(Listen to this episode on Anchor.fm)
This post is a bit longer than my other recent posts, and I’m addressing something that deeply bothers me, and I think it needs to be addressed with some force and specificity. So let’s dig in; buckle your seat belts, and hang on for the ride.
I’d like to first set the stage.
I grew up deeply conservative and deeply evangelical Christian. I spent countless hours listening to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Fox News, poking fun at the Washington Post and CNN and MSNBC, and attending political rallies for right-wing candidates and evangelical causes. I grew up on a religious diet of patriarchal, Calvinist, pre-tribulation rapture theology. I say all that to set this context: I have a very deep, carefully-developed, and internalized understanding of a certain thought process, or a framework of understanding.
(One might say that I’m intersectionally a white conservative evangelical Christian. I’ll wait while you wrap your head around the ridiculity of that claim for a minute, if you understand intersectionality in the context of anti-discrimination.)
Lately I’ve been ashamed of how “my people” are behaving. I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with a wide array of behaviors that I previously would have cheered. And from my perspective, the “Let’s Go Brandon” battle cry represents a pinnacle of wrongness I have never seen before.
What’s the Problem?
If, by some fortunate chance, you haven’t encountered that phrase before, I’m sorry to intrude on your sheltered world, but you need to know about it. And I’m not going to explain it here. A quick Google search will tell you everything you need to know.
I’m not going to delve deeply into how Christians are supposed to relate to their leaders, other than to say this: I don’t think we Christians are given any option other than to pray for those in authority over us – Paul in 1 Tim 2:1-2 was speaking to His fellow Roman-oppressed, cultural-minority Jews, after all, and surely expected his readers to understand that when he said “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority” he obviously meant “even when they wrong you.” Unfortunately, I can understand how hard it is to willingly pray for someone who feels like a traitor to our faith, or who violates our entire sense of the right way to govern a nation. I’m not expecting others to feel affection towards flawed or even outright despotic leaders – but how we feel can’t affect how we obey.
I won’t even delve deeply into the issue of swearing or cursing. To me, that’s somewhat irrelevant to this discussion. I personally think the Bible’s pretty clear on the concept of how we should speak, but I am pretty sure that nobody is going to hell just because of using a few choice four-letter words. But for the most part, such choices only affect a few people at a time, in private conversations or even on social media pages.
I do, however, want to address the phenomenon of this chant appearing in church settings, and in the speech and on the social media feeds and memes and clothing of believers.
There Is No Ambiguity
Let’s be clear – everybody, and I truly mean everybody, understands what “Let’s Go Brandon” means. F*** Joe Biden. At the very worst, sodomize him. Sexually violate him. At the very least, disrespect him in the most vile way verbally possible, that not long ago would have led instantly to a fistfight at a bar for such blatant to-the-face spoken assault. There’s no getting around the meaning.
But far more than the phrase, I think the importance lies in what its usage represents.
The Militarization of the Church
For about fifty years, the evangelical church in America has employed increasingly militaristic language to describe the Christian experience. In the book “Jesus and John Wayne,” Kristin Kobes Du Mez carefully traces the recent history of the church as it has struggled with maintaining its cultural relevance through world wars, the Cold War, and most recently the struggle to define American culture in an increasingly unchurched society. Her conclusion is that many of the heroes of American church culture – from Billy Graham to James Dobson to Ollie North, and dozens of others – drew heavily upon militaristic language and metaphors to encourage its adherents to stay engaged and to try to preserve their value systems. Even shaping this paragraph was difficult without using militaristic phrases – like “try to preserve” instead of “fight to preserve.”
Over time, everything that was difficult about the Christian life became part of the “battle” or “fight” or “war.” Every method or tool of the Christian became a “weapon” or a “shield.”
There is certainly Biblical precedent for this – given the various verses describing “the weapons of our warfare” or “the sword of the Spirit” or “shield of faith.” However, those verses are not the majority in the Bible, although they’re certainly the majority language in much of American Christendom today.
In fact, it has now thoroughly seeped into even non-religious discussions within the church. Many discussions of politics in Christian circles in 2016 and 2020 relied upon such militaristic language as well.
A Man With A Hammer…
The consequence of this focus on warfare and warlike language is that it comes with a focus on having an enemy. It is said that a man with a hammer sees everything as a nail. A Marine wag similarly observed that a man with a bazooka sees everything like a tank. But not everything should be a target. While we Christians do in fact have an enemy, and there definitely are spiritual battles in the heavenly realms, here’s the interesting thing: in the New Testament, most references to “enemy” refer to Satan, and the few others almost universally appeal to believers to love their enemies, and turn away from retaliation. As far as I can tell, not a single New Testament reference calls Christians to make enemies of other humans or human agencies. The only authorized enemy is our spiritual opponent Satan, and his worldly systems (the “kosmos”). We are supposed to avoid treating fellow men like enemies. Put down the bazooka, in other words.
But when the language we hear in the religious environment is full of a focus on our enemies, it shouldn’t surprise us if division results. We have begun to focus on being opposed, instead of finding unity.
And the deeper into this struggle the church finds itself, the more vehement that language has seemed to become – the more passionately Christian leaders and influencers urge their followers to march to war – not against Satan, but against their fellow humans.
The Politicization of the Church
Second to the militarization is the politicization of the church.
It’s hard to find a church in a recent election season that hasn’t said something about how its people should vote. That’s natural and understandable, given that we desire to see our culture and society reflect our value systems.
The Revenue Act of 1954 established the modern tax code, and included section 501(c) for exempt organizations, while simultaneously placing limits on political activities of exempt organizations. For many years, that placed a certain damper on the involvement of churches with lobbying and political activism, given that most churches did not wish to endanger their donor’s tax-exempt giving.
But many churches have increasingly bucked this stricture, and sought ways to affect the politics of their constituents, their region and the nation. One way this can occur is to simply be very politically-unambiguous without actually promoting any given candidate. In other words, a church is free to blatantly promote a political viewpoint without promoting those who might lead.
And the church members seem to have willingly – and happily – embraced this goal. After all, they’ve been taught for generations that the goal is to take over the nation for God, to once again be “one nation under God” (although that particular phrase is a very recent addition to our national identity – in reality as recent as the 1930s, and wasn’t added to our currency and the Pledge of Allegiance until the 1950s). This “Christian Nationalism” has exploded in popularity among evangelical Christians recently, and particularly during President Trump’s administration.
But it’s worth also noting that the direction of this activism is hardly uniform across America. There are just as many churches promoting liberal or Democratic ideals and candidates as are promoting conservative or Republican ideals and candidates. There should be a lesson there: it’s not wise to assume there is only one “Christian” way of voting.
In any case, it’s apparent that the American church has increasingly sought to obtain and hold a political voice.
And with this politicization has come compromise.
Selling Our Soul For a Seat at the Table of Power
Any halfway honest review of American Christian history will quickly uncover some uncomfortable facts. For example, the book “The Color of Compromise” by Jemar Tisby carefully details how the American church consistently, over hundreds of years, willfully adjusted its own position to ensure continued political power – at the cost of many of its moral positions on how it treats oppressed people. “Jesus and John Wayne” similarly details the flow of the American church within US political systems, taking increasingly questionable steps to ensure access to seats of political power. Du Mez carefully shows how numerous US politicians adjusted their own platforms to effectively buy votes, mostly from the evangelical church, and how those Christians consistently overlooked some pretty significant moral and political shortcomings to get them into office.
It’s also interesting to see how various Christian figureheads adjusted their positions on political activism over the years – notables such as Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell started from positions that political activism was inappropriate for the church – and over time found themselves increasingly involved in politics. (Billy Graham later said he regretted having become political.)
The Ends Justify the Means
The phrase “the ends justify the means” has long held a place of disdain for conservative thinkers. It’s often accused of being a tenet of socialism, famously used by Stalin, and Republicans have long accused Democrats of unethical behavior in order to win elections or pass legislation.
Interestingly, a well-known Marxist apologist website asserts that the maxim originated in church history during a dispute between Jesuits and Protestants.
Regardless of its origins, it’s particularly interesting that in this present evangelical and Republican culture, Christian activists have come to the conclusion that using abusive tactics and language is an appropriate method to win a fight over a political policy issue. Cursing another human, as chanted in the form of “Let’s Go Brandon,” is explicitly forbidden to Christians (Romans 12:14, Matthew 5:44-48, Luke 6:27-36, Romans 12:17-21, and others). Or consider Christian activist Christopher Rufo’s self-admitted lies about the facts of Critical Race Theory, made in a blatant and explicit attempt to discredit Democrats and their ideas and platforms. Or consider the newest grassroots tactics against CRT, with Christian-professing parents literally bringing death threats, harassment, and sometimes actual violence to diligent school board members and meetings across the nation, to such an extent that the FBI got involved in protecting the school boards from Christians.
It’s hard to imagine a more precise illustration of “the ends justify the means” – and a more ironic one – than a Christian willfully reverting to such anti-Christian behavior, all in order to obtain or preserve political power for the church.
During both the 2016 and 2020 election, so-called “Never Trumpers” repeatedly accused the evangelical establishment, and its supporters, of being willing to support an extremely flawed politician who promised them political power and pandered to their interests, without actually acting like a Christian himself. It should be noted that similar claims were made against previous Republican presidential candidates including Ronald Reagan and John McCain. So the evangelical church’s relationship with President Trump is hardly the first case of “ends justifying the means” in church politics.
Salt and Light
I believe an appropriate Biblical summary of the overall mission of a Christian life is to accurately represent the Lord to a lost world. In Matthew 5:13 Jesus said “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” In verses 14-16 Jesus goes on to say “You are the light of the world” and “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
We are specifically called to be the salt and the light of the earth – illuminating the world, bringing flavor to society, and bringing glory to the Father.
As Jesus noted in verse 13, it is definitely possible for Christians to lose their saltiness – and be worth nothing but to be thrown out and trampled. That sounds harsh, but those are Jesus’ own words, not mine. He must consider this to be a rather important concept.
When Christians collectively – the church – begin to act just like the world, acting as though the righteous ends justify ungodly means, and in this case spewing hatred and publicly cursing a fellow believer who happens to be the President, it has clearly lost its saltiness – there is nothing different than the world around it. At that point, the church is truly worth nothing but to be thrown out and trampled by men.
And I assert that we see exactly this trend in America. The church is increasingly being rejected and trampled by men, as it seemingly has nothing to offer, but plenty to oppose.
On balance, the church is now seen by the world as obstructing national progress, opposing reconciliation, fighting against a careful accounting of American history whether good or bad, teaching hatred and division, and fighting against justice and fair treatment of all humans. Now, we might disagree with some of those claims, but no matter how the church feels about these charges, the world has begun to not just drift away but to actively reject the church, and in many ways reject God at the same time. The church is not shining before men in such a way as they may see its good works, and it is not glorifying our Father who is in heaven.
Accurately Representing the Father
The essence of Jesus’ doctrine frequently involved statements about accurately representing the Father. It was a constant focus of His statements about Himself, and similarly a focus of His instructions to the disciples. If the fundamental question is “What would Jesus do?” then Jesus’ answer seems to be “represent the Father.”
I would challenge anyone who uses that Brandon phrase to argue that participating in using a instantly-understood, basically unveiled curse of a sitting American President is somehow accurately representing their Heavenly Father to the unsaved. You simply cannot get there. No matter what one thinks about President Biden’s policies or character or capacity for the office, I assert that wearing clothing bearing that phrase or participating in such a chant during a church service – or even saying it privately to a friend – is a long way from accurately representing our Father to our society.
“Oh, but it’s not a bad sin” – well, isn’t it? It’s a public violation and public dishonoring of a person who, like it or not, is a deeply faithful believer, made in the image of God, and likely to spend eternity with the rest of us in the presence of Jesus, despite any faults that he currently has. Spend a moment studying Joseph Biden’s spiritual life before and even during the presidency. Many have argued that Joseph Biden has a far closer relationship with Jesus than Donald Trump ever did. Study his life for its fruit, study his religious practices, and THEN try to convince me that Joseph Biden is a non-believer. Even the Pope agreed after a personal meeting in October 2021 that President Biden, despite his public stance supporting the right to abortion, was eligible to continue receiving communion and was a good Catholic believer.
In the meantime, as Jesus also said in Matthew 7:1, “judge not lest ye be judged.” He goes on to say “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” This is later discussed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, which says “For what business of mine is it to judge outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the evil person from among yourselves.”
While I do have deep concerns about some of his policies, I am challenging my fellow Christians who judge President Biden as apostate or demonic or deserving of being cursed, and are happy – even gleeful – to chant that judgement for the unbelieving world to see. This should not be.
I don’t believe it’s possible to participate in the “Let’s Go Brandon” rhetoric and not find yourself in that “lest ye be judged” group. From where I stand, any church – or any Christian – that participates in this hideous nonsense has truly lost their salt and light. Being thrown out and trampled by men is the nature of God’s own judgement on His wayward people, throughout recorded history. I believe that the Lord is more committed to His own reputation than that of the American church, and if He must allow the church to be trampled underfoot to teach it this lesson, that should not suprise us. After all, we have a Bible full of examples of the Lord allowing His chosen people to be taken captive and trampled and winnowed for centuries at a time to teach them proper reverence for His Name and His ways.
So I appeal to my fellow believers: actively resist this foolishness, and don’t be silent when it appears around you. If it’s said in your presence, challenge your brothers and sisters in Christ to see a better way. Challenge your church leadership if it happens during a service. Remember the commandments of Jesus, and don’t allow your salt and light to be found deserving of being cast out and trampled.