“Go and be evangelists for America.” – Glenn Beck
“I preach Christ crucified.” – Saint Paul
There were hymns. There were shouts of “amen”. There was a preacher. There was a congregation.
But the object of worship on August 28 was not the God of the universe who is actively involved in restoring all things to Himself…and it certainly wasn’t Jesus Christ.
The object of worship at the Restore America rally was the false god of religious nationalism—a god with borders, a god with enemies, and a god with a terrible memory.
Much has been said about the suddenness with which evangelical Christians have embraced TV personality Glenn Beck as a religious leader, (some are calling him a prophet), particularly in light of the fact that he is a Mormon. This of course reveals the fact that the fundamentals of this religious movement have nothing to do with theological considerations and everything to do with political considerations.
The fundamentalists I knew as a child would have dismissed Beck as a cult leader, but this is a new kind of fundamentalism. It matters not to the conservative evangelical members of Becks’ “Black Robe Regiment” that their leader (according to their convictions) is estranged from God and will spend eternity in hell. To them, his relationship to God matters little in comparison to his relationship to America.
America—with its history of slavery, misogyny, genocide, and corruption—is worshipped as a sort of infallible source of “Christian” values, the Founding Fathers elevated to the level of deities. (I find it ironic that women in this religious movement are calling for an ideological “return” to colonial America when colonial women were forbidden to vote!) Rather than depicting Jesus Christ as the example of faith, hope, and charity, Beckians depict Samuel Adams, George Washington and Ben Franklin as a sort of holy trinity, the embodiment of Christian values.
Of course, the contrast is striking.
Jesus taught us to love our enemies. The founding fathers killed their enemies.
Jesus insisted that his Kingdom had no borders. Religious nationalists say America is a “chosen nation.”
Jesus said “turn the other cheek.” Beck’s followers say, “Don’t tread on me.”
Jesus grew his Kingdom through sacrifice. Political leaders grow their kingdoms through politics, power, and war.
As Greg Boyd says in his excellent book, The Myth of a Christian Nation, “The Kingdom of God is not a Christian version of the kingdom of the world. It is, rather, a holy alternative to all versions of the kingdom of the world, and everything hangs on kingdom people appreciating this uniqueness and preserving this holiness.”
So how do followers of Jesus in America preserve the uniqueness of the Kingdom when religious nationalism is on the rise?
I waited a while to write this post because I had hoped that time would provide an answer to that question that didn’t involve shouting or tears. Frankly, my frustration with Beckianity has made it hard for me to think clearly about this issue, and I am confronted daily with my own tendency to judge, belittle, and even hate those who use the name of Jesus in this way.
In fact, on the day of the rally I actually yelled at my poor mother for not being more outraged.
We were on the phone making plans for the evening when she casually mentioned watching the whole thing on TV.
"How can you watch that without getting angry?" I demanded.
"Because if I've seen this once, I've seen it a million times," Mom said. "It's no big deal. It will pass....You guys wanna come over for steak?"
"No big deal!" I shouted. "Are you kidding?! They're basically taking the Lord's name in vain! Preaching a false gospel! Worshiping an idol!"
"Oh I know. Your dad's firing up the grill, so you better get on over here."
I hate to admit that Mom was right, but as I've considered the proper response to Beckianity, the best I can come up with is this: We have to go on living out the alternative, knowing that Beckianity is just a fad.
Political movements come and go, but the Kingdom of God goes on forever. Nations rise and fall, but Jesus Christ remains Lord. As Christians, we have a history that is older than America, older than the Enlightenment, older than Constantine. The names of our most esteemed leaders will be long forgotten when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that the crucified Lamb is King.
As tempting as it is to cast Beckianity as a formidable foe worthy of a fight, it’s just not. Compared to the Kingdom, it’s small, it’s forgettable, it’s like the grass that browns and withers in the hot October sun.
May this perspective turn my anger into pity, my pity into compassion, and my compassion into love.