The gravest threat to modern Christianity comes not from Democrats, or abortionists, or gays, or “Antifa,” or quarantine. Christianity’s greatest enemy is Christians.
The latest reminder of this was a recent Fox News interview of America’s leading prophet of Trumpism, Robert Jeffress. Jeffress, one of those evangelicals whose relative interests in God and mammon inverted at some point, interprets Romans 13 to provide that:
Law enforcement officers are ministers of God sent to punish evildoers, and to resist law enforcement is to resist God himself.
As it turns out, Jeffress trots out Romans 13 to justify everything Donald Trump does, from starting war with North Korea to separating children from their parents at the border.
To be clear, the Apostle Paul was not saying anything like what Jeffress claims, but even if he was, Jeffress’s interpretation makes no sense. In Romans 13:1-2, Paul wrote:
1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
If Jeffress’s interpretation were correct, he would have Paul endorsing Nazism, Stalinism, Chinese Communism, and even, the worst-outrage-of-them-all, (gasp!) socialism. What’s more, Paul’s supposed charge isn’t partisan; if “the powers that be are ordained of God,” then they cannot be resisted…at all. Burn in hell, Anne Frank.
There is so much about this that is vile, but let’s turn to its effect on American political theory. The whole point of our republican experiment was to maintain “self”-government. That concept was never meant to be the bumper sticker modern conservatives have turned it into. Literally, it means stripping rulers of their claim to a divine right to rule. There’s only one side of this debate plugging revolution though, and it is not Antifa.
If you are even remotely sentient, you will not be surprised to find that Barack Obama–a man history now remembers as the post-modern president who did not pay hush money to a porn star after having sex with her–lacked the same divine mandate. In 2015, Jeffress was trotting out Romans 13 to argue that the Obama Administration had forfeited God’s mantle by not enforcing immigration law to exclude “radical Islamic terrorists,” or, to translate from the virulently racist, Muslims. If nothing else God’s mandates are suspiciously well-timed.
Indeed, Jeffress doesn’t even stop to explain what gives him standing to comment on any of this at all. Jeffress isn’t the powers that be. He has no electoral mandate, and would have no mandate at all, except that white, male, right-wing, power boomer conservatism in this country creates its own mandate.
Millions believe Jeffress, who will undoubtedly spend a Biden presidency railing against the government’s moral decay, fomenting chaos, and most importantly to his enterprise, raising money from the credulous. But it sounds like scripture, and reintroduces the Divine Right of Kings to the 40% of Americans that would prefer not to have this election at all.
And it isn’t just evangelicals self-harming their cause. In the heartland of Mormon country, Provo, Utah,1Not Provo, Spain now has higher COVID infection rates than New York City at its peak. This is largely driven by BYU college students and other Mormon mask-refusniks resisting “the powers that be.”
As discussed in this space before, Mormon behavior in this regard is inconsistent with its basic doctrines. Though Mormons claim to set themselves apart by quoting the Book of James’ admonition that “faith without works is dead,” many have stopped working and instead believe that either faith will save them, or perhaps that they require no saving at all.
In the pandemic’s early days, church leaders asked Mormons to fast on at least two separate occasions. Mormons did this, dutifully posting pictures of themselves on social media websites “obeying” their leaders, then they abandoned all responsibility for managing the pandemic. Six months later, Utah’s circumstances are worse than ever. And it is generally unsafe for Mormons to congregate together because, to coin a phrase, we do not know where the other has been.
In the face of all this, Mormons have been asked to fast again today, for many of the same reasons as before. But at some point, it must be fair to ask what the point is. Fasting without faith is starvation, and supposedly faith without works is dead.
Why all this theological incoherence? Well, what is the only doctrinal point these Mormons and evangelicals agree on? Trump, who is now their religion. When they say that Trump has reinvigorated Christianity, they mean that Trump is the founder and deliverer of their long-gestating form of Christianity–the right-wing, racially-pure, male-dominant, social-Darwinian, prosperity-gospel huckster religion only compatible with, you guessed it, American conservatism.
Jeffress doesn’t care—he uses Christianity to get rich and mold the world into something reflecting his personal malevolence. But for members of a self-described “worldwide,” diverse, missionary-oriented church like the LDS Church—a church that literally claims the divine power Jeffress seeks to delegate to Donald Trump—one would think the stakes would be higher. But no matter the cost, thou shalt not put any Gods before Trump. Amen.