I am a Christian.
I am probably what you consider an Evangelical.
But I am not part of the “Evangelicals” that remain Donald Trump and the GOP’s most ardent supporters.
In fact, I deeply oppose the Trump Administration and just about everything it stands for. Which has not only left me heartbroken but flummoxed. When I read the Bible, I cannot, for the life of me understand how some people come away supporting an administration that claims to be a “Christian” nation who has caged the refugees and outlawed the Good Samaritan. An administration that, in my mind embodies the spirit of antiChrist. I keep wondering: If the recent ICE raids are really about forcing people to obey the law at extreme penalty; why aren't we arresting the corporate leaders who recruited and hired the people now being punished?
Otherwise, what is this really about?
I can't think of a humane reason. Can you?
I certainly can’t think of a Christian reason. But many people I know and love and care about seem to believe that supporting this administration can be in line with following the Prince of Peace and the God who is Love and commands compassion and outright love of enemies.
Enter the Netflix documentary The Family. While there are layers of reasons why so many well-intentioned Christians have found themselves supporting a president who has made a life of trouncing our values, understanding the unique “Evangelical” worldview of the Family helps us understand how people can claim to follow the Prince of Peace while supporting an abusive administration.
Based on Jeff Sharlet’s books The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power and C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy, the 5-part series chronicles the rise to power and secretive tentacles of a Christian conservative group known as “The Family,” or “The Fellowship.” Founded in 1935 by Abraham Vereide. The stated purpose of the Fellowship is to provide a fellowship forum for decision makers to share in Bible studies, prayer meetings, worship experiences, and to experience spiritual affirmation and support. Ever wonder who puts on the National Prayer Breakfast? The Family.
The Family is a secretive organization with inordinate influence among world governments, which claims to just want people to know Jesus. But they do in a particular way: Go after the powerful and fight for what’s “right” (their perceived cultural version of “Christianity” most often visualized when old White people talk about how great the 1950’s used to be. Women know their place. Gays stay in the closet. And we all just pretend that Jesus wanted an Authoritarian government. Oh, and some are just predestine for power. And they often utilize sitting government officials on “missionary” trips.
Combining a weird Machismo Jesus with the notion that, to really get things done, you don’t bother with the “little people,” you go after the leaders. You meet with kings. You sit with Presidents. And because it’s “Just about Jesus,” you’ll meet with anyone. You’re not there to interfere in politics, so of course you’ll meet with dictators. But when you confuse trying to influence cultural norms with Christianity, you will soon find yourselves partnering with people who share your outward goals but most likely not your inner motive.
The problem is that fascists and the Authoritarian Right Wing are all too happy to support your “traditional family values,” so you cooperate together “for the good of the culture” (as you see fit). The result is that there is a faction of Christianity dedicated, not to loving all people but to making sure that a particular way of life is protected. They want to feel safe. They want everyone to look like them. And that is not Christianity. We may share some of the same language. But we do not share the same Love.
Another problem with this approach is that it seems to assume that Christians are called to protect certain cultural “norms,” even through legislation, and, if need, be, violence. Christians are to be Salt and Light (Matthew 5:13-16). We have always been blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12, etc.). This does not mean forcing everyone to live by a certain set of moral principles and then calling ourselves a “Christian nation.” But the Family believes in power. This is why so many “Christians” are fine pushing for laws that privilege Christianity while trampling on other types of faith. They want to push their expression of Christianity as the cultural norm and are perfectly willing to use legislation and dishonest people (often at the same time) to accomplish their purposes.
White Christians have enjoyed immense privilege and safety in our country. There is a lot to be thankful for. But we are not called to hang on to that privilege and safety. We are called to lay it down for the sake of others. Yet there is clearly a subset of American Christianity who is clawing to that place of cultural privilege with every dying breath. Why else would you be offended if your cashier says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas?” That’s not an attack on Christ. It’s treating people equally. But this notion of confusing certain cultural values with Christianity is exactly why we find ourselves in the place of so many Christians supporting an antiChrist administration . . . in the name of Jesus?
The Family shows us how people can be sincere in their belief that they are following Jesus while walking in the opposite direction. You might call sitting U.S. Senators flying to foreign countries to talk to kings “off the record” about Jesus being wise as serpents. I call it collusion of church and state and as a Christian, I believe it is wrong. Using your place of power to gain entry to foreign leaders and then saying: “I’m a senator, but I’m not here as a senator, I’m just here to talk about Jesus . . .” is dishonest.
The Family has continually worked to undermine the distinction between Church and State and we see this in such silly things as states mandating schools emblazon “In God We Trust” across school walls. That is not Christianity, it’s authoritarian civic religion. But it sure looks good for any candidate claiming to support “traditional values.”
If Christianity can be translated into forcing laws through that appeal to Christians at any cost, then of course it makes sense that they would continue to support Trump, regardless of . . . well, apparently, just about anything other than taking the Lord’s name in vain. Because, it’s about power. It’s about gaining the ability to enforce our agenda (which is “Jesus Plus Nothing except “traditional family values,” opposing Unionized Labor, opposing LGBT rights, etc.). If you claim to be grabbing power for the sake of Jesus and the “greater good,” you soon find yourself losing sight of Jesus.
The Family helps us understand how: If you believe that you are fighting “God’s war” and that part of that means protecting certain ways of life (equated with “being a Christian”) and you believe in a Machismo Jesus, your movement was founded on violent suppression of Unionized Labor, you care about power; then of course you can justify supporting the Trump Administration and not only see no conflict with your faith but believe you support Trump because you support Jesus. I just don’t share this vision.
If you, like me, feel politically homeless as a Christian and struggle to understand just how we got to a place where so many of our brothers and sisters would support something so out of character for Global Christianity, I recommend watching The Family.
The Netflix subtitle tells you their interpretation of all of this: “It's Not About Faith, It's About Power”. What do you think?
Watch the Netflix trailer: “The Family: It's Not About Faith, It's About Power”
Purchase Jeff Sharlet’s books at Amazon.
Read the Wikipedia entry on The Fellowship.
Read as Salon wonders: “How separate are church and state? "The Family" examines secretive Christian power brokers.”
Read Vice’s piece: “Netflix's 'The Family' Unmasks the Political Power of Christian Fundamentalists.”