If you didn’t wake up today with a slew of questions running through your mind, it can only be because you didn’t sleep last night. People of all political persuasions and philosophical bents across the world are asking themselves “What now?” But the group for whom the biggest question must loom is America’s Christian leaders.
Christianity is still dominant in the United States, despite the rapid and continuing growth of the “nones.” Over 70% of Americans identify as some form of Christian. And Christian denominations, through their leaders, are heavily involved in American politics. In this election, despite IRS regulations strictly forbidding such activity on pain of losing tax exempt status, many churches vociferously backed Donald Trump. And this morning those leaders, in particular those in the Evangelical movement, were smiling cheek to cheek at their success.
For the Evangelicals, last night was indeed a stunning success. Abortion will be further restricted, quite possibly to the point of outright criminalization. The Johnson Amendment, that aforementioned IRS regulation which forbids endorsement of candidates, will likely be repealed. Religious schools will likely see fewer barriers to state funding, and, with the appointment of new Supreme Court justices, the country could see dramatically reduced protection against majoritarian religion controlling the public sphere.
It isn’t those Evangelical leaders, the Pat Robertsons of the world, whose internal questioning interests me. They are a lost cause. They sold their right to be considered the earthly representatives of an all-loving God decades ago for a mess of potage. They defended segregation. They opposed the rights of women to divorce, or to be protected from rape within marriage. They worked their fingers to the bone to keep LGBT people discriminated against. And in exchange, they got a taste of political power. They are lost to the realm of civilized discussion.
But they do not represent the majority of Christian leaders, or Christians in America. It is the questions that the other Christian leaders must face that interest me more. For the Catholics, the Mainstream Protestants, the Orthodox, the Historically Black Churches, the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses et al., the burning question today is what kind of god do you worship? Is it a god of hellfire and damnation, who sends a hurricane to kill 1,800 predominately elderly and black people to punish them for New Orleans having a gay pride parade? Or the god who motivated Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference? The god who ordered the genocide of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15: 1-3), or the one who requires his followers to “sell everything you have and give to the poor”? (Mark 10:21)
Christian groups will get much that they want from the upcoming regime; their coffers will be protected from taxation, they will receive taxpayer funds to proselytize, their business-owning members will likely be permitted to refuse service to LGBT people. Yet at what cost? Pope Francis has talked at length about the need for equality, for concern for the poor, the environment, and refugees. Our President-elect has assailed him for his positions. Non-Evangelical Christian leaders today face a critical choice. Will they fight for justice? Will they defend women’s rights, LGBT rights, immigrant rights? Will they speak up and protect services for the poor and the sick? Will they channel the Jesus that turned over the tables of the money lenders (Matthew 21:12) or instead hide behind the idea of rendering unto Caesar (Mark 12:17), and instead count the thirty pieces of silver they receive from the taxpayers purse for their compliance?
The question every non-Evangelical religious leader must face today is whether they will lead their organization to reinforce Christian privilege, or to promote Christian values. What is needed from the majority of American Christian leaders is a root and branch, public repudiation of the values of the Evangelical movement and the Religious Right. As secular humanists, we will today and onward continue our fight for our values. We not only need allies in that fight, but we must be open to allies from all sources, religious or secular. Nothing would please me more than to have American Christians fighting with us as we seek to protect the planet from the ravages of global climate change, to defend the rights of women and minority groups in society, and to promote equal treatment and justice for all. But the ball is in their court. Join us, or line up with Pat Robertson. The question they must ask today is what kind of god they represent. Or, to put it more in their language, “What Would Jesus Do?”