For some time now, moderate and progressive Christians have been wondering aloud how evangelical Christians came to support Donald Trump in all his obvious clash with Christian values – xenophobic, materialistic, fear-mongering bloviating. What’s the question again caller? It recently occurred to me that NO greater clue exists for this apparent disconnect than a linchpin in the billion dollar industry that is evangelicalism – the Left Behind media empire.
Let me back up, here are the Cliff’s Notes for those who are not familiar with Left Behind.
The books of the Left Behind series offer a fictionalized account of the end-times, based on the authors’ understanding of the book of Revelation and other Bible prophecies.
It goes like this. Billions of people worldwide suddenly disappear. They have been “raptured” where upon they meet in the sky and have mocktails on God’s front lawn while those who were not raptured suffer war, plagues and all sorts or horrors down here on terra firma. Imagine if you will, children sold into sexual slavery, schools and churches being ravaged by military style weapons that can be purchased next to the toilet paper aisle, unchecked human greed preventing basic medical care for the masses, plagues a’plenty and world-wide war machines eviscerating communities of every color and creed. I know it is hard to imagine, but this is what LaHaye images will happen when it the Holy Shit really hits the fan.
If you think I am being hyperbolic, you can listen to Tim LaHaye, describe his theological framework in his own words on an episode of Fresh Air back in 2002.
Now, you may be saying to yourself, Hey, Kim, what’s the big deal, this is just fiction.
Sure, if entertainment was all that people were getting from LB, I’d agree, no harm, no foul. But walk with me a minute more.
While wandering around the interwebs a few years back, I learned that the author of the LB series had just “graduated to heaven.” And I commented on a post about his death, first offering condolences to his family, then criticizing the theologically dangerous premise of his books. One commenter said in reply.
“The books were pivotal in bringing me to Christ. Do I believe the theology? Not really. Did God use them to make me start questioning how to be saved? Yes. Been going to church since. And, the books were fiction, and even stated that they were fiction, not doctrine.”
And then a very sad lightbulb went off for me, it is this very same kind of thinking, that terror can bring you to faith, that leads otherwise kind people to follow the likes of Donald Trump. An entire branch of the Christian family has actually been training people to believe that fear leads to salvation. I’m not even sure what to do with the heart-breaking truth that so many people are led to and “love” God because they are afraid not to love the megalomaniacal deity portrayed by evangelicalism. This paradigm intentionally prepares people to follow a political leader that peddles the most terrifying fictional scenarios while positioning himself as the one and only savior from these tribulations.
Y’all – This is true. This is terrifying.
The theologically dangerous content of the Left Behind series, films, graphic novels and children’s books (let that sink in) has been a cornerstone of evangelicalism’s McMansion, capitalizing on and carefully cultivating humanity’s lizard brain. (1)
But the Gospel of Jesus stands radically opposed to fear-based religion (especially the sort that ends up colluding with the State).
If we don’t want to abdicate our faith or our county to a cult of fear, then we must be willing to cultivate a culture of hope. We as progressive, liberal or even just thoughtful, hopeful Christians MUST lift our voices every day to renounce the heresy of fear-centered theology. And if we do not feel individually equipped to do so, when a leader emerges who can and does speak the hope of our hearts and the centuries old truth of the Gospel, we MUST do all in our power to boost the signal of that voice.
I invite you to list in the comments below the voices of religious leaders who are shining a light on the Gospel of God’s abundant love and grace.
- “Lizard brain” refers to the oldest part of the brain, the brain stem, responsible for primitive survival instincts such as aggression and fear (“flight or fight”). Psychology Today, 2014