A Significant Amount of American Christians are Inflicting Hell on Earth

by Rev. Chris Dela Cruz

Over the weekend of Dec. 13, as U.S. COVD-19 deaths climbed past the grim milestone of 300,000, thousands of folks who called themselves Christians flooded Washington D.C. without abandon or masks for the “Jericho March” — presumably an illusion to the Biblical story where Joshua’s army marched around the city of Jericho praying for God to break down its walls. In fact, the founder of Jericho March claims he had a vision where God woke him up and said “it’s not over,” granting him a vision of the Jericho March, and introducing him to a woman who had the same vision.

The speaking-for-God marchers called the “election fraud” an assault on Christian values in America and a massive conspiracy against God’s will. A pastor on stage told the crowd that they were about to cross the Red Sea like the Israelites, but though Pharaoh’s army was coming, “God is about to do something in this country that is going to take the threats we’re dealing with and put it down.”

Eric Metaxas, the Bonhoeffer biographer who wrote about the theologian’s resistance to the dangerous idol worship of Nazism infecting Germany, looked up at the sky during the rally as helicopters flew by, presumably carrying the president, and said “”Praise God! Thank you Jesus! God bless America!… That’s not the Messiah, that’s just the President.”

“Why didn’t your mother abort you?” one speaking-for-God marcher yelled at a counter-protestor. “You’re mentally disturbed, and you’re a coward, and you’re a f—–. I hope you get AIDS.”

And during the night, these saints of Christ tore down Black Lives Matter signs at multiple historically black churches, which “shockingly” received little police intervention or mass media coverage on what are genuinely shocking threatening acts well in line with America’s history of white supremacy and attacks on black churches.

My first thought as a Presbyterian pastor, to be honest, was “what the hell?” That got me thinking, though, about what these same folks thought about hell. Because it seems like it’s often the same folks who are judging which people get to go to hell or not are the ones causing hell on earth for people.

One of America’s most famous hell preachers, of course, was Jonathan Edwards. A renowned evangelist preacher who would eventually become President of Princeton University, Edwards famously preached, “the God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire.”

Historians found another sermon of his on a piece of scrap paper, but its significance was not in the words written down but what he chose to write his notes on: a bill of sale for the purchase of a “Negro girl named Venus,” a 14-year-old human child sold in bondage to the Christian good-news-of-the-gospel-preacher Jonathan Edwards.

Edwards was damning people to hell while creating hell for the enslaved.

Gehenna, alluded to by Jesus and translated often as “hell,” was a place where ancient peoples sacrificed children and people to the gods and eventually became a huge garbage and sewage pit that would often erupt in flames — a dumpster fire, if you will.

Meanwhile, the dumpster fire of the last few years has revealed all sorts of ways that America has for a long time sacrificed human beings to the gods of America. We murder black people as a human sacrifice at the altar of white supremacy, most obviously revealed in the human sacrifice/public lynching of George Floyd. We sacrifice children and families at the border to deter migrants from spoiling our country’s melting pot of whiteness. We literally sacrifice kids constantly to the god of the AK-47, the graves of our children the price paid for our national hobby. We sacrificed entire indigenous communities, whose blood runs down the roots of the stolen land of this country’s founding. And on and on.

And this American Hell-scaping has culminated in the tragic-but-chosen international embarrassment of our handling of COVID-19, where we have collectively decided that the lives of our elderly, of our vulnerable populations with normally non-threatening pre-existing conditions, of black and brown folks in disproportionally affected communities – that all of the horror that has been inflicted on them and on all of us is worth it for “the freedom to harm,” as Ibram X. Kendi puts it.

The folks at the D.C. rally were not outliers. This hellish-possession of Christians is a widespread enough phenomenon that a number of moderate to conservative Christians are sounding the alarm.

“This is a grievous and dangerous time for American Christianity. The frenzy and the fury of the post-election period has laid bare the sheer idolatry and fanaticism of Christian Trumpism,” said David French, a Republican “Never Trumper” and a Christian. “We’re way, way past concerns for the church’s ‘public witness.’ We’re way past concerns over whether the ‘reputation’ of the church will survive this wave of insanity. There is no other way to say this. A significant movement of American Christians — encouraged by the president himself — is now directly threatening the rule of law, the Constitution, and the peace and unity of the American republic.”

“I do not believe these are days for mincing words,” writes Beth Moore in a recent tweet. “I’m 63 1/2 years old & I have never seen anything in these United States of America I found more astonishingly seductive & dangerous to the saints of God than Trumpism. This Christian nationalism is not of God. Move back from it. Fellow leaders, we will be held responsible for remaining passive in this day of seduction to save our own skin while the saints we’ve been entrusted to serve are being seduced, manipulated, USED and stirred up into a lather of zeal devoid of the Holy Spirit for political gain.”

This is the anti-Eucharist, an anti-banquet that serves as an eschatological foretaste of hell. This is the Bad Place. And a significant amount of American Christians are Hell’s Kingdom Builders, praying for earth as it is in hell.

It is an absolute scandal and tragedy and horror that those who are called to be the hands and feet of the body of Christ have become the bringers of hell. It is a scandal of literally cosmic proportions that those who claim to herald good divine news for all people are the ones actively killing people through their war against masks and disdain of basic protections, that there is a horrific statistical link between church attendance and rejecting calls for racial justice, that exit polls suggest that people of color voting for Trump is linked with evangelical church involvement.

And sure, Christians have always done terrible things. Sure, what do you expect from a Christian tradition that stems from European colonizers? Sure, there are many monuments, literally and figuratively, to the amazing contributions Christians have made to better our world, especially Christians from oppressed and marginalized groups who have always been the true leaders of our communion of saints.

But it doesn’t make any less urgent for faithful folks especially to name the hell-ish horrors being done in the name of Christ and repent. It is at this point in history the bare minimum for us who call ourselves Christians to name it and do everything in our power to actively push against the hell on earth being created by Christians. Not for our sake, or our reputation or “public witness,” but for the sake those who are being held over the pit of the fires of Gehenna by God’s anointed messengers.

Reverend Chris Dela Cruz is the new Associate Pastor of Youth, Young Adults, and Community Engagement at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland, Oregon. He has written for Next Church, Presbyterian Outlook, and other outlets. Prior to being an ordained pastor, he was a journalist for the Star-Ledger in New Jersey.

Chris writes about the intersection of faith, cultural trends, and American life.

Bonhoeffer Biography Espouses Transforming “The Proud and Hateful” into Love

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Lee Hinson-Hasty is curating a series identifying books that Presbyterian leaders are reading now that inform their ministry and work. Why are these texts relevant today? How might they bring us into God’s future? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Ken Kovacs

One book that is providing theological perspective and inspiration in these days is Charles Marsh, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014).

For some time now, I’ve been interested in the experience of the Confessing Church, the resistance movement (from 1933 to 1945) within German Protestantism against the policies of the Third Reich. Marsh’s remarkable biography of Bonhoeffer, who was an active member of the Confessing Church, provides a fascinating window into the emergence, objectives, activities, struggles, and many disappointments of the movement.

Most striking is the way Marsh charts the changes in Bonhoeffer’s own theology, as he internally wrestles with and actively engages the demonic principalities and powers of National Socialism. Bonhoeffer’s activism and call to resistance were in response to, “The absurd, perpetual state of being thrown back upon the invisible God” (156), as he put it, to renewed Christological commitments, as well as a new interest in the centrality of prayer, worship, and life in community. “And the church,” Bonhoeffer said, “that calls a people to belief in Christ must itself be, in the midst of that people, the burning fire of love, the nucleus of reconciliation, the source of the fire in which all hate is consumed, and the proud and hateful are transformed into the loving” (204).

While it is false (I hope) to say that the present climate in the U.S. is exactly parallel to what happened in Nazi Germany (though there are eerie similarities), the church can be informed by what happened then as it seeks to be faithful today. Bonhoeffer witnessed a swift increase in authoritarianism, xenophobia, aggression toward the feminine, populism, and the dangerous conflation of religion, politics, and belief in an illusory national myth.

And, significantly, he soon realized that the church, along with its theological faculties in German universities, were theologically weak and ill equipped to withstand the collective force of what was happening around and in them. The Barmen Declaration, for example, expressed potential political resistance, but was largely ineffective and didn’t constitute real resistance. (Some of the Confessing Church members at Barmen were also members of the Nazi Party.)

Marsh maintains that, “[D]ogmatic proclamation would never be enough” for Bonhoeffer, because “every confession of Christ as Lord must bear concretely on the immediate work of peace. Obedience could not be separated from confession. The kingdom of heaven does not suffer lip service” (225). These are challenging words for all of us, especially for pastors and preachers.

Ken Kovacs has served as pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, since 1999. Catonsville, situated in Baltimore County, borders Baltimore City to the east and the wealthy suburbs of Howard County to the west. As a result, their ministry reflects the experiences and needs of an economically-socially-politically-racially diverse demographic. Ken’s academic work is in practical theology, which explored the relationality of the Holy Spirit and the human spirit.