and racial discrimination. In the words of a former professor and mentor of mine, “If this is Christianity, then I want no part in it.”Black lives matter. To say that “all lives matter” is to be tone-deaf at best, and to uphold a system of racial discrimination at worst. We cannot fight in every fight; we cannot right every wrong, but we each can do our best to listen, to lend our voices, and to contact our governments to urge our neighbours towards justice, truth, and reconciliation. It is time for the People of the Word to become doers of the Word and to better reflect the Image of the Word to those under oppression.
#blackouttuesday #blacklivesmatter #icantbreathe