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

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.

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.

I’ve Been So Wrong About The Rapture.

One of the most conspicuous End Times preachers was Jack Van Impe. For 30 years, he hosted an attention-grabbing television program, on which he translated disturbing headline news into a drip feed of conspiracy-tainted suspicions and fear. Van Impe had a commanding delivery, made even more compelling through a rapid fire recitation of Bible verses like he was a walking concordance. As a premillennial dispensationalist, Van Impe became known as a Prophet of Doom. But not for his end times-hooked listeners, eager to hear his reassurance that they will escape the cataclysmic end of the world by being raptured to Heaven.

Van Impe, who died in 2020, had plenty of company in the Darby/Scofield doomsday school of prophecy: Lindsay, LaHaye, Hagee, Dallas Seminary, and Moody Church to name a few. A cursory review of apocalyptic televangelist John Hagee’s popular titles is telling: The Battle for Jerusalem, Earth’s Final Moments, Attack on America, From Daniel to Doomsday. These folks have long had their fingers on the pulse of their evangelical audience, and most importantly, the monsters they’re told that hide under their beds at night. Since Van Impe’s death, the hurry-up Armageddon flames have been fanned even hotter with the Ukraine invasion. Evangelicals have a counterpart to the so-called “Doomsday Clock” – with a Rapture Index now up to “fasten your seat belts” level.

I am not a Tribber. Meanwhile, I chip away on a non-monetized blog, when I could be buying business jets and collect fat royalties from Simon & Schuster like Hagee, if I started peddling my own rapture porn novels. The Rapture pulp fiction oeuvre is one proven money-shaker I would like a slice of. Shoddy prose aside, these books essentially write themselves. Let me briefly outline the prophetic story line  behind my future-casting proposal:

March 2022, and the Ukraine “special operation” continues to bog down. Putin sacks some of his surviving generals and purges his security service of officials blamed for incompetence. Putin dismisses peace overtures and doubles down, and the war segues into bloody urban fighting either mitigated through Berlin-type city-busting, or Syria-style chemical or biological attacks. But the Biden administration has pinky-promised that Ukraine will not fall.

Putin has warned of “consequences as you have never before experienced in your history” if NATO becomes more involved. Russia has already raised the level of their version of DEFCON. This raises the potential for a nuclear duel (triggered accidentally or otherwise), although some analysts conjecture World War III may have already started. Regardless, both sides are digging in for a protracted war. For the servile Russian political machine, nothing is off the table. The Russian “message is not just about Ukraine,” a political scientist in Lithuania stated. Putin has already threatened Sweden and Finland. The Baltic states are wondering, are we next? Moldova feels threatened, as well. One Duma member demands the return of Alaska. Another suggests launching a nuclear missile at the U.S. to ‘send a message’. Another famous dispensationalist, Pat Robertson, is waving the American nuclear flag. “Well, if you do that, we’re going to escalate…We have the firepower to wipe out every Russia city.”

Robertson was once again waxing prophetic about the end-times. This time drawing a dark line connecting Putin (The King of the North) and his Ukraine invasion as fulfilling specific end times prophecies.  “He went into the Ukraine, but that wasn’t his goal. His goal was to move against Israel, ultimately”.

All this bravado and bluster is great material for my book. But detonating nuclear bombs across Eurasia and North America would yield a half-billion dead. That would make my book a very short one, indeed. Better that I stretch the pre-Trib Rapture eschatology out a little bit. All wars end at some point. Let’s assume a stalemated war continues through 2024, when Donald Trump is once again elected President. He’s prided himself on enjoying collegial relations with Vladimir Putin. In this scenario, Trump campaigns on negotiating a peace treaty. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said peace talks between Ukraine and Russia should be held in Jerusalem. It’s a holy city revered by both Trump and Putin – both have prayed at the Wailing Wall.

A third Holy Temple “will play a key role at the end of days.” For some time now, an Israeli council of Jewish rabbis – a modern-day Sanhedrin – has appealed to Trump and Putin to join forces in the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. “I don’t want to build a (Third) Temple in one or two years, I want to build it now,” declares the leader of a right-wing party growing in popularity. If he were still alive, John Walvoord would agree. He repeated a popular urban legend that “500 railroad carloads of stone from Bedford, Indiana, are already en route to Israel” to erect the Temple.

The Holy Temple will be the earthly dwelling place for the Shekhinah, the Divine Presence of God. “For Orthodox Jews committed to reestablishing the Temple, both the present problems of the world and the problems faced by the Jewish people will be solved only by rebuilding of the Temple. This is in total alignment with the pre-Tribulation period that figures prominently in dispensational eschatology:

“The Third Temple will be built before the Antichrist comes to power and takes control of Europe and the surrounding Mediterranean nations. Satan will spiritually defile the Holy Place of the rebuilt Temple by directing his Antichrist to violate the Holy of Holies at the beginning of the last three and a half years of the Tribulation. The False Prophet, the Antichrist’s partner, will then demand that the Antichrist be worshiped as “god” in the rebuilt Temple.”[i]

Trump has been hailed as a King Cyrus figure, enabling the Jewish diaspora to return to Jerusalem.  As with Cyrus, Trump is the Lord’s shepherd to lay the foundations of the Temple. “The Jewish people in Israel love him… like he’s the King of Israel. … he is the second coming of God.”  Trump may revel in his power as God’s man, but is clueless about his prophetic destiny in the unfolding of these last days. “Let its foundations be laid.”’ – Ezra 6:3.

On the other hand, Putin also has supernatural help. He assumed the mantel of emissary of God to restore the unity of Russian civilization with Russian ethnicity, language and traditional spirituality. To the Russian Orthodox church, Putin is “the chosen one” leading the “self-purification of society”.  “God is inside Vladimir Putin,” according to Russian Orthodox activist Dmitry Tsorionov. “Vladimir Putin becomes a living temple.” As the leader of the Third Rome, Putin has the messianic destiny to reign over Christendom from Moscow and throughout the world.

Trump and Putin: “By the way”, Donald Trump Jr. mentioned, “my father had a great relationship with Putin.”  The President was smitten with his Russian counterpart, who “said nice things” about him. And then there is Trump’s son-in-law and confidante, Jared Kushner (an observant Jew). Many have tried to broker the Peace of Jerusalem to no avail. But Kushner made progress in shifting the tectonic plates. Could he be the False Prophet of Revelation 13?

The Anti-Jesus will sign a seven-year covenant with Israel. But it seems we currently have two Messiah/Anti-Christs. [ii] I can use the template from the Book of Daniel to write one man of lawlessness out of the script: “The two kings, with their hearts bent on evil, will sit at the same table and lie to each other, but to no avail, because an end will still come at the appointed time”.  It’s problematic, however, whether either of these two anti-heroes could represent the protagonist of a novel based on good versus evil. I’m leaning towards Mr. I-Alone-Can-Fix-It Trump.

So far, I have my story’s skeleton. I have my character archetypes – careful to disguise the real persons to avoid legal action taken as potentially libelous. Sinclair Lewis’ Buzz” Windrip could do as a good template. A narrative is in place, with the Antichrist and the False Prophet already having appeared on the world stage.

All these years, Van Impe has been preaching a certain truth. It took Trump to make it revelation. It will take me to write the book.  


[i] Grant R. Jeffrey, The New Temple and the Second Coming,  (New York: Penguin, 2009), p. 8.

[ii] Daniel 11:27

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…

Christian Dominionist Politics and the National Guard.

You may wonder, what a blog about Jerusalem hath to do with Rome? I was a career officer in the Air National Guard – a JAG to be specific. This is an area near-and-dear, in which I have considerable experience. My fear is that the military is becoming more vulnerable to MAGA/QAnon/Christocrats – like Mike Flynn. Flynn, the retired soldier who once swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution, now was advocating a military coup. The hero of  pro-Trump tele-preachers, the former general stood before John Hagee’s church to declare that America must have one religion under God. Presumably, the Christian nationalist one.

Trump loyalists are pervasive throughout the military. “We’re not talking about half a dozen people. We’re probably talking about thousands across the Department of Defense.” Of course, military members are also citizens, with differing political views and voting patterns. As Flynn himself asks, “will having a pro-American set of beliefs and using the word ‘patriot’ get you labeled a domestic terrorist?No, but fomenting a rebellion will.

6 states have National Guard forces that could rival a foreign army. In terms of the Air Guard, several states have more military aircraft than many countries. The question is, why does a peacetime State need combat-ready planes? To fend off attacks from neighboring hostile States? But there are legitimate missions to perform – disaster relief and wildfire suppression, drug interdiction, aero evacuation, coronavirus-related missions and quelling civilian disturbances. But National Guard soldiers and airmen spend most of their time at home base, training to be combat-ready for “when the balloon goes up” – mobilization in time of war. A relic from the Cold War, this force of almost 500,000 part-timers is largely under-utilized during peacetime, although certain elements have been busy performing domestic operations, including border controls along the southwest U.S.

Governors, who under Title 32 are the commanders of their state National Guard, in the past have seen their state military as a political play toy. Seven Mountains Christians seeking to rule the political mountain have found their darling in Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota. To kick off her stint as Governor, Noem held a public prayer meeting in which one speaker declared Jesus to be “the Lord and King of South Dakota”.

In 2021, presidential aspirant Noem ordered her National Guard to deploy to the southwestern border. The campaign was – oddly enough underwritten by a private donation from a MAGA billionaire – with critics saying it “set a troubling precedent in which a wealthy patron can effectively commandeer U.S. military might to address private political motivations.” One reservist lawyer commented that “it looks like those soldiers are working for the billionaire or for the donor.”  Claiming ignorance, the Commander of her National Guard said he didn’t know about the financing, adding his troops were “not for hire”.

The message I have received is clear: this deployment is working”, Gov. Noem stated. Meanwhile, deployed leadership ran amok, with a mission ill-defined. Even if the troops had some concept of their job, equipment needed to perform it was withheld. Many slept on concrete warehouse floors. Weeks of endless boredom staring into a vacant desert, performing mindless tasks, living without electricity or showers, and eating MREs even over holidays meant morale sunk to the bottom. Soldiers were getting into trouble with the law, and party-spirit reigned as bored-stiff soldiers binged on alcohol and drugs. One Alabama National Guardsman got busted for trying to buy a kilo of pot. Sexual harassment and discipline problems were rife. Some deserted, others died in alcohol-fueled crashes. “We are literally the biggest threat to ourselves down here,” one deployed officer commented.  

Like the Fourth Crusade sent off on a mission from God, the Tex-Mex adventure met an inglorious, drunken end without defeating any enemy except itself. But turning her military into an instrument of MAGA ideology did brand-building wonders for a woman quickly moving up the ladder of possible 2024 GOP presidential candidates.  Her military foray was definitely not “small beer”, but for her career it was not small potatoes either. And as we shall see in a following post, hers was not a singular instance of governors translating their Dominionist beliefs into military action, with the aim of ruling America as one theocracy under their version of God.  

The Dog Did It.

Farts. There’s nothing more embarrassing in polite society than issuing a malodourous southward blast. The age-old ploy is to blame your outburst on someone else – a dog is most convenient – in your immediate vicinity.

Since the fall of Kabul, lots of farty people have piled onto President Biden for the ensuing chaos. A loud voice in that frenzy was Richard Land, a pope within the Southern Baptist Convention, doyen of evangelical Trump politics, and executive editor of the Christian Post. Recently, his hate-filled outburst directed at President Biden, “AFGHANISTAN:  A name that will live in infamy”, appeared on his click-bait site. That wasn’t enough for him; he took the curious step to have a Christian Post staffer publish an editorial covering his own editorial.

Land’s article is a J’Accuse! directed at the “collection of buffoons and pretenders has just presided over a national humiliation”. Meaning, an “incompetent'” President Biden and his foreign policy “boobs”. Yes, the abrupt pull-out was more like doing a runner than an exit strategy. But Afghanistan was a venture doomed from the start, with successive Presidents tossing it to the next guy like playing Milton Bradley’s Time Bomb. The years went by with successive generals promising victory and painting a rosy picture of the progress they’ve supposedly made.  Even Tucker Carlson admitted that the American people had been lied to for twenty years by commanders passing off their failures as progress. Americans themselves got bored and distracted, and you’d have been hard-pressed to see Afghanistan as headline news for the past decade or more. Even Congress gave up paying attention to the money-pit war.  Observing an empty Senate chamber, Sen. Lindsay Graham lamented, “I remember when all these rows were full with people carrying bags and everybody was hanging on every word about Afghanistan.” By 2015, Afghanistan had become another Forgotten War. Soldiers went to a place that made little sense to them, among people who didn’t want them, and who often tried to kill them for being there. Many – like my son – came back with a Purple Heart and PTSD to a country disconnected from that  sideshow so far removed from their everyday lives and experience.

The realities emerging from the protracted outcome were much different from those promised at the outset to be swift and crushing victories, with the war no longer resembling the objectives we originally sought to achieve. We no longer fought an endless war because we should, but because we could. Except we couldn’t win it. Knowing this, Trump cut a deal with the Taliban to reduce military personnel to bare bones. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s Secretary of State  glad-handing the “gentleman” Taliban leader over the Doha surrender agreement, sabotaged the Kabul government, and released 5,000 jailed fighters on good faith. Arty McDeal really cut a pants-ripper loose on that one. But instead of drawing attention to his flatulence, The Christian Post continued to give fawning praise to the evangelical political leader – and presidential wanna-be.

All the attention given over to how we left Afghanistan covers over the odiferous way we stumbled into a forever war. In the Afghanistan blame game there are plenty of windbags, all of whose farts don’t smell. Like Richard Land. To what started out as a punitive mission not unsimilar to chasing Pancho Villa’s cross-border raiders, he blessed the cannons to turn it into a holy crusade. America is no exception to the truism that nations carry their deities into battle with them. And evangelicals pack their soldiers off to war like missionaries with guns. Land re-worked the Just War theory to construe godly arguments for “why not” war.  “The question is not if God is on our side, but if we are on God’s side,” Richard Land was quoted as saying about the Iraq invasion. “Then, with a wink of the eye, Land added, ‘But I think God is on our side in this one.’”[i]  Of course, committing the evangelical god into making victory happen had help from a President with a Messianic certainty of what God told him to do.

After 20 years, there have been more than enough farts stinking up our air, but too few people owning up to the ones they made. I think Richard Land should feel shame – and do some serious repentance – for his own stinky contribution . Then again, maybe his dog did it.


[i] Michael P. Melon, Yet You Would Not Return to Me, Xulon Press, 2004, p. 193.