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The Dark Side of Religion

Feb. 14, 2017
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On his all-expense-paid Christian cruise to Alaska, perhaps Gov. Scott Walker will tell the parable about Jesus feeding multitudes with a small lunch of loaves and fishes after first drug testing the crowd to see who deserved to eat.

Since freedom of religion is one of the fundamental rights upon which this nation was founded, Walker and his wife, Tonette, should have a right to participate in whatever personal religious activities they choose.

Still, legitimate legal and ethical questions need to be resolved first since state law forbids public officials from using their elected offices to enrich themselves by obtaining something of value.

Anyone joining the Walkers will have to pay from $1,298 to $3,368 each for the experience. So spiritual enrichment is fine. Free vacation cruises worth thousands of dollars, maybe not.

There actually could be some public benefit to a Republican governor seeing first hand the spectacular landscape and magnificent wildlife that are most immediately threatened by his party’s opposition to taking any steps to slow global warming. But probably not. 

This also is not a very good time to be raising questions about the intersection between religion and politics. The 2016 election was an especially uncomfortable one for evangelical Christians. Ironically, it wasn’t because their candidate was defeated. It was because he won.

According to exit polls, as many as 80% of white evangelical Christians nationwide supported Donald Trump, one of the least Christian and least decent individuals ever to seek the presidency.

Voters publicly claiming to be Christian openly violated what they’ve always said is their religion’s most important commandment—to love others and treat them as Christians themselves would wish to be treated—and instead embraced a hateful, political demagogue who promised to make the life of anyone unlike his supporters a holy hell. 

Jesus issued a well-known warning to his disciples about that sort of thing. It’s often printed in red in Bibles: “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

Why Would Christians Support Trump and Walker?

Why would evangelical Christians do it? Possibly because Trump promised to write some of their own personal religious beliefs into law and force everyone else in America to follow them too.

Never mind that the Constitution explicitly prohibits passage of such laws precisely to protect freedom of religion for everyone in America, including Christians. 

Heck, if Trump appoints enough dishonest, lawless extremists to the Supreme Court, the court might even start declaring that the Constitution says whatever Trump wants it to say. 

With Trump now rushing headlong to implement many of his most reckless, un-American proposals, it should become clear to good-hearted Christians just how destructive an unrestrained, authoritarian president can be to all religious values.

If Trump can ban Muslims from entering the U.S., another president with unchecked power could ban Christians. 

There have always been religious extremists who identified much more with the angry, vengeful, Old Testament God than with the loving God of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.  

Walker’s proposals to drug test those receiving food assistance and more recently to cut off food assistance if they can’t find a job (when it’s even harder to feed themselves and their families) are a far cry from the Christian acts of mercy of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked he should have learned in his father’s church.

Walker’s cruise appears aimed at religious extremists. It’s sponsored by Lifeshape, a conservative Christian nonprofit established by Trudy White, whose father founded Chick-fil-A restaurants and donated millions of dollars to right-wing organizations opposing laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Joining the Walkers and the Whites on the cruise will be twin brothers who got rich flipping low-cost real estate. Jason and David Benham became right-wing Christian martyrs when their scheduled reality TV show was canceled after they led an anti-gay prayer rally outside the 2012 Democratic convention. 

The problem is the media concentrate so much attention on extreme right-wing Christians, it’s easy to forget there are any other kind. In fact, anyone who has ever participated in a peace march, a civil rights demonstration and, yes, the Women’s March on Washington has always been surrounded by Christians deeply committed to social justice.

Christian congregations throughout the nation have sponsored refugee families and welcomed them into their communities. Now Trump wants to slam the door on such refugees fleeing tyranny and terrorism.

If Jesus ever does return, as a dark-skinned, foreign-born, potential terrorist with openly socialist sympathies traveling from the Middle East, he would be required to undergo extreme vetting within an inch of his life to enter the U.S. If he managed to make it through, he would always be looking over his shoulder, fearing his door might be broken down at any moment in a raid conducted by the ICE deportation force. 

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