For those who are interested (for political and/or personal reasons), I published a piece in Salon yesterday: “Marjorie Taylor Greene’s version of Christianity is a massive betrayal of the teachings of Jesus.

I begin with the fact that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene had argued in a recent interview, and then clumsily tried to explain away in an official statement, that “Satan’s controlling the church.” The evidence she gave for such satanic control? Christian groups who provide aid to undocumented immigrants.

The article includes an overall assessment of the dangers of Christian Nationalism, but I use the framework of Howard Thurman—a mentor to Dr. King who provided much of the theological foundation for the Civil Rights Movement—in connection with the teachings of Jesus, Adam Serwer’s “The Cruelty is the Point,” and Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us.

Greene accuses the very people who strive to follow the teachings of Jesus as being directed by forces of evil. Perhaps it is too much to expect anything better from someone who, because of her recent court testimony, some have started calling “Perjury Taylor Greene,” but I would argue, as they say in horror movies, that the call is coming from inside the house. Evil — or “Satan,” if you prefer — is present in such words of hatred, fear and deception.

Unlike Greene, I claim no knowledge of Satan’s activities — or existence — but as a scholar of the teachings of Jesus, I am certain that his teachings are diametrically opposed to what Greene claims they are, and that groups who provide humanitarian relief to marginalized communities, including refugees and undocumented immigrants, are following Jesus’ commands to the letter.

Greene’s example would not be significant if it were an outlier. But her words and actions are paradigmatic of how “Christian” nationalists, primarily driven by white evangelicals, use their power and influence to dominate media narratives and political processes. It also illustrates how messages of fear, deception, hypocrisy and hate — what Howard Thurman, best known for being a mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., appropriately called the “hounds of hell” — can often triumph over Jesus’ message of love, his teachings about reconciliation, restoration of community, and resulting humanitarian actions toward all people. Adam Serwer’s article for the Atlantic, “The Cruelty is the Point,” has repeatedly been proven true. Greene, along with Donald Trump and his other supporters, thrive on viciousness against people they deem “outsiders” and use as scapegoats. This cruelty binds Trump and his supporters — especially conservative white evangelical Christians — into a “community” of “real Americans” fueled by the fear, deception and hatred that celebrates punitive actions against marginalized people.

I then go on to analyze “Christian Nationalism’s Betrayal of Jesus.” I will leave out the details—go to the article if you are interested in the specific teachings of Jesus that oppose what passes for much of Christianity today—but I place it in the context of Thurman’s analysis before giving my own as a scholar of the teachings of Jesus (e.g., I even teach a course at the university where I am a professor, “The Ethics of Jesus.”).

Thurman’s 1949 classic book, “Jesus and the Disinherited,” still provides one of the best analyses of how the religion of Jesus opposes and indeed condemns the perversion of Christianity that Greene represents. Thurman argues that Jesus’ religion and ethical vision are embedded in his historical context: Jesus, a poor 1st-century Jew, spoke to others who, like him, were poor, disinherited and dispossessed — those with their “backs constantly against the wall” as members of a minority group suffering oppression from a dominant, controlling group, the Romans.

See the section, “The Real Jesus,” for how the teachings of Jesus are diametrically opposed to what (white) evangelicals/Trump supporters are saying about such things as wealth, power, immigration, care for the poor and other people with their “backs against the wall” (I conclude that section with this: “Greene might be distressed to hear that the ones who do not welcome the stranger are condemned at the Last Judgment to spend eternity with Satan”).

I conclude the article this way:

I cannot say for sure how Greene and similar Christian nationalists will fare even in this world, much less in any potential next world, but Thurman argues that although hatred and other “hounds of hell” can give people a false sense of significance, purpose and community, they ultimately destroy the hater from within. Likewise, as Heather McGhee brilliantly demonstrates in her book “The Sum of Us,” the very systems exploiting those with their backs against the wall often expand to exploit other groups as well. Those supporting such oppression because it only hurts the “other” thus ultimately find themselves similarly oppressed by the powerful. Just as McGhee argues that a functioning society depends on a “web of mutuality,” of social solidarity, Jesus says that true community is built by working actively for the well-being of all other human beings — loving all our “neighbors” — which ultimately includes our own well-being.

Our current landscape appears bleak, and the hounds of hell seemingly are winning. But Thurman remained optimistic that these “contradictions in life” are not final, a message of hope reminiscent of theologian Theodore Parker’s admonition: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Thurman believed that love, reconciliation and community can ultimately overcome fear, deception, hypocrisy and hate, and perhaps that hope can provide us renewed strength to live our lives working to help bend that arc towards justice. As Thurman urged, we can “try it and see.”

I highly recommend Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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