White Nationalism: The Republican New Normal

“Go back to where you came from” appears to be the new rally cry for Republicans, a more honest, yet ugly slogan than the previous MAGA one. Yet the two are intrinsically linked as their meaning is clear: “America is for White people. If you don’t like that, you can leave.” Republicanism is no longer a “big tent” party, but is has increasingly allowed itself to be distracted by White Nationalism. In doing so it has become clear that Republicans under the leadership of the current occupant of the White House, have given up on appealing to a wide swath of Americans. Instead, they have realized that increasingly they are at odds with the majority of Western Democracies and the progressive gains in them, and so have decided to appeal to a smaller constituency: White Racists.

The adage “you can’t please everyone” may be part of the strategy the White House is employing here. Democrats may fail in trying to be “all things to all people,” while Republicans will, perhaps, have greater success by appealing to a smaller group: their base. It is far easier to appeal to a small group rather than a larger, disparate group. There is no concerted effort, it would seem, to appeal to people of color, women, sexual minorities, non-Christians, in short the Republican appeal seems to be directed straight at middle class Whites with 2 years or less of college education. As this is a shrinking demographic, we may be witnessing the “beginning of the end” for the Grand Old Party.

The Two Party system itself may be partially to blame here, as in other countries xenophobic populism is more confined to minority parties. Here in the US it has no choice to do so but has become the “mainstream” alternative to a broader centrist party: the Democratic.

“The difference is that in Europe, far-right populist parties are often an alternative to the mainstream. In the United States, the Republican Party is the mainstream.”

“That’s the tragedy of the American two-party system,” Mr. Greven said. In a multiparty government, white working-class populists might have been shunted into a smaller faction, and the Republicans might have continued as a “big tent” conservative party. Instead, the Republican Party has allowed its more extreme elements to dominate. “Nowhere in Europe do you have that phenomenon.” 1

Thomas Greven is a political scientist at the Free University of Berlin who has studied right-wing populism. He goes on to say that “The Democrats fall closer to mainstream left and center-left parties in other countries, like the Social Democratic Party in Germany and Britain’s Labour Party, according to their manifestos’ scores.

And the United States’ political center of gravity is to the right of other countries’, partly because of the lack of a serious left-wing party. Between 2000 and 2012, the Democratic manifestos were to the right of the median party platform. The party has moved left but is still much closer to the center than the Republicans.” 2

One of the arguments used on both sides is the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. You hear it constantly. Those women “hate America!” They are “unAmerican,” or “antiAmerican.” To be fair, the Democrats, in turn, return the jib: Trump is “unAmerican.” Let me be perfectly clear, this is not a contest to determine who is the most patriotic or nationalistic candidate to run our country, but, what kind of America do we wish to be!

You see, America was not always welcoming, inclusive and color-blind. We quickly forget our past history with our First Nation peoples, slavery and Jim Crow. We forget the arrogant assumptions of Western European imperialism. We prefer to gloat over a false narrative of American exceptionalism, and pat ourselves on the back over our Constitution, one that claimed universal “truths” yet denied those privileges to a large swath of people. So when the current White House occupant-in-Chief says, “Make America Great Again,” he is talking about returning to that America, the narrow, small minded one. Those who don’t like that can leave.

Trump is Saying What Many Christians Think

The latest racist tweet from Mr. Trump is the most overtly racist yet. It is reminiscent of America in the 1950s, when people felt emboldened or entitled enough to directly jeer, mock and criticize others based on the color of there skin. The sad part is, many Christians will still support this moral midget. In a segregated South, Christians were openly hostile towards Blacks and other people of color, and didn’t apologize for it, nor see the conflict between being Christian and being a racist. This holds true for many people of faith still today.

Telling others to “go back to where they came from,” is the cry of White Nationalism, the bedrock belief that only people of White, European descent should have a say in the governance of our country. That people of color, who have traditionally not had the same benefits or opportunity as Whites, do not have the right to criticize social injustices, and should meekly accept what ever scraps fall of the White man’s table.

Yet, those who have bought into the “Pro-Life” narrative cleverly devised by the Republican-Religious Right two-headed monster, will still support this bigot because he is “Pro-Life.” Yet, he reeks of the stench of bigotry and all that is ungodly!

But I would posit that this has less to do with his Pro-Life stance among evangelicals, than with his bigotry, which is the real reason for overwhelming White evangelical support. He is viewed as a beleaguered and much maligned outsider in the same manner as many White evangelicals view themselves. It is the same disgusting and narcissistic twisting of real social injustices—where the oppressor paints themself as the one actually wronged.

Yesterday, we sat through yet again, another awkward sermon at my mother’s evangelical church. The associate pastor admonished us to “respect” the “authority” of “those God puts in power.” The usual cherry-picked Bible verses were thrown out on “obeying the rulers,” and “rendering unto Caesar.” And, after the latest racist tweet as well. Odd, but that sermon would never have been preached during the Obama administration!

Hypocrites! I am so disgusted with all of it!

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of a Dying Church

One of the noticeable trends in Christendom over the last few decades has been ever decreasing church attendance. While it could be argued that the death of Christendom has been a long time coming, perhaps even already realized in Europe, American evangelicals have always pretended they never received the memo.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal discuses the possible political and social ramifications of declining church attendance in America. I think the greatest tragedy or failure of American Evangelicalism is its inability to change and its resistance to change. In short, like the words: “diversity, inclusion, social justice”—change is seen as a “bad” word. It is something the “world” does, but not the church. The perception of holding on to the Truth, once delivered to the apostles and prophets of yore, creates a powerful deterrent to improvement.

While the world steadily marches toward social justice, greater inclusion and diversity, the American church seems to be marching the other direction. The problem is further complicated by the history of racism within fundamentalism, the well-spring from which the evangelical movement sprang. As such, the evangelical movement, especially on the Southern reformed side, is solidly a movement of White privilege and superiority. The affects of “the Southern way of life,” cannot be overlooked when trying to understand why the church is in the position today of fighting against so many different attempts by society for greater social justice.

The Wall Street Journal article links the declining birth rate and decrease in church attendance as two factors that are putting tremendous pressure on conservatism:

“Together, these trend lines suggest significant changes in the shape of society in years to come. Some will be comfortable with them as simply signs of the natural evolution in ever-changing American society. On the other hand, such trends tend to alarm and motivate supporters of President Trump, who essentially promises a return to an America of yore. Either way, they are worthy of discussion in the 2020 campaign.”

This may be true, but I don’t think conservative Christians are in a position to deal with the issue in a healthy manner. Yes, they, for the most part, are aware of the decline in church attendance, but their understanding of the “why” is misplaced. Dispensationalism and a 150 years of “end times” hand wrenching has provided an answer for them: it is inevitable that before Christ returns there will be a “falling away” from the Faith. There you have it: “it’s not our problem, it’s yours.” As America becomes younger and far less White, the fear among many evangelicals will only deepen and provide further “proof” that they are right, while all others are wrong.

For someone who grew up in the evangelical faith it is a bit like watching a train wreck in slow motion. While I long to see reform come to evangelicalism in America, reformers such as Beth Moore seem like such a long shot. The powers behind the evangelical movement are too firmly entrenched in their control, too white and too male. Make no mistake, it is a control and power issue. The old hard-liners within evangelicalism represented by groups such as the Gospel Coalition have thoroughly bought into the dispensational, end times scenario, because it keeps them on top of the power curve. The influx of immigrants and undocumented aliens, the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements, feminism and even abortion rights all attack the belief that white men are in charge. The erosion of power can be seen in real time and has produced a frantic, panicky response from many of these men. The recent response of SBC men to Beth Moore’s request to allow women to fully express the gifts of the Holy Spirit within that body was immediate and almost comical. They went on full panic attack. What is it about a tiny blond Southern Baptist woman that creates so much fear among these men?

My wife who is evangelical, keeps admonishing me to see the good in evangelicalism and not concentrate so much on the faults. I do try, and find encouragement in the efforts of men like Scott McKnight, Roger E. Olson or Beth Moore, but they are fighting an uphill battle and time is not on their side. Society is changing too rapidly, I believe, for evangelicalism to catch up.

As for myself, I find the atmosphere on the other side of the fence much healthier and liberating than the evangelical side. As I have pointed out in a past post, Western society seems to be, at least for now, acting more Christlike than the conservative church in America. This is undoubtably, because conservatism is given a higher priority than Christ-likeness among many American Christians. There are a number of scenarios I can see play out here. There is a strong possibility that conservatism will win out and evangelicalism will become more insular and removed from society, which would best fit the self-fulfilling prophetic vision of dispensationalism. A slightly less likely possibility is that the church realizes it is headed in the wrong direction, and with glacial speediness, changes over the next couple decades, and actually starts practicing true Christian charity—but only after the tremendous loss of influence over society and the sad realization that much of the damage they’ve done cannot be undone. A third highly unlikely option is that evangelicals suddenly wake up, repent and once again become powerhouses for change in society.

If history is any indicator, I think the second option the most likely. What do you think?

Rachel Held Evans: Improvisation Done Well

The news of the death of Christian author and blogger Rachel Held Evans at age 37, Saturday morning, left me shaken. Sudden deaths of young people always leave us with more questions than answers and challenge our belief systems. I did not know Rachel personally, yet I found a profound personal loss in her passing that I have yet to understand. Perhaps because I lost my son when he was only 19. I know all too well the sense of hopelessness and inability to make sense of a loved one dying young. Perhaps it is because another bit of my certitude died Saturday morning. Her spiritual journey, while not identical to mine, was similar enough that I felt a kindred relationship.

A few days have passed now, and I am beginning to be able to talk about Rachel and read her final book—Inspired. (I just learned of another book to be posthumously released).  In the introduction of her book Rachel refers to New Testament scholar N. T. Wright’s description of the Bible stories as a “five act play” in which we are asked to participate. Rather than reading from a script that gives us our lines, the participants are asked to enter into the story and “improvise the unfinished, final act.” 1 “Our ability to faithfully execute our roles in the drama depends on our willingness to enter the narrative, he said, to see how our own stories intersect with the grander epic of God’s redemption of the world.” 2

With Rachel Held Evans we got a glimpse of what it means to faithfully question scripture: a series of stories, poems and letters, that invites us in to add our story to the greater story. Like myself, Rachel struggled with scripture like Jacob wrestling with God. As Rachel herself said: “If I’ve learned anything from thirty-five years of doubt and belief, it’s that faith is not passive intellectual assent to a set of propositions. It’s a rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred, all-night-long struggle, and sometimes you have to demand your blessing rather than wait around for it.” 3

The Bible is full of stories that draw us in and provoke thoughtful and even disturbing questions; is God with us? Does God care? Will He abandon us? Does He commit genocide? Does He feel our suffering? Does He care about justice? Those who understand the narrative, understand that they are to be a part of the answers, and jump in to act out their part in the play. Rachel Held Evans, you threw yourself whole-heartedly into the play, and have shown countless others including myself how to improvise well. Thank you for your faithfulness and courage. The world is a better place for having known you.

1 N. T. Wright, “How Can the Bible be Authoritative?”

2 Rachel Held Evans, “Inspired,” p. XX.

3 Ibid., p. 28.

An Easter Service That Missed the Mark

So, Easter 2019 has come and gone, and it couldn’t have been more awkward or spiritually depressing. I was too disturbed emotionally to post an uplifting Easter message on my blog, so I shared one from another blog: Letters to the Next Generation which I had found inspiring. My wife and I take my 94 year old mother to her Assemblies of God church, the denomination I had been raised in, every Sunday. As I have “deconstructed” my belief system over the past half dozen years I have come to realize that my faith has become at odds with that tribe’s belief system and have been looking for a “graceful” way to transition to a more open, affirming church, but in the meantime…we are kind of stuck with things the way they are.

As usual, the worship portion of the service was vibrant and uplifting, as is befitting a Pentecostal service. Unfortunately, the sermon was anything but. The pastor is a good man and means well. He has all the pieces of the puzzle, as do many evangelicals, but doesn’t seem to realize how the pieces are supposed to fit. He follows the same tired pattern of fitting the pieces together that Bible School has taught him, ignoring the solutions that don’t fit the evangelical dispensational narrative and forcing pieces together that don’t quite fit.

He started with some humorous antidotes and pictures from his recent trip to the Holy Land, a sort of Mecca for evangelicals. He remarked on the serine beauty and foliage surrounding the purported tomb of Jesus and pointed out the emptiness of the tomb and the promise of life rather than death it and the surroundings denoted. So far so good… Then the sermon took a turn: he started comparing other religions to Christianity. He tried to spin things so that it appeared he was taking, not about Christianity as a religion, but a relationship, but in evangelicalism “relationship with Jesus” ALWAYS means “religion,” belief in certain orthodox doctrines. So his attempts at painting other religions as man’s attempts to reach God, and Christianity as true “relationship,” sounded hollow.

Then he expounded on a frequent hot button issue recently, and a big factor in the Religious Rights war on society: inclusivity. In describing salvation he likened other religions and those outside traditional Christianity to Little League players who receive “participation trophies.” In his mind’s eye there should only be winners and losers. Participation trophies are for losers. As in all evangelical churches I’ve come across, evangelicals are the winning team of course, while all else earn a place in hell, no matter how good their intentions or how sincere the effort. This obsession with declaring who the losers are permeates much of evangelical teaching and in my opinion weakens the atonement and declares the Cross a failure.

In building his argument he used the usual scripture: “no man comes to the Father but by me,” John 14:6, to be interpreted as exclusive rather than a declaration of what God has done through Christ for ALL. Oddly, he quoted Jesus’ words from the Cross: “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,” Luke 23:34, as showing what great love God has for us, yet didn’t see the correlation between the two different verses. This is what I mean by evangelicals have all the pieces to the puzzle, but don’t know how to fit them together. How can Jesus’ request to the Father be sincere if God’s love is conditional? Did God then say, “sorry Son, I know you mean well, but only a few will be forgiven?” The request becomes entirely rhetorical and utterly meaningless in evangelical teaching. And, of course, it puts Jesus at odds with the Father, another problem altogether.

Without getting into the early church teaching on Universal Reconciliation, which was the default for almost 500 years, I will say that Jesus IS the means by which all will be saved, and it is ONLY through Him that the Father has accomplished that, and that ALL will eventually declare Him Lord, and every knee shall bow Philippians 2:10-11. This is not a forced obeisance, a powerful overlord demanding worship from the vanquished, as some evangelicals believe, but the accomplishment of the fruition of the Coming Age, when YHWH is declared Lord of all. The evangelical God is too petty, too vindictive and to tribal to be Lord of All.

So in conclusion, a missed opportunity, a service that did not provide hope and was more bad news than Good News. A sermon that predictably followed the usual confirmation biases and settled for “alternate facts,” having the pieces but not following the picture on the box cover. So close, yet so far.

Ps. I don’t think I have stressed strongly enough the implications the pastor was suggesting in his attack or critique of “inclusivity.” In the “culture war” that the Religious Right has been waging, a war that has its roots in the antebellum South, the resistance to inclusivity has strong racial and sexual overtones. Although the sermon weaponized the Bible against people who fell outside evangelical conventions, historically evangelical exclusivity has been used to exclude, not just those of other religions, but women, minorities, entire races (other than Whites), and people of non-binary sexual inclinations. It is a White, patriarchal dog-whistle that divides, rather than unites people.

While I am sure that the good pastor was not intentionally implying those exclusions: most White evangelicals are oblivious to their subconscious biases, it was there, nonetheless. The problem with the whole winner-loser approach of evangelicalism is that it totally misses the point of Jesus’ interactions with women, Samaritans, sinners, outsiders and the Romans themselves. Jesus was very inclusive…it disturbed the leadership of Second Temple Judaism deeply, and like the frustrations of evangelicals with inclusivity today, brought Jesus into direct conflict with the religious leadership of Jesus’ day.

A point I hear raised repeatedly by evangelicals I interact with online, is the belief that Jesus was religiously conservative. I firmly believe, had he been so, he would have fit in nicely with the Pharisees and Sadducees of his day. He would have sided with one on some topics and the other on other topics. He would have simply been just another rabbi arguing the finer points of the Law of Moses. But he was not. His teaching was a shot across the bow of Second Temple Judaism, a call for religious conservatives to repent. I wish evangelicals could see the Pharisee within their ranks.

Finding God’s Purpose for Your Life

Recently proudly posted on a family member’s Facebook timeline was a story entitled: “THEY GAVE ME THE MIDDLE FINGER AT THE ALTAR,” by Jeremiah Johnson. In it Mr. Johnson told the story of a engaged young couple that came up front to be blessed before marriage (honestly I don’t know what that’s all about, but it must be something done at his church). In a moment of (I’m sure of pure wisdom), the Pastor asked if the couple we’re sleeping together. Basically he read them the riot act about God’s condemnation of them in their sin. Slut-shamed, they fled the church, giving him the finger as they ran out.

Just a few days earlier, the same family member posted a meme about the first slaves on American soil being 100 Irish children. A simple Google search and visit to Scopes, of course, proved it to be a reoccurring post started by White Supremacists to discredit Black slavery in the US. My family member didn’t think to check if it were true or not because they came from a background of White privilege. 

I love all my family members, but so many are evangelical “Trump,” Fox News Christians. And, of course, post things about the wall, immigrants, etc.  It makes me very sad. I attend (for now), an evangelical church, which has a discipleship program (as many do), to learn your “purpose” in life. Finding “God’s purpose for your life” seems to be a popular theme in evangelical circles, especially Pentecostal ones.  Books have been written about it. The teaching is usually geared to fill Sunday school teaching positions, welcome desk and greeters. But God’s purpose is clearly outlined in Jesus’ teaching: love God, love your neighbor, love your enemies. It’s that simple. Love abundantly, extravagantly and unconditionally.

The problem with evangelicalism is there is so many exceptions and strings attached to loving.   

Pete Buttigieg and the Church’s Need for Repentance

I found a good article on Pete Buttigieg‘s run for the Presidency that has come up on Patheos:


I agree with the author’s general assessment, that Buttigieg’s run will be interesting. It highlights an interesting intersection of non-binary sexuality and progressivism, both political and religious. How contentious the Religious Right makes it, remains to be seen. Some of the more conservative commentators there have suggested that the Gay rights movement has reached a sort of critical mass, and is pushed on us everywhere. That being Gay will be secondary to what Buttigieg’s political agenda is. I would like to think so, that the conservative church is tired of attacking Gays for being Gay, but I have my doubts.

I agree, especially in light of the Religious Right’s adoption of a grossly immoral man as their choice to lead our country, that Buttigieg’s sexual orientation should be of little concern to them, or anyone for that matter, and they should give the same “pass” to Buttigieg that they have afforded the Adulterer in Chief, but I am not taking bets on it.

Western Christianity is changing, and that is concerning to the “old guard:” the Religious Right. The change primarily centers around, not the Bible as much as the collapse of Christendom: the old collusion of Church and State that gave the Church so much power over the direction society was going. Conservative Christianity in the West is still grasping for power, not realizing that the path to the Kingdom of God is not found in power. Historically, the ability to control the actions of the citizens of the State has been a hallmark of Christianity in the West: a blend of imperialism, nationalism and religion. 

And, of course, the hot buttons for the Right have centered predictably around “control” issues: control of other’s sexual behaviors, control of women’s bodies and control of minorities: the foreigner or strangers in our midst. In order to maintain control distance needs to be created between the “controllers” and those they wish to control. This is accomplished by enforcing an obsession with the “rules” of inclusion in the controlling group. This is usually referred to as “orthodoxy:” right belief. And, predictably, orthodoxy is defined by the “winning” or controlling group, in this case Western Christianity, which eventually “won” the battle and Eastern Orthodoxy did not, for a variety of reasons.

In the past, I have touched on what I feel is a gross misunderstanding of sin found among evangelicals, which is less about sin itself and its definition, and more about demanding repentance of the wrong individuals. It is the classic attempt to remove the speck of dust in one’s neighbor’s eye but not seeing clearly because of the log in one’s own eye. While we all sin (see Romans 5), as did Adam, one must remove the log first before attempting surgery on others.

If you look at the gospels as a whole, and how Jesus dealt with sin, he did not direct his calls for repentance to society as a whole. No, not the Romans, no matter how unjust or depraved that society was. Instead he concerned himself with Israel and Judaea’s need for repentance. It was primarily a call for the “church” of his day that the call went out to. The “unbelieving and perverse generation” Jesus refers to in Matthew 17:17 is the Religious hegemony of Second Temple Judaism, and their failure to step outside that comfortable bubble and be spiritually aware. The chapters preceding and following are all directed at this religious group. In chapter 15, he refers to them as blind guides, as concerned with exterior ritual and neglecting righteousness. Chapter 16 deals again with spiritual blindness, the inability to discern the “times:” that the religious elite couldn’t see what God was doing among Israel, and ultimately the Gentiles.

In chapter 17, Jesus begins to spell out the inevitable results of chastising organized religion: when cornered, religion that is in power will resort to violence rather than admit the need for repentance. In chapter 18, he is asked who is greatest in the Kingdom of God. Astonishingly it is not the influential, the powerful, those who know their doctrine, but it is the simplicity and powerlessness of a child that best represents “greatness” in the Kingdom. Of course this reflects the teachings on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 on who is “blessed” in the Kingdom. 

Historically the church has applied this admonishment of Jesus to repent as squarely applied to the Jews for their rejection of the Messiah. It has fueled antisemitism for nearly 2000 years, from about a century after Christ, through Martin Luther and his polemics, culminating in the holocaust. This is a total misrepresentation of Jesus’ criticism and who and what he was critiquing. He had compassion on Israel not hatred or contempt. But he was seriously concerned about the leadership of the Jews and, yes, their theology.

Jesus did things with scripture that show a certain disregard for the letter of the Law. Conservatives will often quote Matthew 5:17 “Don’t assume that I have come to destroy the Law or Prophets. I did not come to destroy, but to fulfill;” as though this makes Jesus more fastidious than the Pharisees. When you take a closer look at what Jesus quotes from scripture, and what he doesn’t, a different picture emerges. This also mirrors the difference between the evangelical and progressive approach towards the Bible. Let me explain.

When Jesus begins his public ministry, he quotes from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed Me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recover of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19. It is telling what he refuses to quote from that passage, in which Isaiah had continued to say, “and the day of our God’s vengeance…” There is a profound redirection of scripture that takes place in Jesus’ teachings on violence and hatred of enemies. Paul, who started out persecuting the nascent young church, catches the drift of Jesus’ teachings as well.

As Jacob M. Wright points out:

“Before his conversion, Paul had read his Bible and concluded that he should commit violence in God’s name. After his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul completely reassessed how to understand scripture, leading him to a radically different understanding.

IN ROMANS 15, for example, Paul quotes several scriptural passages to illustrate how Gentiles “may glorify God for his mercy” because of the gospel (verse 9). Highly significant is what Paul omits from these passages:

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: “I̶ ̶d̶e̶s̶t̶r̶o̶y̶e̶d̶ ̶m̶y̶ ̶f̶o̶e̶s̶.̶ ̶T̶h̶e̶y̶ ̶c̶r̶i̶e̶d̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶h̶e̶l̶p̶,̶ ̶b̶u̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶r̶e̶ ̶w̶a̶s̶ ̶n̶o̶ ̶o̶n̶e̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶s̶a̶v̶e̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶m̶—̶t̶o̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶L̶O̶R̶D̶,̶ ̶b̶u̶t̶ ̶h̶e̶ ̶d̶i̶d̶ ̶n̶o̶t̶ ̶a̶n̶s̶w̶e̶r̶ ̶.̶.̶.̶ ̶H̶e̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶G̶o̶d̶ ̶w̶h̶o̶ ̶a̶v̶e̶n̶g̶e̶s̶ ̶m̶e̶,̶ ̶w̶h̶o̶ ̶p̶u̶t̶s̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶G̶e̶n̶t̶i̶l̶e̶s̶ ̶u̶n̶d̶e̶r̶ ̶m̶e̶ ̶ … Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.” [quoting Psalm 18:41–49]

Again, it says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people,f̶o̶r̶ ̶h̶e̶ ̶w̶i̶l̶l̶ ̶a̶v̶e̶n̶g̶e̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶b̶l̶o̶o̶d̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶h̶i̶s̶ ̶s̶e̶r̶v̶a̶n̶t̶s̶;̶ ̶h̶e̶ ̶w̶i̶l̶l̶ ̶t̶a̶k̶e̶ ̶v̶e̶n̶g̶e̶a̶n̶c̶e̶ ̶o̶n̶ ̶h̶i̶s̶ ̶e̶n̶e̶m̶i̶e̶s̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶m̶a̶k̶e̶ ̶a̶t̶o̶n̶e̶m̶e̶n̶t̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶h̶i̶s̶ ̶l̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶p̶e̶o̶p̶l̶e̶.̶” [Deuteronomy 32:43]

Paul has removed the references to violence against Gentiles, and recontextualized these passages to instead declare God’s mercy in Christ for Gentiles. This constitutes a major redefinition of how salvation is conceived: Instead of salvation meaning God “delivering” the ancient Israelites from the hands of their enemies through military victory (as described in Psalm 18, above), Paul now understands salvation to mean the restoration of all people in Christ, including those same “enemy” Gentiles.

In Romans 12:19-21, Paul again quotes Deuteronomy 32, citing the Lord’s declaration “it is mine to avenge” to argue that we should not seek vengeance, but rather work to “overcome evil with good.” In its original context, however, this passage was a celebration of vengeance: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay … I will make my arrows drunk with blood, while my sword devours flesh: the blood of the slain and the captives, the heads of the enemy leaders.” This passage, which originally advocated vengeance and violence, is now used to promote enemy love.

Remarking on this pattern in Paul, New Testament scholar Richard Hays once joked that Paul would have surely flunked a seminary class in exegesis. But, as Hays himself argues, Paul was in fact intimately familiar with the original context of these passages, as were his readers. This is no case of sloppy exegesis. Paul is deliberately reversing the meaning—turning the tables in order to provoke his audience.”

While Jewish leadership used scripture to justify hatred and violence of enemies, both Paul and Jesus were selective about what to use in scripture and what not. It was the difference between weaponizing scripture and disarming scripture. As the church gained more power after Constantine, it began to weaponize scripture as had the Jews. It is the difference between actively looking for scriptures to support violence and bigotry and looking for scriptures that do not. And this is where we are today. Jews have moved on, facing centuries of persecution they have wrestled with the violence in scripture and for the most part are defenders of the powerless, knowing what it is like to face oppression.

So here’s my main point of all this: the progressive movement in Christianity is a movement of repentance. As in my own experience, which is not terribly unique, progressives are merely Christians that have been convicted about their own implication in a religion that has hurt others. And it is centered, in large part, about what I have mentioned above: are we to use scripture to demonize or oppress others, one can find verses for that, or are we to go beyond that and follow Christ’s example? Are we to be comfortable and complacent in a church that has continued to be unrepentant, or are we to call the church to repentance?

And this is the major bone of contention between conservatives, those who look for “gotcha” passages and progressives that do not. Between those who see no need for repentance and those who, like the tax collector, cry, “have mercy on me Lord, for I am a sinner.” Will this be a “Damascus experience” for the church as Shane Phipps hopes? Will the church honestly address its homophobia, or see it simply as another sign that society is drifting further away from orthodoxy as defined by evangelicalism?