Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Faustian Bargain: Evangelicalism and Trumpism

What happened in Washington on January 6 was a clash between two idealisms. On the one hand, Evangelical Christianity1 formed an unholy alliance with a self-aggrandizing presidential candidate in hopes, among other considerations, he would appoint conservative judges who would favor evangelical agendas, such as repealing Roe v. Wade. As an ideal, Evangelical Christianity believes that all of life should be brought under the “Banner of the Cross,” and reflect Christian values and ideals, as evangelicals understand them. On the other hand, American Democracy has a different vision, calling for a diverse and pluralistic society:

"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"2

In other words, America from its beginning has been comprised of different races and religions all of which are considered equal under the U. S Constitution. Each foreign group, as naturalized citizens, can pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in their own way, worship their own Gods, and raise their children, as they choose, under the law. One goal of democracy is to allow every citizen as much freedom and accommodation to as many of their values and mores as is possible under the law. It is a grand ideal that regularly has been stressed and battered, especially in recent years.

Tragically, an attempt to displace American Democracy, as we know it, occurred in Washington, DC on January 6. Security at the Capitol Building was breached while congress was in session, which led to a temporary occupation of the Capitol, the concealment of the members of congress, the death of a police officer3 and several insurgents, while several representatives and two United States Senators4 were attempting to interrupt the Electoral College process by challenging the certified results of the 2020 presidential election.

Just before the assault, at a rally in Washington, Mr. Trump turned his supporters into insurgents by verbally inciting their march on, and takeover of, the Capitol. Among the zealous supporters in Mr. Trump’s political base are Evangelical Christians5 and paramilitary groups, such as the Proud Boys,6 strange bedfellows and a marriage that, to say the least, was not made in heaven. Most of us recall Mr. Trump commenting on his popularity with his base by saying that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and not lose any voters. On January 13, however, Mr. Trump did suffer consequences for sparking the insurrection when the U. S. House of Representatives impeached him a second time; he is the only American president to have ever been impeached twice. The impeachment was the direct result of Mr. Trump’s incentivizing the mob to storm the Capitol Building—so I assume he now knows that he cannot stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot anyone with impunity!

What troubles me about this whole debacle has been the role of Evangelical Christianity in facilitating Mr. Trump’s rise to the highest office in the land. One would have imagined that evangelical leaders could have read the signals in Mr. Trump’s generally unacceptable behavior and consider that things might not end well. Their persistent support for Mr. Trump’s policies, however, blinded them to these signals as they considered the quid pro quo they hoped to receive.

Christianity has always been a “big tent” religion even from the earliest time as is attested by the early sources.7 Hence, it is not unusual to find Christian groups involved, however tangentially, in violent acts; for in its long history Christianity has been stained with violence in the name of God (the obvious examples are the crusades and the inquisition but there are many others). The last four years appear to have witnessed another one of those instances. Without the support of evangelical Christianity Mr. Trump would have been hard pressed to put together the coalition that led inevitably to the insurrection on January 6. Hence, evangelical Christians share the responsibility for enabling the insurrection. Some self-proclaimed evangelical Christians were even part of the mob that stormed the Capitol Building on Jan 6.

Through history there have been many versions of what it means to be Christian. It is embarrassing to the Christian brand that any one group should think of itself as the gold standard for religious faith to the extent that it would undemocratically aim to impose its self-understanding on others in a democratic and pluralistic society by bending the political system to its will.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1Evangelicalism is a worldwide trans-denominational movement within protestant Christianity:

2Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus, Nov 2, 1883.

3U. S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.

4The two are Josh Hawley (Missouri) and Ted Cruz (Texas). On Hawley see Katherine Stewart, “The Roots of Josh Hawley’s Rage,” The New York Times, Jan 11, 2021:

5Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham. “How White Evangelical Christians Fused with Trump Extremism,” The New York Times, Jan 11, 2021:


7There are several distinct types of “Christianity” in the first 400 years of our era: for example, Synoptic, Johannine, Pauline, Gnostic, early Orthodoxy, creedal Christianity.

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Gospel of Mark and the Way, a Sect reported in Acts

Luke reports that some early followers of Jesus were referred to as members of a sect called “the Way” (o odos [ο οδος], Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).1  The name likely comes from their description of themselves as following the way of the Lord or God (Acts 13:10; 18:25-26) or the Way of life or salvation (Acts 2:28; 16:17). Luke describes a Jew (Ioudaios) named Apollos “who had been instructed in the Way of the Lord.” After hearing him speak in the synagogue, Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:18; Rom 16:3) took him aside and “expounded to him the Way of God more accurately” (18:25, 26). That Luke describes Apollos as a Jew well-informed about the scriptures but as needing further instruction (he knew only the baptism of John) suggests that his initial introduction to the “way of the Lord” was independent from the group represented by Priscilla and Aquila. Luke even has Paul claim to be a follower of the Way (24:14; cf. 13:10), describing him as a persecutor of the members of the sect (9:1-2) before his conversion (9:1-19). In short, Luke seems to suggest that the Way is a very early description of a nascent “Christian” movement growing out of Israelite traditions.2 That being the case, might there be some evidence in our earliest gospel (Mark) about this group?

I have elsewhere described Mark’s gospel narrative, which includes the gospel Jesus proclaimed (Mark 1:14-15a),3 as “the official ‘gospel’ statement of Mark’s church.” Mark’s gospel is “the proclamation of the public career, death, and resurrection of Jesus ‘in behalf of many’” (Mark 10:45).4 The question becomes does Mark reflect any awareness of an incipient movement or message, reflecting the brief reports in Acts?

Using the Way passages in Acts as background, there are several statements in Mark’s narrative that may reflect an awareness of the Way as a particular religious movement. Mark uses the same terminology as Luke to describe that religious lifestyle: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Mark 1:3; cf. Acts 13:10); Way of the Lord (Mark 1:3; Acts 18:25); Way of God (Mark 12:14; Acts 18:26). Mark has one story (12:13-17) in which the Judean religious authorities try to trap Jesus. The authorities describe him as “teaching the Way of God in accordance with truth” (12:14), presumably an ironic contrast with their own understanding of “the way of God.” While the authorities are insincere in the statement as the rest of the story shows, their statement does present a contrast between the Way (that is the religious lifestyle) taught by Jesus and that of the Jewish authorities.

Mark’s narrative begins with quotes from the Septuagint (Mal 3:1 and Isa 40:3). Mark changes the statement in Mal 3:1 from me to read thy: “Behold, I send forth my messenger, and he shall survey the way before me.” Mark 1:1: “Behold I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy Way. In Malachi the speaker is God referring to himself; in Mark the speaker is Mark referring to Jesus/the Lord. In Malachi the way is the way of the Law (Mal 1:8-9 LXX), but in Mark the Way is the “Way of the Lord,” Jesus (1:3).

Finally, Mark frequently uses the image of travel in the narrative in a literal sense, referring to people in travel mode as being in the road, or on their way to some destination (2:23; 4:4, 15; 6:8; 8:3, 27; 9:33, 34; 10:17, 32, 46, 52; 11:8). At least, one of these common expressions for travel could be metaphorical. There are already several other metaphorical uses of o odos in Mark (1:2, 3; 12:14). The story of Blind Bartimaeus seems be another instance of a metaphorical use.5 This use of o odos (10:52) turns the Bartimaeus story into an account of a lifestyle change. Jesus restores his blindness by saying “Go; your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus did not leave, however, but followed him in the Way (10:52). The question is: might this be an allusion to the Way [of truth] taught by Jesus or is it a statement that Bartimaeus travelled along behind Jesus on the road for a bit?

How does it seem to you?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1J. McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible (Macmillan, 1965), s.v. “the Way”: “This usage does not appear elsewhere and has no known antecedents.”

2Mackenzie, Dictionary, 924.

3Mark says Jesus proclaimed the following gospel: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near,” or “Time is up; God’s sovereign rule is about to begin!” “Repent and believe the gospel” (1:15b) is the response demanded by Mark’s community to the gospel Jesus proclaimed.

4Hedrick, “Parable and Kingdom. A Survey of the Evidence in Mark,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 27 (Spring 2000), 180-82 or Hedrick, Parabolic Figures or Narrative Fictions? Seminal Essays on the Stories of Jesus (Eugene, OR: Cascade. 2016), 27-30.

5See McKenzie, Dictionary, s.v. “Way,” for the metaphorical use of “way” in the Bible.