Is the American Church ‘Breaking Bad’?

Joey Dodson —  September 6, 2012 — 15 Comments

If religion was opium for the masses: perhaps politics has become “Meth” for America. The reaction from Christians to a tweet that I sent out today suggests that many believers are as addicted to the GOP as my students are to the hit-show, Breaking Bad. The tweet:

How many believers will rationalize Mormonism as ‘basically Christianity’ because they want to vote for a Republican—or against Obama?

I promise I meant neither to mar Mitt nor to back Obama with 140 characters or less. Rather, my concern was more theological—that some might conflate Christianity with Mormonism for the sake of  Nationalism.[1]

 In Breaking Bad, there is a climatic conversation between the teacher-cum-methmaker and his wife. She trembles out the question: “Are you in danger?” To which he growls back: “I AM THE DANGER.” As I listen to various opinions on politics, I fear that the American Church is not in danger, but that We Are The Danger. That is to say, our greatest threat is not in (passively) being conformed to the pattern of this world but in us (actively) conforming ourselves to it.  Below are three dangerous questions that have resulted from my recent conversations.

A few qualifications. Firstly, I am neither anti-Romney nor pro-Obama. Frankly, I do not plan to vote for either of them. Nevertheless, I am committed to praying for both candidates and not bashing either—although Mormonism is fair game. Secondly, I am not a political scientist; I do not understand all of the complexities of the process. My expertise is in New Testament Backgrounds, so I admit to knowing more about Herod’s administration than Barack’s and to having spent more time in Plato’s Republic than in the U.S. Constitution. Finally, I am spewing forth ideas here that I have not fully digested. Don’t let the sarcasm fool you: this is my way of “reasoning together.”

 

Christianity and Nationalism: “Who is Lord?”

Christians may not go so far as to ignore orthodoxy and excuse the cult, but many of them have already confused the Kingdom of God with the American Empire. They have exalted the national agenda above the Great Commission.[2]  Mike Huckabee demonstrated such a priority when he confessed: “I care far less where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than I do where he is going to take this country!” My translation: “I am more concerned with the immediate destination of America than I am the eternal destination of my friend and his wife as well as his children and grandchildren.” (Caesar is Lord.) But even if Christians don’t scoff at Mike Huckabee’s pronouncement, they should shudder at Paul Ryan’s:

“United States is still the greatest force for peace and liberty this world has ever known!”  (Caesar is Lord.)

 

Christianity and Mormonism: Does Religion Matter?

One of the most common responses I’ve heard is that it doesn’t really matter what religion the candidate is.[3] But doesn’t such a statement collide with the claim by many believers that this is a Christian nation? I heard one “theologically conservative” Christian say he would vote for a Muslim or a Hindu if that candidate could fix our country. Although I demur at calling our nation a Christian country, I find it odd that patriotic Christians would put their trust in the hands of someone who believes the sort of things that other religions and cults believe. Comedian Daniel Tosh had a skit where he played a Scientology-recruiter who had a wall poster that read: “Scientology: Making Mormons look sane since 1952.”[4] The religion of Mitt really matters to Mormons. If Scientology can make them look sane, perhaps a Mormon president can make them look legit.

Mormons see having a Mormon president as a further help in legitimizing them. It’ll be hard for ordinary Americans to think of Mormonism as a cult or a crazy religion when (if) their president is Mormon.[5]

Again, I am not attempting to dissuade anyone from voting for Mitt, but I am trying to dissuade every Christian from ever saying—with respect to anything—that religion doesn’t really matter.

 

Christianity and ‘Mammonism’: “Whom do we really serve?”

“A person cannot have two masters…you cannot serve both God and Money.” Color me cynical, but when it comes down to it, I suspect most politicians follow Mammon more than they do Jesus, Joseph Smith or even Reverend Wright. And it’s likely that most Christians do too. In truth, American Christians are far less worried where our President takes his family to church than with the amount of money he puts into our “offering plates.” As Dr. Kevin Motl puts it:  “The preponderance of American voters privilege religious identity only once questions of economic self-interest are satisfied.” In other words: we got our mind on our money and money on our mind. Because the American Church doesn’t want to be broke, I fear we are breaking bad.



[3] This week CT presented “three views” on whether it’s wrong to vote for a Mormon. Wanting a rhetorical cage-match, I was disappointed to discover that they all agreed that it’s okay to vote for a Mormon. Even Fuller President Mouw said he’d vote for a Mormon just not a Jehovah’s Witness or a Scientologist; I find this argument inconsistent at best. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/september/is-it-wrong-to-vote-for-mormon-president.html

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Joey Dodson

Joey Dodson

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Joey teaches through Eternity Bible College's Distance Education program and serves as Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Ouachita Baptist University. His books include The Powers of Personification and Paul and the Second Century. He enjoys Family, Football, P90X & Philosophy.
  • LC

    Last word….. I would suspect that you would have weighed every word in your article before posting to such a potentially large group. But admittedly you thought you used the word “some” when you repeatedly used the word “most”. Also, you said you intended to comment on what Huckabee and Ryan said, and not what they meant, but clearly did the opposite. So no matter how clearly one feels he is presenting something, there will be some or most that misunderstand you.

    There are many members but one body. I think it is poor form for the eye to tell the foot it walks too much, or the heart to tell the lungs it’s too breathy. As we sit here bloviating about all things religious we are utilizing our religious freedoms fought for desperately by those like Huckabee, Janet Parshall, and Jay Sekulo and the like. We have no idea how many times these freedoms have been close to extinction. Those front line people have to be passionate and borderline fanatical to fight the way they do risking all they do, just like the social justice Christians have to be really passionate to be focused on what they do. We could all use a little more grace in our speech when talking about our brothers and sisters giving them the benefit of the doubt. They will know we are Christians by our love for one another, many members working together as prayed for by our Savior in John 17.

    Thanks for the dialogue. I think it’s great to think about a topic from many angles.

    P.s. As someone with a degree in Math, I gotta say I love the “captcha” math thingy at the bottom!

    God bless!

    • Joey Dodson

      Thanks, LC, for the last word. True, you demonstrated that despite me having weighed every word carefully, ‘some’ will entirely miss my points. I just hope “most” do not.

      I’ll join you in praying John 17 for the American Church.

      grace and peace to you,
      j

  • LC

    Mr. Dodson,
    You asked what I thought were your faulty assumptions. I numbered them to make it easy. Number one was the first one. But I will try to clarify my clarification. You assumed you knew what Huckabee (and many Christians like him) were thinking. (assumption). I thought it was wrong. (faulty) That is why I put it in the reply. I hope that helps. It seemed from your last reply that you didn’t know why it was in there. Sorry if I misunderstood your misunderstanding.

    Humbly,
    LC

    • Joey Dodson

      Thanks, LC.

      Yeah, I was confused because I never mentioned Huckabee’s name in my reply to you. I intended to respond just to what Huck and Ryan so baldly said–not what they really meant. For instance, if Huck really meant that he was greatly concerned about his friend’s (false) beliefs, then he should not have said, “I care FAR LESS.” If P. Ryan really meant to say that he was talking about a national force, then he should have said, “The World has never known a ‘national force’ for liberty and peace.” I suspect they had weighed every word and sentence before they spoke them to such a large group. If I misunderstood Huck and Ryan, then I change my accusation–they need to be clearer in what they really mean. Nonetheless, even if Huck and Ryan don’t qualify (although I believe they do), I think the charge still stands that a large number of so-called, immature Christians that do not attend your church are more passionate/concerned about the American agenda than they are the kingdom of God. As I said before, I hope you are right and that I am wrong on all of this.

      peace,

  • LC

    Big dread,

    I totally agree with you,,, mostly ;)
    But heres the thing, in the primaries, I voted my conscience, I voted my dreams. I voted for a guy that wanted to totally end the killing of innocent babies, a guy that was pro life in and out of the voters box! (yes, you can be both) and maybe, just maybe, my vote for him is why we have Mitt instead of Newt. (yes I know, you want to tell me how awful Newt is, but stay with me. He, in my mind, was better than Romney.)

    So now, here we are….do I make a political point? Or do I try anything to get a guy out of office who declared it his mission to get more viable babies torn limb from limb? Is anyone reading this??? He said that! I know with all my being that God is sovereign. And if someone threatened the life of my children in such a horrific way, would I sit idly by and give them the tools to do it? No. I would try to keep him from getting in any position where he could hurt mine or any children for that matter. . Neither should we let one more day pass where the man leading our country is on the offense team with planned parenthood. (his words)

    So, yes, by your words, Mitt claimed to be pro choice to get elected in MA. Agreed. Awful. Disgusting. Magic underwear, cultish practices, yes, I have studied cults too. That is why I did not vote for him in the primary. I couldn’t. I had dreams. But now voting my Dreams is a big risk. And there are millions of little lives on the line. So vote for a guy who could possibly flip flop to pro choice? Or vote for the guy that has affirmed over and over that he will take every opportunity to partner with PP in the slaughter of a generation? Or vote for Ron Paul, in which case I am possibly giving Obama that opportunity, and let me tell you this, you ain’t seen nothing yet. What do you think an Obama administration would look like in which he does not have to worry about getting elected??? Were the people in Germany supposed to sit by and say, well, God must have appointed Hitler. No! They were supposed to fight tooth and nail to dethrone a man trying to wipe out in the most disgusting ways, a whole people group. So, I will not apologize if I too want to dethrone a man admittedly wanting freedom for all doctors do the same. And I do not get the point of a small group of Christians being so proud of their prolife activities “outside the voters box” and then walking IN the voters box and affirming the guy that wants all restrictions lifted allowing thousands more babies can be killed. That is so confusing to me.

    I respect your decision, but I know for me, if I voted for Ron Paul, and Obama was re-elected, I would never forgive myself. I live in a state where every single vote counts.

  • LC

    1. You erroneously assumed (in my opinion) what Mike Huckabee meant. I don’t agree, and thought it was a huge leap. But I think I explained that in my previous response. ( funnily enough from your response I felt like you may not have read my reply)

    2. ” I fear the American church…..we are the danger” saying “the American church” implys the whole church, not a part. You didn’t say “some of” …… Or a group of, or a part of. “many” and “most” are the words I read….and then on your suggestion, re-read.

    3.“United States is still the greatest force for peace and liberty this world has ever known!”  (Caesar is Lord.)
    While a bit dramatic, the point appears obvious to me. Is Paul Ryan, a professed catholic, implying that the USA trumps even Mary herself? No. This is an obvious rebuttal to the constant demonizing of our country as a whole by the liberal left wing media (had to say those 4 words, sorry) but seriously, America is not the hand of God, this is true, neither is it the great Satan painted by many self loathing democratic Americans . That was clearly Paul Ryan’s point. I could go on and on about the practical implications, fighting for freedom, giving aid, first to respond, Yadda Yadda, but that was his point.

    4. “And it’s likely that MOST Christians do too…(follow mammon rather than Jesus). Yikes, “Most” again. I think you need a new body of believers to hang with brother! My family goes to an amazing outreach focused church, where week after week we get to see video clips of lives changed, a Muslim now attending Bible college, a single mom, redeemed and starting over, a suicidal model, able to see her beauty and freedom in Christ, life after life changed! Our church started a foster care program my family is privileged to serve with and give to, that is a model all over the country. They have a pregnant teen home, and a home for the moms once they have their babies. Our church community follows hard after Christ. Period.

    I hope that clarifies what I meant by faulty assumptions. I found it ironic also, that even in your reply in which you said that it grieved you that I misread your intentional “some” comments incorrectly you said this

    ” If I am wrong and most Christians are not as materialistic as I perceive, I am so very happy to be wrong.”

    “most” again. Maybe the problem is that even though I live in one of the most materialistic places in thee whole country, I am part of an awesome community of believers, that strive to know God and make Him known. So “most” of the Bible believing, Jesus loving Christians I know are not at all like the “most” that you wrote about.

    • Joey Dodson

      Thanks, LC.

      1. Did I write anything to you about your misunderstanding of Huckabee in my reply?

      2. Aha, that was meant to be a statement of solidarity rather than a generalization. I apologize that if it came across as the latter.

      3. Do Democratic Americans paint the USA as “the great Satan”? I would think many of them would agree with Paul Ryan’s saccharine profession. Your interpretation of Ryan’s point might have been his point, but it was not “clearly” so. Nonetheless, it is still a false statement; the USA is not “‘the’ greatest force of peace and liberty the world has ever known.”

      4. Your church sounds amazing(!), and you are correct I need and desire more encouraging examples of such communities in my life. In limited experience, though, your church is an exception that proves the rule.

      I still think “most” American Christians are materialistic. So, here are some options. 1. I am wrong and most American Christians are not. (I truly hope that I am wrong. If I am honest I am pretty materialistic myself.) 2. Your definition of Christian is narrower than mine. (I have included all those who profess to be Christian as well as immature believers in my inference. If one talks bona fide, mature believers, then we are likely closer on this topic.) 3. Our definition of materialism is not the same.

      In conclusion, I hope you are right about the American Church: I hope there are more of your “most” than there are of mine.

      peace,
      JRD

  • EricTheDiabetic

    People really questioned Kennedy for being Catholic for a number of reasons. But I think the two most prominent are that the majority of the outspoken voters claim to be protestant or evangelical (whatever that means anymore), and that all Catholics are subject to the will of the pope. Now, you can argue that issue all day long, and it doesn’t really matter anymore, because Kennedy and his office are long gone. But I find it interesting that protestant and evangelicals have little to say about electing a Mormon.

    The president of the LDS has more power than the pope in his own way. That office can, and often does, completely reinterpret what the scriptures say. The Book of Mormon has been changed or amended a whole lot since its inception. The current president, Thomas Monson, is apparently pretty conservative when it comes to changes.

    However, Mitt, if he were elected president, would be obliged, as a good Mormon, to follow whatever the BoM says. Hypothetically, Monson could “reinterpret” the BoM to say that poor people need to be eradicated, that Jesus was a capitalist, and the Middle East is the physical dwelling place of Satan (all of which seem to be on the GOP’s platform anyway). Unless Romney decided not to go for his own planet in the afterlife, he would have to comply.

    The American church, however, is so uneducated when it comes to, well, everything, that many don’t know enough about Mormonism to make an informed decision. If Joey started teaching that everyone was going to heaven (albeit three different levels of heaven), that God lived on a planet called Kolob, and that I needed special underwear to keep the demons away, I’m pretty sure he couldn’t hold a post as a professor at any university, except for Brigham Young.

  • LC

    While I don’t have time this second to reply, would you mind taking my email address off your post and address me more specifically as LC, instead of making my email address public. Thanks! :)

    • Joey Dodson

      Oopps, I apologize, LC. I thought I had only put the first bit of your email rather than the entire address. I’ve changed it now.

  • LC

    While I agree that far too many people put there faith in man, instead of God, I am afraid that such sweeping generalizations of “Christians” are almost always untrue concerning Christians in deed and not just name. Ex: the statement that Christians divorce just as much as non Christians. I have found that to be untrue. None of my close knit group of friends that follow Christ and study his word have been divorced and have all been married over 10 years.  That’s 10 out of 10 or more. And more detailed studies agree.  This leads me to your assumption.  To insinuate that TRUE believers care nothing for a man’s soul or faulty religion as long as said man gets Obama out of office is just inaccurate.  To then further imply that  there is no dire need to get him out of office save financial reasons is missing the point of most in the body of Christ. It would seem also that you have belittled the importance in a society for financial growth and likened it to worshipping mammon which is simplistic and theatrical at best.  

    Let’s keep this very simple. Last election the mantra amoung emerging Christians that place social justice over the gospel was ” I don’t vote based on only one issue.” To that I would say “Really?? Ever?” What if the one issue was ” I would like to legalize the killing of children up to the age of six months because if you accidentally have a baby with downs syndrome, you need that safety net”. (oh yeah, that’s legal in some countries). Would you really be able to sip your Starbucks and wax wise about all of said candidates wonderful plans to unite the country? Would you really be able to overlook his “legalize infanticide” platform?  What if he wanted to legalize molesting children?  Still “Just one issue”?  You see the truth is, that most people absolutely would vote on “just one issue.” The problem is that the abortion really isn’t that big of a deal to some. It isn’t infanticide, it is a choice, an issue, even among Christians.

    So  maybe the statement, “I don’t care what religion he is” doesn’t  mean “who cares if he goes to hell” maybe it means “I don’t care what religion he is  at this exact moment  if  less babies will die next year with him in office.”  And is it really a horrible thing to desperately want out of office, the man that called the ban on partial birth abortion a tragedy? Please digest that. He said,with his mouth, to Planned Parenthood, that not being allowed to tear unborn babies limb from limb is a tragedy. He went on to promise to go “on the offensive” with planned parenthood. Nobody blinked. The offensive.  Seriously? How did that video NOT go viral?

    How there can be apathy with so much at stake, is beyond me. I would like to understand your point of view more clearly, but your faulty premises and assumptions had me a bit confused.

    • Joey Dodson

      Dear LC,

      Thank you for your reply. I did not mean to imply that ‘all’ Christians confuse God’s Kingdom with America, care about Money more than they do Christ, etc. In fact, I tried to be very careful not to do that. I intentionally used terms like “some” in order to avoid sweeping statements. It actually grieves me that you read it this way. As far as that is concerned, I even did not say that all politicians follow after Money.

      Further, if you’ll go back and read the post, you’ll see that I admitted that there are more complicated issues involved (many of which I do not understand and have not fully digested.) If I am wrong and most Christians are not as materialistic as I perceive, I am so very happy to be wrong.

      It is interesting that you bring up the pro-life issue so passionately. I, too, am pro-life. I am adopted, so I praise God that my biological mother did not abort me. I am pro-life. Further, I just adopted a two-year old boy, and I praise God that his biological mother did not abort my baby. I am pro-life. In fact, I wish more Christians were as passionate about pro-life more than once every four years and did more about it outside of a voting box. Once again, though, you may want to reread my post: I did not say one should vote for Obama or against Mitt. My points were not 1) to confuse Christianity with nationalism, 2) mormonism, and 3) mammon.

      With that said, can you clarify what my faulty premises and assumptions are? Thanks.

      Humbly,
      J

    • big dread

      LC – while you never come right out in say it, it sounds a whole lot like you’re implying that anyone who cares about abortion being stopped should vote for Romney. If you’re not saying that, then I apologize. But if you are saying that…Do you think Mitt cares about abortion? When he ran for governor of Massachusetts, he was pro-choice because that was the only way he was going to win. And now that he’s a big wig with the GOP, he’s pro-life because that’s what you have to do. Mitt doesn’t care, and he will do nothing to stop abortion from being legal, even in the unlikely event he wins the presidency.

      However, to suggest that we only have two choices when we enter the ballot box is the biggest thing wrong with the whole system. If enough people vote their conscious, even if it is only for “one issue”, then we will find legitimacy in many other candidates. There is a massive movement of people who plan to write in Ron Paul on their ballots in November. And if abortion is the “one issue” you care about, I think you oughta look into what Ron Paul has to say about it. He is passionate and convicted about it… he’s not pandering to a partisan majority line. He really believes in it. Point is – we have more choices than CNN leads us to believe.

  • jmitchell

    Interesting article. I like it, however I don’t agree with some of your points.

    “One of the most common responses I’ve heard is that it doesn’t really matter what religion the candidate is. But doesn’t such a statement collide with the claim by many believers that this is a Christian nation?”

    This is not a “Christian nation”. This is a nation that allows its citizens to choose what they believe, independent of their government. The original (European) settlers of this country were FLEEING a “Christian nation” (or Catholic or whatever it was at the time). They were oppressed by a religious government and had the crazy thought that maybe everyone would be better off if they weren’t forced to participate in something that is a personal choice. I believe the Constitution still guarantees freedom of religion so until that is removed, I will not consider this country to be a “Christian nation”, nor do I want it to be.

    Now, on to your actual point. ;)

    — “I find it odd that patriotic Christians would put their trust in the hands of someone who believes the sort of things that other religions and cults believe.”

    Just because somebody is not a Christian does not make them a bad leader, nor does it mean they are going to go against God’s will when making decisions. It is entirely possible to have a non-Christian President whose worldview aligns with a Christian one in regard to the President’s duties as the leader of the country (if that makes any sense).

    — “Mormons see having a Mormon president as a further help in legitimizing them. It’ll be hard for ordinary Americans to think of Mormonism as a cult or a crazy religion when (if) their president is Mormon.”

    This statement is manipulative. You don’t have the ability nor the right to control what other people think about their faith. Jesus did not spend his time pointing out the flaws in other belief systems, he spent his time showing everyone how wonderful He was. He even went so far as to command us to pray for our enemies (and friends and everyone in between).

    I’m not really sure how to articulate it but I just really disagree with the philosophy of “let’s not make the Mormon guy (or Athiest or Scientologist, etc..) look good because then people will think it’s okay to be that way”. That is way too close to the political practice of bashing your opponent in order to make your party look better, a practice I loathe.

    Disclaimer: I am not by any means endorsing Mitt Romney (I’m probably not even going to vote for him) or any other politician with this post. Also, I agree with a lot of your other points, especially the idea that many Christian Americans today are patriots first and Christ-followers second.

    • Joey Dodson

      Thank you for your reply, jmitchell. I think if you go back and read my post more carefully, you’ll see that we don’t disagree as much as you think we do.

      1. I do not call America a Christian nation. I said that many Christians do, but “I demur” in calling America a Christian nation.

      2. I feel like you are going beyond what I said. My argument was not that they would fail to be good leaders or that they would be going against God’s will. I mean, God used Cyrus the Persian for example as “a Messiah” for his will. Moreover, my favorite pagan philosopher, Seneca, did an amazing job ruling Rome until Nero took over. Nevertheless, I find it odd that Patriotic Christians (those who believe this is a Christian nation) would trust someone who genuinely believed in things such as multiple gods, the destruction of infidels and magic Mormon underwear and such. But, I’d be interested to hear how sincerely either said candidates believes in their confessed religion. I feel like politicians often pander to the audience for the vote.

      3. I’m not sure what you think is manipulative. I am not claiming the right or the ability to control what other people think. I fear you have misunderstood. The point is that religion matters to Mormons because they believe having a Mormon president will give them more legitimacy. I’m not sure that is the case, but again, the points was that they think religion matters.

      I will have to disagree with you regarding Jesus not pointing out flaws in other people beliefs, however. Although I was not trying to do what you said I was trying to do, I believe Christian leaders do have a right to point out flaws in false religions. I challenge you to go back and read the gospels to see that Jesus often points out flaws in the Pharisee’s beliefs as well as the pagans (e.g. they babble thinking they will be heard in their much speaking). He even calls the Jewish religious leaders sons of Satan, offspring of snakes. Further, the OT, Paul, and John do not mince words about other religions either. Nevertheless, I agree that chiefly our goal is to lift up Christ.

      Thanks again for your insights. I hope this brings us closer together.