Trump used the National Day of Prayer yesterday to suck up to the Fundiegelicals, issuing a meaningless proclamation and saying,
“We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore,” Trump proclaimed, which were marking the National Day of Prayer. “And we will never, ever stand for religious discrimination. Never, ever.”
And by “people of fath” he of course means Christians. Certainly not the Muslims he’s trying to ban from entering the country, or the Jews he can’t remember to mention on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The idea that Christians have been “targeted, bullied or silenced” is bullshit: have they been denied marriage licenses or the right to adopt? Have their spouses of 40+ years been refused funeral cremation services, as recently happened in Mississippi?
Of course not. But they have been witness to the secularization of American society, something they have been powerless to stop. This is the real “oppression” they decry, and yet there’s a very good reason they can’t stop it: they are part of it. They want the benefits of secularism but not the costs. They want to attend football games on Sunday but don’t want their influence on American society to wane. They want to participate in secular culture while holding themselves above it.
American Christians long ago adopted the secular value set of popular culture. As someone whose brief tenure in Christian music coincided with the genre’s 1990’s “crossover” era, I saw first-hand how the faithful coveted acceptance by mainstream culture. It was kind of gross, to be honest. Every artist’s position on the Billboard charts — not the Christian charts, mind you, but the real ones, the Billboard Top 200 and Hot 100 — was shouted from the rooftops as if it were all the proof one needed that God isn’t dead. Every one of them had to beat their chests over how Bono was a Christian, as if U2’s success validated their faith. It was a weird time. Did listening to a Jars of Clay album make anyone a Christian? Doubtful. But plenty of people confused platinum album sales with successful evangelism.
This is part of a larger flaw in white Southern evangelical Christianity. There’s this belief that material success is the outward manifestation of spiritual worthiness. It’s proof that one has been “chosen” by God. It has to be that, right? To concede that it might more accurately be the result of privilege and decades of the cards being stacked in your favor at the expense of others would be to concede complicity in an unjust system. Few have the moral courage to admit that. Better to believe that the system is fair and success a sign of righteousness.
But consumerism and secularism go hand in hand. You can’t value material success and be part of consumer culture while professing to be apart from it. The Christian entertainment business is just the most obvious example of this; there are plenty of others.
Last week I talked to a refugee from Congo who’s working as a dishwasher at The Cheesecake Factory. He’s a Christian and he told me it upset him that he was forced to work on Sundays. “People should be at church on Sunday,” he said. That’s actually how it used to be in the U.S., back when we had Blue Laws and Sunday beer sales were banned and people were supposed to spend the Sabbath in Sunday school and Christianity really was the dominant force in American society.
Those days are long gone — good riddance, I certainly don’t miss them — but it shows how far we’ve come from the time when we really were a “Christian nation.” So enough with the hissy fits over a store clerk wishing you “Happy Holidays.” You can go to a Walmart or Cracker Barrel on any Sunday morning and see the place packed with the faithful, who are worshipping at the altar of the cash register instead of sitting in a church pew where my Congolese friend wishes he could be.
Here’s another example, the latest entry in the Nashville retail market. Altar’d States sells stylish women’s fashions in one of Nashville’s hippest, most upscale neighborhoods. What makes it a Christian business? Well, there are Bible verses on the wall and the company donates money to charity. Weak tea, if you ask me, but I’m sure that will be good enough to bring the faithful through their doors to load up on the latest high-end fashions. Apparently that’s all it takes to be a “Christian” business these days, and nobody seems disturbed that a company is using faith as a branding mechanism.
People want to know how evangelicals could support a man like Donald Trump, who is the antithesis of all they claim to value. Easy. Consumerism and secularism go hand in hand, and once American Christianity embraced consumer culture, it devalued and cheapened its spiritual faith. American Christianity is by and large a secular religion today, in that it has embraced consumerism. This makes it easy to overlook Trump’s ickier aspects — the vulgarity, the allegations of sexual assault, the lack of humility– and lift Trump up as a member of the Christian club. As long as Trump hates all the right people — liberals, Obama, etc. — they are cool with whatever he does.
Christians aren’t oppressed, they’re corrupted. They forgot they’re supposed to be in the world, not of it. They want cultural influence but have only themselves to blame for their lack of it.