This is idolatrous:

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Watch the video here if you like.

It is one thing to be grateful to God for the gift of one’s nation and its laws and customs. But this? This worship of the nation? This is not burning a pinch of incense to Caesar. This is pretty close to throwing double handfuls onto the fire.

Understand me clearly: I believe that patriotism is a good thing. But this is nationalism. This is an uncritical, worshipful, grossly sentimental disposition towards the country and its institutions. I’m shocked that a church would carry on like this. Then again, this is the church whose choir sang “Make America Great Again,”  and which welcomed the Rev. Dr. Sean Hannity of Fox News to speak to the congregation on Sunday morning, in an interview.

I’m on this overseas trip with a friend who is a theologically and politically conservative Southern Baptist layman. He’s active in his local church, and in international mission work. He can’t stand this stuff. He was telling me this afternoon that Southern Baptists tend to look down on prosperity gospellers for their instrumentalizing faith for the sake of gaining money, but that they are often guilty of the same thing, except not with money, but with power. Looking at it from the outside, I can’t see much difference between these Christians on the right, and Christians on the left who worship “social justice” like First Dallas types worship America and conservative politics.

That said, I was displeased to see that a private company that owns some Dallas area billboards took down those purchased by First Dallas to advertise Jeffress’s upcoming sermon this Sunday, titled, “America Is A Christian Nation.” Excerpt:

The advertisement at the Lemmon Avenue exit promoting a celebration of Christian patriotism Sunday at First Baptist Dallas had drawn criticism and been labeled divisive. The downtown megachurch’s senior pastor Robert Jeffress defended the billboard and said its removal was unduly influenced by the media and Mayor Mike Rawlings.

Jeffress said that the billboard company, Outfront Media, cited a Dallas Morning News column in its decision to revoke its approval for the advertisement.

Outfront Media said in an interview Monday that neither The News nor Rawlings had anything to do with the billboard’s removal.

 

I don’t have anything against the column, though it irks me that the city’s mayor felt that he had to weigh in against one of the city’s most prominent pastors. Jeffress says his sermon is going to be about what he believes are the evangelical Christian foundations of the United States. This is a historically shaky thesis, to say the least, and I’m on the record saying that America is a “post-Christian nation,” in the sense that the Christian narrative used to be the default source of moral truth in this country, and the Christian religion a binding force, but no more.

Still, the story Jeffress tells is nothing new among conservative Evangelicals. It is striking that in Dallas, what was once the city’s most powerful and influential church is now suffering the indignity of having a billboard advertising a stock Christian nationalist theme taken offline. Again: you couldn’t pay me to sit there and listen to Jeffress preach that poke-in-the-eye patriotism on Sunday, and partake in his church’s glorification of the war machine, under the guise of a “salute to the armed forces.” But the idea that these views are now considered too indecent to advertise on a billboard in Dallas — Dallas! — is troubling.

I would love to know if Outfront Media, the billboard company, allows other religious, or atheist, organizations to rent its billboards, and if it allows one of the city’s many upscale strip clubs to do so.

I don’t care for Jeffress’s Fox Newsified faith, but I really hate that the only kind of religious sentiment acceptable in the public square is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, because it’s not “divisive.” If Dallas-area Muslims wanted to rent billboard space to say, “ISLAM IS THE ONE TRUE FAITH,” that would be rather divisive, but so what? Are we now too fragile to withstand these claims? Why are political billboards the kind of divisiveness we can accept, but First Dallas’s religious billboard is too hurtful to be seen by motorists?

UPDATE: People, read this blog entry closely. I believe that the billboard company has acted within its rights to take down the Baptist billboard, and I would defend its right to have done so. Interestingly, so does Robert Jeffress. What I’m objecting to is the idea that First Baptist Dallas’s particular message was so offensive that it deserved to be withdrawn from the public square. As you can tell from this post, I think what Jeffress and his church are doing is a form of idolatry, but I believe that they should be allowed to promote this message in the public square. I believe that a liberal church, or an atheist organization, should be able to do the same. What I’m complaining about here is a change in public moral standards regarding religious speech in the public square. 

I will not post comments that falsely portray my position as hypocritical because of my support for the Christian cake baker in Colorado. I likewise support Outfront Media’s right to decide how to use its billboards. What I don’t support is either a) Jeffress’s particular message, or b) Outfront Media’s decision to suppress that message.