One of the sombre ironies of modern Christianity in North America is that some of the most vocal and public promoters of the faith present a terribly distorted image of the teachings of Christ. Generalization is never a good idea, and there are many splendid church leaders in Canada as well as the United States. But it’s the likes of Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr. and their friends who have the highest profile.
Graham is the president of Samaritan’s Purse and has more than five million Facebook followers. Pat Robertson is the CEO of Regent University in Virginia and chair of the Christian Broadcasting Network. His television show, The 700 Club, boasts tens of millions of viewers. Jerry Falwell Jr. is the president of Liberty University, also in Virginia; U.S. President Donald Trump recently appointed him to head up a task force on education reforms. All three men are media stars.
Since Trump’s election, their harsh, conservative interpretation of Christianity has become particularly obvious over refugee and immigration issues. Graham endorsed the border wall with Mexico, Robertson supported the Muslim travel ban, and Falwell Jr. and so many evangelical leaders praised Trump’s xenophobic policies.
Yet if any social justice theme dominates the scriptures, it is caring for the poor and needy, and welcoming the stranger. Look at Deuteronomy 10:18-19: “He . . . loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”
Matthew offers the sparkling and famous, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Jesus emphasizes that the outsider is to be embraced and that we are all one in the new covenant.
Yet too many Christians disguise their prejudice behind faith and coat their harsh politics in the words of religion. Which is precisely what we are told not to do by the person we are supposed to emulate.
Faith in Christ is more a relationship than a religion, and as with any relationship, it demands openness and listening, even when those may be the last things we want to do. (If you doubt me, ask any marriage counsellor!) When we do listen to God, we realize that we are being asked to leave our comfort zones and create a new and more inclusive world. That can be frightening, even for Franklin, Pat, Jerry and their friends. But that’s the Gospel for you.
The walls must come tumbling down, in every sense and in every way.
Michael Coren is an author and journalist in Toronto.
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