Former Vice President Mike Pence thinks religion means freedom. He claims that First Amendment rights do not protect Americans from having other people’s faiths forced upon them. “It’s nothing the American founders ever thought of”. Evidently, he is not a scholar of Jefferson, who penned that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion”. The Constitution doesn’t mention any Supreme being; neither does the National Anthem.
An oft-repeated meme from Vietnam War days says, “We have to destroy the village in order to save it”. Putin likes the sound of that blessed violence – and the sound of his missiles bombing Ukraine, “dehousing” the civilian population back into the stone age. Serious indicators point to Russia preparing for total war – even going nuclear. Despite battlefield losses and chaos, retreat might be possible from worldly things, it’s impossible to retreat “from faith”.
And Putin has set himself up as Holy Russia’s defender of Christian morality. He has the military wherewithal to impose his will – and the anointing of God – to wage a holy “special military operation” against the Ukrainian forces of evil. And the Russians face the children of the Devil, who must be “de-Satanized”. According to Russian propaganda, there are no civilians there, just demons. And when we make others into devils, as C.S. Lewis said, this is “the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils”.
“We aren’t coming to kill you, but to convince you,” the “People’s Governor” of Donetsk threatened. “But if you don’t want to be convinced, we’ll kill you. We’ll kill as many as we have to: 1 million, 5 million, or exterminate all of you.” This religion has an ominous Old Testament ring to it. “So go now and strike down the Amalekites. Destroy everything that they have. Don’t spare them. Put them to death—man, woman, child, infant, ox, sheep, camel, and donkey alike.”(1 Samuel 15:3) Speaking on camouflaged piety, Reza Aslan notes that “a cosmic war transforms those who should be considered butchers and thugs into soldiers sanctioned by God”. Russian state media has suggested Ukrainian children should be drowned or burned, women deserve to be raped by Russian soldiers, and anyone who resists should be shot. What a moral difference religion makes!
Regrettably, we see the logical conclusion being played out in evangelical life. Those with whom we disagree are not just wrong, they are evil. Amidst the slaughter, Kremlin mouthpiece Tucker Carlson barfs out that Democrats hate Russia for being Christians. In rebuttal, we point to the some 400 Ukrainian Baptist churches having been wiped out. “It’s not just buildings that have been destroyed”, a Baptist pastor says, “but church leadership and congregations have been broken down”. In persecuting any believer not under Moscow’s thumb, Putin is converting by bayonet. And American evangelicals echo Putin’s words: “We reserve the right to react and do everything to protect human rights, including the freedom of worship.” The “religious freedom” sought by Franklin Graham and his ilk entails the same Orwellian formula to “force others to be free.” The evangelical war-god prefers using the same politics and combat methods as Satan: murder, destruction and domination. Pin the tail on the real Satan.
Having seen Putin carrying Russia’s divine mission to fruition, one can only dread what lessons-learned Christian Nationalists here are cooking up to impose when they get the chance. Mike Flynn, has-been Army general (pledged to support the Constitution) is now an evangelist touting Christian Nationalism. (Questioned whether he believed in the peaceful transition of power, Flynn took the Fifth). He alleges America needs “one religion under God”. If America is to be a Christian nation exclusively ruled by Christians, then who will be its Supreme Leader? Pick your thousand-watt celebrity of weirdness: Franklin Graham? Paula Cain? Sean “Guitar Jesus” Feucht? “It’s time for the Church to rise up with one voice and tell our government leaders and the rulers of big tech that we refuse to be silenced”, Feucht sing-preaches.
But evangelicalism has never been “one religion”. It is polymorphic, with some 200 major denominations in the United States. Likewise, it is polycephalous. There is no Patriarch Kirill, no Pope, no Ayatollah, and no one “owns” the movement. Evangelicals agree on one Truth, but divergent secondary doctrines are equally valid small-T “truths”. Far from being a monolithic beast, its organic complex retains traditional tensions among different religious constituencies. Individual Results May Vary. And these religious play-actors setting themselves up as defenders of traditional morality are not even Christian but Christian-like bastards, “fusing deranged political ideas with a mangled version of the Christian faith”.
This is not Cookie Monster’s game, One Of These Is Not Like The Other. The Russians are missionaries just a bit farther along in their Christian Domination quest. Now if a heavyweight like Mike Pence – together with a religion-coddling Supreme Court – is now singing the Christian Nationalist blues, there is little hope for true freedom (religious or not) in Americans’ near future. If history is any judge, when the “Righteous” run out of enemies to kill, they’ll start devouring each other.
“Hitlers come and go”, a quote of Stalin reads. “But the German people and the German state remain”. The dictator of a Communist country that devoured itself sounded almost eschatalogical. The same aphorism could be applied to Russia or the United States. The house that has been evangelicalism is empty today. The spiritual weather forecast looks grim. But as my blog header announces, our perpetual ruins will be rebuilt; you will reestablish the ancient foundations.. God will protect his church. Even if a “Christian” sword demands Freedom Or Religion.