Many people take for granted what one means when he or she refers to “God.” It is assumed that “God” has a common meaning . That assumption is implied in the countless generalized references to “God” made by politicians, journalists, other media persons, faith leaders, and citizens. Herein lays a shared — and dangerous — misconception. Generally seen as good, “God” can be used to serve self-centered, predatory, evil purposes.
It is also commonly believed that The Bible reveals the nature of God. That belief is proven problematic merely by the fact that there are over 200 Christian denominations in the United States alone, and many of them base their identity on different and, in certain instances, differing passages of Scripture. (For a list of Christian denominations in the U.S., see “Christian Denominations,” www. mesacc.edu)
For example, in Matthew 16: 18-20, Jesus is recorded as saying to his disciple Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church . . . I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Thus the Roman Catholic Church was the first Christian church, founded by Christ himself – which its adherents believe makes it the “one true church.” It’s guiding theology: people are inherently sinful and need the rites of the Catholic Church, dispensed by its priests, to insure their salvation of “being bound in heaven” and avoid being “loosened” into eternal damnation.
In the 16th century, Catholic priest Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation, challenging the authority of the Catholic Church over the claim that it alone possessed the “keys to the kingdom of heaven.” Luther still declared that people were inherently sinful, but they could go directly to the Scriptures to obtain their salvation, rather than depend on a priest as a mediator. They were saved through faith in Christ, who died on the cross for their sins. As Paul the Apostle declared in Ephesians 2: 8: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” For Luther, faith was about “the priesthood of all believers.” Thus for Lutherans, the authority to determine who is saved and who is damned shifted from the Church to belief in the Scriptures, from the institution to the individual.
The United Methodist Church, second largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., was founded by Anglican priest John Wesley in 18th century England. Wesley stressed expressing a Catholic spirit toward other Christian groups, using as his inspiration II Kings 10: 15: “Is your heart true to my heart as mine is to yours? . . . If you are, give me your hand.” Thus today The United Methodist Church’s motto is “Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.” (See “Love, Unity and the Catholic Spirit: What Does Wesley Say?,” By Greg Stover, wesleyancovenant.org, Feb. 8, 2019) But The Church is in the process of splitting up. The issue: homosexuality. The weapon of choice: The Bible. The so-called “Traditionalist” members are using selective anti-LGBTQ passages of Scripture to close the Church’s doors on the aspirations of LGBTQ persons – and their growing number of supporters — to gain full acceptance at the Church’s altar. Thus “Men who practice homosexuality” will not “inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 6: 9-10) takes precedent over Jesus’ great commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12: 31) “Faithfulness to [certain] Scripture” is stressed rather than human affinity.
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the largest Protestant denomination in the U. S., and second Christian Church in size only to the Roman Catholic Church. The SBC believes in the inerrancy of the Scriptures (“Gospel Above All”), is predominantly white, evangelical, pro-life and anti-gay. And “Southern Baptists tend to favor the Republican Party.” (“7 facts about Southern Baptists.” By Dalia Fahmy, Pew Research Center, July 7, 2019). In fact, a large percentage of President Trump’s 2016 Evangelical Advisory Board were Southern Baptists. Thus the 2020 Republican Party platform was reported to “align with several SBC resolutions and agree partially with others” and “continued to stand on its 2016 platform – which does address . . . traditional SBC priorities, including abortion, religious liberty and human sexuality.” “God” is prominent here. “The 66-page 2016 platform references God 15 times, marriage 19, abortion 35 and contains no clear disagreements with SBC stances.”(“How Republicans’ stances compare with SBC resolutions,” By David Roach, Baptist Press, Aug. 26, 2020)
Evidently “God” is a Republican. Many Southern Baptists and other evangelicals believe that “God” was behind President Trump’s election in 2016. Rev. Franklin Graham, prominent Southern Baptist leader, explained why Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016: “Hundreds of thousands of Christians from across the United States having been praying . . . for this election and the future of America. . . . Then Christians went to the polls, and God showed up. . . . I believe that God’s hand intervened Tuesday night to stop the godless, atheistic progressive agenda from taking control of our country.” (“Franklin Graham: The media didn’t understand the ‘God-factor’ in Trump’s win,” By Lindsey Bever, The Washington Post, Nov.10, 2016)
Rev. Graham added that President Trump and Vice President Pence “need God’s help and direction. It is my prayer that we will truly be ‘one nation under God.’” (Ibid)
Whose God? The biblically bound, white supremacist, pro-life God who cages immigrant children, is anti-Muslim, gives believers the “religious freedom” to discriminate against LGBTQ persons (no wedding cakes here)? The Jesus only saves “Gospel Above All” God? Instead of “One nation under God,” how about Christians pledging allegiance to One God under whom everyone is favored equally?
Pastor Robert Jeffress, another leading Southern Baptist minister, who serves on President Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board, called Trump a Christian “warrior,” and “that pro-life Christians had a champion in Trump and that the Democrats would ‘undo everything this president has done . . . in the pro-life area. . . . Apparently.’ ” Jeffress continued, “ ‘the god they worship is the pagan God of the Old Testament Moloch, who allowed for child sacrifice.’ ” (“Pastor Robert Jeffress Says Trump Is Christian ‘Warrior’ and Democrats Worship Pagan God Moloch ‘Who Allowed for Child Sacrifice,’ “ By Brendan Cole, Newsweek, Oct. 2, 2019)
Many white evangelical Christians believe that President Trump is “God’s Chosen one.” Critics of the belief “that Trump was heaven-sent” are dismissed by Rev. Franklin Graham. In a reported “conversation . . . Graham suggested that criticism of Trump was coming from “a demonic power.’ “ (“Comparing Trump to Jesus, and why some evangelicals believe Trump is God’s chosen one,” By Eugene Scott, The Washington Post, Dec. 18, 2019)
In discussing the China trade war with reporters, President Trump “looked toward the heavens . . . proclaiming ‘I’m the chosen one.” When pressed about such a Messianic statement, he later said that he was kidding. Still, as reported, he has “tweeted quotes from conservatives comparing him to the ‘second coming of God.’ “ (Ibid) Whether kidding or not, Trump got as much mileage as possible out of being deified; and deification would fit his narcissism, which like the heavens, is boundless. He feeds evangelicals’ need of a Messiah. One example of that seduction is authorities violently driving peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square, with Trump then walking to the front of St. John’s Church, near the White House, and holding up a Bible for a photo op.
While President Trump may not be the Messiah, he claims an intimate relationship with “God.” In a rally in Cleveland, he said that Democratic presidential nominee (now president-elect), “Joe Biden – a practicing Catholic – is ‘against God.’” Trump continued: “ ‘Take away your guns. Take away your Second Amendment. No religion. No anything . . . Hurt the Bible. Hurt God. He’s against God. He’s against guns. He’s against energy.’ ” (“Trump falsely says Biden, a practicing Catholic, is ‘against God,’” By Caitlin Conan, CBS News, Aug. 7, 2020)
“One nation, indivisible, under God with liberty and justice for all.” Whose God? The white American nationalist Christian “God” sitting on top of an historic, systemic white-favored hierarchy of access to “liberty and justice” – and health as the coronavirus pandemic disproportionally ravages economically deprived people of color. A Christian “God” who plays favorites with “His” children. A “God” whose truth is limited by sectarian bias supported by select biblical revelations, whose love is conditional, and who is about justification by faith alone and not “justice for all.”
The Golden Rule, which is shared by Christianity and the major religions, provides a universally held key to truth, love and justice. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” reveres and expresses truth, as truth involves experiencing –not interpreting — each other’s reality. Justice involves making sure that everyone shares the same democratic access to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” which is possible where truth abounds. And truth and justice are the wings of love. Many Christians share these universal values, but Christianity does not have a monopoly on them. Truth, justice and love are discovered and practiced in shared human experience everywhere.