Idolatry or Passion?
A recent article in the Washington Post highlighted what the writer, Michael Gerson, believed was commonplace among Christians, that of bowing to the golden calf of the extreme political right. He made this claim in his article entitled, “The religious right carries its golden calf into Steve Bannon’s battles.”
Because this accusation that Christians worship conservative politicians is common on the left, I have decided to respond to Gerson’s article. I do this both with the purpose of helping you defend your faith against such an allegation and of reminding you to keep your passion centered on Jesus and His Word.
Although I am not saying that Christians are immune to carrying their political support too far, I believe what Gerson regards as idolatry from his vantage point within the confines of Washington, D.C. is nothing more than passion for what we hold dear out here in the heartland. Let me explain.
The Danger of Identifying with a Political Movement
Although I disagree with almost all of what Michael Gerson wrote, he is correct about the dangers of Christians identifying too strongly with any political movement. This can lead to unwelcome results for us and, if anything of what Gerson writes is true, he is correct in regard to this warning.
However, the believers I know do not fall into Gerson’s characterization as being “foot soldiers of Bannon;” the majority do not even know anything about him. In fact, many of these so-called “foot soldiers” strongly dislike both Bannon and President Trump (although they could never have voted for Hilary Clinton because of her pro-abortion stand). The sharpest criticism I faced for my support of President Trump last year came from fellow believers, not from supporters of Hillary.
The numbers simply do not support Christians blindly adapting “Fox News values” (whatever that means) as Gerson claims. If one assumes that everyone who watches Fox News is a Christian (and such is definitely not the case), this would amount to about three percent of everyone who claims to be an evangelical. How can he claim we all receive our values from a source so very few of us even watch?
I do not see the idolatry that Gerson referenced, although I concede that a tiny minority of what he refers to as the “religious right’ might sadly be in that camp.
Instead, I see a passion to core beliefs, to Scripture, rather than any idolatry to a person or political movement.
We are not “panting and begging” to be part of someone else’s political movement as the writer asserts. That is patently absurd. For the vast majority of us, we do “confidently and persistently” represent a core set of “distinctive beliefs,” but not those Gerson describes. It’s Scripture; this is the basis for what we passionately believe and seek to uphold.
First in order of importance, for both those of us believers who like President Trump and for most of those who despise him, is the sanctity of life. Many of us turned against the Republican establishment when they refused to remove funding for Planned Parenthood from the budget after they gained a majority in the Senate. In spite of the proven allegations that Planned Parenthood actively harvested and sold body parts from the precious babies they murdered, the Republican leadership refused to take a stand against this organization and continued to fund them with our money.
If you want to know why so many people applauded when Bannon said “it’s a season for war against a GOP establishment,” that is it. This in no way signifies any blind allegiance to Bannon as the writer suggests, but rather a rejection of an establishment that blatantly betrayed the pro-life values of those who voted for them. Because of this, I would have also cheered loudly when he said that.
Scripture teaches that life begins at conception, and biblically-based Christians have actively opposed abortion since the inception of the church. Followers of Christ rescued babies that were being aborted in the Roman Empire in the early centuries of the church. The truths of God’s word were and are the basis for this overriding passion to protect helpless babies, not any political movement or leader such as Bannon.
Human Dignity Does Not Equal the New World Order
I am confused by why Gerson believes that “economic nationalism” is contrary to our vision of “human dignity” and “social justice.” We strongly believe in legal immigration and in giving people an equal opportunity to come to America and prosper. Our views on immigration are totally consistent with what President Clinton repeatedly advocated when he was president. It’s the left that has changed their opinion of what “social justice” signifies in regard to immigration, not us. Is it a crime against “human dignity” to want to ensure that those coming to our nation do not drive trucks into large groups of pedestrians and bikers or attack people with a knife in a mall?
Gerson also appears to believe “social justice” can only be accomplished through a New World Order. Why else would he contrast “economic nationalism” with supporting “human dignity?”
Gerson fails to establish why this assertion is true. History has repeatedly shown that Socialism, the darling of the New World Order advocates, inflicts the most damage on “human dignity.” Venezuela provides a prime example of the tremendous suffering that results when Socialism is fully implemented.
Gerson’s claim that the “religious right” has ties to “ALT-right leaders” and flirts “with white identity politics” could not be further from the truth. The pastor of my church, on the Sunday after the violence in Charlottesville, angrily denounced and condemned white supremacy along with all forms of racism. Regardless of what any group may claim, as followers of Christ we oppose racism in any form! Gerson’s remarks here constitute a cheap shot at the Christian community and one for which he should be ashamed. His comments represent a blatantly false and worn-out claim that no longer has any merit. He should be ashamed of himself for making this claim against us.
The believers I know value human dignity and strongly uphold the Judeo-Christian belief in the “inherent value and dignity of every life.” This is the reason we so passionately oppose abortion, which constitutes nothing less than murder of the innocent.
The fact that we pursue a different approach to protecting the “dignity of every life” does not mean this goal is any less important to us. Gerson condemns us without understanding our point of view.
The Common Good
Gerson upholds the “common good” as the ultimate standard. What does his use of this phrase signify? Is it not another way of saying that right and wrong are determined by the needs of the moment or by common consensus? But who determines the “common good?”
The Nazis convinced millions of Germans in the last century that the “common good” signified the elimination of all Jews. Can we trust any system of ethics that relies on the “common good?” The determination of what is “good” changes with every culture and society and even with every decade for that matter. Should others condemn Christians because we rely on the changeless Judeo-Christian values of Scripture rather than ever-changing standards put forward as the “common good?”
Gerson claimed that the Republican efforts to overturn Obamacare failed because the party could not show why it was in the interest of the “common good” to do so. Really? Is it in the public interest to impose penalties on people who cannot afford to pay ridiculously high premiums for their health insurance, which in some cases have doubled in spite of sky-high deductibles?
I also question Gerson’s reference to Jesus as a “globalist.” Why did he say that? Is he suggesting that Jesus would somehow support the New World Order he seems to advocate?
Yes, Jesus commanded His followers to take the Gospel to all nations. He did this on the basis of His authority as God so that all people would hear the good news of salvation. He sent out His disciples to proclaim the Gospel to a world perishing in its sins, and subject to God’s wrath unless they repent. I believe it is a huge leap to go from that to claiming that Jesus is a globalist in the modern usage of this term.
Gerson’s identification of Christians as the foot soldiers of Steve Bannon could not be further from the truth. It’s a faulty attempt to identify all followers of Jesus based on the actions and beliefs of a tiny group at a conference who may or may not even represent true believers of Jesus. And, who says that applauding for a speaker equals idolatry of him?
Yes, there is a danger in believers identifying themselves closely with any political movement, and we must be wary of this. Loving and serving Jesus while upholding the truths of Scripture is our first priority as we take the Gospel to a perishing world.
As followers of Christ, we seek to provide relief to the suffering and persecuted throughout the world through organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse that spends $800 million each year in this regard. The believers I know also contribute much personally to help those around them as well as to organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse. We care very much about the hurting in this world and seek to uphold human dignity whenever we can.
We will not escape criticism for our beliefs; this is a given. All we can do is uphold the timeless truths of Scripture, express our enduring beliefs in the most loving way possible, and reach out to those in need around us with the good news that a far better day is coming— in which justice and righteousness will reign supreme— as Jesus rules over the nations of the world.
Jesus and His words must always be the basis for our passion. If this is mistaken for idolatry, then so be it. We will follow Jesus.
Jonathan C. Brentner