Evangelicalism’s Golden Calf

There’s a sound of discontent among Christians this week. Oh, come on – we’re ALWAYS discontent about something. So what is it this time? This time it’s because of First Baptist Church in Dallas. They held a “Celebrate Freedom Rally” during 4th of July weekend.

And during this 2-hour glut fest of raw patriotism and nationalism, the choir unveiled a new anthem called “Make America Great Again.” That’s really not what has people so upset – churches do patriotic services ALL THE TIME. I think what really got people’s knickers in a twist was how fast the song was copyrighted and listed on CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International), the organization that “provides information and resources for churches and copyright owners around the world, relating to copyrights of Christian worship songs” (THEIR WORDS, NOT MINE).

Their launch screen is all about worship!

CCLI Home Screen

Worship planning starts here? Really? But “Make America Great Again” is not about God.

Like, not at all. It’s only about the country and restoring its greatness and glory.

MAGA

In a word, it’s idolatry. Any time you elevate something and worship it as equal to or in place of God you’re committing idolatry. Sure, it wasn’t a “worship service.” Well, it was, just not a worship service where God was the object of worship. Evangelicals have a bad habit of conflating patriotism and faith. Loving America does NOT make us better Christians. Loving God does NOT mean we’re going to love America (otherwise, Christians all over the world in foreign countries are in for a WORLD of disappointment when they reach heaven).

America has become our Golden Calf.

And, sadly, this is not new. A quick search for the word “America” on CCLI and I have a results list of 192 songs.

Really? This is supposed to be our worship archive, guys! The Bible is pretty clear that our worship belongs to God and God alone. He got pretty ticked with that whole calf in the wilderness incident. And if this idolatry has become the norm for Evangelicalism, then I am ready to call American Evangelicalism a dead religion. I’m done with it and all of the garbage that comes with it.

Jesus transcends nations. His worship demands WE transcend nations. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be patriotic. I’m saying we’ve lost the ability to see the line between patriotism and idolatry.

And that’s not okay.

golden-calf

Jesus Says, “No, America, You Won’t Be Great Again.”

For what it’s worth, I’m not now nor have I ever been anti-American (as even close friends have been accused of behaving). I LOVE my country and and very glad that I live here, serve here (though my opinions do not reflect the Navy, the Department of Defense, or any government agency), and raise my family here. For all our faults (and we can point to quite a few), there are places in the world that are FAR worse off. So I’m not here to bash America. I’m here to talk about Christians who have jumped on the “Make America Great Again” bandwagon.

You see, the expression implies that America WAS great but somehow lost its greatness. It now needs to regain what we once had. So I want to know what it is we’ve lost and what we need to get back. My friend Harry said it very well when he responded:

I believe the more specific definition is “great for who(m)”? In a land of such diversity greatness is defined by any individual group to suit their own needs and desires. It’s a dandy catchphrase but is it also a balance scale. Does “greatness” for some come at a sacrifice to others?

I think that’s a big part of the problem. Going back to greatness for one group doesn’t look so hot for another group. It’s a matter of perspective, depending on which side of history you fall. But my BIGGEST problem comes from Christians who eagerly (sometimes humble-732566_1920overwhelmingly so) desire to be part of the “Make America Great Again” movement. I expect such behavior from non-Christians. But Christians are supposed to approach issues like this from a different perspective. Jesus addressed greatness several times.

He said:

The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:11-12)

and:

And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:33-35)

I’m not talking about pursuing excellence. If we follow the Apostle’s advice and do everything we do as doing it unto God, we’re going to pursue excellence. But the idea of greatness runs contrary to the idea of humility. Greatness is a comparative quality – it’s being set apart from the norm or average. It’s saying, “I’m more special than ________.”

GreatI fail to grasp how a commitment to Jesus, one who epitomized service to others, allows us a Christians to say, “We desire to be better than everyone else!”

I recognize that it’s impossible to lump everyone who says, “Make America Great Again” into a single group. But my observation is that the slogan, and many who promote it, embrace an “us vs. them” mentality that is at odds with the Gospel of Jesus.

Real humility doesn’t say, “I desire to be great!” Real humility says, “What can I do for you?”

So be patriotic. Pursue excellence in all you do. There’s nothing wrong with that! But be humble. Embrace serving others. Reject the pursuit of greatness as a goal. Let greatness be the result of a life of serving others and seeking to build others up. Remember Jesus’s words I mentioned earlier:

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.”