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Evangelical Hypocrisy:
A Response to Mark Galli

C. Gourgey, Ph.D.

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
Matthew 7:21

Writing in Christianity Today, Evangelical Christianity’s flagship publication, Editor in Chief Mark Galli appears to sound a note of contrition. (I am not providing a link, but the piece is entitled “The Biggest Loser in the Alabama Election” and is dated 12/12/2017.) But he actually begins with an unwittingly arrogant statement:

No matter the outcome of today’s special election in Alabama for a coveted US Senate seat, there is already one loser: Christian faith. When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished. (Emphasis added.)

No. It is not the integrity of Christianity that is severely tarnished. It is the integrity of Evangelical Christianity. The two are not the same.

Evangelical Christianity’s usurpation of Christian faith will be discussed later. Let’s first consider what Mr. Galli has to say. He is embarrassed by the association of Evangelicalism with people like Donald Trump and Roy Moore in spite of their clearly immoral behavior. One must respect Mr. Galli for saying this; at least he has the grace to be embarrassed. Many conservative Christian pastors still enthusiastically support this Republican administration and everything it stands for.

He also laments “the easy willingness of moderate and progressive Christians to cast aspersions on their conservative brothers and sisters,” and I admit to being one of those critics. I also don’t apologize for it; criticism of Christianity from within Christianity is right now no less needed than criticism of Islam from within Islam.

Galli tries to be even-handed, assailing hypocrisy on both the left and the right. However, his denunciations of the left are weak, and his denunciations of the right sound like making excuses.

Galli castigates the Christian Left for supporting morally flawed candidates on their side, but he gives no examples. This is not to claim that there are none; Galli just does not mention any.

Galli criticizes the Christian Left for protesting the Evangelical push for political power, for denying any right of Christian bakers to discriminate against gays, and for opposing the Evangelicals’ “wanting secure borders.” Galli calls this “the hypocrisy on the Left.” The charge of hypocrisy is unwarranted. Progressives rightly see Evangelicals as trying to impose their religious values on others - more on that later. They consider the refusal to serve gay customers similar to the denial of service to blacks at lunch counters. And they also view, with more than a little justification, the call for “secure borders” as code for xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment. Agree or disagree, there is nothing hypocritical about any of this.

Galli wants the critics of Evangelicalism to take time to get to know those whom they criticize and to understand why they feel the way they do. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Yet ironically Galli offers as an example the book Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild. That book is reviewed on this web site. The key finding that emerges is that the people Hochschild interviewed are motivated by resentment more than by Christian principle. They express contempt for people who are different, who “cut in line,” who don’t deserve and have not earned the benefits they receive. They stereotype poor people as lazy and immigrants as taking what rightfully belongs to them. Some of them lamented the fact that “there are fewer and fewer white Christians like us.”

This Evangelical white Christian resentment became a wellspring of anger and hatred that Trump capitalized upon to propel himself into the Presidency. Evangelicals have empowered an administration whose policies will actually harm many of them, in key areas including the environment, health care, and income inequality. No one suffers from Republican policies in these areas more than the Republican voters Hochschild interviewed. That is the price of resentment.

The sentiment that one is entitled if one is white and Christian, but a “line cutter” if nonwhite or non-Christian or not American born, has nothing in legitimate Christian faith to support it. Any faith that claims to be Christian but that fails to critique such sentiment or that actually encourages it must be subject to hard questioning.

While not denying that Evangelicals are subject to the charge of hypocrisy, Galli makes excuses for it. “Sometimes in a nation’s life, one must for prudential reasons cast one’s lot with a morally unsavory candidate. Sometimes it really is a choice between the lesser of two evils, and sometimes three.” This, according to Galli, is “a view one can appreciate philosophically.” Conservative Christians tarnish their ethical integrity by supporting candidates like Roy Moore, but they have good reason:

What is going on here? Among other things, there is this: Many conservatives feel marginalized by the culture and remember the days when a Judeo-Christian morality didn’t need explaining or defending. They know that a people without a vision of sound moral grounding will perish. They don’t want to perish, and to give them credit, they don’t want this nation to perish. They really do believe that this is a matter of life and death. To them, our choices are simple and stark: devilry or godliness.

It doesn’t get more serious than having to invoke “Judeo-Christian morality” against “devilry” and “ungodliness.” So what is this “devilry” that imperils the security of our nation? We’ve seen that baking cakes for gay weddings is apparently part of this mortal threat. The other issue that always comes up is abortion.

The “pro-life” movement is rife with hypocrisy, as already outlined here. Yet even sincere believers in the immorality of abortion must ask themselves whether the meager gains possible in this area are worth the serious ethical compromises that come with supporting this Republican administration. Overturning Roe v. Wade would not outlaw abortion; it would throw the question back to the states. Things would not change much from what they are right now: conservative states have already succeeded in restricting abortion to the extent of making it exceedingly difficult if not impossible to obtain. In the meantime here are some things that Evangelicals now support, or at the very least enable, in the name of “Judeo-Christian Morality”:

And the list goes on. One hardly knows what new moral outrage to expect in tomorrow’s headlines.

So what is Galli’s solution? It isn’t clear. While he does criticize Moore and thinks Moore should have taken a leave of absence, he does not go as far as to suggest that Christians should not have supported his election. Indeed, he comes up with nothing specific, leaving the impression that his best response is religious clichés.

Galli’s concerns about Evangelical credibility are well-founded, but for reasons that go far beyond the embarrassing association with Moore. Evangelical Christianity is a distortion of what Jesus taught and of true Christian faith. Here is the core example: When asked what one must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus’s response was simple: love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:28). He could not have been clearer. Yet Evangelicalism has complicated this with threats of damnation and strict requirements for salvation that Jesus never imposed. It developed a strain of intolerance that Jesus never represented, basically amounting to “Believe what I believe or be damned.” Jesus would never have recognized such a thing.

So now Evangelicalism seeks government sanction of its intolerance. It wants to undermine the separation of church and state. It wants to repeal the Johnson Amendment limiting the political activity of churches. It insists on “religious freedom” to the point of infringing the religious freedom of others. In the name of that religious freedom it wants to discriminate against gays and transgendered people. Even countering abortion is not enough; now in the name of that religious freedom it is waging a war against birth control. Evangelicalism has allied with Republicanism because that is its path to political power.

Christianity cannot afford to allow Evangelicalism to take over the Christian message. It should not accept Evangelicalism making pronouncements in its name. We need alternatives to Evangelical Christianity. We need a Christianity closer to its original teachings, truer to pistis Christou, the faith and faithfulness of Jesus Christ. An honest reexamination of Christianity’s Jewish roots would help tremendously. It could show us how to read the New Testament through the orientation of those who created it, rather than through later theologies that distorted it.

Very simply put: Jesus stood for protecting the poor and ministering to them, not for abusing them, cutting their services, and blaming them for their poverty. Jesus taught us to love the stranger, not to exploit ethnic and racial differences to create hatred and division. Evangelical Christianity’s support for this different, false Jesus, whether explicit or implicit, vitiates its claim to represent Christ on earth. Especially when we are ruled by a regime that feeds on resentment, and that consolidates power by dividing us and turning us against each other, it is more critical than ever to reaffirm an authentic Christian faith based not upon fear and condemnation but upon a love that truly recognizes and honors the stranger - just as the Hebrew Bible and New Testament have taught us.

December 2017