It's Time for Evangelicals to Be Headlights

Almost as upsetting as the actions of white Nationalists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville was the response to their views by our nation's evangelical leaders.

The powerful evangelicals who preside over millions of members of America's religious right have had an opportunity in recent weeks to uphold the Bible's teachings by denouncing racism, bigotry, hate and division. Instead, they have appeared complicit with President Donald Trump on this issue. In fact, one of its leading messengers, Rev. Franklin Graham, blessed the President's recent "camp meeting" in Phoenix with the prayer of invocation.

After the President responded to the Charlottesville tragedy by placing equal blame on the protesters who were there to denounce racism and hate, the CEOs of major U.S. companies began to pull out of the president's councils. The swift resignations were a matter of principle. Whether or not they are church-going folks, they could no longer support the President.

But when it comes to some leaders in the faith community - particularly among the famous megachurch pastors tasked with providing moral leadership to millions of Americans - the response to Trump's remarks has been off-putting. Only one minister - the megachurch pastor A.R. Bernard - resigned from the President's evangelical council. At least he wouldn't sell his soul for political clout.

All the others, including major influencers such as Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, and Paula White, remain on the council. This should not surprise us given the historical context. Jeffress is pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Tex., which evolved out of the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. This convention was organized for the sole purpose of preserving the institution of slavery.

Meanwhile, Falwell, Jr.'s father, Jerry Falwell Sr., organized Liberty University as a Christian school to get around the Supreme Court decision of 1954 that integrated schools. How unfortunate that his son continues his father's counterfeit spirituality in being the first evangelical to endorse Trump for President.

That counterfeit spirituality can also be uncovered in present contradictions: How in one breath these leaders talk about their reverence for the Jewish people, but then say nothing when neo-Nazis in Charlottesville express their desire to expel and destroy Jews. The Christian Bible states "Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?' President Trump's promotion of division and mean-spirited politics have rotted our country's moral fabric to its core and does not reflect the fruits of this nation's long and storied struggle to unify as one people under God.

Thankfully, God forgives and encourages repentance. And so we call upon evangelicals and other faith leaders to be the conscience, to be the salt, to be the headlight and not the taillight of the social order.

If President Trump is here to stay for his full term, and especially if he endures through two, faith leaders of all stripes must form a national conference in order to help the President do some soul searching. We've been too divided. We must come together, be humble and candid, and demonstrate that we are agents of integrity, of principle, of passion and courage.

On this issue of domestic terrorism, the evangelical faith community has been the taillight. They have proven themselves not to be champions and leaders of enlightenment, encouragement and engagement, but rather as political operatives for a brand of governance that has proven to divide us and summon hatred and anger.

It's time for all of us to be the headlight, to be true to the mind and spirit of the prophet Jesus of Nazareth, to love justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. These very evangelicals will profess from the highest mountains that our nation is one under God, with liberty and justice for all. Sending us all back to pre-Civil War days is hardly promoting liberty and justice for African Americans. And until they can come to this understanding, evangelicals will continue the be agents of darkness rather than headlights of light.

Dr. Amos C. Brown, Pastor

Third Baptist Church of San Francisco

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