Update: I have added the first part of Robert Jeffress’s opening remarks from the Celebrate Freedom rally at the bottom of the post, as well as the lyrics to the new “hymn,” Make America Great Again, sung by the Dallas First Baptist choir.

Original post follows:

Tonight at the Kennedy Center, President Trump will team up with his court prophet, Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of Dallas First Baptist, at the Independence Day extravaganza. Jeffress invested all his pastoral and moral authority in Trump during last year’s election cycle, and like many Southern Baptists, he believes America is a Christian nation. His sermons on the subject induced so many eye rolls in the first ten minutes, I had to force myself to finish them.

Before going any further, I have to say that I’ve been told on pretty solid authority that the FBC Dallas choir will debut a new “hymn” tonight titled Making America Great Again. 

If that turns out to be true, I’ll certainly post and mock the lyrics here later. That they would actually call it a hymn brings me to the main point.

This week has made clear yet again that President Trump would not be where he is without the allegiance of millions of so-called evangelical Christians, Jeffress notable among them. For my evangelical friends, relax; this isn’t about you. I don’t think most of the people who voted for Trump who called themselves evangelical really are. They are in a totally different and really old category: civil religionist. It’s one of the oldest categories in the history of religion.

fbc dallas

Congregants at Dallas First Baptist worshipping the American Empire?

When looking at religious people, we look at their practices to determine which sect is theirs. Listening to words is often pointless, as Americans have learned to separate belief into cognitive and active spheres, as if what I do is possibly not what I believe. The current milieu provides a stellar example. Those who call themselves evangelical allegedly believe in a form of Christian theism. For the religiously uninformed, that is a Christian who believes God is personal, knowable, and active in the world.  In other words, God actually does stuff in the lives of his followers. You’ve most likely heard people say something about answered prayer or God “working something out” or “making a way.” Those are theistic statements.

The problem with this pro-Trump “evangelical” crowd is that they abandoned theism in favor of civil religion, which is just a spiritualized form of pragmatism. Civil religion, best understood, is religion at the service of the state or in support of the political/cultural status quo. Jesus was no fool, and I can say that without believing he was God. When talking about absolutes, he postulated that humans can only serve one master. In that context, it was God or Mammon, but that second choice can be any number of things, including political power or influence.

(Your religion nerd friends will call this Constantinianism, after the Emperor Constantine who gave Christians a privileged place in the Roman Empire, and according to the wisest theological historians, utterly destroyed the moral authority of the Church ever after.)

Among the many excerpts from the Psalms that have been made into truly awful modern songs is Psalm 20:7. “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” (NIV) The title of this post draws from that Psalm because the overwhelming moral justification in voting for Trump was to get control of the SCOTUS nomination. The thought was that Trump would pick a justice who is pro-life. This is really about the ongoing fantasy in fundamentalist circles that Roe v. Wade will one day be overturned, and the messianic expectations landed on Trump, because they knew Mrs. Clinton was not going to pick a pro-life judge.

This is the moment where the method reveals the religious conviction. These people had no faith in God to work out something on earth. (Honestly, it’s hard to blame them, and I do wish they’d simply admit that if he does exist, he’s busy elsewhere or just doesn’t much care for humans–hard to blame him on most counts there, too.) Their faith was in Trump and his choice for the Supreme Court. God certainly wasn’t going to do it, so the transfer from theism to civil religion makes perfect sense. There is even a justification for it under a messianic guise: God’s man for the task, or some other such shit. Those are just words to disguise the reality that the so-called evangelicals had no faith when it mattered, and so voted for the closest thing any of them will ever see to an actual antichrist.

Jeffress is enjoying his newfound importance in the king’s court, but if there is any truth in that book Jews and Christians read, a false prophet’s day of reckoning is always just around the corner. Evangelicals of conscience, including the Southern Baptists among them, you may want to start publicly separating yourselves from the civil religionists who are co-opting the words and symbols of your faith.

Updated Section

Jeffress gets an inexplicable standing ovation when he’s announced. Why is a pastor getting a standing ovation for speaking at a patriotic event? Anyway, he makes a quick joke about it: “Trust me; I’m just the warm-up act.” That’s followed by a quick introduction of himself and his church, as well as a brief welcome to the audience. Then this.

“In Psalm 33, verse 12, the psalmist declared, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD.” It is absolutely an indisputable fact that our nation was founded on a love for God and a reverence for his Word, and because of that, we have experienced the undeserved favor of God upon our country.

“But it is also an indisputable fact that in recent years there have been those who have tried to separate our nation from its spiritual foundation. And that reality has caused many of us, many Christians to despair and wonder, ‘Is God finished with America? Are our best days over? Has God removed his hand of blessing from us?”

“But in the midst of that despair came November the eighth, twenty sixteen. (Pause for applause.) That day represented the greatest political upset in American history. (Pause for applause.) Because it was on that day, November 8th, that God declared that the people, not the pollsters are gonna choose the next President of the United States…And they chose Donald Trump!”

The Lyrics to Make America Great Again

Thanks to the Reverend for sending this along.

Make America Great Again x 2
Light the torch of freedom all across the land.
Step in to the future joining hand in hand.
Make America Great Again x 2 with “each and every day” added to the last MAGA.

I’ll post the video as soon as it’s available.