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The Irony of Insidious Invective

“The irony is that 'looking down on everybody else' is a violation of the law of love, which, according to Jesus, is the absolute essence of righteousness.” – John Ortberg

Looking down on others has become the defining characteristic of a significant segment of the white evangelical world. Liberal, gays, Muslims, Catholics, Mormons, agnostics, atheists, secularists, secular scholars, “globalists,” and just about anyone else who is not an evangelical—as narrowly defined by the one judging—is flawed, lacking that certain something that makes him or her special and especially treasured by God.

Contempt for Others

Few white evangelicals would openly proclaim those “others” to be genetically, morally, or intellectually inferior. Instead, they are “deceived” by Satan and his worldly ways. They are to be pitied and, if possible, converted, not despised. That view—as strange as it might sound to most non-evangelicals—is true of many white evangelicals. But for many other white evangelicals, contempt rather than pity is the emotion ruling their instinctual—if not openly proclaimed—assessments of “others.”

Arousing these prejudicial judgments is—consciously or subconsciously—the sinister specter of Christian nationalism, the notion that the USA was founded as a Christian nation and that true believers are required to use any means possible to restore and maintain “Christian values” as the basis for the nation’s laws and policies.

The Vile Irony

The vile irony in this attitude is that the Bible these folks claim to revere and follow plainly opposes it. In the New Testament, Jesus is frequently portrayed as the Jewish rebel who defied the nation’s xenophobic religious leaders. He is seen going out of His way to reach out to those most often overlooked or rejected. Even in the Old Testament, the insular Israelites were told to welcome strangers.

  • “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:33-34

  • “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 10:19

  • “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a sojourner in his land.” – Deuteronomy 23:7

These and many other Bible passages establish the principle of acceptance and hospitality to all people. Yet far too many modern-day zealots who claim to revere and follow the Bible have become narrow-minded and intolerable toward anyone unlike them.

And that contradictory attitude brings us to the most glaring—but also most overlooked—evangelical violation of the book they claim to follow.

Inconsistent Imposition of Commandments

A commonly heard refrain among white evangelicals is that Americans need to obey the Ten Commandments. (Never mind the gross inconsistency of accepting the Ten Commandments while perfunctorily rejecting most of the other Mosaic laws.) “If Americans obey the Ten Commandments, God will bless this nation, just as He blessed the Israelites when they obeyed His laws.” (Never mind that God gave the Old Testament laws to one specific assemblage in one specific era and never gave those laws to anyone else.) The obvious question that must be asked is this: “Do you who want to impose the Ten Commandments upon your unbelieving neighbors faithfully follow those commandments yourselves?"

  • Have you never failed to put God first in your thoughts, words, and actions?

  • Have you never made an idol of anything in your life?

  • Have you never used God’s name in vain?

  • Have you faithfully kept the Sabbath day—which, officially, is Saturday?

  • Have you always faithfully honored your parents?

  • Have you ever murdered someone—in deed or in desire?

  • Have you never committed adultery—in deed or in desire?

  • Have you never stolen anything?

  • Have you ever borne false witness against another person?

  • Have you never coveted something that belongs to another person?

Malicious Misrepresentation

One of those Ten Commandments is especially pertinent to this discussion. The third of the Ten Commandments says, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

Stand outside any white evangelical church at 11:50 a.m. on any Sunday and ask the exiting congregants to recite the third of the Ten Commandments. Few will be able to do so. Then, after you’ve recited the third commandment to them, ask what it means. Almost without fail, the answer will be something like this: “Don’t say God damn,” or “Don’t use the name Jesus as a swear word.” Is that really what the third commandment referred to?

The Ten Commandments are found in the 20th chapter of the book of Exodus. Earlier in the book of Exodus we find a clue to the true meaning of the third commandment. In the third chapter of Exodus God is portrayed as speaking to Moses through a burning bush. As the conversation ensues, Moses asks God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God replies, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

What a strange answer. “I am who I am.” What does that mean? It means there is no distinction or discrepancy between God’s name and His character; His words and His actions always impeccably reflect who He is.

The Real Meaning of the Third Commandment

What, then, does it mean to “misuse” God’s name, as seen in the third commandment? Misusing God’s name is not focused on using the term God in speaking a vacuous curse in a moment of anger. The true focus is on misrepresenting God’s character. And that is precisely what too many of today’s MAGA-obsessed white evangelicals do daily. They misrepresent God as a giant, white-skinned, steely-eyed, judgmental potentate sitting on a throne pronouncing curses on anyone who does not meet their harsh but hypocritical standards. Conversely, the Bible generally portrays God as a kind, gentle, loving Father.

Those less-frequent portrayals of God as harsh and judgmental are within the context of His dealings with the ancient nation of Israel and its surrounding nations and people groups. But even in those portrayals, He is seen as being merciful. The most-obvious example of this mercy is seen in the book of Jonah, where the reluctant prophet is sent to the wicked city of Nineveh. God insists that Jonah must go warn the Ninevites of impending judgment. When the Ninevites repent, judgment is averted.

Instead, all too often, this is how white evangelical represent—misuse the name of—God:

Those who do this will be held accountable.

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