For some time now, moderate and progressive Christians have been wondering aloud how evangelical Christians can support Donald Trump in all his obvious clash with Christian values – xenophobic, materialistic, fear-mongering bloviating. What’s the question again caller? It recently occurred to me that NO greater clue exists for this apparent disconnect than a linchpin in the billion dollar industry that is evangelicalism – the Left Behind media empire.
Let me back up, here are the Cliff’s Notes for those who are not familiar with the Left Behind megaplex.
The books of the Left Behind series offer a fictionalized account of the end-times, based on the authors’ understanding of the book of Revelation and other Bible prophecies.
It goes like this. Billions of people worldwide suddenly disappear. They have been “raptured” where upon they meet in the sky and have mocktails on God’s front lawn while those who were not raptured suffer war, plagues and all sorts or horrors down here on terrafirma. Imagine if you will, children sold into sexual slavery, safe havens of fellowship being ravaged by military style weapons (that can be purchased next to the toilet paper aisle), unchecked human greed preventing basic medical care for the masses, plagues a’plenty and world-wide war machines eviscerating communities of every color and creed. I know it is hard to imagine, but this is what LaHaye images will happen when it the Holy Shit really hits the fan.
If you think I am being hyperbolic, you can listen to Tim LaHaye, describe his theological framework in his own words on an episode of Fresh Air back in 2002.
Now, you may be saying to yourself, Hey, Kim, what’s the big deal, this is just fiction.
Sure, if entertainment was all that people were getting from LB, I’d agree, no harm, no foul. But walk with me a minute more.
While wandering around the interwebs last week, I learned that the author of the LB series had just “graduated to heaven.” And I commented on a post about his death, first offering condolences to his family, then criticizing the theologically dangerous premise of his books. One commenter said in reply.
“The books were pivotal in bringing me to Christ. Do I believe the theology? Not really. Did God use them to make me start questioning how to be saved? Yes. Been going to church since. And, the books were fiction, and even stated that they were fiction, not doctrine.”
And then a very sad lightbulb went off for me, it is this very same kind of thinking, that terror can bring you to faith, that leads otherwise kind people to follow the likes of Donald Trump. And then, an even worse thought occurred to me – that an entire branch of the Christian family has actually been training people that fear leads to salvation. I’m not even sure what to do with the heart-breaking truth that so many people are led to and “love” God because they are afraid not to love the megalomaniacal deity portrayed by evangelicalism. This paradigm prepares people to follow a political leader that peddles the most terrifying fictional scenarios while positioning himself as the one and only savior from these tribulations.
The theologically dangerous content of the Left Behind series, films, graphic novels and children’s books (let that sink in) has been a cornerstone of evangelicalism’s McMansion, capitalizing on and carefully cultivating humanity’s lizard brain. (1)
|Left Behind (Evanglicalism) “Theology”||Donald Trump (Exceptionalism) Idolatry||Gospel of Jesus|
|It depends on and feeds fear||It depends on and feeds fear||It depends on and feeds hope|
|It fears and worships power||It fears and worships power||It adores and worships Love|
|It is predicated on a soteriology scarcity||It is predicated on a psychology of scarcity||It predicated on a theology of abundance|
|World is divided between true believers and infidels||America is divided between true Americans and terrorists||Community embraces Jews AND Samaritans, tax collectors AND the poor, men AND women|
|It’s a money-making, entertainment endeavor masquerading as religion||It’s a money-making, entertainment endeavor masquerading as leadership||It’s a Kingdom-building endeavor modeled as grace|
|It depends on followers (and customers) who are afraid to question scripture and leaders||It depends on followers (and donors) who refuse to critically analyze issues and leaders||It flourishes when followers question nuanced texts and fallible human leaders|
|Any invitation to discuss the complexities of scripture and faith, is met with hostility and rote catch phrases||Any invitation to discuss the complexities of policies or strategy, is met with hostility and rote catch phrases||Any insistence on blindly following unexamined, man-made laws is challenged with loving behavior and parables that raise more questions than answers.|
|Lifts up as exemplar – power-hungry, greedy, self-righteous, judgemental exceptionalists||Lifts up as exemplar – power-hungry, greedy, self-righteous, judgemental exceptionalists||Lifts up as exemplar – power-challenging, poor, humble, unwed, homelss, foreign, law-breaking desert-dwellers|
|It perpetuates the lie that only “real Christians” will have access to God’s love||It proliferates the lie that only “real Americans” have unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness||It propagates the truth that everyone, everyone, everyone is welcome at God’s good table|
If we do not want to abdicate our faith or our county to a cult of fear, then we must be willing to cultivate a culture of hope. We as progressive, liberal or even just thoughtful, hopeful Christians MUST lift our voices every day to renounce the heresy of fear-centered theology. And if we do not feel individually equipped to do so, when a leader emerges who can and does speak the hope of our hearts and the centuries old truth of the Gospel, we MUST do all in our power to boost the signal of that voice. One such voice we heard last week, the opposite of everything the Left Behind lunacy stands for, is Rev. Dr. William Barber II.
- “Lizard brain” refers to the oldest part of the brain, the brain stem, responsible for primitive survival instincts such as aggression and fear (“flight or fight”). Psychology Today, 2014