An American Kingdom?
Several of you forwarded to me an article that appeared in the last day or two in the Washington Post. It was titled “An American Kingdom: A new and rapidly growing Christian movement is openly political, wants a nation under God’s authority, and is central to Donald Trump’s GOP.”
The article profiles a Forth Worth, Texas Church called “Mercy Center.” Here’s an excerpt:
“It was an hour and a half into the 11 a.m. service of a church that represents a rapidly growing kind of Christianity in the United States, one whose goal includes bringing under the authority of a biblical God every facet of life, from schools to city halls to Washington, where the pastor had traveled a month after the Jan. 6 insurrection and filmed himself in front of the U.S. Capitol saying quietly, ‘Father, we declare America is yours.'”
The article continues, describing a worship service that features lots of razzle-dazzle: hot videos, special effects, music calculated to induce a particular emotional response, and a really, really long sermon. The message of the article is, “This is dangerous. This is growing. This is Trumpism on religious steroids. Be very alarmed.”
Is there something to be alarmed about here? Yes. Christian Nationalism. The fusing of Christianity with American nationalism is a heresy. There is nothing about Christianity that sanctions a view that America is God’s chosen nation, instrument or people. And, yes, Donald Trump has traded on that, used and exploited that to his political advantage. He has used these people, no doubt about it.
And as a corollary of Christian Nationalism, there’s this: the idea that Christian beliefs should be imposed by law on everyone. No. Christianity is not about asserting power over others. It is about sacrificing our own self-interest and privilege to serve the vulnerable and poor, and to serve the common good.
Okay, so Christian Nationalism is bullshit. That said, it’s not a new heresy, but with Trump exploiting it, it has become more disgusting and base, because he is disgusting and base.
All that said, there is precious little in the article to back up the claims and apprehensions that it is about to launch an imminent Christian jihad. There is a lot of innuendo. There are implications of cultishness. But there is little real evidence cited.
Take for example the following section about a Food Bank operated by the church which includes people from the church interacting with those seeking food, offering them prayer or counsel. The implication here is that there is something nefarious about it all, that something is being forced upon people who just need food. From the article:
“A . . . steady stream of cars inching toward the church food bank, one team loading boxes into trunks and another fanning out along the idling line offering prayers.
“A man in a dented green sedan requested one for his clogged arteries.
“A man trying to feed a family of seven asked in Spanish, ‘Please, just bless my life.’
“A stone-faced woman said her mother had died of covid, then her sister, and now a volunteer reached inside and touched her shoulder: ‘Jesus, wrap your arms around Jasmine,’ she said, and when she moved on to others who tried to politely decline, the volunteer, a young woman, gave them personal messages she said she had received from the Lord.
“’God wants to tell you that you’re so beautiful,’ she said into one window.
“’I feel God is saying that you’ve done a good job for your family,’ she said into another.
“’I feel God is saying, if anything, He is proud of you,’ she said in Spanish to a woman gripping the steering wheel, her elderly mother in the passenger seat. ‘When God sees you, He is so pleased, He is so proud,’ she continued as the woman stared straight ahead. ‘I feel you are carrying so much regret, maybe? And pain?’ she persisted, and now the woman began nodding. ‘And I think God wants to release you from the past.
“Say, ‘Jesus, I give you my shame.’ Say, ‘Jesus, I give you my regret,’ the volunteer said, and the woman repeated the words. ‘You know I tried my best, Jesus. I receive your acceptance. I receive your love,’ the volunteer continued, and now the woman was crying, and the food was being loaded into the back seat, and a volunteer was taking her name, saying, ‘Welcome to the family.'”
Is this horrible? Manipulative? Cultish? Or is it doing what churches do/ should do? “Jesus, I give you my shame, my regret.” Giving food, giving encouragement — this is suspect? “God wants to tell you that you’re so beautiful.” If this is a come-on to get people to give all their money, take out second mortgages for the church, or obey political manipulation, yeah, that’s a problem. But otherwise, it sounds to me kind of good. Food. Encouraging words. “Welcome to the family.”
A lot of what is described in this article is pretty typical church, especially evangelical and Pentecostal varieties. It’s passionate. It’s all in. It’s emotional. And that scares the hell out of some of us.
But whose problem is that?
Again, the conflation of Christianity with American Nationalism? Problem. Big-time. God is about the Kingdom of God not the Kingdom of America! The identification of Donald Trump as God’s Chosen One? Wow, that’s a crock of shit for sure, but don’t miss the humor: that God chooses a real-estate shyster who thinks cheese-whiz is a skin cream? Who knows? With this God, it could happen.
I have lived long enough to see “religious movements” and “super churches/ pastors” come and go, rise and fall. Their excesses have a way of catching up with them. Trust me.
In the meantime, I wouldn’t mind driving up for a box of food and having someone say, “God wants me to tell you, you are beautiful.”