Most morally compromised men of faith don’t sell their souls all at once.
Sometimes it happens in a billion tiny transactions; a series of infinitesimal compromises over time, that are invisible to them—but not to others. They can’t see from the inside, what is so apparent from a distance.
Moment by moment, choice by choice, they begin to drift from their calling, and no one close to them ever tells them while they’re still humble and amenable enough to listen. The power they accrue begins to gradually silence dissent or to remove it from view altogether.
These men end up spending their entire lives breathing solely in the intoxicating air of sycophant’s praises; never protected from their own hubris, never cautioned against their recklessness, never alerted to the ways they’ve lost the plot or begun leasing off large sections of their credibility for temporary rewards.
Surrounded on all sides by genuflecting yes-men and women lacking the intestinal fortitude to push back against the toxic sludge pouring from their lips, they begin to feel more and more comfortable and even emboldened in it. As they do, the teachings and the words of Jesus become less and less useful, because those things begin to testify loudly against them, they start to clearly voice their opposition—and so they begin to silence them too.
They learn instead, to bask in the applause of the salivating multitude, who gladly amen their every bitter word, no matter how reckless or incendiary—when they should be teaching them how to love more expansively. As the hateful choir cheers their ramblings, they grow more and more delusional, more and more comfortable bowing before the golden idols of their ego and ambition. With each day they slide further down the slope that leads to Hell, distracted by the buzzing noise of the crowds and unaware of the flames licking their heels.
And then one day, these professed men of God, find themselves campaigning for a predator in Alabama, disputing the value of black lives, celebrating the expulsion of refugees, vilifying an entire religious tradition, justifying the separation of families, going to battle for the NRA, passionately defending an endless parade of lies from a President—and all the while still imagining themselves fully righteous.
These are such days for men like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr, and for those who emulate them. This is how far they have drifted, and it’s going to be almost impossible for them to make their way back, because to do that, they would have to do something they have proven unwilling or unable to do: own their mistakes, admit their failings, cop to their poor alliances, and confess their present sins in the ascension of this President.
These men need Jesus.
They need repentance.
They need to have the scales fall from their eyes, and to see accurately the horrors they’ve manufactured against so many people made in the image of God.
They need to own and confess the ways they’ve denied Jesus, the millions of millstones they’ve tied around the necks of their followers.
They need to lament becoming beholden to Donald Trump and the Republican Party and Fox News, and to the supremacists and bigots who now compromise the lion’s share of their ever-shrinking but increasingly militant white base.
They need to deeply grieve over the LGBTQ men and women whose bullying they’ve defended and blessed, the xenophobic social media rants against Muslims they’ve birthed, and the trauma to the sick and the poor who are regularly assaulted by a President the two of them have proudly hoisted upon their shoulders as good and Godly.
They need to make amends for not speaking out when that President called “shithole countries,” the very places they send Christmas shoeboxes with dollar store trinkets and promises of God’s love—or dispatch wide-eyed white missionaries bringing salvation to them in four simple steps.
They need to see the irreparable damage they’ve done to their fathers’ name, and most importantly to the name of Jesus.
But it’s likely that none of this will happen, because practically speaking, Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr are now the God they most worship—or at the very least, their Universities and ministries and the platforms they bring are. The work of these institutions is now largely overshadowed by their unwavering allegiance to this President.
In many ways, it’s little surprise that Graham and Falwell have found affinity with Donald Trump, as they are frighteningly similar animals; men cradled from birth in wealth, position, and privilege; buffeted heavily by the deep coffers of others, and handed riches and influence most people will never possess—rarely, if ever considering that they may not be worthy of it.
Though Trump hasn’t read the Bible, let alone studied it enough to politically weaponize it the way Graham and Falwell have, in many ways the reverends are men cut from the same cloth as this President: though benefitting from every conceivable blessing and advantage this planet has to offer, they are fueled by a narrative of their unceasing persecution, believing that they are being continually assailed by the very people whose backs they’ve been standing on the whole time: the marginalized, the oppressed, the underserved—the least of these,”Jesus speaks of incarnating him.
Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell speak with a convincing religiosity; a shiny veneer of down home, America First religion that makes them impervious to accountability in the eyes of the suggestible multitudes who buy the ever angrier, ever more alarmist, ever more exclusionary gospel they now sell.
And it’s up to the rest of us to condemn and to oppose them; the Christians and the non-Christians, who know that human beings who pervert religion and leverage God in order to marginalize already marginalized people or stockpile power—are the very thing that most turned the stomach of Jesus. They are the salivating wolves in lily-white sheepskins preying upon the most vulnerable. They are the descendants of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, who too betrayed their greatest calling because the intoxicating aroma of power was too strong to withstand.
History is recording the Evangelical Right’s abomination of a marriage with this godless President, and though there were what surely felt like short-term wins, the lasting damage to the Church will be irreparable. People outside Christianity suspecting that religious people are all hypocritical frauds, are being given plenty of evidence for it.
Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, and the multitude of lesser-known spiritually compromised leaders, need the barrier-breaking, wall-obliterating Jesus whose name they invoke, even as they praise a President who is completely antithetical to him.
They need the knees-in-the-dirt repentance they so demand of the world, so that they can admit culpability in the violence of these days and push back against the walls and the bans and the barriers.
They need to embrace the coming of a Jesus who said that among men like them, there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth, and to break the tethers between themselves and Donald Trump.
Sadly, I don’t see that happening.
They have too much of this world to lose.
Previously published on JohnPavlovitz.com
Photo Credit: istockphoto B-C-Designs