O Lord my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me.
When you’re going through a difficult time — be it emotional, physical, mental, or spiritual — it can be easy to lose faith and feel like you may not overcome the challenge; that the pain will envelop you and take you down. But the good news is, you can move past it. After all, the Lord doesn’t throw anything your way that you can’t handle. If you forget that, it helps to look at those around you and remember that you are never alone. We always have God with us, but we also have our friends and family who care about us, and hopefully, we have someone we can lean on in times of trouble.
During his earthly life, Jesus was very active in his ministry of healing. He cured the blind so they could see again. He healed the lame so they could walk once more. He let the deaf hear again. He raised Lazarus from the dead. The early Church Fathers gave our Lord the title of “the Great Physician.” However, Jesus did not cure all disease and sickness once and for all. Instead, he asked us to have faith in Him. Jesus came to give us a life that will never end, not even with death.
Jesus is widely considered to have performed many miracles during his three-year ministry, from turning water into wine at the beginning to the second miraculous catch of fish towards the end. He also healed people. He healed a lot of people, with approximately two-thirds of his recorded miracles involving healing. Healing people was important to Jesus. But time and time again he used the opportunity to heal someone as a practical way of teaching us something else. Something that is as equally relevant for us today as it was 2,000 years ago.
There is a hymn called “The Great Physician” written by William Hunter (1811- 1877) who emigrated from England and settled in York, Pennsylvania with his family when he was 6 years old. He graduated from Madison College at Uniontown, Pennsylvania and became a Methodist minister. He later taught Hebrew at Allegheny College. Though he wrote 125 hymns, the only one still in use is “The Great Physician” (initially called “Christ, the Physician”). Originally, the hymn had seven verses but hymn books generally print just four of them.
The Great Physician By William Hunter, pub.1859 Ref. by Richard Kempenfelt, 1777
The Great Physician now is near, The sympathizing Jesus; He speaks the drooping heart to cheer, Oh, hear the voice of Jesus! Sweetest note in seraph song; Sweetest name on mortal tongue; Sweetest carol ever sung: Jesus, blessed Jesus!
Your many sins are all forgiv’n, Oh, hear the voice of Jesus; The veil ‘twixt you and God is riven, Redemption wrought by Jesus. Sweetest note in seraph song; Sweetest name on mortal tongue; Sweetest carol ever sung: Jesus, blessed Jesus!
All glory to the dying Lamb! I now believe in Jesus; I love the blessed Savior’s name, I love the name of Jesus. Sweetest note in seraph song; Sweetest name on mortal tongue; Sweetest carol ever sung: Jesus, blessed Jesus!
His name dispels my guilt and fear, No other name but Jesus; Oh, how my soul delights to hear The precious name of Jesus! Sweetest note in seraph song; Sweetest name on mortal tongue; Sweetest carol ever sung: Jesus, blessed Jesus!
And when to that bright world above, We rise to see our Jesus, We’ll sing around the throne of love His name, the name of Jesus. Sweetest note in seraph song; Sweetest name on mortal tongue; Sweetest carol ever sung: Jesus, blessed Jesus!
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
—1 Corinthians 13:13
Love is one thing that unites all of human existence. It can inspire, encourage, and lighten our hearts. It can be the most incredible feeling in the world, but it can also be confusing. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 tells us, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” When a Pharisee lawyer asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is, Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) Jesus points out that love is the most essential aspect of Christianity.
On this Valentine’s Day, many of us are alone this year. Some are alone because of loss, others because of the circumstance of the pandemic, and like myself, because we have yet to find a partner for life. I have often talked about loving others and how important it is to show love. 1 John 3:18 says, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” John 15:12 tells us, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” However, I believe that before we can love others, we must learn to love ourselves. There are two types of loving ourselves. God tells us that it is sinful to love ourselves in a vain, prideful, and arrogant way, thinking we are better than everyone; however, it should be natural to love ourselves and be thankful for what God made. Loving and accepting oneself can come easily to those who grow up in a loving and accepting environment. Still, even those with the most accepting family and friends often find it hard to come to terms with their sexuality. For those of us who grew up in a family and an environment filled with homophobia, it is often challenging to realize and become comfortable with our true selves.
Many, if not most, in the LGBTQ+ community are surrounded by homophobia and less than accepting environments. Those around them often claim to love them, yet they deny us our sexuality as natural. They deny us the ability to love ourselves as God intends for his creation. If God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and above all, infallible, which He is, then He created us with our nature to love someone of the same sex. He could not have been wrong. God does not make mistakes. What is wrong is when people make us hate ourselves and torture ourselves to hide who we are, forcing us to live a lie. That is the sin. Being our true selves and loving someone of the same sex is not a sin, and I will never believe it is. I did not come to this revelation lightly.
I prayed. I meditated. I studied the scriptures. I know that I have finally come to terms with being the man that God created. When I accepted that God had created me as a gay man and was not a flaw in His creation, I learned to begin loving myself. Since this realization, I have been closer to God and have had a much greater connection to God. All of those voices in my head telling me to hate who and what I was, in actuality was homophobia and hatred fueled by the ignorance of those surrounding me. When we deny ourselves because others tell us that we do not know God, we are dishonoring God. More importantly, the people who put those ideas into our heads are dishonoring God, and they are the ones committing a great sin and doing the greatest harm.
Teaching us to hate our nature instead of loving our nature is incredibly detrimental. Research has found that attempted suicide rates and suicidal thoughts among LGBTQ+ youth are significantly higher than among the general population. Numerous studies have shown that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth have a higher suicide attempt rate than heterosexual youth. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center estimates that between 5 and 10 percent of LGBTQ+ youth, depending on age and sex groups, have attempted suicide, a rate 1.5-3 times higher than heterosexual youth. The higher prevalence of suicidal thoughts and overall mental health problems among gay teenagers than their heterosexual peers has been attributed to the stigma of being different.
LGBTQ+ youth who report having at least one accepting adult were 40 percent less likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year. Nearly 80 percent of youth who completed The Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health reported disclosing their sexual orientation to at least one adult. Among those who told at least one adult, 79 percent had at least one adult who was accepting of them. Over one-quarter of LGBTQ+ youth who did not have at least one accepting adult in their life reported attempting suicide in the past year compared to 17 percent of those with at least one accepting adult. The positive impact of acceptance from at least one adult on suicide attempts is significant.
The harm created by people not accepting and loving the LGBTQ+ community is incredibly detrimental. It teaches us not to love ourselves, and if we cannot love ourselves, then we cannot love others or God. Proverbs 19:8 says, “To acquire wisdom is to love oneself; people who cherish understanding will prosper.” 1 John 2:9-10 is explicit in what John tells us about loving others, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.” How can we love others if we are taught to hate ourselves and our nature? As I was researching what the Bible says about love for this post, I came across numerous Christian sites that would say to “love your neighbor,” but then at the same time give a caveat: love your neighbor, unless they are gay; love your neighbor, unless they are a sinner; love your neighbor unless they are not Christian; etc. It seems that many Christians find numerous excuses not to follow God’s commandments while simultaneously claiming to follow God’s commandments. They cannot have it both ways. Jesus gave no caveat when he commanded us to “love our neighbor.”
Furthermore, love cannot be superficial. We cannot claim to love our fellow man and give exceptions. Romans 12:9-10 says, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Philippians 2:3-4 expounds on this, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” If we cannot come to terms with ourselves, then it will be impossible to love others. We must show concern for one another above the circumstances and ourselves. We must demonstrate care for others without counting the cost to us, but we also must take care of ourselves. If we neglect ourselves, our self-worth, and our very identity, we will not be healthy enough to show that love to others.
When dealing with Christian love, we must relate everything to Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection. In the life and death of Christ, we see in a new way for what God’s love is and for what man’s love for God, for others, and for ourselves should be. Through faith living in us, we are enabled to follow His example of love unconditionally. Whether you have someone with you today to show your love, make sure that you show yourself love as well.
Remember as RuPaul says at the end of every Drag Race, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love someone else?” Can I get an Amen?
On a brighter note, I got exactly one Valentine’s Day card this year, and it was from my friend Susan. It is so cute 💖:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
—1 John 4:7-9
I subscribe to emails from QueerTheology.com, and they send out some interesting stuff. I particularly enjoy their “Daily Affirmation” emails that contain inspirational quotes. If you follow my Twitter (@ClosetProfessor), you may have noticed that I sometimes retweet these quotes. Last week, they sent out an email about their Faithful Sexuality course (registration ended on Friday). It looks like an interesting course, but at $83, I will not participate, especially since I just don’t have the time. I bring all of this up because Brian G. Murphy, one of the founders of Queer Theology, wrote in the email about his experiences with coming to terms with his sexuality and the guilt he felt in those years. Here’s an excerpt from that email that brought up some thoughts of my own:
I spent too many nights sitting on the floor of my shower after sex, hoping that the water would wash away not just the sweat but also the sex & shame.
I would get home from a date or a hookup, hop into the shower, and before long, I’d find myself curled up on the floor of the shower, with the water rushing over me. Talking about it now, it sounds like a cliche scene out of a movie, but that was my actual response.
Eventually, I’d get up off the floor, brush my teeth, and resolve to not do “it” again. Not kiss a boy. Not have casual sex. Not do XYZ sexual act that I deemed “too sexual” or “depraved” or “not romantic enough.” I’d delete his number from my phone or unfriend him on Facebook. I’d make a pact to try again at “waiting until marriage.” Maybe I can find a girlfriend? Or at least a Christian boy? “I should go back to church.” “I should stop looking at porn.” I should I should I should.
When I was in high school, I did everything I could to deny that I was gay. Other kids constantly bullied me for being gay, which seemed to be the worst thing I could be. My first sexual experience was with a girlfriend I had one summer when I attended a summer honors program at the University of Alabama. She was from Kentucky and a bit of a tomboy. We had a dinner to attend for the program, and she needed a dress. She had never owned a dress, so I took her to buy one. Though we grew to care for each other over that summer (she is probably the only woman I ever saw myself spending the rest of my life with), she went back home to Kentucky, and I went back to my home in southern Alabama. The distance, and that this was a time before texting or email, we grew apart. She is married and a university professor now. We’ve had no contact in 25 years, but I do think of her fondly and wish her well.
My second sexual experience was very different. My best friend growing up (we are no longer friends because of her rabid support of Trump and her harassment of me for not believing in wild Trump and QAnon conspiracy theories) was very sexually active in high school. She didn’t try to have sex with me because I was a virgin, and according to her, she did not like having sex with virgins. However, after I lost my virginity, she began pressuring me to have sex with her. I turned her down, and she acted very badly, pretending to be hurt. I know now, she was just manipulating me. I don’t handle people being upset with me very well, and I often try, to my detriment at times, to fix things. When she tried to seduce me again, I did not resist because she made me feel incredibly guilty for turning her down the previous times. I felt so dirty and disgusted with myself after that experience. I felt so violated. I went home, and like Brian above, I took a long shower to try and wash away my shame and disgust.
After that incident, I continued to try to date girls. Like Brian, I thought, “Maybe I can find a girlfriend?” Finally, when I was a sophomore in college, I was dating a girl, and it ended with a nasty argument. It was pretty ugly, and I know I hurt her a lot. It was then that I realized I would likely make any woman I had a relationship with miserable, and in turn, make me even more miserable. So, I vowed not to pursue women anymore, but I did not resolve to date men. I have always felt that I made a mistake in my decision not to date anyone because I feel like I wasted time and decreased my chances of finding a fulfilling relationship. However, I still could not fully come to terms with being gay. When I would be turned on by gay porn or fantasizing about a guy, I felt disgusted with myself. It was a traumatic experience in many ways.
Even when I did start hooking up with men, I felt much like Brian did. It always seemed like bad things would happen after a hookup, from unexpected expenses, problems with classes, missed opportunities to help my future career, etc. None of these “bad things” were real consequences of the hookup, but I always felt that I had brought all these “bad things” upon myself. God must be punishing me. When I thought it had gotten so bad that I had to do something, I’d take action to “get rid of the gay.” I would delete any dating profiles; apps didn’t exist back then. I would delete any gay porn on my computer and any bookmarks/favorites on my web browser. If I had any sex toys or gay DVDs, I’d throw them away. I’d do everything I could to get rid of anything gay in my life. I know I needed some serious therapy back then. I would fall into deep periods of depression, and it was years later before I sought treatment for my depression.
Once things seemed to get better, I turned back to porn or hooking up with some guy from a dating site or bar. However, the pattern would repeat itself. The same phycological factors would surface again, and I’d purge anything gay. Eventually, I finally came out to myself and then to a couple that were friends of mine. They were very supportive, and I finally had someone I could talk to about being gay. It helped, but I would still go through periods of purging anything gay and have bouts of severe depression. I continued to think that God must be punishing me. Later, I heard my preacher say that God does not punish us in this life, but only in the next if we do not ask for forgiveness. God forgives, and he would forgive us and not punish us. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) My former preacher said that God did not punish people for their sins here on earth. His words helped me accept my sexuality.
I wonder how that preacher would feel if he knew his words helped me come to terms with being gay. I had always liked this preacher, and I trusted him. He never got political in the pulpit, and he mostly preached on better understanding the Bible and how to be better Christians. (One of the few exceptions to political discussions occurred when he preached against a lottery in Alabama. It was not received well by the congregation, and he never mentioned it again.) He never condemned anyone for their sins and never seemed to judge others. That changed when the Supreme Court announced the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. He preached a sermon on the evils of homosexuality. If it had been a sermon that followed the Church of Christ’s beliefs, I might have taken it better, though I still disagreed. Instead, he used an Old Testament verse out of context and based his arguments on Old Testament verses. The Church of Christ is a New Testament church, and he used a verse from Malachi. He also quoted some New Testament verses, but not from his usual King James Version, but a more modern translation that incorrectly uses the word homosexual. I know most people would not have a problem with a preacher referencing an Old Testament verse. However, for a preacher in the Church of Christ to base a sermon on an Old Testament verse instead of using a New Testament verse is just not done and is very unusual. We believe that Jesus brought a New Covenant that replaced the Old Testament, which is seen as historical but not doctrine. When he used arguments that were diametrically opposed to the basis of our version of Christianity, I lost all faith in him. He had never once mentioned homosexuality before this sermon, and my disappointment in him was profound. I should have walked out of the church that day, but I was a coward and did not. My family was there, and I did not want to embarrass them. However, it changed my relationship with the church after that, but I’ve gotten off track.
For many years I dealt with the guilt of being gay because it went against what I had been taught growing up. My parents, friends, schoolmates, teachers, etc., acted as if being gay was one of the worst sins you could commit. Such an unaccepting society is a very unhealthy way to grow up. My views and guilt changed when I studied the Bible more. I looked at the meanings of the words that preachers used to condemn homosexuality. I came to understand that God is about love. He is not about punishing us. Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, and the passages used as “clobber passages” did not mean what I had been taught they meant (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 [Pederasty in Corinth], 1 Timothy 1:9-10 [Pederasty in Ephesus], Jude 6-7 [Strange Flesh], and Romans 1:25-27 [Cult Prostitution]). Once I came to this understanding, I have had a better relationship with God and with myself. We all have our own journey coming to terms with life’s issues, especially when it concerns your sexuality. I pray for the day when we don’t have to come out and that the whole spectrum of sexuality and gender is accepted as natural. I do not doubt that there will always be homophobic people, just as there are racists and anti-Semitic people, but I hope that one day the idea of hating others for who they are is abhorred by the vast majority of people.
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.
— 1 Corinthians 16:13-14
It’s easy to be a Christian in the company of other Christians. The challenge comes when we are with those who are either not Christian or not devout Christians. Vermont is not one of the most religious of states. Vermont Public Radio (VPR) recently asked, “What’s The State Of Religion In Vermont?” According to VPR, a Pew survey from 2014 found only 34 percent of adults in Vermont considered themselves “highly religious” — making Vermont one of the least religious states in the country. The same Pew study shows 41 percent of Vermonters “absolutely” believe in God. And an even higher proportion of people, 47 percent, said that at least once a week, they feel “a sense of spiritual peace and wellbeing.” There are plenty of churches (I live next to an Episcopal Church and across the street from a Methodist Church), but they were not often full on Sundays, even before the pandemic. People rarely speak about religion in Vermont, and it is not a subject that comes up in everyday conversations.
In 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, the Apostle Paul tells us to “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” Such simple verses that pack a lot of meaning. Within these two verses, there are five distinct commands for us to follow: be on guard, stand firm, be courageous, be strong, and do everything in love. Many people who consider themselves Christian, especially evangelical Christians, have no problem with the first four commands. Many evangelical leaders are always on guard to tell others when they see something that they feel is a slight to their religion. They stand firm in their perverted views of Christianity, which reject those who are not exactly like them and follow their every word, which doesn’t often follow the Word of God, but what they want the Bible to say. They believe themselves to be courageous when they discriminate against others and attempt to force upon everyone around them their version of the Christian faith. They often strongly condemn those who disagree with them even in the slightest way and refuse to waiver in their beliefs. However, when it comes to doing everything in love, they ignore that commandment. Often their actions are the opposite of love. But let us look more closely at what Paul is really commanding us to do.
The command “be on your guard” is directed at our spiritual wellbeing. We should always be looking for how we can help others and show them love. We should also be alert to those who want to harm us or others with false beliefs and misplaced agendas. We should “stand firm in our faith” and show others the loving and accepting version of Christianity. As Christians, we are responsible for knowing the truth of God’s Word for ourselves, understanding what is in it, and not allow false teachers to lead us astray. We are also commanded to “be courageous.” When there are those out there using Christianity to exclude those with whom they disagree, we have to be brave enough to face the challenges that false Christians present. We can be ready with an answer and be willing to share our faith and belief that God is love. First John 4:16 tells us, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
Evangelicals preach that society forces us to be politically correct and not to say anything that might offend someone else. However, those who do not hold their tongue to keep from harming others with their words are not acting in a Christian way. God called us to “be strong” and show His love to everyone whether we agree with them or not. We cannot be weak and pick and choose what parts of the Bible we want to follow and ignore the details we would like to forget so easily. We should be mindful that our words are always grounded in God’s love. If they are, we should be strong enough to speak these truths with confidence, knowing that God’s word never returns void. Isaiah 55:11 says, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” What we say has consequences, and we must be strong in spreading God’s love.
The four previous commands are forceful, but our Christian love for other people is the essential part of this equation. God is very explicit when he tells us to “Do everything in love.” Love is what binds us together, and our love for all humankind is what should motivate us. God does not ask us to be judgmental or to beat people over the head with a Bible. In Matthew 7:1, Jesus tells us, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Our kindness and love for humankind will go a lot farther than the browbeating we often get from anti-LGBTQ+ ministers who claim to speak for Christianity. God wants us to show acceptance and love. Together we can show the love of Christ to those who need Him the most. With our love, we can be the beacon of light that shines the way to Jesus.
And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.
While you can delete a tweet, a Facebook post, or a blog post, the spoken word is heard immediately and remembered forever, especially when those words are hurtful. We are tempted to blow up when angry and to let words fly without control. Psalm 141:3 says, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” Our mouths can put us in awkward situations. Mine has many times. As a teenager, I’ll admit that I talked back to my parents, especially my dad, far too much. At one point, it got so bad my parents discussed sending me away to a boarding school. The idea of going away didn’t bother me, especially if it was an all-boys school (the fantasy probably was better than the reality would have been). Once my parents realized that I was perfectly happy with the idea of going to a boarding school, they dropped the subject, much to my dismay.
Eventually, my Grandmama sat me down as told me that I needed to deal with my father like she did my grandfather. She said, “Just keep your mouth shut, and eventually, he’ll shut the hell up.” It turned out to be good advice, though it was hard to do. My father was one of those people who believed in “Do as I say, not as I do.” It’s one of the reasons I hate hypocrisy so much, and it was hard not to point out his hypocrisy.
But it is not just talking back that kept me in trouble. I often said things I shouldn’t have said, but I have never been a person to intentionally inflict harm on someone with my words. That does not mean I did not inflict damage with my words. It just wasn’t intentional. Proverbs 12:18 tells us, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Remember the phrase “open mouth, insert foot?” I’m sure all of us have been guilty of that one. Once you say hurtful words aloud, you can’t take them back. You can only live them down, which is often very hard to do. Hurtful words are more damaging than physical hurt, leaving scars on the soul and spirit.
A wise man learns to weigh his words before speaking. Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” This wisdom comes with age and experience. Anger confounds many people in our world today. We simply don’t know how to handle our anger as we have in the past. Some of that has to do with the anonymity of the internet, which some people use as an excuse to inflict hurt on others with words. I also blame the last four years of having a bully as a president, someone who made fun of a young girl with autism or a disabled reporter suffering from arthrogryposis. He did so for laughs and the enjoyment of his audience. It was not only immature, but it was mean spirited. Because of the example set by our previous president, people felt emboldened and encouraged to show their cruel ways, whether that was through homophobia, white supremacy, misogyny, or any other disgusting and ungodly reasons. We must resist the temptation of hurtful or angry words, and instead, we should show the world God’s kindly words and deeds.
We must think before we speak. When we pause and consider our words, it is often an excellent remedy for anger. We don’t need to delay indefinitely, but we need to give ourselves time to consider the consequences of our words more carefully. If you’ve got an issue you need to deal with, you need to do so. Anger delayed indefinitely becomes bitterness. That’s worse than anger. Anger isn’t always a sin, as we can be angry over injustice. However, bitterness is a sin because it means we have refused to forgive. If we respond impulsively, we tend to react in anger. If we wait to talk about whatever conflict we’re dealing with, we will be more rational and reasonable when we do. The longer we hold our temper, the better our response will be. We need to give ourselves time to think.
Setting a guard over our mouth as we are instructed to do in Psalm 141:3 requires that we keep our mouth shut when we are irritated and that we seek the Lord’s help to say the right words with the right tone or, perhaps, not speak at all. When it comes to controlling our speech, it’s a lifelong work. Thankfully, God is working in us, giving us “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in. Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses.
White evangelicals believe they see truths that you and I cannot. This is one of the most dangerous aspects of evangelicalism. As law enforcement tracks down and identifies the insurrectionist terrorists of January 6, it has become more clear who they are and what they wanted. Amid the QAnon adherents, anti-Semites, neo-Confederates, and revolutionary cosplayers were the evangelical faithful: those who see themselves as the vanguard of God’s end-times army. Their proud participation in the riot represented some of the most extreme political actions that any group of evangelicals has taken in recent history. These evangelical participants in that mob believed they were part of a holy war. Insurgents carried signs that read “Jesus Saves,” “In God We Trust,” “Jesus 2020,” and “Jesus Is My Savior, Trump Is My President.” One man marched through the halls of Congress carrying a Christian flag, another a Bible. They chanted, “The blood of Jesus covering this place.”
These “Christians” apparently believe that they had no choice but to try to overthrow Congress. For months, various evangelicals have claimed in sermons, on social media, and during protests that malicious forces stole the election, conspired to suppress Christian liberties, and aimed to suppress on their freedom to worship and spread the Christian gospel. This message is not something new. It has been a message of the Trump era to the Christian faithful warning them that only Trump could save Christianity. Evangelical leader Franklin Graham threw his support behind Donald Trump throughout his 2016 campaign and continued to do so during Trump’s presidency. Most of the evangelical community followed suit. Now, Graham is still firmly behind Trump, even though the president incited an insurrection and repeated baseless lies that the election was stolen from him. In fact, Graham championed those conspiracy theories, and now, he’s comparing the Republicans who voted in favor of impeachment with the Christian disciple Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus for thrity pieces of silver. Like many in the far-right Christian conservative movement, Graham believes that Donald Trump is Christianity’s new savior.
Liberty University’s think tank, the Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty, which was launched in 2019 and named after its co-founders: Jerry Falwell Jr., the now disgraced and former Liberty University president and Charlie Kirk, the political activist and founder of Turning Point USA, has gone so far as to try to take Christ out of Christianity because they perceive Him as too weak. The Falkirk website states: “Bemoaning the rise of leftism is no longer enough. Although we do, as Jesus taught, turn the other cheek in our personal relationships, we cannot abdicate our responsibilities on the cultural battlefield. There is too much at stake in the clash for the soul of our nation. Bold, unapologetic engagement and initiative is needed on the part of every conservative American.” Falkirk churns out a steady stream of propaganda to convince Christian conservatives they are oppressed victims in society, church, politics, culture, child-rearing, and every other dimension of life. Commentators at the center do not believe “a real Christian can vote Democratic” because of the “blasphemous accouterments” of the party. People who disagree with Falkirk’s politics are treated as part of the shadowy, undefined cabal of “they” and “them” that persecutes and hates conservative Christians. The Falkirk Center doesn’t like it when other groups—racial minorities, for example—describe reality in terms of oppression and power, because this is a central part of Falkirk’s propaganda. They believe that if Christian patriots have power, they must use it to reshape culture and push out the leftists. If Christians have lost power, they must regain it before they are crushed by the elites. On January 6, the day of the storming of the U.S. Capitol and the certification of Joe Biden’s election, Falkirk perfunctorily denounced the violence at the Capitol. But just one day later, the center was still peddling fears of massive voter fraud, saying that the fraud “debate” will be an open question for years to come. The Falkirk team seems utterly oblivious to the fact that it was precisely their brand of rhetoric—besieged, terrified, Christian nationalist, and masculinity-obsessed—that stirred up the anti-democratic rioters of last week.
The “Christian” insurrectionists believed that the final days of history were at hand and that the Capitol was the site of a battle so important and significant it would have the power to usher in a new era of Christian dominance. As one evangelical from Texas told The New York Times, “We are fighting good versus evil, dark versus light.” This belief comes from a movement in Christianity (and a few other religions) called Millennialism. Christianity and Judaism have both produced messianic movements that featured millennialist teachings—a belief that an earthly kingdom of God is at hand. These millennialist movements often led to considerable social unrest. Many if not most millennialist groups claim that the current society and its rulers are corrupt, unjust, or otherwise wrong and will soon be destroyed by a powerful force. The harmful nature of the status quo is considered intractable without the anticipated dramatic change. The French sociologist and Dominican priest Henri Desroche observed that millennialist movements often envisioned three periods in which change might occur. First, the movement’s elected members will be increasingly oppressed, leading to the second period in which the movement resists the oppression. The third period brings about a new utopian age, liberating the members of the movement. The current millennialist movement believes that Donald Trump is their messiah and will deliver them from the oppressive nature of liberals, i.e., the Democratic Party and especially its progressive wing. Trump and his followers love to invoke the word “socialism” as the greatest evil that exists. I have heard many times, “I don’t want to live in a socialist country.”
Much has been made about the evangelical community’s relationship with Donald Trump. Typically, observers tend to view this alliance as purely transactional, with evangelicals holding their noses and pledging their support to the least Christian of men to get something in return—most notably, a trio of religiously conservative Supreme Court justices. The misguided and short-sighted belief that evangelicals are overlooking the unchristian behavior of Trump is dangerous. I have talked to some of these people, and they honestly believe that Trump is the most Christian president in history, though they can never articulate why they think this other than the misguided belief that he is pro-life. If you think that evangelicals are just overlooking his behavior, they are not. They are blinded to it, and they are so caught up in a religious fervor that they cannot see what is staring them in the face. They have lost their way, and they are not just wandering in the wilderness. They don’t even realize that they are lost or even in the wilderness. The Capitol attack revealed in all its gruesome detail the extent to which Trump channels the apocalyptic fervor that has long animated many white evangelical Christians in this country. They believe the end times are near and their flawed but “King David-like” leader Donald Trump will save them.
From the moment that Christian separatists landed on North America’s shores, they have espoused end-times conspiracies. Their messages have been relatively innocuous most of the time, part of the broader millennialist outlook shared among most major religious traditions. But these conspiracies can have dangerous consequences—and sometimes they lead to violence. Take, for example, the results of Jonestown. On November 18, 1978, 909 individuals died in Jonestown, from apparent cyanide poisoning, in an event termed “revolutionary suicide” by the cult leader Jim Jones. Jones led a left-wing oriented cult, but current evangelical millennialists have taken up the same religious zeal. Throughout American history, every evangelical generation has seen some of its believers driven to extreme conspiracies that blend with other strains of militant political faith. In the Trump era, with the destabilizing impact of a global pandemic and a devastated economy, white evangelical Christianity has become entangled with a broader revolution against the government to keep Donald Trump in office, culminating (so far) in an insurrection in the name of Jesus Christ breaking out in tandem with the Trump voter fraud coup. What might be the most fighting aspect of this is that the violence of January 6 is, in all likelihood, a foretelling of where this group might go once Trump is finally out of office and their desperation reaches a fever pitch.
Evangelical apocalypticism is grounded in a complicated and convoluted reading of the biblical books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation, some of the most violent books in the Bible. Because of a confluence of factors such as the death and destruction caused by the Civil War, massive immigration, growing religious diversity in the United States that threatened Protestant power, and new secularizing forces, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution, a small group of evangelical preachers, businessmen, college professors, publishers, and laypeople began reading their Bibles with new eyes. This group became increasingly influential and took hold as a reaction to the Roaring Twenties and later to the spread of communism in the 1950s. Factor in the civil rights movements of minorities and evangelicals are downright apoplectic. Four years ago, this apocalyptic zeal has found a national leader in the most unlikely of men, Donald Trump.
According to evangelicals, the current age will climax with the restoration of Jews to Palestine and the emergence of powerful empires in Rome, Russia, and Asia. Seeking to unite the world’s nations and end chaos and war, a new leader will appear promising peace and security. Unwilling or unable to recognize that he is the prophesied Antichrist, most political and religious leaders worldwide will cede their sovereignty and independence to him through an international agency. Just before the Antichrist is revealed for the threat that he is, all true Christians will vanish from the earth in “the rapture,” joining the resurrected Jesus in heaven. Shortly after that, the imposter will lead the world through seven years of tribulation, at the end of which Jesus and the saints will return to earth and battle the forces of evil at Armageddon (a literal place they believe is in Israel). Christ will defeat the Antichrist and establish a millennial kingdom of peace and prosperity on earth. Such convictions made evangelicals astute students of world events, and it is probably also the reason they are so accepting of Trump’s lies. They are dangerously gullible. They were and are continually lining up global changes with their reading of their apocalyptic prophecy. I remember the syndicated program Jack Van Impe Presentshosted by the late Jack Van Impe and his wife, Rexella. Week after week, Van Impe predicted a date for the end-times becoming more desperate as the day drew near until it eventually passed, after which he chose a new date. His program consisted of a commentary on the news of the week through an interpretation of the Bible. Many evangelicals hung on his and the words of other “prophets.”
Most of these evangelical millennialists do not believe that the U.S. is described in the Bible’s end-times history. They hope through their perseverance that the U.S. might be one of the few faithful nations, an end-times stronghold where true Christianity is practiced, the gospel is preached, and the power of the Antichrist is challenged continuously and subverted until Christ returns to save them. While evangelicals hope for this, they fear that, unless they act decisively, the U.S. might relinquish its independence and align with the Antichrist. They have merged Christian universalism with American nationalism, remaking evangelicalism as a Christian nationalist movement through this belief. This apocalyptic thinking has defined the evangelical movement for the last century and a half. It was central to the ministry of almost every prominent American evangelical megachurch pastor, radio preacher, or television pioneer, from Aimee Semple McPherson to Billy Graham to Jerry Falwell. Evangelist Billy Sunday said, “Christianity and Patriotism are synonymous terms, and hell and traitors are synonymous.”
Evangelicals’ apocalyptic beliefs foster a sense of urgency and certainty and a vision of the world defined in absolute terms. Many evangelicals believe that they are engaged in the ultimate game of good versus evil. They have no time or regard for incremental change or for reasoning with those who disagree with them. They call for drastic and immediate solutions to the problems they see around them. For evangelicals, apocalypticism fills the in blanks, rationalizes their choices, and connects the dots, culminating in their unceasing devotion to Donald Trump, while making their actions more urgent and compromise unlikely.
Evangelicals have eagerly embraced Trump’s conspiratorial lies. They believe that Barack Obama was born in Africa and is a Muslim. They partner with QAnon activists in accusing Democrats and Hollywood stars of secretly committing atrocious immoral acts that include cannibalism and pedophilia. They argue that George Soros is using his vast wealth to build a one-world government. They see lies as truth and truth as lies. In their world, Joe Biden stole the 2020 presidential election from Donald Trump. A fake election pushing Trump out of the way means Satan can bring his plans for globalization and world domination, through the Antichrist, to fruition.
The apocalypse that evangelicals have been predicting for generations seems for some to have finally begun. A Biden administration, they are confident, is not only illegitimate but will also align with the forces of evil, from the U.N. to a cabal of international Jews, to persecute all true Christians. This white evangelical segment sees itself as a besieged minority, surrounded on all sides by the forces of darkness, sin, and secularism. This makes them just as dangerous as a wild animal that is cornered and scared. They believe that, in the last days, governments will turn against them, and their religious liberty will be suppressed. From COVID-19 shutdowns to alleged election fraud, their reading of current events tells them that the end times have begun. They believe that the Bible demands that they go to war against the Antichrist and all of his minions. Suppose Joe Biden and the other leaders of the U.S. government—now including even staunch Christian conservatives like Mike Pence—represent the forces of the Antichrist. In that case, the faithful have no choice but to organize against them. They need to stop the Antichrist by any means necessary. God demands no less than insurrection.
Evangelicals do not understand that they are following evil and excusing it by claiming to follow God. They misinterpret the false prophets and teachers described in 2 Peter to mean that those opposed to their beliefs are these false prophets. Second Peter 2:1-3 says,
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
They continually pervert the Bible to be interpreted to fit their apocalyptic and fanatical beliefs. They use to oppress others and impose their brand of government that would allow no dissent to their beliefs.
Matthew 4:1 says, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” The devil has tempted evangelicals, but instead of resisting temptation, they have allowed Satan to control them. The Devil thrives on lies, sedition, and hubris. I won’t go so far as to say that Donald Trump is doing the Devil’s bidding, but I will say that Donald Trump is not following the will of God. Evangelicals in America have gotten lost because they chose the temptation of power over the command of brotherhood and faith. Paul’s teaching on the Christian’s relationship to civil government is outlined in Romans 13. Romans 13:1-2 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
At the heart of Christianity is selflessness and love. The heart of American conservatism is personal freedom and individualism at the expense of oppressing those who do not fall under their white evangelical personification. Sadly, far-right Christians such as Liberty University have chosen the latter while calling it the former. Brad Littlejohn, a fellow at the conservative think-tank the Edmund Burke Foundation, championed selfishness and wrote in 2019 that in an unselfish world, “parents couldn’t really give each of their children a Christmas gift—something perfectly chosen for that child’s interests and developmental needs. As soon as they gave the gift, the child would look for another sibling to give it to. Pretty soon, the children would be passing all of their gifts around in a confusion of constant sharing, rather than going off to their rooms to practice for an hour on their new ukulele. By the next day, they would probably have given all their gifts away to the neighbor kids. Indeed, in this world, parents wouldn’t have given their kids gifts in the first place—come Christmas, they would’ve scanned the world for the neediest person they could find and given everything they could to that person instead. Or rather, they would have long since given away all their earthly possessions in a frenzy of selflessness (even as other equally selfless people tried to load them with new possessions).” This statement, though hyperbolic, is a clear rejection of the selfless teachings of Christ and one that attempt to portray selfishness and greed as a Christian virtue.
For years we have seen people try to convince themselves that America is a “Christian” nation. But when their ideals of America collide with their ideals of Christianity, such as selflessness and charity, evangelicals believe that we must remake Christianity into their perverted capitalist, white supremacist beliefs. Sadly, evangelical conservatives in the Republican Party have chosen their brand of American patriotism over Jesus. They have lost their way, and we must pray that they can find truth and repentance before they destroy us all by continuing to back power-hungry, egomaniacal politicians like Donald Trump. Politicians of this ilk will continue to use apocalyptic fear to have influence over and support from delusional evangelicals. Trump may be losing his grip as many turn against him after he incited a terrorist attack against Congress, but another will replace him. Already, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are jockeying for that position. We have to be diligent and stop their brand of apocalyptic extremism.
Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.
— James 5:9
Our lives are hectic, and we are frequently on the go. First, it’s work, then grocery shopping, household chores, taking care of our pets, and making dinner, which is usually followed by more household chores. Once we have finished with all of these essentials, then we sometimes have little time for leisure. Let’s face it; our lives are full of things to do, and that can create serious stress at times. In those times of stress, how do we conduct ourselves? Do we allow these stressful circumstances to dictate our reaction, or do we rise above them? We all have fallen prey to complaining. We complain because we aren’t feeling the way we want or things aren’t going the way we want them to go. God calls on us to rise above our stresses and trials without complaining. It is perfectly normal to feel emotions of discouragement, disappointment, anger, sadness, and loss. Still, even in the emotional chaos, we need to act on truth and not on our feelings. Feelings come and go, but the truth of God’s love and protection will always remain.
First Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” God wants us to be thankful for every single circumstance we face. Always being grateful for all that life throws our way is not always easy. But, with Christ as our foundation, we can overcome the trials and stresses of each day. John 8:31-32 says, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The truth sets us free from the captivity of sin and gives us a new life with Christ. With the truth of God’s Word, we can be proactive instead of reactive. We have the choice to either complain or make the best of things.
God tells us how we can change our hearts and minds to stop complaining. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We have to accept that we are in God’s hands. Some people will tell you that complaining is self-serving and completely the opposite of what we are called to do, but complaining is not always bad. There are times when we must take care of ourselves and stand up for our needs. We cannot always be passive, but we have the choice to turn to God to help us with our troubles. Sometimes, that means it is up to us to take care of our problems through guidance from God.
However, we are not to always look out for only ourselves. We are to show love and serve others, not just ourselves. Yet, we must take care of ourselves so that we are available to help others. If we keep others in mind, then we will not be focusing on our problems. Philippians 4:8 tells us what to do instead of complaining, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” All of these “things” put our focus off of us and onto others. The more we focus on others, the less time we will focus on our problems.
The Bible teaches us that we have one place to go when we have a complaint, concern, or need. Psalm 17:1 says, “Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry! Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit!” We aren’t told to complain to strangers or tell everyone close to us how bad things are. We are to bring our concerns to God. He is the nourishment for our souls. We are to take our worries to Him and let Him work ways on your behalf. God does not want us to complain. As James says, the Judge is standing at the door, and He is listening to our worries.
” Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
— Joshua 1:9
On the first day of a new year, many of us wish each other a “Happy New Year!” But as we begin a new year, we need more than a hopeful greeting from the people around us. We need to listen to what God told Joshua about 3,400 years ago. As Joshua was about to lead God’s people into the promised land, he had reason to be afraid. He had an enormous task ahead of him, and he was well aware of the dangers that he and the people would soon be facing. He needed God’s encouragement.
A new year brings lots of questions. The foremost on everyone’s mind is: Will this year be better than 2020? Will we emerge as a healthier society and get control over the pandemic? Will we be able to return to “normal” life? Will I find love this year? Many are also wondering if they will be able to hang on to their job or secure a new one? Will the economy improve and get stronger as we get the pandemic under control? Will we be able to heal as a nation?
God tells us not to be afraid of what is to come and tells us not to become discouraged. What happens in 2021 is not left to chance. God is in charge, and he promises to stay close: “The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Many years later, the Lord Jesus made the same promise when he said in Matthew 28:20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” That’s the reason we can wish each other a “Happy New Year!” God will be with us and carry us through these difficult times.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
—2 Corinthians 5:17
As I write this, I am sitting here thinking about how this year has been a tough year for all of us. Millions have lost loved ones. Many have lost their job. Others are worrying about where their next meal will come from. Some have lost all hope. There is no doubt that this has been a year of sorrow for much of the world, but God assures us that better things are to come. In Romans 8:18, Paul says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” In Romans 8, Paul is continuing to develop his theme of Christian assurance, which he started in Romans 5. Paul elaborates on the Christian’s hope of glory, based on the knowledge that God has determined to bring us glory in the next life.
As this year comes to a close and there is hope on the horizon for an end to this pandemic, 2021 will be a time for starting over and a new beginning. The end of this horrible year is a wonderful time to take stock of life and look for ways to improve and grow. In many ways, we have put life on hold for the past nine months, but 2021 holds so much hope and promise for us. The dictator-wannabe in the White House will soon be evicted, and president-elect Joe Biden will usher in an era of hope, healing, and renewal.
This time of year is when we usually make resolutions, but as 2020 ends and 2021 begins, I think we would be better off realizing that there is hope for a better future. Too often, we make careless resolutions that are never kept, and so one year blends into the next with little change. This year, we have seen a great deal of change in our lives. For example, we wear masks when we are out in public to protect others and ourselves from COVID-19. We practice social distancing. I think about how shocking it is to see someone out and about without a mask or how uncomfortable and aggravated I become when someone stands too close to me in line. We still have months to go before we return to any semblance of normal life, but we can look forward to a leader who will call for national unity and ask for all Americans to help each other out by following health guidelines.
While I don’t have any specific resolutions this year except to look hopeful for the future, we all still have areas in our lives that could stand some improvement. As this new year begins, let us look at our lives with honesty, sincerity, and openness. Let us approach change with a positive spirit and work toward finding ways to become the people God wants us to be. Most importantly, ask the Lord for guidance and strength, for it is through His power that we can conquer our failings and turn them into strengths. God can see us both as we are and as we can be, and we need that sight to truly change and better ourselves. He has a great and abiding love for His children. Rejoice in the love of God. He has given us a new year, desires to provide us with a new life, and present us with new hope in the months ahead.