Radicalization and Recovery

“There is little difference between a radicalized imam on the other side of the world and some preachers in evangelical church pulpits here in the United States.” I said those words two decades ago, ironically from an evangelical church pulpit – a pulpit I never had the chance to stand behind again (Imagine that).

Oh, I was young and fiery then, still trying to recover and emerge from the evangelical fundamentalism of my own upbringing, convinced I could deliver the zealots by means of my zealotry. But I wasn’t wrong way back when: Christianity is not immune to the disease of violence. 

I write about spirituality and religion, subjects controversial enough to keep my inbox “pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” So, I don’t have the digital or emotional bandwidth for our sorry state of political discourse. Yet, much of what we are witnessing in America today is not a political problem. It is a religious problem. Specifically, it is a Christian heresy. 

What else can it be when the suffering, bleeding cross of Jesus has been exchanged for grasping, clutching, blood-shedding power and sanctified nationalism? Is there any other conclusion to draw when the loving Christ we say we follow, who calls us to nonviolent self-surrender, is replaced by a Ramboesque figure of apocalyptic doom? How else can I say it, when our Lord’s words, “The truth will set you free” are made a mockery by conspiracy theory, falsehood, and silly stories invented by internet trolls.

“Faith, hope, and love” – the great pillars of Christian Faith – have been taken captive by fear, cynicism, and hate-mongering. “Do unto other as you would have done unto you,” that great Golden Rule, has been commandeered to read, “Don’t Tread On Me.” And the ethics of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – all about blessing the poor, needy, meek, peaceful, and creating a beloved community – has been substituted with rantings from dishonest, crackpot pundits.

The reality is this: There is little difference between a radicalized imam on the other side of the world and some preachers in evangelical church pulpits here in the United States, especially when those preachers are far more concerned with Constantine-like power than they are Christ-like sacrifice. 

There is an old Bible verse I often heard in those fundamentalist churches of my youth. It reads: “Judgment begins in the house of God.” It is true, and that beginning must be made by we who are faith leaders in the Christian tradition; for we now face a great spiritual recovery in this country that will take decades, as once again the church must disentangle itself – as it has been forced to do time and again throughout history – from the seduction of worldly power.

We must find the courage to lead people of faith away from hostility and back to patterning ourselves after that humble Servant who was crucified by the heinous combination of religion, violence, and ambition. Our faith – and our collective future – depend upon it.