Donald Trump assumes the legacy of Jack Hyles

This post is about Jack Hyles, and it isn’t. It’s about all us within evangelical Christianity. I think it makes more sense to present the story in reverse order:

Jack Schaap just got out of Federal prison, where he did nine years of hard time for sexually abusing an underage girl. Schapp was lead pastor in one of America’s biggest churches. I went to Hammond, Indiana to his 15,000-member church in a Scooby Doo van with a bunch of laid-back Wheaton grad students just to observe an evening service. At the time, I didn’t know much about IFB (Independent Fundamentalist Baptist) churches, but learned all I needed from that evening. It was still when his father-in-law and predecessor Jack Hyles was pastor. We were advised to dress well – and although we left our tattered jeans at home, we stuck out like a sore thumb amidst the suits and ties, and ankle-length dresses. We were seated right in front of the “Preacher Boys”, apparently their version of spiritual apprenticeship. We learned later that the favored pet among them was Dave Hyles – the pastor kid. Brother Hyles harangued the congregation for half an hour or so, occasionally alluding to the Bible – and calling out people by name he reckoned weren’t paying close enough attention. Then came time for the “appeal” and mass baptism. One after another entered the alligator pit – but only after long-haired hippie types were shorn of their locks. It was surreal. Hyles died in 2001, rebuking sinners till the end while refusing to confess his own.

Schaap repeatedly used his authority as pastor and personal “counselor” to groom the minor – repeatedly initiating sex in his office, during a church youth conference, and at a secluded cabin. The court denied his two attempts to reduce his sentence, noting that he demonstrated little remorse in “trying to cover up and eradicate evidence”.  Neither did it go over well when his attorneys maintained the 16 year-old victim was just a slut. The church joined in shredding her reputation, submitting over one hundred letters asking for clemency – effusive in praise of their pastor-felon, yet not a word of compassion for the young girl. “You hurt my entire family,” she wrote. “We all trusted you. We went to church for our entire lives. Now, I am in counseling to deal with the constant anger, sadness, guilt, and shame that I feel.” So Jack did his time, albeit losing some good conduct reduction when reportedly caught with his hand fondling a woman’s crotch. His plans following release are not known. But with many still willing to “lift him up back on his feet”, I assume he will be restored to a pulpit somewhere.

A corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. It didn’t start with Schaap. The senior Hyles was a long-time adulterer until his death. Hyles the junior – still living and ministering faithfully within the IFB bubble – was an alleged serial rapist, reportedly being hustled off by his influential father to from one church to another in the wake of recurring scandals.  In 2020, reports emerged of screenshots a woman in her 20’s took purporting to show the 67 year-old – balding and pudgy – man bragging about his penis and wanting to masturbate online with her. “I’m the boss; I can do whatever I want”, he allegedly wrote. IFB churches may be conducive to this depravity, but they are not unique to it. As one victim stated, the experience made her “understand that these people exist everywhere,”

Like his father-in-law who demanded “100% Hyles” obedience and issued denials while rumors were swirling around him, Schaap exercised command control over his congregation. They absolved themselves from accountability to anyone but God. It’s not a rare occurrence among many within the evangelical cult. All of us nurture our own gardens of rotten fruit, and I point these out not to heap scorn, but to emphasize a truism of evangelicalism, with which Trumpism shares many cultic elements:

  • A strong authoritarian Leader unaccountable to anyone.
    • Invincibility of the Leader as “anointed”, who is never wrong..
    • Leader espouses morality, but does not live it inwardly.
    • Belief in the Leader’s word, regardless of reality.
    • Unquestioned loyalty to the authoritarian Spiritual Father.
    • A strong us-versus-them mentality.

Once during a sermon, Jack Hyles held up a cup embossed with skull and cross-bones, and clearly marked “Poison”. He called over a deacon and asked him to drink it. He gulped it down without hesitation. “People keep wondering why the evangelical church has been one of the staunchest supporters of Donald Trump”, asks Karen Spears Zacharias . She answers her own question: “Why not? Donald Trump is the legacy of Jack Hyles’s life and ministry.”

Why not? Because they are all personality cults. And dangerous. Because they gladly get drunk on kool-aid brought forth from an evil tree.

Jesus, Why Are You Standing In Our Way?

Meet Ryan Kelley. He seems nice enough. A family man, small business owner, and most recently a Michigan candidate for governor arrested on Jan. 6 riot-related charges. Among other things, he is accused of:

“… being an active participant in the riot, climbing onto portions of the Capitol, encouraging yelling, gesturing to participants and removing a covering from a temporary structure outside the Capitol… At approximately 2:20 p.m., Kelley continued to gesture to the crowd, consistently indicating that they should move towards the stairs that led to the entrance of the U.S. Capitol interior spaces.”

Video captures him (allegedly) encouraging the crowd with: “Come on, let’s go! This is it! This is, this is war baby!”

Oh, forgot to mention. He’s an evangelical Christian. “A lot of prayer went into where to specifically go. God’s number one in my life, as well as my relationship with my wife, and the Lord being the center of our marriage. So, lots of prayer, lots of talking between my wife and I, and there was a path that led this direction, so I’m following it as long as God keeps opening up those doors.” Ironically, Kelley was referring to his gubernatorial run, not the prayer-anointed white nationalist insurrection that ransacked the Capitol. Sadly, his arrest may just give his campaign the boost it needs among White Nationalists.

“It’s time for an American Revival”. God is number one in Marjorie Taylor Greene’s life, too. Marge, according to herself, “only wants us to share the Gospel.” She answers his call to follow Christ’s example:  “That’s why I will continue to share my message of unity, family, and faith in our great nation to every corner and every group within America”. She loads her Twitter account up with Christianese Hallmark-isms:  

  • Jesus was a friend to sinners; we are called to follow his example.
  • Our faith calls for charity & forgiveness.
  • I’ll keep fighting against identity politics.
  • No one is fooled by the name calling, and everyone is sick of the hypocrisy.

QAnon, Frazzledrip, “false flag” school massacres, Jewish space lasers, MTG is the Queen of crackpot theories and screwball beliefs that would have put her into an asylum a generation ago. And yet, today she is not alone, especially in church. She has a vast conservative following – predominantly white evangelical Christians. Or, as she calls herself, a Christian nationalist.  “It’s the only thing that can stop school shootings, crime, and sexual immorality”, the gun-toting, (alleged) serial adulteress said. “Anyone who opposes it is a domestic terrorist.” They are the REAL Americun Christians, fueled by fear, deception and hatred of the Other.

Take Jake Lang for example, an arrested Jan. 6th rioter. An appellate court upheld his continued detention, noting “he also slammed a door against one officer’s head and struck other officers first with a stolen riot shield and later with a metal baseball bat.” Video shows him deep in the melee saying “I ain’t done yet.” Charisma News carried their version of his story: “From Washington, D.C., Jail, Patriot Jake Lang Gives All Glory to God”. It blissfully describes “how the peaceful crowd surrounded the Capitol… to pray and seek the face of God to save the stolen election, then walked down to the Capitol to provide moral courage and strength for the disputed counting of electoral votes.” In the aftermath, “over 800 godly men and women have been charged in a completely fraudulent series of arrests.” Among the falsehoods in Charisma article was the claim that Capitol Police invited people into the Capitol. It fails to mention that this Army of God left police bloodied and wounded. Like Officer Caroline Edwards, who was left with a TBI after one of these holy patriots threw a metal barricade at her, knocking the officer unconscious. She had been challenged by rioters, Why are you standing in our way?” Faith has wrapped itself into a web of lies. It’s happened many times before… Writing on one well-known German context, Milton Mayer notes:

“Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God.”

Evangelicalism’s previous identity is being repeatedly destroyed; the Jesus of the Gospels – the Stone the builders have rejected – has lost all validity in a “biblical worldview” that screams, “JESUS, YOU’RE STANDING IN OUR WAY!”. THESE seeds of hate were planted within the church long ago. We’re already quite a ways down this road, and THESE are the result. THESE are what evangelical Christianity has to show for itself. THESE are the spoiled fruits of that rotten spirit. As Christ says through John the Revelator, ““I see right through your work. You have a reputation for vigor and zest, but you’re dead, stone-dead.” (MSG)  

Evangelicals: Repent and do the things you did at first.

Pissing Into The Wind

Train up a child in the way he should go:
Advert featuring Proverbs 22, used by the Uvalde massacre gun manufacturer

The time to stop the next shooting is right now”. This past week, I’ve noticed a prophet in the biblical tradition speaking out against American gun idolatry. Beto O’Rourke confronted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at his press conference after Uvalde. . “Somebody needs to stand up for the children of this state or they will continue to be killed,” he said. Amidst jeering and shouts for O’Rourke to shut up, Dan Patrick – Texas Lt. Governor, Southern Baptist, outspoken Christian, and politician with an  “A+” rating from the NRA–  stood up to tell O’Rourke, “You’re out of line and an embarrassment.”  Super-Christian and gun-lover Ted Cruz shamed Beto’s behavior as crass, embarrassing; “it was disgusting”, accusing him of a political stunt. O’Rourke was not dissuaded: “Somebody needs to stand up for the children of this state or they will continue to be killed just like they were killed in Uvalde yesterday.”

It is the prophet’s duty to proclaim a message from God. It doesn’t always involve fore-telling; but forth-telling. The present is the kairotic moment of the prophet’s message. It is this day, and also for this today, that we are to listen, not to hang on predictions concerning tomorrow. There is an immediacy; an urgency in the prophetic word to respond by retracing our steps towards the Jesus waiting for us in the Gospels. Today, we need more people who speak honestly about our own blind spots – prophets to tweak the conscience of evangelicals and recapture the prophetic mission of the church. “The task of the prophetic imagination,” writes Walter Brueggemann, “is to cut through the royal numbness, to penetrate the self-deception so that the God of endings is confessed as Lord.” [i] That’s exactly the prophet’s calling! It’s not a choice; it’s a divine obligation.

“Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting.” Unlike St. Stephen in Acts 7, Beto wasn’t stoned, but he was escorted out with the mayor screaming he was “a sick son of a bitch”. Likewise, a quick review of biblical prophets discloses that their prophetic utterances did little more than piss off those mired in persistent disobedience. “Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.” (Acts 7:52-3)  Jesus suffered and died on the cross, having exposed the moral hypocrisy of the religious elite – the Pharisees – who appeared on the outside “to people as righteous but on the inside are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matt. 23-28).

A quick glimpse through Google for “white evangelical prophets” returns the glaringly obvious. Most of this soothsaying issues forth from the religious flotsam sitting at Donald Trump’s feet. False witnesses aside, I’ve known a few prophetic voices among evangelicals – most of which were scorned, vilified or cast out of the camp. Jim Wallis. Beth Moore. Shane Claiborne. Tony Campolo. And many others who spoke against guns through the centripetal urgings of the Holy Spirit. Divine Truth was entrusted to human truth-bearers. Like the late Sen. Mark Hatfield, who used his National Prayer Breakfast speech to condemn President Nixon for prolonging the Vietnam War. (And managing to piss off Nixon’s golf buddy, Billy Graham in the process). These modern day evangelical prophets gave voice because God spoke first. The words they spoke were of Someone Else. Confrontation was not something they set out to do, but something they had to do.

I place Beto O’Rourke squarely in that prophetic tradition. Beto spoke truth to power; to those who would rather cradle their AR-15 babies than elementary school children. “Stay cool. Run out the clock.. But don’t worry: this moment will be over soon”, was the advice Republican advisors were giving the wake of Uvalde mass shooting. Now here’s a fresh thought: let’s reduce mass shootings by getting more guns! In other words, do nothing in the shadow of death; then do more of the same. Like the Pharisees, evangelical moral perfectionists persist in their sanctimonious refusal to listen – or act in the slightest against gun idolatry. They are too busy Making America Great Again to bother about making childhood childhood again. And the waiting list of children to be blood-sacrificed on the evangelical altar to Moloch grows each day. Nothing stands in the way of AR-15 bullets– except those moved of the Spirit to speak truth to power. Pray that God raises up more prophets to expose the moral depravity of the religious elite! Bold prophets – who aren’t afraid to “spit” into the wind and proclaim “the time to stop the next shooting is right now”!.


[i] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001, p. 45.

Jesus and Dead Children

Image yourself in Sunday School singing, “Jesus kills the little children”. Yet again, I return to a national crisis we should know the answer to. There will be a next time. Because there always is. And Christians do nothing but empty-hearted hand-wringing. “Such a heartbreaking tragedy. 14 students & a teacher were killed in a mass shooting in Uvalde, TX, today,” tweeted Franklin Graham as the story broke.

God’s little sheep keep getting hurt. It’s the natural outcome of our demonically-twisted faith in God AND guns. “You’re supposed to have an AR-15. It’s biblical. So if you don’t have one, go get one,” an evangelical activist implores. “You can’t be a Christian if you don’t own a gun,” a parachurch honcho preached to an enthusiastic Texas church. The same God-fearing Texas where gun laws are the loosest in the country. And where a teenager in Uvalde, Texas got two semiautomatic rifles on his birthday and promptly emptied them into grade schoolers’ bodies. Twenty of the 26 victims were between the ages of five and six. A 15 year-old boy in Michigan was gifted a handgun for Christmas. He killed four students wounded seven. The Sandy Hook mass murderer fired 154 rounds in less than five minutes, claiming 26 lives – most of which were ages six and seven.

A school shooting survivor was asking, “do 2nd, 3rd, & 4th graders not have the right to feel safe at school?”  After Uvalde, President Biden likewise asked, “as a nation, we have to ask: when in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? These are phrased rhetorically – meaning the question prompts its own answer. Jesus frequently uncovered the truth by answering a question with another – as in Matthew 12, where he showed “that the logical consequences of an extreme adherence to the law lead to the absurdity of a sheep being hurt or dying simply because it is the Sabbath day. His rhetorical question is the message; it exposes the wrongness it addresses. That the Pharisees knew this truth becomes evident as they grew indignant and tried ways to evade Jesus’ underlying message.  Because the real question is not literally the one posed, but rather a deeper question of ethical and spiritual ultimacy implicated by the first, which all understand as the real one to be answered. Pres. Biden comes to the point: When, in God’s name, will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?” Like the Pharisees who think they know all the correct answers, evangelicals know the true answer to the marriage of their guns and religion, and evade it.

Über-preacher James MacArthur exclaims, “there is a war on children! This generation of leaders, the immoral people that are engaged in this massive assault on children are going to have to answer to God.” (And this from a pastor whose church harbored a child molester on staff.) Evangelicals claim these tragedies occur because the wicked and evil have removed God from public schools. And while evangelicals like Franklin Graham decry the “sin-sickened” state of America, they are busy lobbying to make it easier for the same morally unfit people to use these super-soaker weapons.

“Across the country, parents are putting their children to bed, reading stories, singing lullabies— and in the back of their minds, they’re worried about what might happen tomorrow after they drop their kids off at school”, wrote President Obama in the wake of Uvalde. I can hear the echo of the Pharisees in Tucker Carlson’s cynical response: Obama was desecrating the memory of recently murdered children with tired talking points of the Democratic Party.

Obama prophetically defines the real war on school children, which has the answer already in it. Meanwhile, their lifeless bodies keep piling up. It’s spiritually incomprehensible to be both so-called “pro-life” and pro-gun. Evangelicals don’t have a gun problem. They are modern day Pharisees who have a Jesus problem.

There was a time when we might have thought that the mass shooting of an elementary school would have been the final straw. Targeting tiny children in their classrooms, randomly gunning them down in front of their friends who had to witness the carnage, the horror endured by the families of the victims would seem to be the sort of thing that would shock the collective conscience.””

Not anymore; not with evangelicals. Evangelicals are all about helping ‘protect families,’ no matter how many kids have to die. And they just don’t give a shit.

Franklin Graham, Ukraine and the Biblical World View

It wasn’t hard to suss out what Billy Graham believed. A self-defined premillennial dispensationalist, his Crusade sermons usually featured some disaster or tragedy he clipped from the newspaper. The world was going to Hell. His steady drumbeat was “accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior” right now before its too late. The late Michael “iMonk” Spencer called this house- on-fire tactic, “wretched urgency”. Graham’s political theology was highly influenced by two prominent Presbyterian churchmen: his father-in-law and oil magnate J. Howard Pew, who stood up his career. Both were John Birchers whose anti-communist End Times paranoia fed into conservative politics and evangelical religion. The Birchers are back. And they’re winning.

In the 1960’s, Graham’s creation, Christianity Today, had nothing positive to say about Rousas Rushdoony and the fledgling Christian Reconstruction movement. It was still bent on revivalism in saving America one soul at a time. Dispensationalism held sway, and Russia was foreign enemy #1 of the USA. Even Reagan said that Gog must mean the communist Russia that set itself against God. Anti-communism was a useful scaremongering resource that filled many ministry coffers. “We are like people under sentence of death, waiting for the date to be set. We sense that something is about to happen… We are now on a collision course”, warned Graham. Back then, the Soviet Union was the anti-Christ. Once scorned, Dominionist theology that Christians are ordained to rule and reign is embraced by a majority of evangelicals. “Rushdoony provided a way to sacralize these ideas”. And Putin’s Russia is the darling of the Religious Right. Funny how far evangelicalism had come.

Following Reagan’s “tear down that Wall”, evangelicals began to look inward for enemies of Christ. And there were plenty of domestic targets. Billy Graham maintained that if all of us could come to the cross, Christ is the solution to all the problems that beset America. But evangelicals began to realize slow motion-saving people from the satanic End Times wasn’t immediate enough to bring America back to its founding Christian principles. America’s strongest adversary was itself: abortion, homosexuality and trans-genderism were the sins destroying the national fabric.

The Bible hasn’t changed since the 1960’s, but the evangelical biblical world view has. Jerry Falwell emerged from fundamentalist isolation to wonder, that if a super-majority of Americans still believed in morality, why is America having such problems? “We must look for the answer to the highest places in every level of government.” Falwell – with his “I Love America” rallies –, Pat Robertson, and a host of others set in motion a pro-family political machine, creating partnerships between Christians who never had talked to each other previously. “There are bigger issues now,” as his son, Jerry Jr. explained. “We can argue about theology later after we save the country.” Previously other-worldly focused evangelicals started to contemplate the biblical reordering of society, which would lead to the Second Coming of Christ. Raised on a steady diet of liberal humanist conspiracies, this was an existential war against the satanic control of America. The centerpiece strategy was to seat Christians into the hands of power. Or usurp it, as in the Capitol insurrection – “marching under Jesus’s banner to implement God’s will to keep Trump in the White House.”[i]

“As the process of dominion extends the authority of Christians over more and more areas of life,” wrote Gray North, “we will see the creation of a comprehensive theocracy.” Francis Schaeffer claimed he didn’t want a theocracy. But at the same time, as his son Frank recounted, “we were calling for civil disobedience, the takeover of the Republican Party, and even hinting at overthrowing our ‘unjust pro-abortion government.’”[ii] Sara Diamond rightly recognizes Schaeffer as an early influencer of dominion theology.[iii] Rushdoony, once a bête noir had now become the éminence grise of theocratic Christian Right politics.

And so, finally, back to the original question. What is Franklin Graham’s “Biblical World View”? His father was a Johnny-one-note revivalist. Praying that God will save the nation has nothing to do with old-fashioned revivalism. Franklin’s focus has shifted towards the “new normal” mandate to take dominion. Dominionism is “being used to bring together a new and determined Moral Majority for the 21st century.” And Franklin is a believer: “Speaking of regime changes—we need one in this country!”

The issue is FREEDOM, the freedom to make our own choices.” Franklin was hailing the Canadian truckers’ convoy as “riding against oppression”. His father, on the other hand, preached freedom in Christ:  “Have you honestly faced the truth of your so-called ‘freedom’? You see, in reality you aren’t free; instead, you are ruled by your own lusts and desires… Instead give your life to Jesus Christ and discover what it means to be truly free.” It’s quite a jump from saving souls one at a time to saving America, and truckers’ “freedom”. Somewhere along the line, Franklin’s biblical world view lost the simple purity of the Gospel message.

“They shut the churches down. This is what the communists did in Eastern Europe”, Graham warned.  Speaking with Todd Starnes, Franklin reminded him that thousands of pastors and priests were slaughtered under the Soviet Union. The same could be said for today, as the horrors of Bucha come to light. Hospitals bombed, civilians executed, children shot, women raped, churches under siege. Russian soldiers running amok, mercenary death squads, abduction and mass graves, intentional terror targeting – like the train station massacre with “for the children” scribbled on the rockets. Shutting down of churches and killing of pastors – apparently Franklin cannot see that this is happening now!

But hey, who cares? Not Franklin; he’s been as quiet as a mouse over war crimes committed by Russia. And yes, a minister – the Dean of the Slavic Evangelical Seminary in Kyiv – was among the hundreds of murdered civilians. Yet Franklin is preoccupied with refugees coming into America. “What’s going on at our southern border is out of control.”

In 2015, Franklin tried to find some silver lining in Putin’s heavy-handed assistance to the Assad government – which included attacks on civilians using cluster bombs, chemical weapons, and thermobaric weapons. “What Russia is doing may save the lives of Christians in the Middle East,” Graham said. The truth is different. “Russia’s military intervention contributed to untold suffering for millions of Syrian civilians”.  The same war crimes are being committed daily in Ukraine.

Interesting which sides Franklin Graham’s moralistic worldview picks. Graham has made several “non-political” trips to Moscow, to have photo-op chats with both Putin and Orthodox prelates, and came away asserting that “many Americans wished that someone like Putin could be their president.” Just before the invasion was underway, he made a plea to pray for Putin – neglecting to solicit prayers for Ukraine. Graham intends to make up for that omission with a trip to preach in Ukraine. (He’s billed it as an Easter service. But it’s not Orthodox Easter (April 24); just another grim day of misery and violence that Ukrainians have suffered for two months. And the days to come will get much dirtier, with the arrival of Russian general Dvornikov – dubbed the Butcher of Syria. With his appointment, many fear “a significant escalation and deliberate ‘terror campaign’ in Ukraine.” Russian media assures its viewers that genocidal vengeance –  a “final solution” – is in the plans.

This is not just total war – Ukraine is a Holy War, with Patriarch Kirill urging true patriots to eradicate scum and traitors. Putin’s war is about the survival of a totalitarian dictatorial regime. Dominionists want to defeat their democratic regime. Graham and Kirill are attempting to reach the same goal from opposite poles. Both, as Kirill defined it, “are talking about human salvation, something much more important than politics.”

Which is why, at Graham’s “Easter” celebration, we’ll hear a hearts and prayers sermon, preaching that sinners need to come to Christ. Meaning everyone aside from Franklin, and his rationalizing and minimizing criminal wrongdoing by Trump. Years of soft-peddling murderous Putin should grieve him deeply as well. Graham praised Putin as inspirational. Either he didn’t listen to Putin’s rhetoric threatening Ukraine since the 2014 Crimean take-over, or chose to ignore his barely concealed hatred – that the “Ukrainian authorities are illegitimate and Russia has to be prepared to act to protect compatriots”. If it were me praising Putin’s high moral standard, I’d be embarrassed to show my face in a Ukraine victimized by a hero who embodies his own Christian values. This is not just a shooting war; there is the second, fundamental war of ideas that drove it. It’s impossible to express remorse for one without repudiating the other. As Mark Silk points out, “as for his issuing a prophetic denunciation of Russia, I’m not holding my breath. It would mean disavowing an alliance he has been involved in for years.”

More fundamentally, it would clash with his Dispensational/Bircher/Dominionist-inspired “Biblical World View”. Ukraine shows us how, that if his theology were realized, it would lay waste to our own country. Maybe the one we should be praying for most fervently on Easter is Franklin himself. And, our future as a democracy.


[i] An online petition calling for Graham’s firing collected more than 24,500 signatures, claiming Graham spread “discredited election conspiracy theories” and “white nationalist terrorism,”– which it contended  led to the riot at the U.S. Capitol. https://julieroys.com/petition-franklin-grahams-firing-capitol-riots/

[ii] Ken Kersch, Conservatives and the Constitution (London: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2019), p. 281

[iii] Sara Diamond, Roads to Dominion, (New York: Guilford Press, 1995) p. 246.

Walter Mitty and a Ukrainian Calling.

“An Army of One” was the Army’s recruiting slogan in the early 2000’s. To address its sagging manpower goals, Army marketing research went into reaching the stereotypical male teen, playing video games by himself in the basement all day. The Army concluded the current generation of young people is so individualistic, so resistant to authority and rules, that it has to market military life as the natural home of the free-wheeling unfettered spirit.” A critic saw the base dishonesty in the pitch. “The Army is not, never has been and never will be about one soldier. Individuality has absolutely nothing to do with Army life,” he wrote.  Another commentator remarked, “if you want to be an ‘Army of One’ you probably want to join the Hell’s Angels, not the U.S. Army.”

It’s in that context that thousands have volunteered as free-agent soldiers for Ukraine’s freedom. News reports indicate Ukraine has had little trouble attracting young American men to join in the fight. Under American law, it’s legal for a U.S. citizen to provide combat services as a volunteer – although it is illegal to fight as a compensated foreign mercenary.  The Law of Armed Conflict defines the conditions to needed to recognize a fighter as a legitimate combatant:  (1) they form part of a military command structure, under formal orders and preceded by an “official request”; (2) they display a distinctive badge; (3) they carry arms openly; and, (4) they conform to the rights and obligations of war.

Take for example, a young Ohio man (said to be a rightwing militia member) whose flight was paid by donations through GiveSendGo. (The same Christian funding site was used by “American hero”, Kyle Rittenhouse, who moved on to “make a killing (pun intended) on the evangelical speaking circuit )”. After publicizing his complaints about harsh field conditions, including inadequate supplies of weapons and ammunition, our brave Ohio freedom fighter deserted his post and fled Ukraine. “I have been here 15 days now and still nothing is happening,” another volunteer bitched on a phone interview. “I am not putting up with that.” Perhaps that’s why none of these “armies of one” ever enlisted in the military.

In Jesus and John Wayne, Kristin Du Mez wrote of how Wayne became an icon of evangelical masculinity: “his toughness and his swagger; he protected the weak, and he wouldn’t let anything get in the way of his pursuit of justice and order.” She adds Trump’s “testosterone-fueled masculinity aligned remarkably well with that long championed by conservative evangelicals.” For any number of young evangelical Walter Mittys, the heady battlefield mix of testosterone and adrenaline is the chance to prove their Christian manhood.

But there’s a time when lofty idealism meets grim reality. It’s one thing to rack a high score at the local gun range, or on your Big Game Hunter video game. Or in the woods, shooting at animals that don’t shoot back. It’s quite another when you’re hunkered down in a fetid dirt trench, while 120mm mortar rounds splash all around you. That’s literally the baptism by fire, where even seasoned veterans often lose their nerve – and the contents of their bowels.

A California guy who said he liked “guns, cars, building stuff, basketball, sports and MMA” was eager to get on the battlefield and kill Russians. He had no military experience, but wanted to be a sniper. “They have no experience in doing such a job,” Mamuka Mamulashvili, commander of the Georgian National Legion said. He added that war tourists were an unwelcome – if not dangerous – nuisance. “You are not Rambo, there to single-handedly slay Russians and post your selfies,” a former CIA operative cautioned. His advice was basically: grow up, shut up, and do what you’re told. Just the sort of thing that millenials didn’t want to hear from their parents, either.

Its interesting to note that the chance of seeing combat in the army is low. Only 10% are deployed into front line combat. The remainder are assigned to supporting units: administration, maintenance, logistics, medical, military police, chow hall, etc. Many of these soldiers are doing non-sexy jobs like supervising cargo deliveries or guarding critical infrastructure. That’s the lowered expectations that a Michigan male went in with. A veteran with a 50 year-old back has given up on the idea of slogging through mud with an overweight pack. “I’m a realist,” he says, comparing his physical condition to his service days in the 1980’s. “He suggested that he might drive a truck to transport refugees or bring food into areas of need,” the article comments.

Well, these skills aren’t exactly exclusive to the military. During my years in Sarajevo, people would tell me stories of Serb forces allowing European trophy-hunters to zero in on Sniper Alley. Humans are the ultimate big-game. It nauseates me to think of volunteer killers. It seems odd that so many volunteers drop their teddy out of the crib and go home if they can’t kill someone. If they have to drive an army truck to support the Ukrainian military, that’s not on their adventure bucket list.

In fact, why must it be a military truck? Why not use that plane ticket and fly to someplace in eastern Poland, and volunteer with a civilian refugee aid organization?  Flights from the U.S. to Warsaw are still under $1000. If young Christian men want to serve Ukraine, that’s what I’d recommend.

Daily Prayer For Ukraine

A group of Ukrainians meeting each morning to pray (International Missions Board)

God of Mercy, for whom no one is beyond the limits of Your love,

May we seek your peace.

We pray for Ukraine.

For the church witnessing in Ukraine and all those who call on your Name,

For refugees and those uprooted from their homes and lives,

For soldiers exposed to danger and civilians who dwell in fear,

For those without food, water or medicines,

For those who have witnessed death and destruction on their streets,

For those who have experienced the loss of a loved one,

For those separated from parents, from children, from spouses and siblings,

For all those providing comfort and shelter,

For those having the power over life and death; that they will choose for all people life,

For the wounded, the dying, and the captive, that you would bring healing of body and soul,

For medical workers ensuring that shattered bodies are put back together again,

For ordinary Russians, that they turn swords into ploughshares and seek for peace,

For world leaders; especially those enabling Ukrainians to have safe passage,

For President Putin and those who choose war; that they instead seek the Lord with all their hearts.

For ourselves, that the Holy Spirit grant us the will to turn our prayers into example, and that we become doers of the Word also.

In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray./ В ім’я Ісуса Христа ми молимося.

Amen

Russian Mothers versus The Cargo of Death

Mama I didn’t want to come.” A captured conscript was shown on Ukrainian media, getting his message out by the only mean available.  Russian authorities had imposed a total blackout of news from the front – pretending there were no casualties or POWs. Ukrainian estimates hover around 5300 so far, although the Russians simply declare their losses were “many times” less than those of the Ukrainians. As the fighting continues, there are many more Russian dead.  Many of these are youngsters from rural villages and were tricked into fighting; some didn’t even know they were in Ukraine. Troops are disoriented, hungry, and don’t understand why they’re invading.

The current conflict is a tragedy for both combatants. Let’s focus on the Russian side for a moment. Starting at age 18, Russian young men are obliged to 12 months military service. Many are draft-dodging; hiding out for fear of being press-ganged, or even seeking asylum in the U.S.  Conscripts live under squalid conditions, made even more degrading by the informal hazing process called Dedovshchina, frequently involving rape, beatings, and extorting money. The Russian conscript’s status as throwaway doesn’t even terminate with his death.

The Afghan war left some 13,000 bereaved families – although official Russian figures were “significantly  undercounted”. In a process officially designated Cargo 200, the “lucky” dead were known as “Zinkies”, because they were repatriated in sealed zinc caskets. As the Cargo 200 death train chugged along, it often came to an end in a dirty warehouse, with grieving parents traveling to retrieve their son and bury him at own expense. This was not the America that receives fallen soldiers with full military honors. They meant nothing more to the USSR than cannon fodder. A few relatives had the nerve to pry the coffin open, only to find rocks and sand.  In 2014, Russian troops in unmarked olive-drab uniforms masqueraded as “Little Green Men”, seizing all of Crimea. If captured, soldiers were ordered to say they had come as random volunteers during their “vacations”.  Bodies were returned, but were met with a cover-up of the funerals by Russia’s state-controlled media. The remains were disbursed throughout cemeteries to disguise the numbers. Gravestones were unmarked, and mourners were told not to ask questions.

There is some doubt whether Cargo 200 will resume operations in Ukraine. Reports indicate Russia has deployed mobile crematoria to incinerate dead soldiers in-situ to hide the true scale of Ukraine war. “We’ve had a flurry of calls from scared mothers all over Russia. They are crying, they don’t know if their children are alive or healthy,” according to the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers. The Committee is a well-respected NGO within Russia. Since the 1980’s, it has “played a crucial role in opening up the military to public scrutiny and in influencing public perceptions of military service.”.”  Many demoralized Russian conscripts in Ukraine have pleaded with their mothers to bring them home.

I wish I had met my wife’s uncle Gisbert. But he lies somewhere in a mass grave. Barely 17, he was drafted into the last-ditch Wehrmacht and was killed almost immediately on the Eastern Front. When a soldier dies, its the women left behind who suffer the most. Cremation is forbidden in the Orthodox canon, and those vehicle-mounted crematoria will not replace the all-important rite of consecrated funerals. It is a sin to deny a holy burial for a body violently torn from its soul, let alone allow the grieving family closure under the Church. If internal discontent is simmering in Russia, it is mothers having lost their sons to another pointless war that will raise the temperature.

Walk into any Russian Orthodox church and you’ll see the majority are mothers and grandmothers. Despite the repression of religion during Soviet times, it was these matroskas and babushkas that “refused to allow the flame of faith to go out in Russia”.  Being a babushka in Russia equates to something just short of gaining sainthood. Solzhenitsyn, the keen observer of the minutia in everyday Russian life, evokes the moral superiority of that guardian of the Russian soul, the peasant mother. He writes of his saintly peasant Matryona, as a sacred icon: “the righteous one, without whom, as the proverb says, no village can stand. Nor any city. Nor our whole land.”  Joanna Hubbs adds that Solzhenitsyn “evoked the moral superiority of that guardian of the Russian soul, the peasant mother.”[i] Mothers and grandmothers are the foundation of Orthodox spiritual life, and the preparation for death is at its center. Putin is desecrating the sanctity and memory of these dead. Putin should never underestimate the moral power of a Russian mother.

We are entering the spiritual season when we set our faces towards the Cross, and the Son of Man who suffered many things, even unto death. This Lent, we should pray the spirit of Cargo 200 be rebuked, and take up our cross with those who are suffering, both in Ukraine AND Russia. Especially the women who can’t properly bury the “throw-aways” and are left behind to grieve. Pray for the mothers of sons they’ll never see again. !


[i]   Joanna Hubbs, Mother Russia, (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press), 1993, p. 237

Ukraine: The Humanitarian and Spiritual Crisis

While Russia claims it targets only military installations using precision-guided weapons, the ground truth appears much different. Of course, in the fog of war, very little information can be verified. But pictures and accounts of casualties in schools, hospitals and apartment blocks tell a grim story of ordinary people being caught in the crossfire.

The Ukraine invasion has already created an internal humanitarian crisis, especially in urban areas where communal services and utilities have been cut, leaving residents without heat, light – and the most crucial infrastructure for survival – sanitary water. Countless windows blown in by detonations, exposing living quarters to the Ukrainian cold. The less fortunate “de-housed”, missiles or artillery having left them homeless. Panic buying and hospitals filling, leaving food and medicine scarce. Cemeteries filling up. Internment camps. I know; I saw the same human miseries in Sarajevo.

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) reports that, as of today, some 368,000 Ukrainians have already fled west, mostly to neighboring Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary. According to an ABC report, Poland is prepared to take upwards of a million refugees. The numbers of displaced Ukrainians may exceed that, give the “strong likelihood that this war will produce substantial refugee crisis.” A list of trustworthy U.S.-based charities addressing these needs can be found here. John Fea has collected evangelical sites as well.

The evangelical church in Ukraine is a strong one. Ukraine is the main missionary-sending country for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Already, churches are mobilizing to support refugees. They are appealing for Ukrainian language Bibles – people are desperate and the Ukrainian Bible Society can’t keep up with requests. A future under Russian rule looks ominous – if the persecution of evangelicals in Donbass and Luhansk is any indication. Looking forward, the strength of Ukrainian believers will be sorely tested.

Do not imagine for a moment prayer doesn’t matter. Pray for Ukraine… Pray for the presence of Jesus to permeate households & hiding places & be a shield & comfort to them. Pray a Psalm – maybe 27 or 31 – as intercession. Let’s pray.” She’s among countless evangelicals coming together – despite differences – to petition God on behalf of those afflicted.  “It is an actual war, and our prayers matter, your prayers matter, one”, an émigré at one Florida church pleaded.

They are desperate for our prayers.”

It may not be God’s will to stop the Ukraine conflict

An opinion piece on Christian Post captioned “Let’s pray for Ukraine AND Russia” elicited one commenter to ask whether people have they “prayed the right prayers”. “It may not be the will of God to stop this conflict,” was the summation.

Wrong prayers come from those which cherish iniquity. Prayers offered wrongly – centered on one’s selfish desires – are like praying to idols. Like the misplaced devotion to empire: making America great again, infatuated with Trump as temporal redeemer. Or, for that matter, by Russians who flock to their Cathedral of the Armed Forces, to light candles before a mosaic depicting the “little green men” who invaded the Crimea. Our allegiance to the Kingdom of God cannot be subservient to obedience to whatever empire in which we as “resident aliens” find ourselves.

And God hates those of the facetious “hearts and prayers” genre. The conscience-soothing file-and-forget prayers that have accompanied so many school shootings. Those offered from the lips, bereft of the inmost soul, fall on deaf divine ears.

How, then, should Christians respond?

But the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Such a man was Peter Deyneka, a Russian émigré who devoted his life to sharing the Gospel with those behind the Iron Curtain. “Much prayer, much power” was that godly man’s watchword. I worked with his Slavic Gospel Mission for a time, and saw the truth that God truly does respond to prayer. Sending Cyrillic New Testaments reduced to 3 pages of tissue paper into the Soviet Union may seem like the mouse that roared. But prayer without ceasing reaped a plentiful harvest for God. Once again, Christians are being repressed in Russia and the territories it occupies. We need heartfelt prayer for them, and fellow believers in Ukraine.

Second, before we can pray that God reconcile the warring parties in Ukraine, we must recognize the ways we have distanced ourselves from the voice of God, whether by witness-less complacence, or by braying at the feet of false idols. Making peace ourselves first with God by repentance is the spiritual purging needed to enter his holy presence. This applies to nations as well, as Walter Wink explains: “The pride and self-righteousness of powerful nations are a greater hazard… than the machinations of their foes.”

Third, we know God is actively present in Ukraine – and in Russia. We might not know the will of God, but we are the ones praying for it to be done on earth. And we know God’s character through the very image of his substance: Jesus, who called the peacemakers blessed. We need to acquire the Spirit of peace. One such peacemaker was William Jennings Bryan.

Today, William Jennings Bryan is remembered primarily for being humiliated in the Scopes evolution trial. Yet in the headlong rush towards World War I, he was an indefatigable worker for world peace. (Yes, he was a fundamentalist – but before it went full Fundamentalism, and a champion of “applied Christianity” – before it was derided as the social gospel). “The Gospel of the Prince of Peace,” he wrote, “gives us the only hope that the world has – and it is an increasing hope – of the substitution of reason for the arbitrament of force in the settlement of international disputes.”

Bryan goes on, bringing us to the last point: “And our nation ought not to wait for other nations – it ought to take the lead and prove its faith in the omnipotence of truth.” There comes a time when prayer must be validated in action.  As William Stringfellow phrased it, “there comes a moment when words must either become incarnated or the words, even if literally true, are rendered false.” We are told to repay evil with good: incarnated prayers means putting Christ’s healing influence to bear. The means of accomplishing this are as diverse as those who are the Body of Christ.

As for myself, I plan to seek out Ukrainian refugees as they will undoubtedly filter into our city. I’m in no position to broker peace in Ukraine. But I can offer them the peace of God, peace with themselves, and peace with others. No one has to look very far for ways to offer comfort and in the midst of suffering caused by war and strife.

One concrete way for us all to further God’s reign in Ukraine has been proffered by Pope Francis, who invites “everyone to make March 2, Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting for peace. I encourage believers in a special way to devote themselves intensely to prayer and fasting on that day.” I will be one with him spiritually in that.

Know Jesus, No Peace.

[NOTE: Follow-on to Ukraine: The Unholy Holy War.]The evangelical thought leaders I’ve described have focused on Ukraine as a binary conflict between two superpowers domination systems – as Walter Wink described them. Empires are hegemonic conquest states. Like a hammer always looking for the next nail, empires like America or Russia exert acquisitive geo-political power. Overlooking our misadventure in Afghanistan (where my son was wounded by an IED) we need only look to Trump’s grandiose scheme to buy Greenland, or China’s menacing of Taiwan.

Military Darwinism determines that the stronger prevail, and we have tried our best to insure we are the fittest. Part and parcel of U.S. support to Ukraine and the “New Europe” is NATO military hardware. Like $2.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine or a pending $6 billion tank deal to Poland. It raises Russian suspicions that the “West is primarily interested in moving its military infrastructure closer to Russian borders, and not in spreading democracy and liberal values”. Decisions are based on what military power permits us to do, rather than morally what we should not. Regardless of Russia’s claim, relying on a NATO counterweight results in a spiral of violence. “The last thing Ukraine really needs is arms.” What Ukraine does need is the shalom of a stable internal and external environment. The country would be much better off if unimpeded to develop its economy and improve people’s livelihoods.

Two all-important questions are noticeably absent in this tale of super-world death match: Ukraine itself, and Jesus. Whether Russia or the Western powers prevail in the war likely to come, it is Ukraine that will be despoiled, left in ruins and human despair. Ukrainians would rather live in peace, coerced by neither military bloc, and allowed to engage in mutually beneficial diplomacy with both East and West.  “Diplomats and political leaders appear in danger of talking over the heads of Ukrainian people, while much commentary has ignored the likely consequences of proposals on the lives of ordinary Ukrainians.”

Violence can never be justified in the name of Jesus. But we see evangelicals like Dr. Land urging superpower America to go in guns a blazin’. They are accountable, according to William Stringfellow, for “naming each escalation and reescalation of war a way to quicken peace”.  On the other hand, we have Putin-flattering Franklin Graham, giving passive assent interspersed with the lazy sanctimony of “hearts and prayers”.  Leading evangelicals having the gravitas to shape policies and perceptions are either too compromised or too disinterested to act as go-betweens. The absence of evangelicals of stature as credible peace-makers prompted Russell Moore to suggest instead that Pope Francis should work with the region’s spiritual leaders to seek a lasting peace.

Is it that God cannot find an evangelical statesman for this calling?

Ukraine: The Unholy Holy War

Ever since Cain sulked off to form his city, humans have found refuge in building empires. Like hammers always looking for the next nail, empires thrive on exerting power over others. Walter Brueggemann notes that empires have insatiable appetites, intrinsically unable to restrain themselves. The United States is such a totalizing empire. So also is Russia. Translated, Ukraine means “borderland”. And that barbed wire frontier is where these antagonistic empires have squared off.

Most American Christians do not know much about Ukraine, other than it is somewhere between Washington and Moscow..  Estimates indicate some 190,000 combat troops50% of Russia’s offensive capability – is poised at Ukraine’s border. The U.S. government believes invasion is imminent. Facing fierce resistance, it would be a bloody and difficult war, creating an enormous surge of refugees, with devastating socio-economic shock across the European continent and beyond. Those who could not leave Ukraine would face a puppet government imposing harsh conditions, mass arrests and reprisals – not to mention an open sore of mass hunger and displacement. Even a “successful” war wouldn’t cease evil; peace at the barrel of a gun just changes the form evil takes.

How Russia acts – and how the West then reacts – remains an open question: one of the pitfalls of recording contemporary history. Facts constantly evolve; with Russia now annexing Donbass and Luhansk regardless of Ukrainian sovereignty. A number of political observers have insisted that “we need to be clearly on the side of the West.” But how should American evangelicals react?

One avenue – taken by Richard Land – is military deterrence. Land construes the Bible Americanly, believing in a strong U.S. military as a central article of evangelical faith. America is militarily strong and morally right; there are no limits to reordering the world that our God-ordained greatness could not bring about. A neo-con hawk, Land advocates “to arm the frontline states from the Baltic to the Black Sea to make it very painful and costly for the Russians to use military force.” This militaristic view is shared by those many evangelicals who, in the words of Walter Brueggemann, “read the Bible with the United States cast in the role of God’s chosen people and carrier of God’s will for freedom in the world.” “I’ll never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are,” George H.W. Bush once declared. The U.S. in this view, convinced of its own righteousness, is like a church where its foreign missionaries carry guns.

A contrary position held by many evangelicals is, simply put, to leave Russia to its own devices. “Russia did not and does not want to be part of the decadent liberal system”, one evangelical writer declares. He maintains that Post-Christian America is in no position to be the moral judge of the world by imposing “the ‘universal values’ of democracy, human rights, and liberty” upon nations like Greater Russia that don’t want them. In this thinking, Ukraine shouldn’t exist, because Biden’s “woke” America is so corrupted that it is no longer worthy of respect. Another goes so far as to say that if Russia conquered Europe, it would be an improvement. It’s a dystopian view that implies some conflict thousands of miles away is irrelevant to the U.S., which by now should have learned its lessons about policing the world. Yet more than that; it feeds into Dominionist ideologues who proclaim “we’re gonna rule and reign through President Trump and under the lordship of Jesus Christ.”

Doubtless the most visible adherent of this latter view is Trump-admiring Franklin Graham, who sees the rapid decline in American Christianity primarily caused by the ‘progressives’ repudiating God as the source of moral guidance. Putin believes Ukrainians and Russians are “one people”, saved through the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church under Kirill – a convenient spiritual ally for the Kremlin – has accused the West of imposing secular values on Russia. Graham has made several “non-political” trips to Moscow, meeting both with Putin and Orthodox prelates, and came away asserting that “many Americans wished that someone like Putin could be their president.”

“Putin,” writes David Brooks, “has redefined global conservatism and made himself its global leader.” But by far Putin’s biggest admirer is Donald Trump, who “cannot stop praising him”. “This is genius,‘ Trump declared after Putin helped himself to more of Ukraine. Together, they are “new breed of autocrats… people who aren’t interested in treaties and documents, people who only respect hard power.” Like President Trump’s Putin envy, evangelical culture is all about the pursuit of temporal power, awash with alpha males wielding supremacy over their mini-hierarchies. For evangelical diplomats, Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of State under Trump (and likely GOP candidate to take Trump’s old job in 2024) is the genuine article. He offered his admiration for Putin’s savvy in tearing off another piece of Ukraine. “He knows how to use power.”

Again, we should ask, is this how American evangelicals should react? This blog will be exploring that question in the posts to follow.

Ukraine’s Sorrow and Evangelical Guilt

[Note: This post is written as Russia is poised to invade Ukraine. By the time you read it, it may well have already happened].

Putin is ready to launch a blitzkrieg war to crush Ukraine. Like most wars, it will produce nothing of benefit, but inflict death and misery to countless thousands. Could this have been avoided?  Not by American evangelicals. They helped cause it.

Let’s start here in the U.S., where evangelicals overwhelmingly supported a despotic President who flaunted the rule of law and attempted a coup. A man who tried to bribe Ukraine into helping him lie to influence  the 2016. A man who tried to dissolve NATO admired Putin. Both men clever enough to say whatever evangelicals want to hear.

Let’s talk about American evangelicals, whose media constantly barfs out anti-American (and particularly anti-Biden) desinformatsiya. They have become a quasi-religious lobby group who have dismissed Democrats as “just another word for godless”, and who look to enforcing “One Nation Under Their God”.  Whose Dominionist totalism sees no room for democracy – either in America under Biden or in Ukraine joining the godless EU. Whose dispensationalism relishes human suffering because it verifies their nihilistic theology.

Let’s talk about their leaders, like Franklin Graham, having come away from personal audiences with Putin having nothing but praise for his anti-gay and anti-abortion policies, widely reported by Russian propaganda outlets. Not to mention having met several times with Vyacheslav Volodin, sanctioned Putin aide and architect of his takeover of Crimea “to strengthen relationships between the Christians in our countries”. And smoozing with Russian Orthodox spiritual leaders, each bemoaning the “ever-declining moral values in western societies”, and agreeing to joint “defense of traditional morality”.  All this cordiality despite the fact that Putin is repressing Russian evangelicals.

Or, Larry Jacobs of the World Congress of Families, who spoke for many evangelicals by declaring, “the Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world”.  We shouldn’t forget wholehearted welcome of Mariia Butina, an FSB honeypot who attended the National Prayer Breakfast at the invitation of influential evangelicals. “The value system of Southern Christians and the value system of Russians are very much in line,” one connected lawyer mentioned.

Franklin Graham’s latest biblical worldview effort has been to support the Canadian truck blockages. “The issue is FREEDOM, the freedom to make our own choices”, he declares. But what about Ukraine’s freedom? Nary a word, and silence likewise across evangelical media. Not even any wan “hearts and prayers” being pronounced. A queue of Western politicians flying to Russia in a desperate sue for peace, but Franklin Graham hasn’t booked a ticket. And he hasn’t pushed for a trucker’s protest in Moscow, either.

Influential evangelicals like Sen. Josh Hawley thinks it wrong to expand the West’s “liberal order” around the world. Meaning – parroting the views of Tovarich Carlson – there is no reason why the U.S. should help Ukraine defend its territorial integrity.

Ukraine is ripe for the picking, and evangelicals have already picked the side they want to win. They’ve helped make the bed the rest of us will be forced to lie in. Evangelical guilt for Ukraine’s downfall – may God intervene – will be great. Lord have mercy on us all…

Praying and Singing Hymns to God

You’d think by the title that this refers to Acts 16, where Paul and Silas were jailed in Philippi. But it’s about a 27 year-old named Tyler Dinsmoor. “He is in a concrete box, but is holding strong. He has his bible, and is singing Psalms!”

Dinsmoor had regularly been posting anti-LGBTQ+ death threats. “All homosexuals are child-rapists in wait, and all (every single one) should be put to death immediately”. What caught the authorities’ attention was his plan to attend a Pride Parade on the following day, “with the implication that he’s going to do something violent unless someone stops him”.

He was charged with felony civil rights malicious harassment with a hate crimes enhancement. Essentially, crimes motivated by bigotry which threaten reasonable fear of harm. (It so happens that he emblazoned the words “Bible Bigot” on his truck). Dinsmoor, who owns “a small Bible Christian family tannery”, remains in jail under a $1 million bail.

You read the words “Bible Christian” correctly. Dinsmoor is a fervent Christian, attending a church where the pastor preaches that homosexuals should be shot in the back of the head. If he had been able to carry out his fantasies, it would have received “the encouragement of those who share his religious and political views”.  Like the Christian Right-dominated Texas GOP, which just declared that President Biden was not legitimately elected, and that homosexuality is “abnormal”. Closer to home, a Give-Send-Go defense fund was started, claiming his only crime was hurting the feelings of a homosexual. Donations are now up to $27,000, with many Christians expressing sympathy with this God-fearing political prisoner.

Juxtapose this hero-worship – à la the martyred Ashley Babbitt – with the resentment directed towards the enemies of Christian Nationalism. Like at a Michigan local right-to-life organization, where someone busted glass windows and defaced the building with pink spray paint. “That “people that would do such a thing … what a sad state of affairs that groups like this ….can resort to terrorism and hate crimes,” the angry Director stated. I’m not condoning law-breaking, but can’t help noticing how Charisma News and other fishwrap are full of these White Christian victimization pieces.

A few months back, I blogged that evangelical churches have increasingly become nurseries of sedition – not simply against an Administration they hate, but more importantly, against the Jesus of the Gospels. This home-grown surge of Christian extremism is largely fomented by religious leaders – there are thousands and they are interwoven with extremists of all types. These pastors, teacher and “apostles” have long practiced stochastic terrorism from the pulpit are seeing their seeds of incitement come to fruition as real world violence. “We’re a mighty army. They’ve gotta listen. They can’t ignore us,” says Pastor Greg Locke – who was at the Capitol while it was being stormed. Inflammatory speech just hasn’t been enough – it seems the time has come to make people listen to God from a gun barrel. It reminds me of Harry Chapin’s ballad, “Sniper”:

The first words he spoke took the town by surprise.

One got Mrs. Gibbons above her right eye.

It blew her through the window wedged her against the door.

Reality poured from her face, staining the floor.

And evangelicals of all persuasions are praying and singing praise to God

Clear as White and Black

A young black man was on his daily commute one morning recently, when a Miami patrolman pulled him over. Coming to the window, the (white) policeman took his keys away. He informed the motorist that his seatbelt hadn’t been fastened. “This is how you guys get killed out here”, Officer Friendly helpfully pointed out. The story doesn’t include whether the driver left a brown stain on his seat. But it shows how mightily scared he was. In a classic case of driving while black, he had every suspicion to suppose his drive to work would be taking a detour to eternity. Funny how traffic stops for minor violations have resulted in some 600 deaths in the past 5 years – with black victims disproportionately represented.

“We got a guy walking around with a gun that he could hurt a lot of people with, but he’s not breaking the law,” an Oklahoma sheriff remarked. A scruffy young white male had been reported meandering around a strip mall, armed with a loaded AR-15 and a revolver. He walked into an AT&T store, scaring employees and customers, who dialed 911 while running for their lives. The courthouse had already locked its doors when he tried to get in. Local police advised concerned citizens that its perfectly legal in Oklahoma to scare the shit out of normal people. In most places, it is legal provided the gun-nut doesn’t start shooting. He did have a set of brass knuckles and .50 caliber pistol. (Doesn’t everyone?) and those are illegal so he was arrested for that. “Terrified people called 911 again and again on the scary looking dude carrying a small arsenal, but it was all legal until cops found the brass knuckles and the .50 caliber handgun.”

Before you answer the following, think it over carefully:

Would the result be the same if their races were reversed?

The WOW factor…

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Take it from Sarah Palin: “an AR-15 makes a great gift – what more says ‘I love you’”?

The Usual Pedo Grifters

A growing swath of MAGA and QAnon conspiracy theory- infected evangelicals embrace pedophilia as their new pejorative against the “Other”. It’s become more than calling someone a pervert. It’s used against any group opposed to their agenda. “Disney stop grooming our children.” “Democrats are the party of ‘grooming and transitioning children’”. “Biden is the groomer-in-chief:” The usual pedo grifters.

Joe Rogan recently went off on public school teachers. “No! No, there should be no groomers! How about that! This is what they wrote, they said, “Not all teachers are groomers, but a lot of groomers are teachers.” And that’s real! That’s a real fucking problem. I mean, constantly, teachers are getting arrested. For exposing themselves to children, for masturbating in front of children, for sending nude pictures in front of children. Every couple days there’s a new one that pops up in the news. And how many of those people haven’t been caught yet? And how many of those people are out there?”

He just as easily could have said, “not all evangelicals are groomers, but a lot of groomers are evangelicals”.  “And how many of those people are out there?”  The Zacharias, the Gothards, the Duggars – the list of prominent evangelicals is long. These people exist everywhere, especially in churches – (see thewartburgwatch.com ). Just a quick headline perusal shows:

  • Former Illinois pastor arrested for grooming minor (Baptist Press)
  • Pastor charged with child sex crimes (Baptist Press)
  • N.C. pastor charged with child sex crimes (Baptist Press)
  • Former Baptist minister charged with child sex crime (Baptist Press)
  • Former Baptist leader charged with sexual assault (Baptist Press)
  • Former Southern Baptist president accused of sexual assault in an explosive, third-party investigation. (Houston Chronicle)
  • Church youth group leader, former coach, arrested on sex abuse charges for second time. (WSET News).

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” My personal heartache with this involved my eldest brother, who in 1960 was sodomized as a pre-teen at a Schroon Lake summer camp. It drove him away from the church better than any avowed atheist ever could.

According to Fox News, some 20 years ago a certain pastor raped a 16 year old girl on his office floor. According to reports, he became aware that she was now prepared to expose him. To get ahead of the story, he announced to his congregation that he was guilty of adultery. “To my wife and family, who I deeply hurt, I have confessed my sin, and they have graciously forgiven me and expressed their love to me,” the outed pastor said. Seduction, enticement, molestation, statutory rape, sexual misconduct – these are not just personal sins; they’re crimes on every state’s books. Felonies that involve prison sentences and placement in the national sex offender database.

It seems natural for all types of sexual predation to exist where evangelical pastors love to preach on sex. A recent Southern Baptist report exposed widespread sexual abuse within the denomination, which were purposefully hushed up. In every community I’ve lived in, there has been some sexual scandal involving church leaders. Catholic, evangelical, fundamentalist – it doesn’t matter. Satan also attends every church service; in numerous cases, in the pulpit itself.

In most cases, the tragedy continues after the crime(s), where the victim is slut-shamed, but the perpetrator is administratively “cleansed” and restored. The sexual predator is allowed to leave the damage behind, and continue on serving the Lord in another locale. Sexual predators have been quietly recirculating just like this in many denominations. The objective is to control the narrative, and deflect or counter-attack the victim to minimize any institutional damage. Who’s gonna be convinced our loving, family-oriented pastor is in reality a sexual creep? It’s not easy within a cult-like culture where church members are taught to never question authority. Everyone is willing to let it go, except the victim who doesn’t have that luxury. That too is violence – spiritual violence.

I’m not an expert on sexual predation. But I have a few suggestions for churches to minimize its effects:

  • Take the beam out of your own eye before pointing the finger at “Others”.
  • Implement a public truth inquiry – not a witch hunt – which gives voice to the sexually exploited who have been rendered voiceless.
  • Repent collectively and individually for any act or failure to act that facilitated or contributed.
  • Restitution – restoring that which was unjustly taken – is not possible. But every effort must be made to remove the effects of the wrong. Repairing the broken relationship may never be achieved, but restoring trust may well mean sitting with victims for outside counseling.
  • Because an overseer managing God’s household must be blameless, procedures should be in place to dismiss anyone not qualified to serve in leadership or ministry through sexual misconduct.
  • Do deep diligence and pre-hire vetting of all applicants
  • Publish and abide by a policy that defines and describes prohibited sexual behavior in the church, including on how a complaint is filed and resolved.
  • Invoke safeguarding adult and children classes that are mandatory for all church leaders (including criminal background checks). The Episcopal Church does excellent training on this.

I doubt few churches practice all – or even any – of these safeguarding policies. We all know problems exist. WE ourselves have been among the Usual Pedo Grifters. With God’s help, let’s repair the damage so far, and take precautions as we move on. The Holy Spirit expects nothing less.