Monday, December 05, 2016


Recently, Donald Trump was elected President, shocking pundits who overlooked the role of faith and evangelical Christians in his rise to power. Over 80% of Evangelicals voted for Trump. Some did so based on alleged prophecies by Pentecostal prophets like Kat Kerr and the late Kim Clement. They see Trump as one God has picked, "the trump of God," as the "prophecies" claim. This brings up a hotly debated question about the role of religion in America, and its intersection with our political life.

Prophets for Trump said in their Facebook group before the election that to even doubt for one second Trump wins by landslide and to sin by watching news reports makes one unworthy to be in the elite Facebook group of "Prophets for Trump." To many Americans, the group was an extreme fringe of Pentecostalism believing themselves to be prophets. But Prophets for Trump is an example of why many in media and polls underestimated Trump in this election. They are part of a religious subculture. They don't watch mainstream media, they consider it satanic. They don't participate in public life much, they are in their evangelical groupings. Trump has many supporters that are below the radar, they are not measured by the larger culture. These type of charismatic Christians are an unseen, silent force that is a part of Trump doing well in the election. They use Isaiah 45 as their key scripture because Trump will be the 45th president.
My wife and I met at Liberty University, a college founded by Jerry Falwell. Falwell created the Moral Majority, and believed America was a Christian nation. Is America a Christian nation? The facts I've discovered will not please Falwellians, nor will they please secularists who want to keep God out of the public square. The facts are fascinating, and defy and dispute the propaganda from militant Falwellian fundamentalists and over on the other extreme, militant atheists ala Richard Dawkins and his ilk.

I'm making a movie about religion in America entitled "Canaan Land" so this question is very timely and interesting for me. Our film just started shooting and already has stirred up some controversy and press. The name "Canaan Land" comes from an old gospel song I like by Mahalia Jackson. The lyrics say "I'm on my way to Canaan Land." For me, the name represents a leap of faith. The biblical journey of faith for the Israelites was to Canaan Land, the Promised Land, a land of milk and honey. Canaan means "new land," or "new life."
My wife, 2 children and I moved 3,000 miles from my hometown of Pittsburgh to her native California. We felt like the Israelites, a mobile family on a journey to a new land. We will show the "Canaan Land" film in theaters than make it available online for download or DVDs.

My religious background and experiences encompass quite a few experiences including Catholicism, meditation, evangelical Christianity, Pentecostalism, and the Recovery movement. My wife and I married in 1984 while students at Falwell's fundamentalist Liberty University. We have two children, a daughter Karis and son Joshua. My daughter is interested in studying religion also. She recently finished a Bachelor's degree in Religion at Azusa Pacific and was accepted to work on a Master's in Religion at Princeton. My definition of religion would be a group or system of thought that attempts to provide answers to the big questions about God, the nature of man, worship, prayer, life after death, suffering, sin, healing, etc... and also provides a community for those involved to fellowship and support each other. I hasten to say that religion sometimes does the opposite of support. In fact, I've been abused and damaged in religious settings, and have went through a process of recovery for that.

My youthful background witnessing watershed moments in merging religion and politics when we were in Falwell's circles, enable me to know from the inside just how Christian America is. Many religions and cultures put the best foot forward and show a public face, but it takes time to understand the inside practices.

For example, Scientologists market to the public their ability to help them be more successful, like famous church members Tom Cruise and John Travolta. They don't tell you the strange internal doctrines about alien thetans planting us on Earth a long time ago.
Religion, like someone on a first date, doesn't show you all the issues until you get to know them in a deeper way. I'd like to share with you the true history of Christian religion in America, an inside view as one who has preached in churches of many denominations and know personally quite a few of the well-known players.
Fundamentalists argue that America is a Christian nation based on our origins. Let's look at the early missionaries in America and how they treated Native Americans. The European culture had binary thinking at it's roots, or a division between the Christians and the "heathens" who were on their way to Hell in their view. The Native Americans had a more holistic view of the Great Spirit and connection to nature. Missionaries from Europe, both Catholic and Protestant, established missions throughout California, as well as other areas, but at the price of negating and decimating the Native Americans and their culture. The fundamentalist Puritan Christian worldview sometimes sees other religions as pagan or demonic. The European missionaries were the most fanatical. They wanted to eliminate all Native American culture, rather than allow the natives to enjoy Christianity AND their Native American heritage.

When I was a kid I was drawn to a Native American community and my Mom took pictures of me and my "Indian friends." But now as an adult, I'm thinking about it on a deeper level. Learning more about how Native Americans were treated by missionaries is upsetting to me. I wish theology didn't so often damn the "other."

The Puritans had a practice of days of thanksgiving to God before their epic journey. And I think a holiday to officially give thanks is good for everyone. Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving official, after it being a longstanding practice. Gratitude is a powerful force.

The Puritans and Pilgrims initially had courage or faith expressed in their risk-taking to journey to the New World which is a part of our history. After Samoset and Squanto helped them survive they had fifty years of relative peace co-existing with Indians. They saved the pilgrims lives and until these initial peacemakers on both sides died there was sharing and reciprocity. Ironically, the Indians were more Christlike than the missionaries seeking to convert them. However, the Puritans harsh view of God and resulting prejudices ultimately created a community of judgement as expressed in historical crusades of hate like the Salem Witch Trials and their actions against Native Americans. Literature records their spirit being anything but Christlike and loving, such as the novel The Scarlett Letter.

Looking at the myths of our country's origins recently has been unsettling to me. The Puritans had a theology of "manifest destiny," (that God was on the side of Puritans and early American settlers to take the land as a divine right). This thinking was drawn from the Bible when the Israelites in the Old Testament say God told them to take the neighboring Canaan Land and in some cases wipe out the inhabitants. The Puritans used this biblical metaphor, putting themselves in the role of the Chosen People with a God-given right to "possess the land" even though the Native Americans were here. It's very convenient for any individual or nation to take what they want from others under a divine imprimatur. The U.S., like all nations, used metaphysical justification for their sense of being a special people. John Winthrop, a Puritan preacher sermonized on Matthew 5, that they were the city on a hill.
The sermons preached justified taking the Indian's land and women. This was based on this whole idea which is dangerous territory when one appeals to the Old Testament because of passages in which Israel was told it was okay to wipe out whole towns and take their possessions and wives. Yet, if God created the earth and the people therein, then what gives any group or person the divine right to take the land, wives, and possessions of another? Bob Dylan wrote a song "With God On Our Side" that critiques the mindset of using God to justify war and genocide.

I want to give you the balance of both sides, the good, the bad, and the ugly. In mentioning the transgressions of missionaries who decimated Native American culture, I must also mention the reciprocal horrors of what Native Americans did, such as the grisly scalping and slaughter of Anne Hutchinson and her family after they moved to Rhode Island. Anne Hutchinson had the courage to stand up against ungodliness among both the Puritans and the Native Americans. She was a Joan of Arc type figure, a courageous Puritan woman who dared to believe God spoke directly to her in defiance of the corrupt male clergymen. Hutchinson was a strong woman, a woman ahead of her time who challenged religious authorities. She was banished by the Puritan pastors before the Indians slaughtered her and her family, but she influenced hundred in the early colonies through her Bible studies which laid the groundwork for future revivals led by George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards.
George Whitefield reaped the spiritual seeds sown by Anne Hutchinson as he crisscrossed the colonies preaching the need for a new birth. Jonathan Edwards was another figure in this revival, which historians call the First Great Awakening. Edwards was an early president of Princeton, where my daughter Karis is doing a Master's degree in Theology. The impact of Edwards "Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God" sermon cannot be overstated. The sermon was a hallmark of a literary sermon, but also it perpetuated a horrific concept of God who detests humans as loathsome insects He dangles over the flames of Hell. Our Founding Fathers supported these early fundamentalists as best they could, but did not agree with their religion. Most of them, (Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, etc...) preferred the use of their rational minds to fundamentalism and embraced Deism, which was the religion of many of our Founding Fathers. Deism was an attempt to harmonize science and religion. Thomas Jefferson even wrote his own Bible with the teaching of Jesus, but taking out the miracles.
Since Deism was the religion of several key Founding Fathers, influencing Thomas Jefferson's Bible, and motivating him to remove all miracles, we must ask what Enlightenment ideals led to his a priori dismissal of the supernatural outright. Also, Thomas Paine's Age of Reason, is an important text. Another question in the American story was why did Deism appeal to John Quincy Adams, Ethan Allen, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, and George Washington? Currently, Evangelicals make a lot of political hay out of the claim America's Founding Fathers were Christian by their definition, when in fact, the Deism of these men was a far cry from fundamentalism. The Deism of the Founding Fathers valued the ethics Jesus taught, but because of rationalism they dismissed the possibility of divine intervention directly. God may have wound up the clock but now it runs by natural laws, according to them.

In addition to Deism, the Founding Fathers wanted to protect any and all religion. Jefferson even wrote a letter to defend a Baptist pastor who was fined by Anglicans in power. Jefferson's phrase "separation of church and state" comes from this letter. Jefferson defends the pastor's right to his religion, even though Jefferson doesn't share the beliefs of the Baptist pastor.

This alters the "America as Christian nation" story, and also is timely for today's society and the political challenges faced in America by it's growing religious diversity. What is at stake in this question is to what degree are multiple religions and cultures tolerated? How do we respect, for example, moderate Muslims, while confronting extremist terrorists? Are we going too far when Christmas displays and songs referencing Christ are banned in some public places, even though such practices have been a longstanding practice in our country? What are the boundaries when religion becomes harmful or discriminatory towards others? During the Republican primaries, Charisma magazine, a Christian publication, said Ted Cruz was a Messianic figure sent to save America as Ezra saved the Jews in the Old Testament. We still have those who try to anoint their preferred politician in religious terms.

This isn't just dry history but effects you and me. I, too, value critical thinking and reason, and I am a person of faith. I'm grateful I have both hats that I can wear, the faith hat, and the critical thinking hat.

As America progressed into the 1800's, some important revivalists in the Second Great Awakenings were evangelists Charles Finney and D. L. Moody. A mainline pastor of influence was James Finley, a Presbyterian minister. He was part of starting a Presbyterian seminary in my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that ordained Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers).

During the 1800's, Rabbi Isaac Wise was a very pragmatic and adaptable religious leader in realizing Jewish immigrants were no longer following the letter of the law. He was a catalyst in creating a more lax and liberal Judaism, now known as Reformed. This allowed Jewish immigrants to assimilate into America better. His famous dinner to celebrate ordination of rabbinical students broke kosher laws and set off a firestorm.
Catholicism as well adapted to America, fighting the Puritan prejudice against Catholics and creating the parochial school system to educate the children of Catholic youth. Catholic parishes often maintained a homogenous congregation preserving their ethnic identity and saying the Mass in their own language. I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA. and the city is largely Catholic but with distinctive neighborhood parishes of varying European ethnicities. In my hometown, there are still parishes that have Mass in their languages of Polish, Italian, etc..

To set the context of the slavery battle, let's recall even our modern tendency to use the Bible and claims of God speaking to us to justify prejudice and human agenda. During the 1960's, JFK had to deal with Bible literalists in Alabama who tried to prevent an African American student from attending college. They were led by a racist governor (Wallace) and a longstanding Southern tradition of using the scriptures that promote prejudice (such as Ephesians 6 'Slaves obey your masters"). JFK gave a brilliant speech about the verse in 2 Corinthians 3:6 that says "the letter of the law killeth, but the Spirit giveth life." He said that those who go by the letter of the scriptures miss the Spirit of Jesus who wants people set free.
"TRUMP WILL WIN IN A LANDSLIDE..." said a pink-haired woman named Kat Kerr who is part of "End Times Prophets for Trump" and viewed as a last days prophet who has followers who believe dispensational prophecies. She also picked Romney as God's man who would defeat Obama. She also says she goes to Heaven every week where she rides rollercoasters and goes to movies with Jesus at the celestial multi-plex cinemas. She says if you don't agree with her you are going against God's anointed Donald Trump.

The thing that bugs me the most about dispensational "prophets" is they never apologize and own up for the false prophecies. They just adjust the date, explain it away, etc... When Kat Kerr was wrong about Romney winning, she said, "He was God's choice, like God told me he was, but the people didn't listen to God. I'm a revelator, not a prophet." Defenders of her and others when their prophecies are wrong aren't rattled. "The Old Testament verse that states 'If what a prophet prophesies doesn't come to pass, they are a false prophet...' isn't applicable to NT prophets today. We see through a glass darkly, so even if we miss it, that doesn't mean we're false prophets..." they say.

Abe Lincoln faced a similar situation in 1800's. Christians in North and South both claiming God told them their side was the right and winning side. The South buttressed their case with the biblical verses about slavery such as Ephesians 6 "Slaves obey your masters..." Abolitionists said the opposite, that slavery was a sin, a national sin. They demanded condemnation from the pulpit against slavery. Abolitionist Frederick Douglas was converted at a Methodist revival and saw in the scriptures Jesus promise to “set captives free.” Bishop James Osgood Andrew crystallized the issue because he inherited a slave and became a lightning rod for anti-slavery forces. Andrew was forced to resign and the Methodist split into a divided northern and southern church, as would other Protestant denominations, (like the Baptists who split into the pro-slavery Southern Baptists and the anti-slavery American Baptists).

Lincoln leaned towards a more Diest understanding, that God wasn’t personally intervening as a direct controller of man’s affairs. He was exposed to the emotional excesses of revivalism growing up and he valued reason, like Thomas Paine did. His conversion to a more personal faith came through tragedy. The death of his son is a profound moment for Lincoln. The sermon at the funeral impacts him. He writes in his private journal his wrestling with God like Jacob wrestled with an angel. He decides God wants to free the slaves.
What is the theme of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and of his second Inaugural Address? What is the meaning of his assassination on Good Friday to America in the 1800's? How was his death interpreted on the following Easter Sunday? Lincoln’s death is portrayed as a
sacrificial death of atonement like Christ in pulpits across America. Christ died for the world to free us from our sin. Lincoln died
for his country to free the slaves. The Gettysburg Address echoes this theme, and says the soldier’s blood on the battlefield was also
sacrificial in the struggle. Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address was laced with religious language about doing the will of God and turned into a revival-like call and response sermon as African American listeners called out “bless the Lord” in response to Lincoln's sermonizing.

As I mentioned before, my wife and I met at a fundamentalist school we were both attending years ago in the South. We were shocked to find some people there were very racist and still held to the hermeneutic of using the Bible to defend their prejudice. They had a sophisticated justification from the Bible for their racism.

The great theologian Augustine suggested we look at the Bible more allegorically than literally. This was Abraham Lincoln's dilemma as well, dealing with Southern bible bangers who used the Old and New Testaments slavery verses literally to claim it was a divine institution.
Isis is one of the few groups who do take Old Testament scriptures as literal law, and some horrific passages that speak of executing by stoning people for homosexuality, adultery, etc...

Some try to do mental gymnastics to defend the indefensible. When I lived in the South, some southerners told me slavery wasn't that bad, that their families treated the slaves well. Some defend the Bible's Old Testament stoning of sinners, justification of slavery, etc...but I will not. I believe it reflects a primitive people and their view of God. I'm grateful Jesus and the New Testament call us to love one another and to set the captives free. Jesus took humanity light years forward into a healthier concept of a loving God and of the command to love one another. Yes, these concept of love were in the Old Testament, but buried underneath laws, laws, laws.

Some theologians advance a reasonable view of progressive revelation, that man progresses and evolves through history beyond primitive understandings of God. Jesus had a motif in His Sermon On the Mount in which He quotes the Old Testament but them progresses it to a higher level of a God-concept of God as a loving, merciful Heavenly Father. He says over and over "Ye have heard it said unto you..." (then Jesus quotes a harsh Old Testament passage) "but I say unto you..." (then Jesus gives a more loving view.)

In the New Testament Book of James there is a quote that "mercy triumphs over judgment..." This is the gift of Jesus, that we are to "judge not lest we be judged" as Christ said. When an adulterous woman was brought before Him and the Isis of His day wanted to stone her, Jesus said "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

The primary ethic today we must hold to, if we are truly to be not just a Christian nation, but a Christlike nation, is looking through the lens that all people are equal before God. Like Lincoln, those truly Christlike among us will stand for liberation.
Shakers and Quakers, the Oneidan community, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, some of these uniquely American utopian communities grew out of our soil, and out of the unique interpretations of biblical prophetic books like Daniel and Revelation. The Mormons felt a mandate to return to the sexual privileges of the Old Testament polygamous patriarchs. They had scriptural precedent, as King Solomon had hundreds of wives and thousands of concubines. The polygamy mentioned in the Bible seemed to produce offspring that were part of the Bible story. For example, even though the giving of Leah as a wife to Jacob was a deception, a trick Laban played on Jacob who thought he was getting Rachel, she is the matriarchal progenitor of the line of Christ.

Others, such as the Shakers lacked the foresight to see rigid celibacy would cause strains of their movement to die out. Then again, with the belief in an imminent return of Christ, many groups didn't believe there would be successive generations.

Others, such as the Azusa Street Pentecostals, transmutated passions into Pentecostal worship that became ecstatic as they were baptized in the Holy Spirit ala Acts 2:4. There is a fine line between eroticism and religion sometimes. Both can be orgasmic and offer transcendent experiences.

Still others, like the Children of God, saw sex as something those in the same community can enjoy with others and use to recruit new people into their cult. Oneida adherents believe in "spiritual marriage," and this concept can be used to propagate free love in the name of religion, as was the case in church sex scandals in which pastors taught they could have sex with many women in his flock, even those married to others, because they had a higher "covenant relationship" or "spiritual marriage."

Fundamentalism has its roots in fear. Fear evolutionists are correct. Fear of Hell. Fear of loss of salvation. Darwin and the Theory of Evolution was a major factor in the reaction of fundamentalists in the early twentieth century to craft their landmark papers "The Fundamentals."

Darwin set off a thought bomb by challenging a literal reading of Genesis and postulating the earth wasn’t created presto in six literal days. Charles Briggs, a mainstream Presbyterian pastor, illustrated the religious tensions in Protestantism that arose in the US in response to evolution and the critical scholarship on the Bible. Briggs is an iconic archetype example of a thinking pastor trying to balance scholarship and science with faith, but his efforts to do so resulted in many labeling him a heretic.
Christian creationist groups feel like they are playing catch up. During the Scopes Trial in 1925, the issue was whether Darwin should be allowed. The Scopes trial was about a teacher’s write to teach Darwin’s theory in a public school. Clarence Darrow, representing the teacher, was an outspoken critic of fundamentalism. William Jennings Bryan became the mouthpiece for fundamentalism at the Scopes trial and he was also an unsuccessful candidate for president, merging fundamentalism and politics as later figures like Pat Robertson would do. Now, the issue is whether Creationism and/or it's watered down cousin, Intelligent Design, should be taught. Darrow humiliated Bryan on the witness stand, asking him questions about the Bible. What was the outcome of the trial? Though Bryan won, the trial made fundamentalists look like backwards bumpkins as spun by journalist H. L. Mencken and others. Bryan lost some of his credibility and respect and died shortly thereafter.

How did it impact public opinion? The trial caused many Americans to desire to move forward embracing Darwinian science. These tensions still exist and creationist scientists and intelligent design advocates are as vocal as ever. Those who hold to biblical inerrancy in the literal, fundamentalist sense, refuse to accept attempts at harmonizing Darwinian science and the Bible, such as Theistic Evolution (the idea God is still Creator, overseeing the evolutionary process, a view advocated by the Roman Catholic Church). Fundamentalists believe the earth is younger than scientists say, roughly 6,000 to 10,000 years old, created in six literal 24-hour days. Since Creationist science is a view held by many, I don't think it violates separation of church and state to discuss it as one of many views in the public school classroom. To ignore all religion in school is to give a myopic and imbalanced education. Fundamentalists believe evolution leads to moral chaos and eugenics. They think the questioning of the Bible's absolutes leads to moral relativism. Discussion of ethics and morals in education is a valid discussion, exploring how a society forms ethics and how a society can still follow the Golden Rule, if only for the sake of preserving a society.

Since the Scopes Trial fundamentalists created a religious subculture of Christian radio, and later Christian TV and now Christian Facebook groups that reinforce the GroupThink.

Pentecostalism burst on to the American scene in the early 1900's, led by an African American preacher William Seymour. Healings, speaking in tongues, prophecies, and tales of a pillar of fire over their humble mission on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. One of those who came out of this movement was a woman who reached Hollywood in the Roaring Twenties, Aimee Semple McPherson.
I made an Academy Award considered short film on fabled female evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, and also a feature dramatic film on her life. Here are some Youtube links from my movies about her: Aimee Semple McPherson trailer:
Aimee Semple McPherson Scene:

World War I caused believers to adhere to a dispensationalism and belief in the end times. The war created a crisis that had apocalyptic overtones to the faithful. Dispensationalism grew with the publication of the Scofield Bible in 1909, and with recent books like the 1970's "Late Great Planet Earth" and "Left Behind" series. As the Higher Criticism movement out of Germany, and the growing discussion of Darwinism in America as a result of the Scopes Trial threatened a literal interpretation of scripture, the dispensationalists doubled down on literalism. Liberals focused on the needs of people to have a quality of life, feeding the poor, helping the disadvantaged. Fundamentalists became increasingly dire and legalistic. As 2 Corinthians 3:6 says, "The letter of the law killeth, but the Spirit giveth life...

Another significant twentieth century phenomenon was the rise of Doomsday theology, based on dispensationalism. I was working as a summer missionary as a youth volunteer in 80's and one of the directors of mission was pushing a book "88 Reasons the Rapture Will Happen in 88." It sold millions of copies. When it was wrong, the next year the author, Edgar Whisenant, update it, modified the title to "89 Reasons the Rapture Will Occur in 89." Didn't sell as much. Even gullible fundamentalists have their limits. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

What amazes me is they keep re-prophesying, predicting a new Anti-Christ. They preached it was Obama, then Hillary, and some now say Trump. When their prophecies fail, very few ever admit they were wrong, they just alter the date for the Rapture and the end of the world, or pick a new political figure for the Anti-Christ.

Christianity, American patriotism, and anti-Communism become linked after WWII. Billy Graham in 1949 conducted a Los Angeles revival, preaching a mixture of evangelical Christianity and anti-communism. Billy Graham rose to fame with his revivals. Graham’s L.A. crusade attracted the support of media magnate William Randolph Hearst. Hearst also was anti-communist and gave the two word order to “Puff Graham.” This was the time of McCarthyism and everyone wanted to make sure they were on the ride side of the Red Scare. Billy Graham's anti-communist evangelistic message connected to Eisenhower and his election as president and later Nixon. Eisenhower was not baptized and overtly religious, but he joined Graham’s crusade and at the young evangelist’s urging, was baptized Presbyterian. Nixon appeared at Graham’s New York crusade, probably for political reasons.
“In God we Trust” become printed on money and the Pledge of Allegiance changed to include the phrase "One Nation Under God." In the religious fervor of the 1940’s and 1950’s, both these changes were adopted by Congress. Prayer in public schools became an explosive issue. The mindset of Graham and leading religious figures was that the nation would be doomed unless God was publicly acknowledged. They didn’t want God “expelled from the classroom,” as fundamentalists refer to it. Two cases, one involving a humanist family, the McCollum’s, and a second involving the Roth family and other Jewish families, felt mandated prayers and Bible reading in public schools was the State forcing a religion they didn’t believe in on their children. Both families were persecuted, vandalized, and even had a pet cat lynched.

Evangelicals were fearful that Kennedy as a Catholic would take orders from the Pope. Graham and Norman Vincent Peale and other Protestant ministers opposed him privately but played nice to him publicly. How did JFK handle his Catholicism? JFK gave an eloquent speech to a gathering of Protestant clergymen that he submits to the Pope in his church but not in his public life and governs by the Constitution. With Kennedy in the White House, the civil rights movement is boiling over. Kennedy had to deal with white racists in the South preventing a young man from going to college. Birmingham is a significant march to get voting rights for minorities.
The two most powerful preachers of the Twentieth Century were Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr. MLK took the pastorate of an American Baptist congregation ostensibly to work on his doctorate and shepherd a flock. He was drafted by a sense of calling to address the bus boycott and other events occurring around him. He put his safety and his family on the line, as threats grew against him. He knew non-violence was critical, because Graham and other figures criticized his activism. He has to be blameless. MLK winning the Nobel Peace Prize gives world attention and the leverage needed to pass the Voting Rights act and LBJ signs historic civil rights legislation. It becomes a modern Exodus story of people once slaves experiencing liberation. Unlike Graham, he doesn't kiss up to power, but tells the President, LBJ, the Vietnam War is immoral. After this, MLK still has access to power but those in power such as J. Edgar Hoover defame him. Robert Kennedy and others act with sensibilities towards the social gospel but both Kennedys and MLK are assassinated. MLK’s influence inspires many ministers to preach not just to save souls, but make a difference here and now.
In the 1970's, when I became a born again Christian as a teenager, fundamentalists were upset about secular humanism and abortion. Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979, organizing conservative religious folks from fundamentalist, evangelical, Catholic, and even Mormons into a political movement to oppose abortion and gay rights. Gays are the people fundamentalists most love to hate. Falwell's Moral Majority was a clear factor in getting Reagan elected and Reagan pandered to them by speaking faith-based language and Pro Life rhetoric. Reagan tapped into their views with his “shining city on the hill” reference in his speeches. Reagan’s use of this phrase hearkened back to early Puritan sermons such as John Winthrop's manifest destiny sermons and also the words of Jesus in Matthew 5.

Their support got Reagan two terms in office, and a third term for Reagan through is VP George Bush Sr. How did the focus change? Eventually, fundamentalists realized their agenda wasn’t really getting done. Abortion remained legal.

James Dobson, a Christian psychologist joined the bandwagon, opposing pornography, and Pat Robertson had a failed presidential bid that morphed into the Christian Coalition, a grassroots conservative group that took over school boards. In 1988, televangelist Pat Robertson had an end times vision of himself in the White House. (A friend of mine quipped, "He later discovered that he had a visitor's pass.") Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson through the Christian Coalition (the aftermath of his campaign) started effecting change, electing Religious Right creationists to local school boards.

Francis Schaeffer was a political influence as the intellectual for fundamentalists, and he and his son, my friend Frank Schaeffer, spoke at our Liberty University chapels. Schaeffer ran a ministry in Switzerland, L’Abri, with his wife Edith. Abortion became the central issue and still is to Evangelicals. Even to this day, it still is. That's why Trump won the Evangelical vote. He said he was Pro Life, and that trumps everything for the Christian Right, even Trump's personal moral issues.

George W. Bush, like his father and Reagan before him didn’t really change things on the two hot button issues Evangelicals vote on, abortion and gay rights.

Some Christians resented the Religious Right mixing the Republican party with Jesus. Jim Wallis is a more liberal Christian who doesn’t like the Religious Right hijacking Christianity. He created a magazine and ministry called Sojourners for the Christian Left. President Obama accepts our religious diversity. He is a Christian from a liberal activist church background. His former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, is a controversial pastor. Trump's election is a backlash against multiculturalism and diversity of faith and culture.
The prosperity gospel gained adherents in the closing years of the twentieth century. The Social gospel has been a point of demarcation between other-worldly fundamentalists that feel the saving of the soul is paramount and liberal mainline denominations. Liberal Christians feel that following Jesus compels them to assist the disadvantaged, feed the hungry, and minister to the real needs. The Wealth and Prosperity gospel has likewise been a point of contention and controversy as televangelists have taken it to the extreme that God wants everyone wealthy, and if we "sow a seed" and donate to them, we will prosper.

This is the subject of my new film I'm making entitled "Canaan Land." Over 300 scriptures speak of helping poor people. In Matthew 25 Jesus says He will judge the nations by how they fed the hungry. Yet, many current Christians support movements and politicians that slash programs that aid the disadvantaged. Exploitation exists in Hindu and Muslim religions similar to what I've seen in Christianity, every religion has those on the fringe that teach giving money releases the blessing. It is a religious pyramid scheme, and "pyramid" is an apt word because the televangelists who tell the poor to give to them to be blessed live in mansions but the flock stays poor. When my wife and I were at Liberty University, Jerry Falwell used the scriptures to put down the poor. One of his favorite verses was from Thessalonians that says, "If a man would not work, he should not eat."

So is America a Christian nation? Not in the sense evangelicals claim. Many of our Founding Fathers were Deists, not evangelical Christians.
And those who professed Christianity were far from Christlike in the development of our country. But the secular atheists who want to ban religion from public life and schools are equally misguided. Religion in America is such a part of our history. It is an inadequate education if students aren't exposed to its part in our development. Fear of mentioning the Bible in public schools is going to the other extreme. It is probably the all time bestseller, and in terms of literature, the Bible and Shakespeare are the most influential in the English language. Mentioning the Bible in a non-sectarian way and its influence is part of a well-rounded education.

When evangelicals say America is a Christian nation, they make several misrepresentations to do so. First, evangelicals pull selective quotes about God from Founding Fathers, but ignore other quotes that show the Founding Fathers are not Christians in the evangelical sense, but often Deists. Christianity has certainly been a dominant religion, the Bible has been influential, and religion is an important part in shaping our country. Even our patriotic songs like Battle Hymn of the Republic are laced with scriptural references such as "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord..." Extreme secularists who want to ignore our Biblical and Christian history, as well as extreme fundamentalists who misrepresent us as strictly a fundamentalist Christian nation, both err on opposite extremes of creating a revisionist history to suit their own purposes.
It is essential for America to go forward we rid ourselves of bad theology and learn from the religious errors of the past. How do we do that?
HOW I GET RID OF BAD THEOLOGY: My interpretive key for scripture is Jesus teachings about love. I believe in a progressive revelation, an evolving of man understanding things better and better through time. Therefore, as a society we've made progress away from slavery and some progress on civil rights. Jesus, to me, is at a much higher revelation of who God is and how we are to love each other than many other parts of the Bible. One lens I look through in determining my theological views is the lens of a good father, based on Jesus teaching the "Our Father" prayer. He goes on to say that if a child asks his father for a stone, he wouldn't give him a rock, or if he asks for a piece of fish, he wouldn't give him a snake. He argues that if an imperfect earthly father is kind to his children, and wouldn't harm them, how much more our loving heavenly father. When I run fundamentalist racist teachings through this grid, and ask myself "Would I as the father of two children ever treat my children that way?" and the answer is a resounding "No!!" then I reject that teaching. I am an imperfect father with character defects, yet I feel love and kindness towards both my children.

Fundamentalists limit God and their understanding to the Bible. At the end of the last gospel, John's gospel, it says the Bible doesn't contain everything about Jesus and that the all the libraries of the world could not contain all the incredible things He said and did. "Now there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if every one should be written, I suppose not even the world itself to have space for the books to be written." (John 21:25)

My wife and I have allowed both our children space to question and challenge everything. I think it makes them so much stronger to do so. If we would've separated them like fundamentalist families sometimes do, like those who raised their kids in such a way they could never argue or question the faith, as adults they'd be weaker mentally, psychologically, and spiritually. We are proud of our children and how they have faith without committing intellectual suicide or hiding from the world.

The Epistle of James was written to define what "true religion" is. The biblical letter stresses meeting real needs of the disadvantaged, the widow, the orphan. "Faith without actions is dead," James says. Mere believe in a certain religion does not make a man good or bad according to James. Although salvation is a free gift of grace, (Ephesians 2:8-10), James argues that a man is justified by his works, and not faith alone (James 2:24). Our behaviors are one of the best indicators of what we believe as well as one of the best predictors of future behavior.

There are good and bad people in every religion, according to what they do. There are good Christians like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa, and there are those who profess Christianity and do evil, like Hitler. There are Muslims like Muhammad Ali who leave a good legacy, and there are Muslims terrorists like Bin Laden. There are non-religious men who are charitable like Bill Gates, and there are atheists who leave carnage like Stalin. The Apostle John wrote that love is not merely words but evidenced in truth by the deeds of a man. America's future needs those who don't just talk the talk, but walk the walk, and follow the prophet Micah's instruction to "do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God."
Those who follow the letter of the law are some of the most dangerous people in our world today. Fundamentalists exist in all religions and we must rise above them and reassess scriptures in a way that promotes compassion, not condemnation, love not law, healing not hurting, grace not guilt. If more people follow dictates of respect and open-mindedness, this would be a better and more peaceful world. Our future will hopefully move towards the love that all good spiritual leaders teach.

America's national spiritual story is that America is chosen but we have not reached the full actualization of the freedoms and divine destiny yet. The Puritan vision of the US as a providential nation divinely intended to be “a city on the hill” can only happen truly if we keep evolving and working towards a more Christlike loving society.

America's future welfare depends on it.