They don’t even need the Jesus of the cross.
They need, above all, the righteously indignant Jesus who storms into a house of worship and knocks over every object in his path, his anger aimed squarely at the religious leaders of his time—all men.
Three of the four Gospels tell this story.* Though the versions vary slightly, all vividly describe an infuriated Jesus. What most Christians remember are the details included in all three—that he reproaches the scribes and priests for allowing money changers and merchants to buy and sell in the temple.
Looking at the variations lends more insight. In John, Jesus bundles cords to make a whip, using it to drive out both people and animals. In Matthew, after clearing the temple, Jesus cures the blind and the lame, angering the chief priests and leaving readers with the delicious irony that they are angry at Jesus for healing on the Sabbath rather than at the merchants and money changers whom Jesus labels as robbers (and whom the priests have undoubtedly invited there). In Mark, the religious leaders are so angry with Jesus that they look for a way to murder him because the truth of his teaching is so compelling that it holds the crowd spellbound.
As a former evangelical, I can’t help but draw parallels between stories about Jesus like this one and the actions of evangelical leaders during this recent election season. A whopping 81% of evangelicals voted for a man who made a mockery of everything Jesus represents. Trump mocked a disabled person whom Jesus would have healed. He attacked a couple who lost their son in Iraq, when Jesus would have wept. Trump’s treatment of women, even women of high social class, defied Jesus’ every encounter with women, who showed respect even to prostitutes.
Every evangelical preacher I ever heard during my childhood stressed to us the importance of reading the Bible and praying every day. And yet, in a darkly comical turn of events, they catapulted into office a man who had so little knowledge of the Bible that he thought Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians was pronounced “Two Corinthians.”
They chose Trump over Hillary Clinton, a woman who speaks little about her faith, but who, when she does, speaks knowledgeably about the Bible and about the kind of faith Christ modeled. They chose Trump over a woman who regularly prayed backstage with running mate Tim Kaine, a former missionary known for his kindness and compassion.
How could they? How could the “What would Jesus do?” crowd rationalize its way to supporting Donald Trump? These are the questions I have asked myself again and again in the past year.
But then I remembered just a few of the reasons I am no longer an evangelical:
- A male preacher told us more than once from the pulpit that it was the responsibility of the girls in the congregation to draw the line when boys were having a hard time resisting their “powerful urges.” When, on a second date, a boy put his hand up my shirt, I resisted. He pulled me to him and tried to put his hand down my pants. I said no, pushed his hand away, and asked to be taken home. He moved on to another girl in the congregation—and later became a preacher himself.
- After I became a Christian I confided in an adult at church that my father beat my siblings and me with a belt. This adult told me that I should pray for my father’s conversion, in front of him, and count it as a blessing to be beaten for the sake of the cross.
- As a poor student going to college on an aid package that included a Pell grant and work study, I tithed 10% of my work study income to the church. The money helped pay for building expenses and the minister’s income. None of the money was used to help the plethora of people in my hometown living below the poverty level.
- After college, when I began to question the beliefs of the denomination, I was told that it was a sin to question God. When I said that I wasn’t questioning God, I was questioning men, I was told that to question God’s mouthpiece was to question God.
- An acquaintance who was a minister beat his wife and children, and, according to my mother, once called his own daughter a “whore” during a sermon. That was the last church service my mother attended for anything other than a wedding or a funeral until she visited my church with me a few years before she died.
- My mother, one of the most Christ-like people I have ever known, went to her grave fearing she was going to hell because she couldn’t accept this brand of faith. Only after she had a stroke and couldn’t talk to me about it did I learn that she had been pregnant when she married my father, the only man she had ever been intimate with. This was a secret she kept for 60 years.
How do evangelicals contort themselves to embrace a man like Trump? My most generous explanation is that perhaps they have pinned their hopes on Mike Pence, believing as they do that if they pray hard enough, Pence will be able to convert Trump. They believe that if God can smack down St. Paul and bring him to Christ on the road to Damascus, then God can do the same for Donald Trump. Several evangelicals have said to me that they believe God works in mysterious ways and can even work through Pence to influence Trump.
I suspect, though, that I shouldn’t be so magnanimous in explaining their behavior. Knowing as I do that their answer to all ills, at least in my experience, is to tell others to “get right with God,” I fear that they somehow believe that, in becoming Christians, they have found the answer that others could find, too, if they would only “surrender to God.” Struggling with addiction? “Get right with God.” Have a husband who’s abusing you? Pray for him to “get right with God.” Grappling with depression or anxiety? “Get right with God.” Having trouble putting food on the table for your children? “Get right with God.”
The fact that that last one hasn’t been working so well in places like West Virginia, my home state, is perhaps the single biggest factor in evangelicals’ willingness to turn to Donald Trump, who seems to have the same talent as the money changers in the temple for turning a profit in sometimes questionable ways.
But why on earth wouldn’t they turn to Hillary Clinton first? To me, that’s a much easier question to answer. Most evangelical churches do not allow women to be ordained, and those that do have few churches that will call a woman as a pastor. According to a 2014 survey, 97% of white evangelical churches had only men serving as senior pastors.
In my experience evangelical churches routinely and systematically keep women in their place. The church my parents grew up in did not even allow women to speak during church, other than to sing and say “amen” to whatever garbage men spewed from the pulpit.
While I’m grateful for some of the values these churches instilled in me, the messages they conveyed to me as a female speak for themselves. Even today in most evangelical denominations, women teach Sunday School classes and do most of the labor of keeping the church and the congregation going, but men are the head of the church.
“Have you ever wondered whether God might be a woman?” I once asked a female friend who’s an evangelical. Her answer was immediate—that the Bible says that God made woman from the rib of Adam so that she could be his helpmate, not so she could be in charge.
So why wouldn’t evangelicals be suspicious of a woman who dares display the ambition to lead that everyone around them believes is reserved for men? If one is not allowed to question a man because he is God’s mouthpiece, then how could a woman possibly be God’s choice as a leader of the country?
Having such deep indoctrination that women are secondary to men makes evangelicals especially vulnerable—to fake news, to propaganda, to that one indiscretion that made Hillary look like Eve with the apple. She must have something to hide, mustn’t she?
So this Christmas season, I’ll celebrate the Baby Jesus. And come Easter, I’ll hope for resurrection. But all the while I’ll be quietly hoping for the hopping mad Jesus who cleared God’s house, just for a while, of hypocrites and robbers.
*Matthew 21, Mark 11, and John 2