It’s extremely weird, in retrospect, but in my evangelical circles no one ever really talked about Martin Luther King, Jr. Here was one of America’s most profoundly moral truth-tellers, a minister who spoke with authority and rallied the entire black church in the south, a prophetic voice if there ever was one — and he was more or less passed over in my evangelicals circles, or treated by way of a good-natured dismisal, some sort of feel-good tip of the hat to the guy that got America back on track and patched up “the race problem.” But the details of King’s life and struggle and activism and theology? It didn’t happen, not in my circles. This is because for the evangelicals that support Trump, the Gospel is construed solely as an individualistic affair: get things right with God and pick up your Get-Out-of-Hell Free Card.
This, of course, was never the Gospel as it was taught by Jesus or anyone else in the biblical text, and when I started to listen to King’s sermons, it began to change my outlook on race and many other forms of privilege that I had inherited, and it didn’t take long before I re-read the Bible and realized that the Gospel was always social and always political and always required engaging the world, not simply saving one’s own ass from eternal hell fire. The Gospel was never meant to be packaged up for consumers, ala the Billy Graham crusades, but it is no accident that “getting saved” became simply another commodified transation.
The de-politicized Gospel preached by evangelicals has always served to advance privilege, particularly white privilege and American exceptionalism. The basic concept is no different now than it was in the days of Colonial Christianity, where capitalists would plunder a nation, then send in the missionaries to clean up the mess and convert the natives. In the modern world, the Gospel has always about advancing profit and exploitation, first and foremost.
During the most intense period of outrage at Trump’s abuse of poor immigrant children, I came across an ad on Twitter, a boost type of ad for one of Franklin Graham’s Tweets, preaching his evangelical Gospel of obsession with individual salvation. I was feeling particularly pissy that moment so I retweeted this snarky reply:
Yeah, maybe that was an inappropriate Tweet, but it’s true. The purely individualistic, consumer-driven Gospel of Franklin Graham and other evangelicals refuses to engage the deeper political realities that impoverish so many around the world. That’s why people didn’t in depth about Martin Luther King, Jr. when I kicking around in evangelical circles: like Jesus and the other prophets, King’s Gospel was political.
I should mention that many evangelicals spoke out against Trump’s persecution of children, but it’s far too little and far too late. They don’t get points for opposing Trump’s most egregious cruelty, because Trump wouldn’t be President were it not for an overwhelming surge of evangelical voters. They need to denounce Trump and Trump’s policies, entirely, not just jump on the anti-Trump bandwagon when the lives of kids are on the line. But they won’t do that. They’re too trapped in their privilege or ignorance or whatever, and more to the point, their theology of the Gospel is more akin to a line you might hear listening to an old school gangsta rap: I got mine, mothafucka.
The reason the Gospel is political is because the Gospel is preaching good news to the poor. It’s about challenging privilege, not ignoring it. The failure of evangelical theology of salvation is that it gives them cover to hide from facing the terrible truth of the ways in which wealthy Christian nations have always benefited from the suffering of others, and when you recognize that reality, then the Gospel really begins to fuck with you.