In February of 2017, I shared my thoughts concerning the “Spirit of Antichrist,” a malignant spirit that appears throughout history among autocratic leaders and the cult of personality.
When I wrote that, Donald Trump, a populist without any prior experience in government, had only been president of the United States for one month. (The United States is my country of origin.) In spite of his pattern of sinful business practices and rude character, he won the presidency with the help of numerous evangelical believers and leaders.
Once in power, he put his bootlickers in positions of influence even as he fired others. From there, he undermined every area of administration including the environment, public education, disaster response, law enforcement, communications, foreign relations, domestic policy, and ultimately, public health. Several of his associates were indicted and convicted of corruption and treason only to be later pardoned by the same chief who sent them on the illegal errands.
As the visible leader of the country, he betrayed historic alliances and drew close to autocratic governments such as Russia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and Brazil. He erected walls on the Mexican border and oppressed families seeking refuge, stealing their children. He encouraged impunity in the face of police brutality and the proliferation of racist and chauvinistic militia groups. He used his privilege to enrich himself with a nepotism never before seen in the White House. In his free time, he played golf, convened hateful rallies of his supporters, and disseminated malignant propaganda on Twitter, defaming hundreds of groups and individuals.
For many American Evangelicals, what began as an exchange of support for access to power turned into an idolatrous sect bowing to Donald Trump, “Trumpism.”
In 2017, I finished my warning with these words:
“I pray God will strengthen us with the courage to remain faithful and strong in the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ with inspiration of the Holy Spirit even when a deceived legion decides to jump off a cliff.”
On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, the Trumpism legion decided to jump, this time in violence against the government. Answering the call of their false messiah, they attacked the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, attempting a coup.
The trumpet of their antichrist sounded, and the roll was called up yonder. Who was there? Racist groups. Militant groups. Conspiracy theorists. Chauvinist groups. Treasonous public officials. Brutal police officers.
Among this pig sty of the most vile within the United States of America was found one more ground: members of various evangelical churches, fathers, mothers, typical persons of the Anglo-Saxon middle class, but totally radicalized, brainwashed. These carried our national flag and flags carrying the name of Jesus together with the flags of Neo-Nazi groups in violent insurrection.
How could this come to pass?
This is not the first time that religious people have been greatly deceived and manipulated.
Political-religious fanaticism plays a prominent role in the history of Mexican Methodism. At the beginning of the missionary work, freedom of worship was something new and “liberal,” as was democracy itself.
In those times, conservative politicians and priests also whipped up fanaticism. They circulated propaganda defaming Protestants that encouraged the public to persecute the “heretics.” For those who were so deceived, their violence was a form of spiritual warfare.
They used the same methods as today: Shunning. Economic boycott. Isolating new ideas. Defamation. Conspiracy theories. Nationalism. Everything to foment hatred and division with the end of smothering the liberal, egalitarian, democratic and secular movement.
Mexican Protestants suffered violent coercion even from their own families. Believers and church structures were attacked with machetes, fires, lynchings, and everything to oppose what was considered “liberal.” Then as now, cowardly leaders hid behind the anonymity of the mob.
Today, we know their opposition was neither moral nor spiritual. They simply wanted to preserve the feudal order of aristocracy, theocracy, and Roman Catholic hegemony in Mexico, the status quo that maintained them in privilege and power.
Today, we find something similar. Economic inequity has created widespread poverty. New historical perspectives discoveries, narratives and ideas challenge prejudices, myths, and traditional beliefs. Those who suffer seek someone to blame for their anxiety and marginalization.
New communications media offer echo chambers, websites, anti-social networks, partisan news channels, while independent congregations and ministries without doctrinal standards offer the opportunity to congregation among individuals with shared prejudices (1 Tim. 4:3). The result is a nation that is economically, ideologically, and socially polarized. The schism in the United Methodist Church is also a result of this process.
Within the echo chambers we hear the following lies:
- The election of 2020 was stolen.
- COVID-19 is a hoax created as a pretext to close churches
- Vaccines are evil
- Donald Trump is sent by God and the best president ever
- Advocacy for civil and human rights and public services leads to atheism and communism
- Humans do not create pollution or contribute to global warming
- The Republican party is Christian
- The United States is a Christian nation
- The Democratic party is satanic and pedophile
- Immigrants arrive to contaminate and steal
- Jews are seeking to dominate the world
- Whites are the supreme race
These are the same lies as always, now in the United States, yesterday in Nazi Germany, before that in the Spanish Inquisition. The colonization of the mind has not changed; it remains sexist, imperialist, and racist; it continues to exploit the environment; it continues concentrating power and privilege in the autocratic and plutocratic; it continues using religion towards its economic, political, and cultural ends.
What shall we do?
Today as before, Methodists have a special role to play in the world and Christian community. Our mission is to reform society, the church, and human souls through scriptural holiness. Our order is democratic. Our ministry is inclusive. Our theology is academic and scientific. We have a social witness and practice. We are opposed to superstition, fanaticism, corruption, political violence, oppression, and slavery.
We believe in salvation not as a privilege that conveys impunity, but as a process through which the grace of God frees us from the power of evil and the hell that evil unleashes. Born again, we rejoice in free will, the freedom of conscience, and freedom from sin. We are morally responsible to God and to one another. We flee evil. We seek to do good. We attend the ordinances of God. We are sanctified in the love for the Triune God, the God of love, incarnate in Jesus Christ, present in the Holy Spirit.
In the face of toxic masculinity, fascism, racism, nationalism, consumerism, fanaticism, the idolatry of the cult of personality, and of the defamation of the poor and vulnerable, our doctrine and discipline will always be accused of being “liberal.”
So be it!
We are disciples of the Jesus of Scripture, the Lord who said:
“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32