The Gerrymandered Gospel

The majority of White American Christians voted for Donald J. Trump in the recent election. Many of them did so based on a gerrymandered gospel that obscures the Jesus that the Bible describes.

 

That Jesus welcomed the stranger, empathized with the excluded, and crossed established boundaries to minister to all who needed a double dose of human justice or divine mercy. He fed the hungry without demanding conformity with some regulation and preached release to the captive as a sign of the reign of God.

 

But the Jesus of this gerrymandered gospel? Not so much.  In fact, it is hard to find Jesus at all in this new version of the not-so-good news. Jesus has been cut right out of the “gospel” entirely!!

 

That’s what gerrymandered means: drawing the lines to exclude some people and include others. We take that word “gerrymandered” from politics. There it refers to legislative districts that are drawn to favor one party or person and disfavor another party or person. It is intentionally done to subvert free and fair elections and thus undermine the will of the people.

 

The practice is named for Elbridge Gerry who, as governor of Massachusetts (1810-1812) approved a plan to “gerrymander” his election districts to favor his own party.

 

The end result of gerrymandering is the very opposite of gospelizing. The former seeks to distort the voice of the people while the latter seeks to discover the voice of God. The one undermines truth and justice while the other undergirds truth and justice.

 

This new gerrymandered gospel weaves in and out of the Biblical story to include some things and exclude others. It includes, of course, the promise to the sons of Abraham but excludes the promise made to the sons of Ishmael. It skips over much of the Exodus (wherein God liberates Israel) and Leviticus (wherein God establishes social and economic justice). It snakes up and grabs that ubiquitous text in Chronicles: “If my people … will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and … heal their land”. But this new gospel applies the call for repentance not to themselves but to their enemies.

 

Ignoring most of the Hebrew prophets and their calls for us to “do justice and love mercy”, this gerrymandered gospel swings around to Isaiah and Ezra, which identify Cyrus the Great of Persia as the secular agent of God’s restoration of God’s people and thus (so they assert) foreshadows the ungodly Trump as the agent of God.

 

The most egregious exclusion in this gerrymandered reading of the Bible is, as stated above, the entire story of Jesus! No foot-washing, disease-healing, Torah-teaching, people-loving Jesus appears in this new version of the Gospel. The birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus is, well, cut out.

 

The gerrymandered gospel loops up again to capture John and his vision of conflict and conquest in the book of Revelation—visions of armies, minions, and vanquished foes. What emerges from this gerrymandered gospel are not the virtues of faith, hope, and love nor the type of believers who feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the prisoner, and in general declare good news to the poor.

 

No: what emerges is a “Christian” culture that favors the rich and the very, very rich; that ignores the refugee and the immigrant; that forgets how simple things (like wearing a mask) can demonstrate love for a neighbor; that tolerates people like Herod (and Trump) who flout every rule of sexual ethics; that demonizes rather than forgives an enemy; that seeks above all things the most prominent seat at the (White House) table.

 

This is a gerrymandered gospel. It has no power to convert or convict. It lifts no person to glory or consoles no one in grief. It is not the Good News of Holy Scripture. It is, in fact, no gospel at all.

 

 

(November 2020)