Do Evangelicals Really Love Jesus?

Phil Zuckerman is Professor of Sociology at Pitzer College in Claremont, CA, USA. He recently wrote a very insightful critique of American Evangelicals, and I think he hits the nail entirely on the head. His conclusion is powerful: Evangelicals love what Jesus can do for them, but don’t really love what Jesus asked them to do in response. In this sense, they don’t actually love Jesus. His article puts it even more strongly. Read the original Huffington Post article, or an extended extract below:

Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus

Huffington Post, Religion Blog, 6 September 2012
by Phil Zuckerman and Dan Cady

The results from a recent poll published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveal what social scientists have known for a long time: White Evangelical Christians are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus. It is perhaps one of the strangest, most dumb-founding ironies in contemporary American culture. Evangelical Christians, who most fiercely proclaim to have a personal relationship with Christ, who most confidently declare their belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, who go to church on a regular basis, pray daily, listen to Christian music, and place God and His Only Begotten Son at the center of their lives, are simultaneously the very people most likely to reject his teachings and despise his radical message.

Jesus unambiguously preached mercy and forgiveness. These are supposed to be cardinal virtues of the Christian faith. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of the death penalty, draconian sentencing, punitive punishment over rehabilitation, and the governmental use of torture. Jesus exhorted humans to be loving, peaceful, and non-violent. And yet Evangelicals are the group of Americans most supportive of easy-access weaponry, little-to-no regulation of handgun and semi-automatic gun ownership, not to mention the violent military invasion of various countries around the world. Jesus was very clear that the pursuit of wealth was inimical to the Kingdom of God, that the rich are to be condemned, and that to be a follower of Him means to give one’s money to the poor. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of corporate greed and capitalistic excess, and they are the most opposed to institutional help for the nation’s poor — especially poor children. They hate anything that smacks of “socialism,” even though that is essentially what their Savior preached. They despise food stamp programs, subsidies for schools, hospitals, job training — anything that might dare to help out those in need. Even though helping out those in need was exactly what Jesus urged humans to do. In short, Evangelicals are that segment of America which is the most pro-militaristic, pro-gun, and pro-corporate, while simultaneously claiming to be most ardent lovers of the Prince of Peace.

What’s the deal?


Obey jesus avoid hell signBefore attempting an answer, allow a quick clarification. Evangelicals don’t exactly hate Jesus — as we’ve provocatively asserted in the title of this piece. They do love him dearly. But not because of what he tried to teach humanity. Rather, Evangelicals love Jesus for what he does for them. Through his magical grace, and by shedding his precious blood, Jesus saves Evangelicals from everlasting torture in hell, and guarantees them a premium, luxury villa in heaven. For this, and this only, they love him. They can’t stop thanking him. And yet, as for Jesus himself — his core values of peace, his core teachings of social justice, his core commandments of goodwill — most Evangelicals seem to have nothing but disdain.

And this is nothing new. At the end of World War I, the more rabid, and often less educated Evangelicals decried the influence of the Social Gospel amongst liberal churches. According to these self-proclaimed torch-bearers of a religion born in the Middle East, progressive church-goers had been infected by foreign ideas such as German Rationalism, Soviet-style Communism, and, of course, atheistic Darwinism. In the 1950s, the anti-Social Gospel message piggybacked the rhetoric of anti-communism, which slashed and burned its way through the Old South and onward through the Sunbelt, turning liberal churches into vacant lots along the way. It was here that the spirit and the body collided, leaving us with a prototypical Christian nationalist, hell-bent on prosperity. Charity was thus rebranded as collectivism and self-denial gave way to the gospel of accumulation. Church-to-church, sermon-to-sermon, evangelical preachers grew less comfortable with the fish and loaves Jesus who lived on earth, and more committed to the angry Jesus of the future. By the 1990s, this divine Terminator gained “most-favored Jesus status” among America’s mega churches; and with that, even the mention of the former “social justice” Messiah drove the socially conscious from their larger, meaner flock.

In addition to such historical developments, there may very well simply be an underlying, all-too-human social-psychological process at root, one that probably plays itself out among all religious individuals: they see in their religion what they want to see, and deny or despise the rest. That is, religion is one big Rorschach test. People look at the content of their religious tradition — its teachings, its creeds, its prophet’s proclamations — and they basically pick and choose what suits their own secular outlook. They see in their faith what they want to see as they live their daily lives, and simultaneously ignore the rest. And as is the case for most White Evangelical Christians, what they are ignoring is actually the very heart and soul of Jesus’s message — a message that emphasizes sharing, not greed. Peace-making, not war-mongering. Love, not violence.

Of course, conservative Americans have every right to support corporate greed, militarism, gun possession, and the death penalty, and to oppose welfare, food stamps, health care for those in need, etc. — it is just strange and contradictory when they claim these positions as somehow “Christian.” They aren’t.

Source: Huffington Post

3 thoughts on “Do Evangelicals Really Love Jesus?”

  1. What rubbish! Jesus was pro service, generosity, and giving but he was also strong on each man taking accountability for his actions. Would he support a nation of obesity being dependant on a healthcare subsidy from the healthy? “The wages of sin is death”, not state support! The widows and orphans are the role of the church, the people, not the state! Jesus would have endorsed the free market, but he would have wanted a nation of givers, sowers, compassionate Christians. He would have endorsed action, consequence, and reconciliation. He would not have endorsed a socialist country with little or no personal accountability to citizens on how they live, serve, and work.
    This article is flawed! The issue is the evangelical Christians do not give, serve, and love like Jesus told us to. That is not because the free market is flawed, it is because they are not living as Christians should.
    Strongly disagree with this and will not be reading future church now any further. I’m looking for sound doctrine.

  2. Matt, I’m sorry you feel that you won’t get any value out of reading FutureChurchNow in the future. The point of this blog is to share musings and insights, and to work together to develop a vision of what the future of the church, Christianity and Christ followers should be.

    You’ve expressed strong disagreement with the article I shared from Huffington Post – that’s what is encouraged, and precisely the point of the blog.

    I disagree with you about the role of the church and the State, and I think that Jesus and the early church were very definitely ‘socialist’ in their economics. But let’s have a conversation instead of a shouting-and-walking-out-with-slamming-doors match.

  3. “The poor” can usually be best be taken care of locally in our communities. With a hand up, not a hand out. I would rather my tax go to people who could really benefit from it rather than to the rich fat-cats asking for bail-outs because of their dishonest dealings. These same corporate tyrants, in bed with the government, are wreaking havoc on the economy to the point that the ranks of the poor will swell until its like a tsunami. All this immature talk of “socialism” is simply parroting the fear-monging words of the corporatists who want the masses to continue supporting them, even when it’s in direct opposition to our own interests.

    Isn’t it ironic that predominantly white Evangelicals figure their names are in the Book of Life, and they are on a so-called “About to be Raptured” list, while these are the SAME folks who have been supporting wars in the Middle East, access to guns for all citizens, the use of torture, and the rapid whittling away of our freedoms in the name of “security”, from an enemy who is largely CIA-trained (Bin Laden, Taliban, etc.) and heck, CIA-funded for all we know? These people are “chosen”?

    If that’s true, hell is looking pretty attractive to me at this point. Being stuck eternally in Heaven with a bunch of warmongers sounds like we’re bringing a “piece of Hell” beyond the pearly gates. Don’t know if I could endure that kind of torture. Seems more like a Heavenly Guantanamo Bay. . .

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