Jan  2017 24
Anointing the President, Christianizing the Nation

In my lifetime, Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, GW Bush, Obama, and now Trump have been inaugurated. As I see it, the inauguration last week included a first: the anointing of a president.

The American civil religion—an admixture of founding principles (“We hold these truths to be self-evident”), corrections (“Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last”), and borrowings from the Bible to fill out and reinforce the common ground of a common faith (especially the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament on a national covenant and a shared moral code)—has long been a feature on display at presidential inaugurations.

The very acts of asking religious figures to pray, preach, and bring their religious texts to interpret the nation’s life are expressions of civil religion.

I proposed last week that we religious folks stop these sorts of public blessings because of the way such acts nearly always are used by state actors for their purposes.

After what the world witnessed on Jan. 20, if I thought pleading us to stop this practice would do any good, I’d plead. Knowing that my pleading is useless, I’ll blog :-).

What we saw on Jan. 20 was not an expression of civil religion. Rather, what we saw was Christians (predominantly) anointing this president as God’s chosen actor and the United States decreed to be God’s chosen nation.

Then we heard the president give an “America First” speech. Civil religion was swept aside. In the speakers’ messages and implied in the president’s words, the United States is not a nation mostly of Christians. This is a Christian nation.

The nation is not, to use Lincoln’s marvelous and haunting phrase, God’s “almost chosen” people. No, we are God’s chosen people, led by God’s chosen candidate, who will advance the interests of the Christian Right and the nation. In fact, there is no daylight between the agenda of the Christian Right, the nation, and God’s will. (See an NPR story and another Charisma News story on this topic.)

On Jan. 20, the Constitution was not amended to begin “In the name of Christ our Lord, Amen.” rather than “We the People.” The disestablishment of Church and State mandated by the First Amendment was not changed to establish the Church of the Christian Right and Prosperity Gospel.

Nevertheless, this inauguration signaled an enormous religio-cultural power shift at the highest, most powerful level of government.

There are two perspectives on the U.S. and the new administration derived through Christian theological positions that I am watching closely. I reject both perspectives; they concern me deeply.

One perspective is Dominionism. I have written about it previously. Read about it here.

On Inauguration Day, we saw it displayed. View the inauguration prayers here. I am listening for supportive Dominionist rhetoric coming from the administration, especially the vice president’s office.

The other perspective I’ve also mentioned previously but, after the 20th, it bears repeating. Fundamentally, the religious part of the story as to why the Christian Right made their peace with this president is a narrative of captivity and liberation.

Many, many evangelical Christians had and have profound reservations about the character of this president. Some were unable to vote for him. Some voted for him only as the lesser of two evils. Some voted for him, holding their noses, but thought he would advance their economic and social interests.

And some have invoked the biblical story of Israel in captivity in Babylon liberated by Cyrus the Great who, while not a Jew, was nonetheless “God’s anointed.” Some Christians believe President Trump is a foreigner to the Christian faith or, at best, a baby Christian but that God has anointed him to liberate evangelical Christians (the only real kind of Christian) from their cultural captivity.

In this perspective, true Christians have been held in captivity by an overreaching president, an overreaching administration, a left-leaning Supreme Court, multiculturalism, the marginalization of Christianity, acceptable of Islam, and the cultural degradation represented by the LBGTQ communities.

So, I am watching, with concern.

If you concur with the substance of what I’ve written, I encourage you to watch, too. And, I have hope in what theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called the “irony of American history.”

Niebuhr cites many times when the nation’s leaders intended one outcome and contributed to an opposite result, because the Almighty’s purposes are mysterious, because God is not captive to any nation or leader, and because God’s will cannot be identified with any one person or any one nation. Making any other claim is an expression of idolatry. 

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips Faculty
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