• on October 28, 2020

From the Pastor

Rev. William Bills
“If by liberal, you mean generous, then call me a liberal.”
October 28, 2020

George Washington once said, “If by liberal, you mean generous, then call me a liberal.” Thomas Jefferson often referred to our nation as “The American Experiment” and considered its success or failure an open question. Ben Franklin was asked after the Constitutional Convention what kind of government the new nation had. His reply reportedly was, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Is America a Christian nation? The founders were religious in various ways. God is conspicuous only by virtue of absence in our Constitution. The authority to govern is derived not from God but from the consent of the governed. “In God we trust” on our money and “One nation under God” in our pledge came to us during the Cold War to distinguish Americans from the atheist communists in the Soviet Union. A Christian nation wouldn’t commit virtual genocide against indigenous people, kidnap and enslave Africans for economic gain or embrace unfettered capitalism while allowing “the least of these” to go without affordable housing, a living wage and health care.

In the nineteen-eighties the religious right began a project aimed at taking over the federal judicial system. These evangelical Christians had their share of sex scandals but they managed to stay on task. Their project has borne great fruit over the past four years as they packed the courts with conservative judges, some with questionable qualifications. Their desired end has always been a judiciary that would impose their religious beliefs on the nation. Those beliefs are embraced by about 30% of Americans. Evangelical success in court packing happened because moderate and liberal Christians allowed evangelicals to determine America’s religious narrative. Liberals may have disagreed, but we really didn’t debate publicly or offer an alternative narrative.

The most overlooked “dog-whistle” of the current campaign cycle is the so-called “protection of religious freedom.” At face value that sounds like a good thing. In evangelical Christianity, though, that means protecting one’s freedom to discriminate against others based on one’s religious beliefs. The question then becomes, who does God want you to discriminate against? Does God really support bigotry as long as it is faith-based? Are these questions legal or theological? Should judges interpret the law according to evangelical Christian theology? Trump, McConnell and Graham have set us up that.

Mainline Christianity has been bleeding members for decades. Evangelicals said that was because we weren’t conservative enough. Now evangelical churches are losing members. Young evangelicals now wonder if the gospel is about more than guns, gays, prosperity and abortion. They know hypocrisy when they see it. Nearly one in four Americans no longer hold any religious affiliation, according to the Pew Foundation. They too recognize the hypocrisy. Isaiah (1.10-17) called out religious conservatives for hypocrisy, reminding God’s people that they cannot worship God while neglecting justice. Jesus called out his fellow religious leaders for their hypocrisy many times (esp. see MT 23). Perhaps we liberals are just too nice.

In the interest of being nice and inclusive, moderate and liberal Christians ceded the American Christian narrative to the religious right forty years ago. Our failure to present a compelling liberal perspective on Christianity has come home to roost. Franklin said we were given a Republic, if we could keep it. Our Republic, over forty years, has been morphing into an evangelical theocracy. Even if the majority of Americans resist the courts will persist. So I wonder about the fate of liberal Christianity. Or even American Christianity in general. Will we offer a compelling Christian narrative for America that is based on justice and love for all God’s people or will we fade into obscurity as the religious right peddles hypocrisy in place of truth?

At University United Methodist Church, we affirm that as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are an open and inclusive congregation and welcome all persons into full participation regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic situation, age, ability, education, background and whether single or partnered.

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