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Before I start to go all “Old Testament” on the Republican party’s CPAC meeting where, this week, they actually erected a golden statue of Donald Trump, I literally want to take a quick dive into the Old Testament.

If I may take you back to your Sunday School lessons, to the book of Exodus, which heroically describes the escape of the Hebrews from bondage in Egypt and their 40 years of trial in the wilderness as they prepared to militarily invade and occupy Palestine, your Sunday School teacher may not have described it in quite that way but, look it up, that’s what Exodus says happened.

The Biblical texts say that “God gave them” this land but the subtext of that is that they had to first kill all of the Canaanites and Philistines who were already living there. Which is why Abraham Lincoln famously described America as being a sort of new promised land when white Europeans escaped the economic slavery of Europe to come to these shores, taking the land by killing about 90 million of the people who had lived here for thousands of years. 

Historically speaking, people always try to baptize genocide by saying that it was, somehow, God’s idea. It never works on a small scale. If someone climbed over the wall of one of our gated communities and broke into one of our mansions and killed the inhabitants and announced to the world that God had given him the house and all three of the Mercedes in the garage, you are going to have a hard time selling that story.

But note that the thousands of people who invaded our Capital building on January 6th carried crosses and signs with the name of Jesus on them, along with the hangman’s noose and material for building a gallows on which to hang the former Vice President, along with the current Speaker of the house and a few other leading government officials.

They are seen here, momentary pausing the ransacking of the Senate chambers to offer a prayer of Thanksgiving to God who had given them the Capitol building, after they had killed a few people to get there. 

Why Evangelic White Christians Support Trump

Prayerful Insurgents

So, the story in Exodus, is that during their long sojourn in the wilderness, Moses goes up onto a mountain for a pow-wow with Yahweh, and he is simply gone too long, weeks, even. So Moses’ little brother, Aaron, gathers up everyone’s gold jewelry and fashions a golden calf and they all begin to worship the calf until Moses suddenly shows up and breaks up the rage. 

Now, let me give you a bit of the back story: All of these ancient Israelite narratives were first being put into written form while the Hebrews were enslaved in Babylon. The Exodus presents itself as an account of something that had happened 500 years earlier. We have no substantive reason to assume that any part of this is actually historical, right down to the existence of a liberating prophet named Moses. 

But it should not come as a surprise to any of us that the captured slaves would write stories about how God had led them out of slavery in a foreign land to reclaim their own homeland. 

With the least possible “in your face” affront to their Babylonian captors, the priests wrote about how God had delivered them from an entirely different captivity in an entirely different country. I don’t know if this really slipped past the Babylonians or not, but the book did, somehow, survive. 

So, the images in the book are a blend of things from their cultural memory. The Semitic religion that became Judaism didn’t start out as a monotheistic faith. The God of the Hebrews was considered to be a regional god, one god among many in the world. The Psalms even reflect a certain cynicism about whether Yahweh could hear their hymns and prayers in Babylon since Yahweh was imagined to be enthroned in the clouds above Jerusalem. 

So, there is a lot in the Old Testament about the people allowing their loyalties to wander a bit, sometimes paying homage to Yahweh and sometimes hedging their bets by dabbling in the religions of their neighbors.

The golden calf of this narrative in Exodus chapter 32 is a blending of several influences. Before the Babylonian captivity, when the Jews had a northern kingdom and a southern kingdom, Israel and Judah, Yahweh was worshipped in the northern kingdom at an altar that had two golden calves.

At the same time, the Phoenicians worshipped a fertility god, called Ba al, represented as a bull, as did the Egyptians and the Babylonians. A casual walk through the British Museum, would give you several ancient examples. 

What your Sunday School teacher may not have mentioned was that the veneration of a fertility god was a very sexy thing, usually involving both wine and orgies. 

So, you can imagine how Moses was not proud of his little brother’s religious infidelity. But the story embodies the ageless temptation away from a spiritual life that calls for compassion, sacrifice, character, and concern for others, when the alternative is a religion that encourages self-indulgence, greed, sexual license, and, quite literally, the glorification of power. 

The priests who wrote Exodus realized that the majority of Hebrew slaves had come to acquiesce to slavery, they were forgetting about ever returning to their homeland and to fidelity to a deity whom they had all but forgotten, and they were being seduced by the religion of Babylon, which represented power, wealth, sexuality, and conquest. Having said that, I suspect that most of you could finish this sermon for me.

On Thursday of this past week, I delivered a lecture to a group of progressive clergy and laity in England via Zoom. One of the incredulous questions I received from our friends across “the pond” was one we have been asking ourselves for years, “Why have Evangelical Christians remained so firmly in support of Donald Trump when he seems to contradict absolutely everything that they say that they believe in?”

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And therein lies the rub, he contradicts everything they say that they believe in, like the sanctity of life, fidelity in marriage, honesty, a repudiation of greed, arrogance, crime, and violence. But that is just what they say that they believe in. Trump does stand for what they actually believe in: military power, wealth and greed, white supremacy, American nationalism, and the oppression of women, blacks, immigrants, indigenous and brown people whether they are from Egypt or Mexico. 

Why Evangelic White Christians Support Trump

Trump affirms what white evangelicals really believe in and that is why they melted down their jewelry and erected a golden statue of Trump at their political rally to prepare for 2022 and 2024 elections.

The only thing that surprises me is that they all have so totally forgotten their Sunday School lessons to the point that the comparisons between the golden calf in Exodus and the Golden idol of Trump at CPAC could not have been lower hanging fruit for their critics. 

Many of us have been nearly apoplectic about the unwavering support that Trump has received from right wing religion, to include many American Catholics, especially since they were all so outraged when Bill Clinton had a sexual dalliance with an aid. Their puritan values were on full display in the mid 90’s weren’t they? But really was never about sex or even perjury. It was about power. 

More than 20 years ago, conservative columnist and evangelical pastor, Cal Thomas and the late Ed Dobson, wrote this book, Blinded by Might, about how the Moral Majority had come into existence to elect Ronald Reagan to office but that what they got out of the deal was largely a lot of photo ops in the Oval Office.

20 years after the Reagan revolution, this pair acknowledged that their movement had been seduced by power. They said they wanted to claim America for Christ, but what they did was claim America for the Republican agenda of tax cuts for the wealthy, military dominance of the world, and the repression of, if not the imprisoning of, black and brown people. 

White Evangelicals, when they helped to elect Trump, got some anti-abortion Supreme Court appointments but mostly what they got was the rhetoric of white supremacy, of racism, of misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia.

They didn’t get a president who was sympathetic with the values of Christianity, they got a president who was supportive of what white evangelicals really believe in: Power.

Power and white privilege, and wealth hoarded by white men, and the economic enslavement of minorities and women in lower paying jobs and more menial labor, this is what they believe in. He even helped to build high the wall, not the wall between Mexico and the United States but the economic wall between the children of the poor and the colleges and universities that might have given them a way out of poverty. 

I am ready for the Trump era to be over. I’m ready to write sermons that never mention him again. I’m ready to move on to solve the problems that have plagued our nation from its inception. But nearly a half of our peers have made an idol out of Trump and the social id that he represents. That just can’t be allowed to cast a shadow over our nation.

I remember attending a lecture given by the famous psychiatrist and author, M. Scott Peck, about 35 years ago in Louisville, KY. One line from that lecture still echoes in my skull: “Anything that cannot be questioned is an idol and all idols are slated for destruction.”

Last month, Trump loyalists, at Trump’s beckoning, stormed the Capitol building to stop the constitutional validation of the November election which Trump lost by millions of votes. They killed people, they desecrated the sanctuary of democracy, and they believed that this violent victory would end in Trump sending in the National Guard to finish the job of toppling the government. 

And I don’t doubt that he really wanted to. Reports are that Trump was confused why his aides were not as jubilant about the riot in the Capitol as he was. He had actually convinced himself that he was about to be allowed to remain in office. Even now, his supporters will not give up on the white privilege he represents and they have ignorantly put up their golden calf and this weekend, they are engaging in their idolatrous worship of themselves. 

Folks, many of our peers, even members of our own family, have been seduced by a false idol but, as Scott Peck said, all idols are slated for destruction. 

I had hoped that they would figure it out on their own and that I could move on to speak only of the future, I still look forward to that. Realistically, however, we have yet to bury the idol of American racism, greed, oppression, and violence. 

About 20 years ago I was a part of a demonstration at our local state university, demanding that they change their employment policy to extend non-discrimination protection to their LGBTQ faculty. The ardently Roman Catholic president of the university refused, and the university trustees felt compelled to back him in his decision to defend prejudice as university policy. In the closing moments of the meeting, I stood and told the president, “I know that you believe that you have won this issue, but the truth is that you have already lost. We are right and you are wrong and all that stands between the present moment and the civil rights of gay and lesbian faculty members is a little bit of time. Just a little more time now, and you will be gone and your memory will be an embarrassing reminder of prejudice.”

America is not yet the shining city on the hill our founders dreamed of but all that is left is a little more time. White supremacy will not last. Confederate monuments will continue to disappear. We will have a living wage and universal healthcare. We will have a compassionate immigration policy.

Dr. Roger Ray

In very truth, we have already won. We have not won because we are larger in numbers or because we have used violence or coercion. We have won because our cause is just and we are on the right side of history.

Dr. Roger Ray

The Emerging Church