I grew up attending a Fundamental, Independent Baptist church, and no, those aren’t capitalized by mistake. That’s because the words “Fundamental” and “Independent” were displayed prominently on our sign, our church bulletin, and anywhere else the church name appeared. It wasn’t just that we were “Baptist,” or even a “church” – because any ragamuffin group of heretics could band together and call themselves a “church” in these United States – no, we wanted the world to know we were “independent” of any top-down control, and we believed we had the “fundamentals” of the Christian faith. Of course, those were the days before “fundamental” began to mean something else entirely, but for us it meant a certain set of theological beliefs and lifestyle legalism, beliefs and practices we were correct on and everyone else was, well, just plain wrong.
I’m by no means disparaging those still in such churches or any other church, because all have their own unique set of idiosyncrasies, but in my church, if the King James Version was good enough for Paul, it was good enough for us. In my church, the world was created in six days around 6,000 years ago, and any opinion or scientific & historical evidence to the contrary was “denying Scripture.” In my church, the “rapture” could happen at any moment, sweeping us all away while the world burned. Oh, and Jesus turned water into grape juice, of course, because the “devil’s brew” isn’t anything the Son of God would EVER make, much less drink.
In my church, the girls wore culottes, “Hollywood movies” were of the devil, and any form of dancing would lead straight to fire and brimstone. And God help you if you were caught holding hands with your girlfriend in youth group.
That’s some of my church-upbringing story, at least as far as I can remember it, mixed here and there with a bit of hyperbole, just for fun. If you grew up that way too you’ll recognize it, but anyone with any sort of religious upbringing they no longer completely adhere to has their own stories - plenty of good memories, and good people, but plenty also to poke a little fun at when we grow older, hopefully wiser, and more aware of the big world out from beneath our particular steeple.
Churches, denominations, and especially religions themselves tend to be like that to varying degrees - open-minded on some things, closed-minded on others. Some are open to change at every social whim, while others attach themselves to stubborn tradition even as the world proves them wrong time and again. Even the churches in the “middle” understandably have to pick a set of beliefs and try to stick to them, else they might as well be the Lion’s Club and not a church.
Interestingly, the things that divided us along the lines of religion when I was a child in the 80’s don’t divide us so much now. Today, as long as a basic belief in Christ exists, churches typically don’t put down or refuse to associate with other churches or denominations based so much on theological or even lifestyle differences. Oh, there are still “Fundamental, Independent Baptist” churches around (“picking” on those only because they happen to be from my experience), but even many of those have relaxed some of their “standards,” seemingly better understanding that the body of Christ is much bigger than their little corner of it.
After all, the dirty little secret is something many Christians won’t say out loud but know deep down - if the Bible were clear on everything, there wouldn’t be so many denominations, sects, and even cults that genuinely interpret it differently on so many topics. Thankfully, we as Christians have become more humble about our faith, more open, more understanding - tolerant even - and to some degree that’s a good thing. (And no, I don’t mean that in a “leftist” way at all.)
No, it’s no longer theology that primarily drives the conflict between Christians today. It’s something else entirely. Now, the real conflict in America’s churches often boils down to support or rejection of one man, and sadly that man is not Jesus Christ.
Pro-Trump evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, and Franklin Graham, men who see the big picture and have chosen to support President Trump despite his flaws, are castigated by anti-Trump Christians as charlatans and fakes, hypocrites who have abandoned their faith and even are preaching “another Gospel” besides Christ’s.
“There is another Gospel in our country right now, and it is the Gospel of Trump,” Red Letter Christians founder Shane Claiborne preached during a protest service near Liberty University last year. “It doesn’t look much like the Gospel of Jesus.”
Clairborne considers the faith proclaimed by Christians who support Trump to be “toxic Christianity,” and he isn’t alone, not by a long shot.
“The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption,” wrote former Bush speechwriter and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson.
Katha Pollitt writes of the “discrediting of evangelical Christianity” as being a “good thing” to come out of Trump’s presidency. “They’ve sold their souls to Donald Trump, who has partaken freely of practically every vice and depravity known to man. Urged on by their leaders, 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump—more than voted for George W. Bush, an actual evangelical—and now everyone is laughing at them. It’s about time.”
Former congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, on the other hand, citing a host of issues from abortion to Israel to religious freedom, stated she has “never seen a more biblical president” than she has “seen in Donald Trump.”
In other words, Donald Trump is either a devil or an angel, depending on which side of the political divide you fall. And although a majority of self-professed Christians do support the president, far too many of the ones who oppose him are quick to condemn the rest of us as somehow unworthy of Christ’s calling. In a weird way, they’ve become more legalistic than any of the legalism the church of my youth could have ever dreamed up.
It’s easy to use religion to justify your political beliefs and we all do it to some extent, especially when it’s possible to literally make the Bible say anything you want. In the end, however, shouldn’t we all agree that God is good and wants good things for his people? Given that, and given the amount of BAD things that happen to people under socialist, communist, totalitarian dictatorships that implement policies today’s leftists advocate, those of us who place God on the side of President Trump and conservatives have a pretty solid case, regardless of that last “bad” thing Trump tweeted or said.