In Matthew 21, we get to see a rare glimpse of Jesus Christ on an angry tear. The temple he loved had been subverted from its purpose. Vendors and money changers had made the decision to move their business into the temple courts, where they could catch worshipers coming and going, in order to profit.
Matthew 21:13 “ ’It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’ ”
Times have changed, but even today there are many ways that the house of God can be disrespected. Through politics, for example. As a response to the political class attempting to grab votes from the pulpit, in 1954 we got the Johnson Amendment.It states that non-profit, or 501(c)(3) organizations, which the nation’s churches qualify as, were prohibited from endorsing or opposing any political candidates.
It’s well-intended, but intentions aren’t always enough Christians and their leadership should know that in the House of God, you should be about the Father’s business, not that of the world.
When I spoke to churches and church groups about the civic involvement of Christians, the point I hoped to get across was that we should be so grounded in our faith that we let our values dictate how we view candidates, and our decisions should be based on that. We don’t leave the foundations of our faith at the door to the polling place. We carry them with us and apply them, thusly.
What we’ve seen is the perversion of the church’s purpose for the sake of political gain.
You can’t introduce something worldly into what is meant to be kept holy, and expect it to remain effective. No, we should be inserting what is holy into what is worldly and changing the world.
And so I want to talk about what went on in churches across the United States two Sundays ago.
Franklin Graham, the president of Samaritan’s Purse and the son of legendary evangelist, Billy Graham, put out a call to Christian churches to deem the day a day of prayer for President Donald Trump.
Now, as Christians, we’re called to pray for our leadership. And, Lord knows, Donald Trump is in desperate need of a Damascus Road experience.
But there was a tremendous problem with how Graham proposed church leadership instruct their congregations to pray.
Franklin Graham knows the weight of his father’s name in the faith community.
Through the years and his vast ministry, the Reverend Billy Graham sat in spiritual counsel with many presidents from both political parties and enjoyed cordial relationships with every president, Democrat and Republican, from Truman to Obama. Barack Obama even traveled to Graham’s home in Montreat, North Carolina, to sit and converse with the then-92 year old evangelist.
What Franklin Graham has done to his father’s good name is scandalous.
He is capitalizing on that clout by turning the ministry into a tool for partisan politics. In particular, he’s weaponizing the pulpit for the service of an adulterous scoundrel, who routinely spews invectives at fallen war heroes, immigrants, other world leaders, members of his own party, or pretty much anyone who objects to him.
While prompting church leadership to make June 2 a day of prayer for Trump, Graham pushed the argument that no other president has been under such attack. He asked for prayer to shield Trump from his “enemies.” You know, those who oppose Trump, or who would investigate his potentially unlawful conduct or activities. He’s talking about fellow Americans.
Sadly, I saw this in my own church.
As the service came to a close, my dear pastor announced that it was a day of prayer for President Trump. He gave the pertinent verse, regarding praying for our leaders, then fell into a rant that seemed like a Hannity script.
He repeated the false narrative of Trump as the most beleaguered and attacked president in our history, from the “fake news” media, and both parties. (Let’s not tell Lincoln, Reagan, or George W. Bush about this.)
He called Trump the most “Christian-friendly” president in our history, then announced that in 2020, he’d be voting for him. I don’t understand the assertion that Trump is “Christian-friendly.”
His behavior displays none of the traits that one should see from Christians. He has no self-control. He has no love of anyone beyond his own needs and what they can do for him.
In fact, that would describe the relationship between Trump and the Christian church.
Believers serve a purpose that benefits him.
As for what he will do for them, he has promised to end the Johnson Amendment, because, as he has said repeatedly, to the delight of fawning evangelical voters, he was going to protect their “religious freedom.”
We have religious freedom. It is enumerated clearly in the First Amendment, and while the outside world continues to battle against what they disagree with, as far as Christian teachings, it doesn’t matter. That amendment in our Constitution is our bulwark.
They are allowed to disagree, but they are not allowed to encroach on our freedoms. If Christians were more knowledgeable about their rights and more willing to fight for them, they wouldn’t be so quick to look to a government savior.
In fact, I’ve long maintained that our freedoms have made the church in the United States soft and complacent. We have not suffered for our faith, as Christians in other nations have, so we take it for granted.
I don’t expect Trump to understand how his promises to end the Johnson Amendment do not equate to a noble fight against religious persecution. He’s not a Christian or a man whose faith moves beyond his own selfish desires. To him, having Christian pastors across the nation preach the glory of Trumpism and national populism from the pulpit is worship.
I expect Christians and their leadership to know better.
I recently completed a course in evangelism through the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and the common theme of the course was: “Preach Jesus. Preach only Jesus.”
Franklin Graham and the Christian right in the United States have inserted Donald Trump into the mix, and it is depressing. I honestly don’t recall such devotion to any of the presidents in our past, at least, not in my years of redemptive living.
While the congregation of my church prayed along with the pastor for the protection and favor of a man who uses our faith as a political hook, I fought back tears, and pushed down the cold knot in the pit of my stomach.
I recalled another verse from the Gospel of Matthew.
Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.”
I prayed for Trump to have a genuine redemptive moment.
I rebuked the American church – my church home – for allowing politics-as-religion to invade the sanctity of our day of worship, and then I prayed for mercy from a God who has made it clear in his word that he does not share his due glory with anyone.
Christianity in the United States is losing its influence over the family, the culture, and the world around us. If you want to know why, look no further than men like Franklin Graham, leading the charge into the abyss of hypocrisy.