Amazing (dis)Grace

An amazing thing happened in the 2016 election. Donald Trump’s victory was, in large part, the result of overwhelming support from the Religious Right. Trump won 81 percent of the white evangelical vote, higher than George W. Bush, John McCain or Mitt Romney. An article in the April 2017 issue of New Republic magazine asks: “How did a thrice-married biblical illiterate like Trump hijack the Religious Right?”

The article, titled “Amazing Disgrace,” quotes Russell Moore, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention and an early opponent of Trump. “The church of Jesus Christ ought to be the last people to fall for hucksters and demagogues. But too often, we do.”

As Trump gained more and more support from the Religious Right, Moore added that the election “has cast light on the darkness of pent-up nativism and bigotry all over the country.” (As Trump would say, “SAD!!”)

Of course, Trump wasted no time attacking Moore, calling him “A nasty guy with no heart.”

The title of the New Republic piece is a play on the famous spiritual, “Amazing Grace.” Even as a nonbeliever, I have always been moved by this simple and beautiful song. The words tell the story of one who has discovered religious faith. It is a song of joy:

How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

 I once was lost, but now am found.

 T’was blind but now I see.

Listen to a very moving performance here:

As I was listening to it, I had a sudden epiphany. There is another song that has long been one of my favorites, and it shares many of the properties of Amazing Grace. It is “Solveig’s Song” by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. The simple melody is strikingly similar to Amazing Grace.

There is one major difference between these two songs. While Amazing Grace is a song of joy, Solveig’s Song is sad and nostalgic. To appreciate why, it is necessary to know the story behind it.

Solveig’s Song is part of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 2. The music was written as incidental music to accompany the performance of a play by Henrik Ibsen. The play is based on a Norwegian fairy tale. Peer Gynt is a ne’er do well character who is constantly getting into various predicaments, and is finally banished from his village.  Before he leaves, he meets a beautiful maiden named Solveig and makes advances. Initially, she rebuffs him, but eventually falls in love with him. When he settles in the nearby mountains, she joins him and lives with him for a while. Eventually, he leaves and travels widely, continuing to get into trouble wherever he goes. Finally, old, exhausted and dying, he returns to Solveig who has patiently and faithfully waited for him. As he lies dying, with his head in her lap, she sings this beautiful lament:

The winter may pass and the spring disappear

The spring disappear

The summer too will vanish and then the year

And then the year

But this I know for certain: you’ll come back again

You’ll come back again

And even as I promised you’ll find me waiting then

You’ll find me waiting then

Oh-oh-oh ….

God help you when wand’ring your way all alone

Your way all alone

God grant to you his strength as you’ll kneel at his throne

As you’ll kneel at his throne

If you are in heaven now waiting for me

In heaven for me

And we shall meet again love and never parted be

And never parted be!

Oh-oh-oh ….

Here’s a link to a wonderful performance.

These two beautiful songs express our humanity; the joys and sorrows of our lives. If you listen to them, thinking about the stories that they tell, you cannot fail to be moved, possibly to tears.

Back to earth again.

It is indeed an amazing disgrace that the racism, xenophobia and misogyny of Trump and his alt-Right followers is shared and supported by a majority of evangelical Christians. These are angry people, many of them with roots in southern states who have long resented the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the growing secularization and diversity in our society. Finally, they can voice their real feelings, and those feelings are often pretty ugly.

Reverend Rob Schenk, an evangelical pastor says that the religious right has forfeited its moral standing by aligning itself with the alt-right’s gospel of white supremacy. But it goes far beyond that. After Trump’s victory, James Edwards, an alt-right talk radio host and Southern Baptist, attacked critics, including Moore, saying, “The Bible said there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth, and I want there to be that. Now is the time for retribution, and I want them to suffer. I want them to feel the righteous anger of good and decent people. I want Trump to drive them into the sea.”

What would gentle, loving Jesus say to that?

I could end the piece here, but I must add that Jesus might well have approved.

“Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘A man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.…” Matthew 10:34-35

Alt-right Christians have clearly adopted this “alternate fact” image of Jesus. Their Christianity is aggressive, confrontational and disgracefully bigoted. Where is the love, kindness and respect for others that they were taught in Sunday School? If they were treated badly by heathens, aren’t they instructed to “turn the other cheek?”

Is this the New Christianity that the world must deal with, one dedicated to white supremacy, subjugation of women, nativism and hatred of gays? It resembles the Christianity of earlier centuries, but it is also similar to theocratic societies in today’s world like the Taliban.

It certainly conflicts with the sentiments expressed in these two songs. They both express Christian beliefs, but there is no anger. There is only the gentleness and love of real Christians. If there are any of them left, they are cowed into silence at the moment. Let’s hope they gain some courage and begin to speak out against this monstrous distortion of their religion.

They are in the same position as moderate Muslims, when confronted with the horrors of Islamist terrorism. If they don’t speak up and take actions to oppose the terrible things being perpetrated in the name of their religion, they will be lumped in with the perpetrators.


4 thoughts on “Amazing (dis)Grace

  1. Perhaps “Onward Christian Soldiers” is the appropriate song to resound at conventions of camouflage-clad evangelicals. Among them, however, are the Rob Schenks and Russell Moores, outspoken, but gentler folk who feature other selections from their Bibles. One might ask whether a religion that harbors such moral opposites has any moral base at all, or is simply a rallying frame for screaming the passion of the moment.

    1. I are sure that most people, including non-Christians, think that Christianity has a moral base…the Decalogue, and all that.
      What is happening now is an anomaly, but as Moore said, the underlying bigotry was there all the time, and Trump just enabled it to crawl out from under the rock. I suspect that many Christians are uncomfortable with that. The article is an attempt to connect with them.

      1. The attitude of many Christians toward Jews, of hordes of white Christians toward blacks and Asians, of nonCatholics toward Catholics and of most Christians toward what they call heathens implies that many self-described Christians find room within their value system for bigotries so deep that they perceive the resented outgroup[s] as dehumanized. That is a sinister symptom in many religions, and a condition that undermines the capacity of societies to work together in ways that the present state of the world needs.
        Trump has uncovered and given political expression to a hybrid of nativism, patriotism and bigotry that has simmered beneath public discourse until his juvenile arrogance emboldened its exhibition. That so many evangelicals have bought into this is a testimonial to the demonizing capacity of the religious mind.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *