(Note: The following was was written before today’s press release from the Church, which stated: “We congratulate President-elect Joe Biden on his election as President of the United States. . . We invite people everywhere, whatever their political views, to join us in praying for this new administration and for leaders of nations around the world.”)
Something deeply disturbing has been unleashed in the American body politic at the intersection of religion and politics, highlighted this weekend in Washington DC at the so-called Jericho March. Staged by an odd alliance of right-wing evangelical Christians and Trump political operatives, the event fanned the flames of conspiracy theories and called on Americans to revolt, violently if necessary. Trump’s former national security advisor called for martial law to overturn the election and stop the seating of President-elect Biden.
Today, the influential conservative political commentator David French called out his fellow evangelical Christians in a column he titled The Dangerous Idolatry of Christian Trumpism. It is a must-read.
So far, the system of checks and balances so wisely established by America’s founders has held. The sitting President has seen his own judicial appointees and nominees reject his arguments at every turn. His own Attorney General admitted there is no evidence of significant fraud in the recent elections. But Trump and the Christian right are not accepting that reality, and are creating wild narratives that feed cynicism, resentment and fear.
For the record, I am a political conservative who, though not a Trump supporter, has real concerns about the direction of the country under our newly-elected President. But that’s not what I’m writing about here. I’m addressing something far more important.
For the past couple of decades, the so-called New Atheist movement (prominently represented by intellectuals like Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris et al.) persuaded a large swath of young people that religion was to be held with profound suspicion. Religion has a long history, they pointed out, of being used for political and sometimes violent ends. And, of course, history is replete with evidence of pogroms, crusades and oppression in the name of God. Religious people responded by pointing out the vast good that has come from religion over the centuries. And the battle for the hearts and minds of the rising generation continues, as they weigh these two narratives.
If I were a younger person not yet anchored in my faith, and were to observe the hysteria at events like the Jericho March, I’d have to concede a point to the New Atheists. If I were a young Latter-day Saint observing many of my fellow (mostly older) members lining up behind this kind of thing, I might question my place in such a community.
We must call out the dangerous and gullible acceptance of conspiracy theories and accusations, untethered from truth or from any objective fact, especially when they serve to create blind allegiance to a political figure of any stripe.
Labeling political adversaries as “pure evil”? Calls for militias, violence, secession? This is not the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is not the New Covenant. Donald Trump is not the Savior of the World nor his representative. Neither is Joe Biden.
While we see some Christian leaders lose their way and prostrate themselves before this “idol” (to use Mr. French’s term) perhaps we should take our cue from the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What did we see and hear from them in this last conference and in subsequent messages and addresses?
We saw calm amidst the pandemic and the political storm. We heard a voice that was clear and powerful. It is the Good News. Be of good cheer. Focus our hearts and minds on Gratitude. Love our adversaries and make them our friends. Engage the world out of faith, hope and love—not fear. Lift up the oppressed. Help heal the wounds of racial and other discrimination. Work to create peace and understanding, not the division and fear that comes from living in media echo chambers.
Thank goodness for inspiring leaders who humbly seek to be true disciples of Jesus Christ. That’s what real leadership looks like.
There never was a time when the message of Christ’s gospel was needed more than now.