Kingdoms: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
On Saturday, I watched a good bit of the presentations made at the Jericho March in Washington, DC. “Presentations” is a charitable phrase as most of what I heard could more properly be described as rants divorced from reality. We should make no mistake about it, this is the face of Christian nationalism. While purporting to be motivated by Christian faith, that which emanated from the stage was, at least from my viewpoint, an amalgam of extreme right wing politics, grievance messaging and conspiracy theories.
In the early 1990s, I was selected as a Fellow of the College of Preachers at the National Cathedral in Washington. As a Fellow I was in residence, along with two other scholars, for three months in the College apartments located just next to the Cathedral where I had the opportunity to preach and celebrate the Eucharist. On Sundays when I was not scheduled to serve, I would visit other churches in the city. On one such Sunday morning, I made my way to Asbury UMC on 11th Street. Asbury was one of the historically black churches in the city, founded in 1863. At the time, it enjoyed a reputation for its high standard of preaching which, I must say, I experienced that morning.
On this last Saturday night, marchers that appear to have been associated with an extreme white supremacy group tore down Asbury’s church signage that included the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and burned it in the street while alternating obscenities with chants of “USA”. When the pastor of the church watched a video of her church’s name going up in flames in the middle of the street, she was reminded of a cross burning.
This is no longer about politics and/or faith. This is now about violence, anger and hatred. Just as the violence in Portland and Seattle was unwarranted and merited condemnation, what took place in Washington this last weekend, on stage and in the streets, merits the same.
In the end, Christian faith is about more than an obtuse set of doctrinal propositions. It is about who we are as people and how our faith is reflected in our lives. In the early Church, one portion of Scripture stands out as being the subject of the greatest number of commentaries, letters and sermons. It is the Sermon on the Mount. If you wonder why, it is because Christ presents an outline for life in a kingdom… and that kingdom has very little to do with either first century Judea or Rome… or, indeed, America in 2020.
While many believe that the current state of American evangelicalism is merely a transitory phase, I suspect that it may be something more. Decision theology has long been a part of the evangelical zeitgeist. As we have seen with certain groups on the fringe of the evangelical world, decision theology is easily transferred to charismatic church leaders in a cult-like form. Often this involves dismissing former voices of authority and separation from friends and family in order to be “all in”. The same can happen when the decision is made to use politics in order to advance one’s religious agenda. If this indeed is the case with American evangelicals today, this will not be a transitory phase. It will, instead, become the permanent face of a sizable number of evangelicals, individually and corporately in churches and associations.
Only time will tell if this will be the outcome, but it is a distinct possibility.