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Worshiping America

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:

And:

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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:

The Babylon Bee nailed it, and nailed it hard. [7] Excerpt:

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:

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171 Comments To "Worshiping America"

#1 Comment By Eliavy On July 6, 2017 @ 12:24 pm

Hector_St_Clare says (July 6, 2017 at 1:19 am):

[…]The fascinating thing is that sometime in that period, the Jews actually did regain their national independence (under the Maccabees and the succeeding Hasmonean Dynasty) for about a hundred years, and that God (or Michael, I guess) in the revelation to Daniel completely fails to mention it. Either the Maccabean Revolt was an expression of human free will completely separate from God’s plan (which implies some form of open theism) or else God foresaw that Judaea would be independent in between the third and fourth kingdoms, but didn’t think it was important enough to mention. Either way the fact that such a seminal event in Jewish history went completely unmentioned in the prophecy suggests that maybe God didn’t think the political liberation of the Jewish people, at that moment in history, was such a critical priority as all that[…]

Absolutist monarchy was an attempt to answer those challenges, and especially to challenge them in light of the civil wars that started to light up Europe shortly after the Reformation. They were *bad* answers, but the questions were real.

——————————————————-

Thank you for your response, Hector St. Clare.

I have the most trouble understanding prophecy in the Bible and rely heavily on the footnotes in my study Bible (the ESV Study Bible if you’re curious). I realize that a study Bible is inadequate compared to the greater depth one can find in various exegetical commentaries and will not always show the different interpretations of difficult passages due to space limitations.

At any rate, its commentary on Daniel 11:21-35 identifies the “contemptible person to whom royal majesty has not been given” as Antiochus IV Epiphanes. If that contemptible person is indeed Antiochus IV, then the following passage could likely refer to the times of the Maccabean Revolt: “Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder.”

But, as I said, I have not read extensively in Biblical commentaries and do not know how disputed that point is.

As for my comment on the divine right of kings, I appreciate your correction on that. You are right to say that, although it was not an ideal solution to maintaining order and solid succession, it was better than other alternatives. The difficulties of maintaining peaceful transfers of power between generations throughout history illustrate that well.

#2 Comment By VikingLS On July 6, 2017 @ 12:25 pm

“Matthew 6:5 (ASV) And when ye pray, ye shall not be as the hypocrites: for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward.”

Despite being a (not very good) Christian who appreciates the work that religious leaders do (I sure would not want to be Bishop) I think they’ve always been tempted by celebrity and the desire to stand with powerful men, or at least have since we came out of the catacombs.

#3 Comment By mrscracker On July 6, 2017 @ 12:34 pm

Sandra Embry,
That’s funny about British spelling & Southerners.
My daddy spelled it “cheque” instead of “check.” I do too just to keep the tradition going. I don’t know if it’s as much British as old fashioned, though. Doesn’t American Express still spell it that way?
I still see “saviour” vs “savior”. Maybe that’s from folks using the King James Bible?(Which I think sounds a whole lot better than most of our current translations-they sound like God speaking through a committee.)
🙂

#4 Comment By JonF On July 6, 2017 @ 1:13 pm

Re: If a strict “separation of church and state” is maintained then as the state grows the church would have to shrink

Why? If you ordain from first principles that they occupy different spheres of life then the expansion of the state no more forces the Church to shrink than the growth of the Himalaya Mountains forced the Alps to be reduced. And indeed, in the earliest centuries of Christianity both the Roman State and the Church grew simultaneously (despite the state persecuting the Church) and this only became problematic in after the forth centuries when the two became entangled.

Re: On 1860, the wealthiest states in the Union were Southern states.

A larger fraction of the South than the North were old states, long settled, allowing the greater accumulation of wealth.
Moreover the South’s wealth was unequally divided on a scale that was rivaled only by Europe in its most feudal age. A relative handful of men (gender intended) ran those states like private fiefs. And yes, slavery cannot be left unmentioned here: The value of all the slaves in 1860 exceeded everything else in the United State taken together save only the land itself. The South’s wealth was thus morally illicit and of course it melted away when the slaves were freed and could no longer be entered as assets on a balance sheet.

Re: It is the usual business of tyrants to use up a region and milk its wealth.

The South’s wealth was not “milked” Nor looted and pillaged. It was freed from bondage and transformed from a ledger entry to humanity. There is no system of moral thought under which this can be anything but cause for rejoicing.

#5 Comment By Sandra Embry On July 6, 2017 @ 1:13 pm

mrscracker – Good comments! You are right about that committee thing! And saviour just looks better when it’s written than savior does. Hmm. My computer put a red line under saviour. 🙂

#6 Comment By Dale On July 6, 2017 @ 2:57 pm

One can see virtually the same thing by finding old youtubes of Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Church groveling in the presence of Obama, going so far as to calling him the “New Alexander.”

[NFR: I thought surely you were making that up. [8] — RD]

#7 Comment By Eirodann On July 6, 2017 @ 4:48 pm

May I just say, I am encouraged by the open and civil dialogue from various posters.
I have very much enjoyed being educated on some finer theistic points and religious history. So much so, that I am now going to do some follow up research.
Fascinating stuff! Thank you!

#8 Comment By JonF On July 6, 2017 @ 7:11 pm

While Alexander the Great had some good aspects to his career, I’d prefer American presidents not to be likened to a conquering war-maker who left half the civilized world convulsed in war for decades when he died.

#9 Comment By Thomas Hobbes On July 6, 2017 @ 7:28 pm

mrscracker says:
I think the cultures are actually still separate. With or without secession.
I sort of wish we’d stuck with the original idea of a loose confederation of colonies. It would have saved us at least 3 wars & ended slavery much earlier. The British compensated something like 40,000 UK slave owners when they ended slavery in the West Indies. That sounds like a better plan to me.

The cultures are certainly still separate just as the cultures of the east and west coasts are. I find the idea of slavery ending earlier and more justly to be stretching the bounds of wishful thinking to the breaking point though. Who do you think would compensate CSA slave owners, where would the compensation come from (remember just how much compensation would be necessary for them to part with their slaves willingly), and what would happen to the slaves? More likely actual slavery would have continued into the 20th century in the Confederacy and been slowly transitioned into apartheid.

Sandra Embry says:
[a detailed and helpful response to my question]

Thanks you for your reply, particularly with such an open ended question. Hope you don’t mind me paraphrasing the long reply to make sure I’m understanding you correctly, and please correct me if I state your view incorrectly. You believe the war was unjust, as nearly all are (we agree here) and that it was started by the North (here we disagree). You believe that the North was unfairly harsh in it’s treatment of the Confederate states in victory (here we agree), and that this has lead them to be worse off then they would be if they were left alone (here we disagree, but it’s a very complex thing to predict [there are a number of alternate histories written on the topic]). Finally, you think the CSA would have solved the slave problem quicker and more humanely for all than the unified USA did (definitely disagree)? It’s this last point that surprises me the most. As JonF notes, most of the wealth of the CSA was in slaves and slave related industries. I have no idea what would happen when those industries were fully overtaken by the industrial revolution, but I doubt it would be good for the CSA economy or the slaves. How is it that you envision the CSA ending slavery?

P.S. I much prefer British spellings when I read and much prefer American spellings when I write.

#10 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 6, 2017 @ 9:45 pm

Alexander was a pagan. Perhaps Demetrios was insulting the president.

No, I know, he meant it as a paean of praise. Greek Orthodoxy has a funny relationship to Alexander. He’s a Greek hero from several centuries distance, although he had to conquer the fractious city states of Greece before he could lead them against the ancient enemy (Persia). When a movie was made some year ago, which accurately portrayed Alexander’s homosexual dalliances, Greek Orthodox lawyers tried to sue to suppress or censor the film… for which there is of course no legal basis in this country. Even if its defamatory, Alexander is dead.

But its not. For God’s sake, he was a PAGAN, a product of a culture that accepted and even honored homosexuality, although not as a replacement for having a marriage to bear lawful heirs, nor as an exclusive alternative to female prostitutes. He lived three or four centuries before Jesus was even born. National hero, perhaps, Christian saint, not at all.

#11 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On July 6, 2017 @ 11:10 pm

While Alexander the Great had some good aspects to his career, I’d prefer American presidents not to be likened to a conquering war-maker who left half the civilized world convulsed in war for decades when he died.

It’s interesting that Archbishop Demetrios said that, because 1 Maccabees 1, which is scripture for Eastern Orthodox, paints a rather negative view of Alexander and his successors, who “caused many evils on the earth.”

Then again, the much later (late antiquity / early medieval) traditions, such as the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius paint Alexander in a much more positive light.

#12 Comment By Traci Miller On July 7, 2017 @ 9:00 am

I want to address something you wrote in Update#1. I know it may seem like some of the members of the choir are more faithful than you as you stated, “in terms of prayer, Bible study, and helping others”. But do understand that those things, either collectively or individually, do not make a “faithful Christian”, as you put it. None of those things are soul saving. None of those things bring grace. Only Jesus Christ’s blood atonement on the cross, bridged the gap between grace and wrath, between heaven and hell, between salvation and damnation. Don’t be sucked into the outward appearance of good works, or even prayer. Many God rejecting people do good works. Many people pray to and for things other than God the Creator. And Satan knows the Bible probably more than any of the so-called Bible reading Christians. Unless these people stand up and walk out on the idolatry that has clearly infiltrated the church, they can pray, read the Bible, and help people all day long, but will still have ears that do not hear and eyes that do not see.

#13 Comment By c matt On July 7, 2017 @ 10:41 am

If you ordain from first principles that [the Church and the State] occupy different spheres of life

Who ordains such? It is demonstrably false – both overlap on “How then shall we live?” It is a venn diagram, and as the state grows it pushes the Church out of its portion (LBGT acceptance, gay marriage, abortion, contraception, etc, ad nauseum)

#14 Comment By mrscracker On July 7, 2017 @ 11:16 am

Thomas Hobbes says:

“I find the idea of slavery ending earlier and more justly to be stretching the bounds of wishful thinking to the breaking point though. Who do you think would compensate CSA slave owners, where would the compensation come from (remember just how much compensation would be necessary for them to part with their slaves willingly), and what would happen to the slaves? More likely actual slavery would have continued into the 20th century in the Confederacy and been slowly transitioned into apartheid.”
************
Well, my historical imaginings are just that-imaginings. I was really thinking back to the original civil war between the American colonies & Britain. If we’d avoided that war, we might possibly have avoided the next couple wars & if under British rule, could have ended slavery much earlier.
Britain compensated their slave owners in the West Indies & it was very costly. Of course the poor slaves were compensated for nothing.
It’s hard to imagine slavery continuing on in the South into the 20th Century when even Brazil & Cuba had abolished slavery in the 19th Century. But you never know.
And it seems like something akin to apartheid did continue well into the mid 20th century. We still have 2 separate churches in many Catholic parishes where I live-one black & one white. I remember older black men stepping off the sidewalk into the street for white people to pass by-& that was in the 1970’s.
If Britain, Brazil & other nations could end slavery without massive civil war & over half a million casualties, I’d like to imagine we could have done better, too.

#15 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 7, 2017 @ 12:35 pm

mrscracker kinda sorta has the right idea, but puts too much 20/20 hindsight optimism into her what ifs.

If Britain had prevailed in the war of independence, it is likely that slavery would have remained at least tenuously legal in the New England and middle colonies, and the southern planter aristocracy would have been the quickest to conform to the restored royal order. Not a few of the aristocrats were Tories anyway, and they would have become dominant, rather than subdued. The slave trade would have retained greater economic importance for the British economy, and the 1808 measures to suppress the trade might never have happened.

There were two points where the infant United States could have done better. One was when the confederation congress (before the Constitution — not to be confused with the confederacy) narrowly turned down a motion to ban slavery west of the Appalachians. That, as Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln both pointed out in their own ways, would have put the institution on the course to ultimate extinction.

The second was John Quincy Adams’s proposed constitutional amendment that as of a certain date in the 1840s, slavery would cease to be hereditary, and all persons born after that date would be free. That is not a morally pristine measure, but in practical terms, it beats another 20 years of hereditary slavery, a bloody civil war, and a cataclysmic emancipation that left thousands wandering the land and sometimes dying of disease and starvation in large numbers. It might also have avoided the terrors of Jim Crow.

But the “moderate” southern counter-offer was to ban slavery as of 2000 AD.

So we had a war. Lincoln did propose to offer the dying confederacy that if they put down their arms and recognized the permanence of the union, the federal budget would compensate the slave owners for the value of their emancipated property. The cabinet objected, although Lincoln wisely pointed out that the total amount spent would be far less than the government would spend to win the war, not to mention the reduced bloodshed. Anyway, the confederate cabinet would probably have refused also.

Without the example of the United States, it is dubious that Brazil would have been particularly moved to abolish slavery either.

#16 Comment By Mia On July 7, 2017 @ 1:14 pm

This is totally creepy. Like so many of the pod people during the last election that seemed to change overnight from being Trump skeptics to being such over the top ardent supporters, I have to wonder again with all of the rumors of the depth of domestic surveillance what loads of juicy info they must have on all of these leaders to turn them into willing, servile cheerleaders. It is borderline terrifying to see people who seem so reasonable and aware on the one hand just lose their marbles over this guy. It has been very disappointing to see has been afflicted with it, and even more eyebrow raising to listen to them talk about how conservatives unwilling to back Trump need to be thrown out of power too.

Oh, and what were these “natural talents” of Trumps”? I heard a great deal about him, but this seems like we’re getting closer to cult of personality stuff. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, took over the family businesses, and was known for his vulgar personality. I guess I just don’t consider any of those things “talents” in any reasonable sense.

#17 Comment By JonF On July 7, 2017 @ 2:33 pm

Re: Then again, the much later (late antiquity / early medieval) traditions, such as the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius paint Alexander in a much more positive light.

Alexander became a tabula rasa on which later ages wrote their own dreams and aspirations– all the way from the Ptolemaic cult of Alexander centered on his tomb down to the novels of Mary Renault. It is certainly impossible to imagine later history being anything like what it was without him– and also possible to imagine a very different history had he not died at 32.
The Succession Wars after his death (for which he bears some responsibility having neglected to father an heir until his last months) are usually glossed over with “And after some years of warring the Empire was divided among in generals” The full story, which I delved into some years back, is so full of bloody battles, dastardly treacheries, depraved torture, murder most foul, and assorted atrocities on three continents over almost fifty years that the fictional “Game of Thrones” looks rather mild and gentle beside it. Hardly anyone (including the women) involved in it died peacefully in bed, and none of the players came out with sterling reputations, save only for the wise and charitable Queen Phila and even she killed herself in despair late in the game. It’s no wonder the history shies away from the era. Perhaps someday it will do the same with much of the 20th century.

#18 Comment By JonF On July 7, 2017 @ 2:38 pm

Re: It [separating of church and state] is demonstrably false –

The Church deals with the things of Elsewhere and Forever, the State with the things of Here and now. It can, I admit, be hard to keep them separate– mainly that’s because we like mixing them up– Churchmen enjoy worldly power and wealth, secular leaders like grabbing the mantle of God’s Chosen as a cheap ploy for power. And all of us like claiming that God is on our side rather than worrying, like Mr. Lincoln, if we are on God’s side.

#19 Comment By mrscracker On July 8, 2017 @ 8:45 am

Siarlys,
Good morning!
Thanks for your comments.
I like to be optimistic even in rethinking the past.

Just curious, do you think if we’d remained British colonies slavery would have been allowed to extend longer than in the West Indies?
I know that while slaves of American patriots were given freedom by the British, Loyalist slave owner’s could take their slaves with them to Canada. And they didn’t remain slaves for long after that. There are still descendents of former American slaves living in Nova Scotia.
I know you can’t fix the past but it’s nice to imagine what might have worked better.
You have a good weekend!

#20 Comment By Gregory On July 8, 2017 @ 9:51 pm

But the “moderate” southern counter-offer was to ban slavery as of 2000 AD.

I don’t know much about that, but the immoderate offer was an unamendable amendment protecting slavery in the South. Check out John J. Crittenden’s proposed amendment. It’s one of those historical events that is now mostly forgotten, but it is something to behold.

#21 Comment By Thomas Hobbes On July 9, 2017 @ 2:52 am

mrscracker,

I realized you were speaking about a hypothetical world in which there was no American revolution or one that was unsuccessful after I posted. I just don’t see how that would have helped though. If the Confederate states remained colonies it would have made ending slavery significantly less palatable to the British (thus delaying any attempts). If and when they did try to end it the Confederate colonies would simply have rebelled as they did against the US. Maybe such a war would have been less harmful maybe more.

Yes, I don’t think things went well, and we certainly did have a kind of apartheid, I just don’t see any good reason to believe things would be better rather than worse in the event of a British ruled North America or a victorious Confederacy in the Civil War.