Crucified TwiceEd Guthero May/June 2021
How too many modern-day believers succumbed to the lure of political power and lost the essence of the Gospel
Illustration by John Williams
How did a democracy, whose Statue of Liberty represents a beacon of freedom to the world, find itself in a fulcrum of chaos and misdirection following a fair democratic election, judged so by every court in the nation? How did it come to be that a traditionally peaceful transition of power was violently threatened amid a cult of personality and desperate efforts to cling to power with politicians apparently willing to sacrifice their own integrity as well as the principles of the nation’s Founders in the process? Washington, Madison, Jefferson, and their associates would be mortified to witness our day. What do intimidating paramilitary-style civilians, armed with assault rifles, standing outside the neutral sanctity of voting stations have to do with the sacred freedom that America represents?
What business do spiritual leaders, entrusted with the hearts and souls of their congregations, have getting entwined with political agendas while setting aside the gospel commission and replacing it with a fevered partisan push for earthly political power? Perhaps even more troubling, what does Christianity, founded by a Man of peace, have to do with any of this? Was it a complete sellout?
Do such sentiments represent all Christians? No. Do such sentiments represent even all evangelicals? Absolutely not. Yet extremist elements have caused too many people to assume this is the case.
There has always been an omen of Shakespearean tragedy hovering about this latest dance of power, politics, and religion since it began accelerating in 2016. Even from the beginning, this romance appeared to be a straight, unspoken yet understood compromise deal: support and votes in exchange for legislation and judges. Tragically, sincere people were swept along in the fervor and entanglements.
In December 2020, as postelection chaos polarized and rocked the nation, Beth Moore, a respected voice in the evangelical community, grew increasingly alarmed and spoke out pointedly: “I do not believe these are the days for mincing words. I’m 63 years old, and I have never seen anything in these United States of America I have found more astonishingly seductive and dangerous to the saints of God than Trumpism. This Christian nationalism is not of God. Move back from it.” Moore continued her warning to fellow Christian leaders: “We will be held responsible for remaining passive in this day of seduction to save our own skin while the saints we’ve been entrusted to serve are being seduced, manipulated, USED, and stirred up into a lather of zeal devoid of the Holy Spirit for political gain,” she tweeted.
Beth Moore at least had the courage to speak out early when many other evangelical leaders caved to the lure of an always-toxic dance between compromise, political power, and faith. History has repeatedly shown that such a dance never ends well. But she paid a price nonetheless, as she faced a wave of criticism in the evangelical world. Attendance at her seminars dropped.
Yet, in December 2020, following a troubling mass demonstration in Washington, D.C., where Christian imagery and slogans supporting the departing president and disproven claims of election fraud waved alongside each other in a surreal menagerie, Moore spoke out against the cult of personality and the loosely based, misapplied “prophecy” equating him with the biblical Persian king Cyrus.
“We do not worship flesh and blood,” Moore stated. “We do not place our faith in mortals. We are the church of the living God. We can’t sanctify idolatry by labeling a leader Cyrus. We need no Cyrus. We have a king; His name is Jesus.”
Reality check: What is Christianity really about? Has it any place in power politics? Neutral observers, and many believers themselves as well, may now have the perception that Christianity involves partisan politics, exclusiveness, more hate than love, muscled-up intimidation, and a self-righteous “holier than thou” attitude. In recent years the bedazzlement of political influence has added an unspoken credo of compromising truth for the perceived greater good.
Too oftenit has seemed that up is down and down is up, a lie is the truth or the truth is a lie. It is deeply troubling that the name of Jesus has been tainted and obscured by the spirit of such attitudes. The message of Christ has nothing to do with such things. Sometimes we need a reality check—a jolt of cold water to our faces.
This article cannot be about praising one political party over another or condemning individuals. When we seek shelter in the heart of Christ’s message, there is enough grace in the shadow of the cross to cover all of our shortcomings. Away from the clutter of rhetoric, one must realize that there are believers on both ends of the political spectrum and that true Christianity is bigger than any political leader and America’s politics. Demonization and polarization only make communication and cooperation more difficult.
But this article is surely designed to decry the pitfalls that are sure to occur when the best of good intentions are compromised and we surrender to the unholy romance of religion and politics . . . the dangers of polarization and a tribal mindset . . . when faith and politics shamelessly use each other and nothing is left sacred. We are walking among the rubble of our latest venture into that arena today.
Yet Christian nationalism recurs in various forms, attempting to merge Christian and American identities. Amanda Tyler of Christians Against Christian Nationalism, a group that condemns Christian nationalism as “a persistent threat to both our religious communities and our democracy,” warns: “Among the major victims of Christian nationalism is Christianity itself. . . . Whenever the state gets too cozy with Christianity, Christianity is the one that gets compromised.”
A much-softened-down approach known as Dominionism (or the Seven Mountain Mandate) has been gaining influence among evangelicals, whether they realize it or not. Many Christian leaders have opposed the philosophy behind it all along, but it has considerable subtle effects in evangelical circles. This manifestation of an early 1970s concept has the goal of taking over dominion of the earth, twisting Genesis 1:28 to include a mandate for Christians to control civil affairs and all other aspects of society. The Seven Mountain Mandate advocates that it is the duty of all Christians to create a worldwide kingdom and “invade” specific spheres of culture that should be concentrated upon to turn nations to God. These seven categories are church; family; education; government and law; media (television, radio, newspaper, Internet); arts, entertainment, sports; commerce, science, and technology.
In recent years Lance Wallnau has emerged as a primary advocate. He has fine-tuned and popularized it among significant sections of evangelical culture. “I saw them as seven mountains whose lofty heights are mind molders with strongholds that occupy influence as world kingdoms. These mountains are crowned with high places that modern-day kings occupy as ideological strongholds,” Wallnau writes in the 2013 book Invading Babylon: The 7 Mountain Mandate. “The business of shifting culture or transforming nations does not require a majority of conversions. We make a mistake when we focus on winning a harvest in order to shape a culture,” he states.
But is this the message of Christ and the commission given to His disciples to go into all the world and preach the good news of the gospel? Christ’s message is one of grace and life change, redemption of the individual. Instead, the Seven Mountain Mandate emphasis to “invade culture and kingdoms of influence” to establish a kingdom on earth before Christ’s return shifts the focus from conversion of the heart to what we can establish here.
The New Apostolic Reformation, a movement that has subtly gained much ground with its self-proclaimed prophets, apostles, emotionally charged atmosphere, and “I have a word from the Lord” pronouncements, often seems to be running on a parallel track with the Seven Mountain Mandate teaching. Many voices claim the prophetic gift. The Reformation principle of sola scriptura offers caution from the Word itself: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
The concept gets particularly uncomfortable concerning the fourth mountain: government. In American history our Puritan forebears in New England had legislated religious dogma and behavior; that didn’t work out too well. “Christians are called to be ‘lights’ in the world (Matthew 5:16). There is no biblical requirement, however, to take the helm of all the world systems in order to usher in God’s kingdom,” points out Trevor O’Reggio, a seminary professor of theology and church history at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. O’Reggio and other theologians also point out that the Bible indicates world conditions as getting worse, not better, before Christ’s return (2 Timothy 3:1 and 2 Peter 3:3).
Since the 1980s, as politicians realized the potential voting power and influence of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, religion and politics have been eyeing each other closely on the dance floor of American elections. Faith leaders and politicians embraced in full tango and shamelessly used each other for their own objectives. Ambitions, power plays, deliberate misinformation, and confusion fueled angst—and somehow, we have White supremacists, other extremist groups, conspiracy theories, and people of faith in the same bag, swirling in a toxic cesspool of discontent, while media personalities on the airwaves urge them on, as if this is some game show or reality event seeking ratings on television. Meanwhile, hurting people with very real concerns are ignored, democracy is mocked, and Jesus is thrown around like a political football.
Seemingly wanting to take a shortcut to mountain 4, extreme elements of the Religious Right saw an opportunity to have pet issues legislated despite warnings from Beth Moore, Ed Stetzer, and other concerned Christians. Respected editor Mark Gaili, who penned an urgent 2019 wake-up-call lead article in Christianity Today, spoke up, warning the evangelical world: “If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?”
Author and columnist David French wrote a poignant January 2020 Dispatch article entitled “The Dangerous Idolatry of Christian Trumpism,” maintaining that “the frenzy and the fury of the postelection period has laid bare the sheer idolatry and fanaticism of Christian Trumpists.”
Then January 6.
Unbelievable, sickening images of violence and desecration against the heart of democracy flashed across the world screen: in the madness a police officer is pushed down stairs and a rioter commences to viciously beat him with a pole bearing the American flag . . . another officer is killed when a fire extinguisher is smashed against his head. A zealot repeatedly smashes a trapped policeman’s head as bodies collide. People are trampled as the horde swarms the halls of democracy. Rioters and outnumbered police clash as middle-aged men, believing they are patriots, wearing helmets, flak jackets, and brandishing zip ties invade the heart of American government. Members of Congress are forced to flee in horror before the maelstrom crashes into the legislative chamber. A young woman, deceived by bizarre QAnon conspiracy theories, is killed when she climbs through a smashed window as the mob closes in. A man brandishing a large Confederate flag wanders amid the destruction. Milling about the speaker’s podium in the legislative chamber, rioters gather and jubilantly pray for the Lord’s blessing on their cause.
The reality of the violent assault on the soul of democracy left many in America and around the world stunned.
“But denouncing today’s violence is not enough. This did not happen out of nowhere. The years of lies have piled up and stocked a tinderbox. We have known that there would come a day of reckoning for religious leaders who have sacrificed ethics for political gain. . . . We just didn’t know the date would be January 6, 2021.” —Mark Wingate, executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global.
While working on this article, an image sequence kept flashing through my mind as I was attempting to put words to the damage done to the true message of Jesus. . . .
Christ, soon to be crucified, is a prisoner standing before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. “ ‘My kingdom,’ says Jesus, ‘doesn’t consist of what you see around you. . . . I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king.’ . . . . ‘I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for truth, recognizes my voice.’ Pilate said, ‘What is truth?’ ” (John 18:36-39, Message).*
Those words echo down to us today. Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6, Message).* The scene shifts to our contemporary times. Here is a crown of thorns pressing into His head. Someone pins a political button on His robe and slaps a political sticker on His forehead. His message of love, teachings of “treating your neighbor as you wish to be treated,” compassion and reconciliation, are obscured, shoved aside. Using His name in rhetoric to achieve fleeting earthy power is surely to crucify Him anew?
• Texts credited to Message are from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
Article Author: Ed Guthero
Ed Guthero has had a critically applauded career as a book and periodical designer, artist, and photographer, and a legacy ensured by years as a university lecturer. Here he shows another skill as an author. He writes from Boise, Idaho.