Back home in the US, I finally had the chance to watch the full video of the obsequious paean that Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas gave extolling the virtues of Donald Trump. If you haven’t seen it, well, it’s jaw-dropping:
— Dr. Robert Jeffress (@robertjeffress) July 2, 2017
Jeffress’s remarks came as part of an extraordinarily nationalistic performance by the choir and orchestra from First Dallas. You can watch the whole thing below. Go to around the 34 minute mark to hear them sing a new song, “Make America Great Again,” written by a music minister at the megachurch. It’s now being offered for, no kidding, “worship”. The lyrics include:
Make America great again
Make America great again
Lift the torch of freedom all across the land
Step into the future joining hand in hand
And make America great again
Yes make America great (again)
Watch it for yourself:
DALLAS, TX—After an hour-long service commemorating Independence Day at First Baptist Church in Dallas, a beaming Pastor Robert Jeffress reported that “dozens and dozens” in attendance accepted the United States of America as their lord and savior.
The service’s patriotic songs, political message, and readings from the Founding Fathers all came together to powerfully convict many of their need place all of their trust in the modern-day nation.
“When the massive flag unfurled behind the choir singing ‘Make America Great Again,’ I couldn’t deny my need any longer,” one emotional man told reporters after the service. “I surrendered my life then and there to the United States of America. May this great country change my sinful heart and make me into a new person.”
That’s funny, but there’s a very, very serious point here. I find it impossible to watch that ceremony (I’ve been sitting here in the Miami airport watching much of it) and judge it as anything but grotesque idolatry. Not patriotism, idolatry. It’s idolatry of Donald Trump, and idolatry of the United States of America. It is shocking and repulsive, and there will be heavy consequences for conflating the Gospel of Jesus Christ with burning a double handful of incense to President Trump and the USA.
It is good to love one’s country, and to be grateful to God for it. I do, and I am. But this is something different.
What, exactly, does it mean to call on the church to “lift the torch of freedom all across the land”? It’s cant. It’s kitsch. “Freedom” is not the same thing as righteousness. As St. Augustine taught, sin is disordered love. You can love good things in a disordered way, and fall into sin. Christians whose moral imaginations are formed in this way, what is going to happen to them when the US government — under Donald Trump, or some future president — does something wicked, something that followers of Jesus Christ ought to stand against?
What are these people — my fellow Christians and fellow conservatives — going to do when politics fails? What happens when they have to choose between their country and their Christ? Because mark my wordsthat day is surely coming.
I don’t understand this. Honestly, I don’t understand this. This is not going to end well for the church.
Anyway, may God bless America. I mean that sincerely. It is good to be home. Regular blogging resumes tomorrow.
UPDATE: My wife grew up at First Dallas during the Criswell era. She hates the politicization of the church, though she says this is nothing new there. But reading the comments below, she pushes back hard against the people who are saying that these people are only cultural Christians, if they’re Christians at all. “First Baptist Dallas is where I first learned to love and to know the Bible, and to take the Christian life seriously,” she said. “Whatever you think about the politics, you can’t take that away from them. That is also who they are.” That’s more than fair. That’s why I say “my fellow Christians” and “my fellow conservatives.” I’m not kidding at all when I say that most of the people in that choir singing praises to Trump and America are probably more faithful Christians than I am, in terms of prayer, Bible study, and helping others.
UPDATE.2: A Christian reader writes:
“Freedom” is not a Bible concept. Nowhere are we exhorted to throw off oppression and liberate ourselves. To the contrary, the Jews were under real oppression at the time of Christ, and he told them to pay taxes to Caesar and obey a soldier’s command to carry his pack. There were many revolutionary bands at the time, men who could not bear the Roman oppression who were determined to fight for independence. And Jesus never supported them or their cause. He really did have no kingdom in this world. The Apostles failed to get this so consistently that even at the Ascension they asked, “Will you at this time restore the fortunes of Israel?” He didn’t. He had no stake in whether Israel was enslaved or free.
This huge emotional connection between throwing off the British yoke, and being grateful for our beautiful country, all there is to legitimately celebrate and express thanks to God for–between that, and the core teaching and message of Christianity, is false.
“Freedom” is not a Biblical concept, but it’s a capitalist concept–it keeps us “free” to choose teal or autumn gold, leather or aluminum, etc, all those tiny forced choices that really are no choice, as Matthew Crawford says. But it feels “free,” and we enjoy the choosing so much, that we emotionally link it with our faith. Bah humbug.
And a different reader, this one a conservative Evangelical, sends in this: