“Cult?” : Kevin H.
These past few years have led me to my current conclusion. But I believe it was the almost forty years before, that set the stage.
For nearly forty years, theologically conservative (and mostly white) Christians have been told that the Democrats, or the liberals, or the progressives, or the mainstream media, etc. represent evil. They have been told that the Democrats or the Socialists or the Communists (often they are grouped as one in the same) are out to get us. They have been told that a vote for a Democrat is a vote to kill babies, a vote for sexual immorality, and a vote to steal money from those who deserve it and give it to the undeserving. They have been told that Democrats are to be feared and must be defeated if America is to be maintained as a Christian nation. And they have been told, that even though the Republicans might have some flaws here or there, they are the party that stands for righteousness and must be voted for because they will gallantly stand for Christian values and morals and fight back the immoral Democrats who are trying to sabotage this nation.
Maybe the messaging isn’t always as bold, audacious, or obvious, but the underlying notion is pervasive and everpresent.
Along the way, American culture increasingly has been discarding traditional Christian values, especially in the areas of sexuality and gender. Concurrently and jointly in many ways, the laws of the land have been slowly but surely chipping away at religious freedoms, most specifically of those who hold to traditional Christian values. And if the law doesn’t get you, then the culture very well may and before you know it, you will be “canceled”. Prophecy is thus deemed fulfilled and all the more the reasons to fear the Democrats and liberals are lauded and justified. Now, more than ever, has the call become that the Democrats must be defeated if this country is to be saved and Christianity to be preserved.
Alas, a strongman comes along and proclaims he will save us and our country. He says he will make us great again. He vows to fight back the evil and radical Democrats and will protect Christianity, some close to him even going as far to say that he will save Christianity. The strongman says he will stand for the values and freedoms that are near and dear to our hearts, simultaneously claiming to be the most pro-life president ever, and he demonstrates his great strength and resolve for Christianity and our country by having the troublemakers forcibly moved out of the way so that he can symbolically and triumphantly stand before a church with a Bible raised in hand.
Some flocked to the man immediately, but others had their doubts and concerns. Over time however, as the rhetoric continues to be amplified and the flames of division are fanned stronger and stronger, more and more have come to see the man as their last great hope for their country and the faith within. Yes, the man has his flaws most will admit, but they will also maintain it is unmistakable that God raised up this man for a time such as this and we must support him if we are true Christians and/or are serious about our faith and righteousness. To not do so is to be doing the work of the enemy (Satan). Forty years of preaching the evils of the Democrats and the righteousness of the Republicans has culminated in this.
- The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader, and regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
- The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and its members (e.g., the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
- The group has a polarized, us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
- The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders, or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
- The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group.
Now, what we see today cannot be defined as a cult because it is much too broad and expansive and disorganized and fails to meet many other characteristics of a cult. But the conclusion I have come to is that many aspects of Trumpism are very cult-like and many people are caught up in the phenomena in a cult-like fashion. And distressingly, the largest body of people who seem to have taken up these cult-like ways are Christians.
I have said many times before that I actually agree with some things that President Trump says and does. I have also said many times before that I do not condemn anyone who voted for Trump in the last election or will do so again in this election. I understand and sympathize with and share some of the same concerns, even if I don’t come to the same end judgment, for why Christians would choose to vote for Trump given all the current state of our culture and country and the many difficulties and/or immoralities represented by the only other people or party who could viably win election.
The last thing I will do is judge someone’s faith or salvation based on how they choose to vote (or choose to not vote at all) in an earthly election that by necessity encompasses only fallen, sinful individuals. (Although this type of judgment sure seems to be a pretty popular take these days). But what I will say without reservation, is that we’ve got a major and very disturbing problem in the church. Specifically for me, it is the conservative evangelical (and mostly white) church that has this problem, as this is the segment of the church I call home, even as it is very broad in scope and definition.
All the more, I grasp at straws and often feel helpless and hopeless as to what to do about it. I may not always do so in the best or most effective fashion, but in whatever little way of influence I may have, I speak my peace in the best and most faithful way I know how in order to bring awareness to the problem and exhort Christians to follow after the ways of Christ and not those of a bastardized mash-up of Christianity and American politics. And I pray that God would change the hearts of the people of the church. Yet, the monster only seems to continually grow bigger and stronger and uglier.
We see this happening all over the news and social media and within our own little worlds of church and personal relationships. I suspect there are a good many who share my observations and feelings of dismay. Over the past four years I have seen quite a few friends, family members, and acquaintances, most who I considered to be solid Christians, gradually yet persistently reject the values and characteristics of their Savior and take on those of the man they have increasingly give their allegiance to. Even when asked, they show little concern for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc., all the while pridefully displaying greater and greater bluster, arrogance, crassness, dishonesty, slander, disdain, and discord.
More and more the willingness to listen or reason together is replaced by empty mantras and marked vitriol and the posting of snarky (and often deceptive and slanderous) memes. In greater and greater frequency, discussion of issues or concerns are rejected in favor of the opportunity to take injurious personal aim at the messenger or the one seen as the opponent or enemy. Plain and obvious immoralities or violations of God’s commands or virtues are increasingly ignored or minimized or justified or even praised to protect the leader and maintain the cause. Those who dare speak to the problems in their camp are called out and judged to be judgmental (isn’t that ironic) or divisive, labeled with the dreaded tag of pushing liberal politics or being a liberal (even if there is no evidence of such), and treated like the enemy. They are told that they are just brainwashed by liberals and the media and don’t understand what is all going on in the whole scheme of things, like they do. Overt realities, documented facts, and sympathetic or understanding postures are rejected if they might possibly get in the way of the end goal, whatever that may be in some misguided, if not shameful attempt to preserve God and country. It is all so very cult-like and it is all so very disheartening.
I fear that someday we’re going to look back on this era in history as a big ugly mark for American Christianity. Christians will look back with regret and condemnation that so many in the church at that time had gone astray from representing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and concerning themselves with His Kingdom in preference for preserving some kind of earthly “Christian” kingdom, all the while following after leaders and employing behaviors that have nothing to do with being Christ-like.
Lastly, I do not write to make it seem like all the problems of the church reside in conservative evangelicalism or that there is nothing good about it. I recognize and am grateful for the many good things that happen in the church (in conservative evangelicalism or otherwise) while also being more than aware that many other segments of the church have their own considerable problems and corruption. However, conservative evangelicalism is my home and this growing immorality hits me the hardest. It is all around me and I see many people I care about taking turns for the worse and going down treacherous paths ridden with all kinds of snares and destructive traps.
I pray that the church changes its ways before this big, ugly, cult-like driven mark gets any bigger. I pray that God would make me aware of whatever I may be doing to contribute to this mark. Because even as I believe I can see the blind spots of many in the conservative evangelical church today, I know I have my own, too. May we all be willing to listen to each other, even if it is sometimes painful to do so. May we always seek His Kingdom first.