When religious leaders fail to follow the path that their tradition has traveled for centuries (with, of course, certain adaptations and occasional missteps), they inevitably get challenged by members of their community who call them to account.
Some of that seems to be happening in light of the obvious presence of Christian nationalists at the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at our nation's Capitol. That event marked a culmination of ideas that had been expressed by certain pastors.
And as this NBC story describes, it has driven some self-described evangelical pastors out of the church and even out of the U.S.
As the story reports, "Jared Stacy had made the decision to leave his job as youth pastor at Spotswood Baptist Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia, just a week before the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington."
Stacy, it's clear, was "(d)isillusioned with his church and the increasingly conservative and nationalist nature of the broader evangelical Christian community to which he had dedicated his life."
The religious support of former President Donald Trump -- at almost any cost -- is an American example of what's been happening to the Russian Orthodox Church's veneration of Vladimir Putin and of Putin's despicable war on Ukraine, a sycophant style relationship described in this Financial Times article. I also wrote about the church and Putin in the second item in this recent blog post.
None of this is to say that religious voices should not be heard in the public square. Nor is it to say that being a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu or an adherent of any other faith tradition means you should stay out of politics. Not at all. In fact, the very first creed of what became the Christian church -- "Jesus is Lord" -- was a bold political statement, meaning that Caesar is not lord.
But when faith communities become not just political but partisan in a way that ignores or abandons their core doctrine, they damage not only their own community, they damage religion in general by making it look hypocritical (because in this case it has become hypocritical).
The NBC story says that "Stacy, 31, is one of a small but growing number of younger evangelical Christians who have left what they see as a religious community led astray from its faith by a fervent strain of Trump-based politics. He and other former evangelicals warn that in a post-Jan. 6 world, the movement faces a challenge in attracting and keeping young, progressive Christians alienated by its relationship with conservative politics."
For some of those Christians, Trump became -- and, in many cases, remains -- an idol. And what is the first of the Ten Commandments? It's a warning against idolatry.
Stacy says he finally decided that "if I have to go buy into this politicization and conspiratorial mind in order to follow this peasant from Nazareth, I don’t want anything to do with that.”
The question is how many other people like Stacy there are in that wing of Christianity and how many eventually will recognize that Stacy is right to reject idolatry. Ask me in a few years.
* * *
ONE MORE MARK AGAINST THE TALIBAN
No one should be shocked that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, in its just-released annual report, says Afghanistan under the Taliban should be included in the list of worst offenders of religious liberty. That is who the Taliban has always been. That is why they allowed the 9/11 terrorists to train in Afghanistan. So I wouldn't be holding my breath of any significant change it the Taliban's approach to any religion beyond their own twisted version of Islam. (Here is a link to the new USCIRF report itself. Read it and weep.)
* * *
P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about a great interfaith play -- now is online here.
* * *
ANOTHER P.S.: My review of Fr. Paul Jones' new book, Remnant Christianity, now is available online here from The National Catholic Reporter.