4 thoughts on the anti-Christian “prayer and benediction” at the RNC 2016 (or, Christianity 101 for politicians)

Posted by PeteEnns on July 19, 2016 in Bible and culture/current events politics 53 Comments

RNC benedictionI did not watch the RNC opening yesterday. I was way behind rearranging the kitchen cupboards and reorganizing my socks and underwear drawer, and knew if I didn’t get those done my life would be complete chaos.

I also think the Republican party has lost its mind and I have enough crazy in my life without adding to it.

But I did stumble across this “prayer and benediction” that concluded the evening. After listening I felt I had to take a shower but it still didn’t come off.

First of all, and perhaps a small matter, but “PASTER MARK BURNS FROM THE GREAT STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA” doesn’t seem to know what a benediction is.

A benediction is not praising your political system as loudly as possible. A benediction is not a prayer either—of any sort. A benediction is when the pastor/priest, etc. turns to the congregation and speaks God’s blessings (the bene-diction or “good word”) to the congregation at the close of the service.

So, to sum up, in a benediction, the pastor is not praying TO God asking God to bless an agenda. It is the sacred and serious moment when the pastor speaks FOR God on behalf of the people.

Burns never actually got to the speaking for God part, and I can only say “thank you, Jesus” to that. He was too busy basking in his 3 minutes of fame and asking God to do what he already knew God was most certainly going to do, which is bless the Republican party and Donald Trump, a.k.a. “Immanuel, God with us.”

To me this prayer represents all that can go wrong and that has gone wrong in the history of Christianity (and religion in general) any time we think God teams up with a political system: the two become aligned and the result is always ugly.

So on that, I have 4 thoughts about what Christianity is really about when it comes to politics.

1. The Old Testament prophets weren’t so much predictors of the far-off future (a common misunderstanding), but more like street corner preachers telling people that God was about to show up and things were going to get serious, so watch out. They generally brought bad news to Israel’s leaders, political and religious.

Some of Israel’s prophets were political insiders, serving in the king’s court (like Isaiah). Others were political outsiders who tended sheep (like Amos). But in either case these prophets were very quick to keep kings from baptizing their own agendas in God’s name.

Pastors today, like ancient Israel’s prophets, whether insiders or outsiders, have a job to do, which is critique thelocker room political system and expose its failures, not support it like they are locker room chaplains asking God for victory against the enemy.

2. Part of the good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t favor any people group, political system, or party. In the closing of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. . . 

The Jewish messiah was expected to align with one political system, namely Israel’s, and restore Israel to its bygone days of political favor with God as in the days of king David 1000 years earlier.

Messiahs were to “make Israel great again,” but Jesus turned the tables.

His interest was not in reviving a political entity, as if God will only work through the system, but in drawing people of every tribe, nation, and political affiliation into the only kingdom that matters: the kingdom of God, which, as Jesus also said, “is not of this world” meaning it plays by entirely different rules—like justice, compassion, humility, true service and self-sacrifice . . . you know . . . none of the things we normally think about when it comes to American politics.

Thinking that God is aligned with a political party or any political system (including a democratic system) misses a very basic characteristic of the Christian faith. However politically involved Christians may be, those who get it truly know that God never aligns with any politician or political system.

3. The Gospel that Paul preached was politically charged. When Paul calls Jesus “Lord” he is claiming for Jesus a title that the Roman Empire knew only too well—the title reserved forCaesar.

To say that Jesus is Lord means more than one thing, but the political dimension is too often lost on casual Bible readers. Paul is claiming that Jesus is the true king and all others are subject to him, including Caesar. Jesus does not sidle up to and team up with earthly rulers. They bow before him.

Another title of the Emperor was “savior” who brought “peace” to the people through his just and mighty rule. When Paul calls Jesus “savior” he is again pitting Jesus against the Emperor. And when Paul begins his letter to the church at Rome (of all places) by saying “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” he is saying that the Empire’s promise of “grace and peace” is actually delivered by God and King Jesus.

Paul does not think of Jesus teaming up with government. He thinks of government as a parody and dim shadow of the kingdom of God, and the two should never ever be confused.

Let’s just say that Paul would have been all over Pastor Burns’s “prayer.”

4. Every Christian who wants to become a political leader should be forced to study the book of Revelation for a year and then pass a test of one simple question: “True or False: The Christian hope will be realized through political means.” Whoever says “true” should be forced to watch N. T. Wright videos about the kingdom nonstop for a year (starting with this one) and then take the test again every year until they get it right.

The book of Revelation is weird because it is full of ancient Jewish symbols of apocalyptic disasters and such. Teasing out what all those symbols mean is not for the weak, but neither is it necessary to get the gist of the book as a whole.

lamb of GodThe main message of the book is all about how wrong it is when an earthly power (the Roman Empire, for this ancient writer) claims a divine stamp of approval and divine authority.

Despite what it might look like to the naked eye, Rome, with its powerful armies and emperors, is not in charge. Rather, paradoxically and counterintuitively, the slain Lamb of God—the crucified and risen Jesus—is in charge.

Therefore—and I can’t stress this enough, people—Revelation is a call to God’s people at any time to be faithful to Christ over and against the “world system.”

As biblical scholar Michael Gorman puts it in his book Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation, Revelation is a critique of “civil religion”—of tying the Gospel to any political system.

Instead Christians are called to practice “uncivil religion” where Jesus is not tied to the state or aligned with any wanna-be king, and God is not dragged down into our political squabbles as if the Creator has chosen sides. Rather, followers of the slain Lamb stand firm in God’s kingdom and call earthly powers to account.

When I juxtapose the unholy prayer of civil religion at the RNC with the political tone of the Bible (and we’re just scratching the surface) is really makes me think Christians have lost their minds if they can’t see through how very sub-Christian—even anti-Christian—the Republican rhetoric is.

[All comments are moderated. Nasty or crazy comments will be deleted without hesitation. And remember it can take me several hours to get to your comment, so please be patient.]

{Click here to see a list of my books about what the Bible is and what it means to read it well.} 


  • As a Democrat and an evangelical, I’m getting royally tired of being seen as an enemy to all that is good and right and holy in the world.

    • I get it. With a bending of words… As an independent and a post-Christian, I’m getting past getting royally tired of being seen as an enemy to all that is good and right and holy in the world.

      I wish the project were getting along a bit quicker…

      • Share your pain. Me, independent Christian, and really tired of being told I’m evil for not supporting X, or for supporting Y. (And usually I never actually say who I support – just folks’ presuppositions.) I’ve never actually found that being a good fit for any particular political office depends on one being a “good” Christian. And who am I (or anyone else) to pronounce who is or isn’t? Actually, “good” Christians in the public view more often than not scare the willies out of me. Certainly, for so many of them I can’t see any possible way in which so many “Christian first” types on a podium would actually draw anyone toward Jesus. Usually seems just the opposite. See, I can be judgmental with the best (or good-est) of them!

    • Agreed. And unfortunately, it’s at church that I sometimes feel the need to be “careful” about how much to share. Surely that’s where we should be able to discuss some of this stuff and then come all back together to worship and fellowship together. But I’m not sure.

    • Well, your party supports and defends the mass murder of unborn children…it’s hard to look past that. Also, your party is the party of slavery. In bygone years that slavery was physical, in the present it is manifested in economic government dependence. The Democrat party needs the poor, the uneducated, and the perpetually victimized to be a viable party…which is why all their policies result in more and more poor, uneducated, “victims”. Also, the people who run the Democrat party are hopelessly corrupt, rich, and power hungry (i.e. the current Democrat presidential nominee).

      None of what i’m saying has anything to do with the Republican party by the way. I am not a Trump fan by any means. But if you’re “royally tired of being seen as an enemy to all that is good and right and holy in the world” then stop voting for politicians that support the killing of babies and enslavement of minorities…that would be a good start.

  • Now you’ve done it Pete. Say all you want about how to read the Bible or evo/creo (made that up – like it?), but start messing with conservofundoevangelo* politics and you will receive the wrath of God on thoust headeth seven-foldeth anything goneth beforeth. (*yes -that’s totally a word)

  • Thanks for this, it’s insightful and challenging to me. I absolutely agree that God isn’t aligned with any political entity. The reason your thoughts challenge me is that I view government policies as an important way we can make our world/country/municipality a better place. I’m not saying government policy is equivalent to salvation, but I think it’s really important to push for policies that reduce GHG emissions, protect vulnerable populations, etc. What is the role of a follower of Jesus in this? Just to denounce government officials when they do stupid things? This might be influenced by where I live, but I want to get involved in our political system from the inside. Can’t that be a part of the kingdom of God?

    • I appreciate this essay and comment. It’s actually because Christianity is important to me that I want to keep politics and government separate from religion. Yes, I try to bring teachings from the Bible to my personal decisions about whom to vote for, but that’s completely different from a political group claiming to have God on their side (how arrogant is that anyway?). Did anyone catch that the Republican nominee wants to give “rights” to churches allowing them to engage in politics without losing their tax-exempt status? Scary, in my opinion. I may have even more trouble getting along in church without feeling like I’m pretending, if that happens.

      Jerry Falwell, Jr. was interviewed on NPR last week about his support for the Republican nominee and how that lines up with his faith. He referenced the woman at the well who, Mr. Falwell reminded us, had had 5 husbands. He went on to say that the people wanted to stone her but Jesus said that he who is without sin should cast the first stone. Oh dear. 2 completely different stories in different times and places about 2 different women, but rolled into one to supposedly support his political viewpoint and thus losing the meaning of either one of the stories.

  • Pete, I agree with everything you say here, especially the part about the GOP losing its collective mind. However, it seems to me that the issue of Christianity and politics doesn’t do justice to how different the world was 2,000 years ago.

    Yes, what Paul was saying was political in the sense that it involves government and authority. His vision, though, was a kingdom in which the world was ruled by God via representatives, I.e., the Messiah and Jewish King. Yes, the kingdom would be just and people would be treated fairly. But it was no democracy or anything remotely resembling what we would consider good government today. Paul, and Jesus, were expecting a benevolent theocracy that would make government irrelevant in the future.

    The Bible was written at a time when people could be executed for wrong beliefs, and as far as I can tell not a single writer had any problem with that. The problem wasn’t that government had no right to execute people without cause, and human rights as we define them were not to be violated. No, the problem was that those powers were not used correctly. But God was going to overthrow the bad rulers and put in power the right kind of ruler. Which is a nice vision, but really has nothing to say about the things we argue about today, such as how much should the government spend on health care and education, etc.

        • Maybe I misunderstood you. You said:

          The Bible was written at a time when people could be executed for wrong beliefs, and as far as I can tell not a single writer had any problem with that.

          I guess my question is, what’s your evidence for that statement?

          • Among many others in the early church, Polycarp of Smyrna was executed by Rome for his beliefs, when all he had to do to save himself was offer the pinch of incense to Caesar.

            • I’m not sure I would put it that way. I mean, at a basic level, it was about beliefs, but you weren’t executed in the Roman Empire for your religious beliefs. You were executed for claiming loyalty to another king, especially one that Rome had executed. It was insurrection, not just that he had a certain set of religious beliefs.

              • Yes, but the point is that there was no line between religious and political beliefs. They were essentially the same thing.

          • I can think of many instances throughout church history where people were executed (martyred) for wrong Beliefs, Most often at the hands of the State Church; Read the “Martyrs Mirror”.
            Since the bible was being compiled After the conversion of the Emperor Constantine to Christianity, thus establishing the Roman Church, those in opposition could be executed for wrong beliefs.

          • Phill the concept of human rights was not part of Jewish thought. For example, Paul persecuted the Jesus movement because of their beliefs. Jewish scriptures teach that people can be stoned for various indiscretions. God commanded genocide for unbelieving nations, and I could go on. There is no right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness in the Bible or ancient thought in general. In Revelation, God will wipe out huge chunks of humanity (billions of people if you believe it literally). He drowned the entire world if you believe it literally.

            What was the questin again?

            • “the concept of human rights was not part of Jewish thought.”

              That’s not true at all. And Paul “persecuted” the Jesus-movement in terms of probably disrupting their gatherings and rousing up opposition to them; he wasn’t picking them off one by one/killing them (although some later completely embellished Church tradition made Saul into a monster so as to heighten the contrast with the “saved” Paul and also to make the “Jews” look worse)

              • Andrew, you are a great commenter on these threads and I almost always enjoy your contributions, but I think we misunderstand each other here.

                Whether Paul killed Christians or persecuted them in other ways, the point stands: freedom of belief was not absolute. When he had an escaped slave, Paul didn’t say, “hey, slavery is evil, free this man,” no, he sent him back and said “be nice.”

                It’s not just the Jews. Ancient people just did not have the same concept of justice and individual rights we have today.

                I think Republicans have gone nuts, but I also don’t think Jesus, the historical one, if he were transported to today’s world would be a liberal teaching peace, love and understanding. The mindset was so different there would be no equivalent today. Benevolent theocrat?

                • There is also a lot in the Gospels that Christians tend to ignore. Take Luke’s Parable of the Minas, which is clearly a parable about the Lord’s future return and reign in which faithful servants (Christians) will be rewarded with wealth and power. Two odd verses stand out. In Luke 19.14, the subjects of this nobleman (the future king) send a delegation asking that he not be made their king. Then when the nobleman (Jesus) returns to claim his kingdom in 14.27, he has those subjects arrested and executed before him, all King Joffrey-like. Now, an evangelical (biblical inerrantist) Christian has to assume that this is the parable Jesus actually preached, and the message it implies is rather worrisome. (From a higher-critical standpoint, we can observe that these verses are derived from the account of Archelaus told by Josephus, but we still have to ask why Christian scribes thought this would be a wholesome addition to the Gospel.)

  • Thanks for this small help in the midst of the frustration/depression I feel in the current political realm.
    I have shared with two discussion groups I coordinate at Peakland Baptist and also launched out into the twittersphere.

  • I suppose this is kind of a “101.” But to direct it to being a 101 “for politicians” kind of misses something. I’d suggest this might be a better 101 for Christian *clergy*.

    I’d go so far as to say that most (greater than 50%?) of the Christian clergy I’ve interacted with over the years don’t seem to center on these emphases. For me personally, it wasn’t until *after* my faith had collapsed and I started reading more independently that I discovered these aspects of a kind of Christian faith or had the capacity to possibly internalize their implications.

    What’s one to do?

    In some regard, Peter you’ve committed the etymological fallacy in classical form. Calling a preacher’s three-minute positioning plea a “Benediction” certainly sounds more traditional than printing into the program a label such as “Religious Grand-Standing.”

    In my anecdotal experience, what “Paster Mark Burns” did is more centered in the Christian experience that I know than that of which you write Pete.

    To what does one adhere labels? What makes something “Christian” or “Evangelical” or this or that? We’ve got no language academy. With the Reformation, there’s no meaningful sense of ecclesiology for centuries. Yet even in my lack of academic credentials, I can’t help but wonder who made Dr Enns (or anybody for that matter) the language or in-group or Real Christianity policy?

    That the Slain Lamb is in charge is quite the claim at the juncture. On one hand, after 2,000 years, the evidence of such is rather dubious. On the other hand, seems most of those bandwagoning with Him seem to be carrying the weight of the baggage of large amounts of irony.

    As you conclude, I took “think Christians have lost their minds” in many regards related to this contemporary cultural circus. But I also wonder if they’ve lost their hearts, souls, and spirits too.

    What a bunch of yahoos. Especially the pasters. Oh, I mean posers.

      • A belief in two or more messiahs (i.e. a warrior messiah and a priestly messiah, or Messiah ben Joseph and Messiah ben David) can be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Jewish writings.

  • Gosh. Mark Burns just informed us that, contrary to Ephesians 6:12, our enemies are flesh and blood liberal democrats. The Republicans have already claimed victory invoking God’s name, but I rest assured that God will have no part in the oppression that is their political agenda, should the electorate be foolish enough to grant them the presidency, no matter how many times God’s name is invoked or his laws cited as justification for injustice. For the record, I am observing this from north of the border (Canada) and do not see any hope in either Trump or Clinton as president.

  • A lot of good thoughts here. Still, Pastor Mark, I’d be more cautious with your phrasing: GOD gave Trump “the words?” The best words that only Trump uses that are only the most tremendous? What are you saying about God’s power if the best He can do is the word salad that erupts from Mr. Trump’s ego-hole on a regular basis?

    Be careful not to insult the Almighty with your politics, pastor.

  • Straight up idolatry. This has been going on in America for ages though right, if there’s an ounce of truth to Greg Boyd’s ‘Myth of a Christian Nation.’

  • I’m a Jew but this is new and interesting information for me. I believe deeply in the separation of church and state and I hear new arguments for that position here. Thank you for the thoughtful post.

    • As Pete Enns illustrates but may not have said explicitly, the worst outcome of missing “the separation of church and state” isn’t a theocratic state, but a politicized church.

  • A benediction most certainly IS asking God’s blessings upon a gathering or an individual. There is nothing inherently un-Christian (or un-American) about asking God’s blessings and guidance upon DJT or the RNC. To be sure, Mark Burns is over the top but I much prefer him to Reverend Wright, the current president’s ‘Christian’ pastor, who invokes God’s damnation on America. Not to mention the DNC who booed God altogether.

    • I did a quick search, but I’d like to know more about what you meant by “current president’s ‘Christian’ “? can you point me to an article or quote? I am up in Canada and the circles i run in are typically biased towards Wright, and largely ignorant of American culture and political sytems (took me a while to figure out RNC and DNC). Thanks!

    • Number 1, Wright hasn’t been the President’s pastor for many years. Number 2, Wright’s sermon in which he said “God-damn America” is literally right in line with the OT prophets; that is the exact same tradition.

    • A benediction is a PRONOUNCEMENT of God’s blessing (e,g, the Aaronic benediction in Numbers) where the pastor/priest mediates God’s blessing to the people. It is NOT a PETITION for blessing, which would be the pastor/priest asking God for blessing upon the people. The difference between the two is not symbiotic.

      I have heard time and again in church services, “And now for the benediction” and they begin “O Lord, we ask that you do..” x, y, and/or z. That’s like confusing the “prayer of confession” (which the people to to God with and through the pastor/priest) with the “assurance of pardon” which is uttered for the people by the pastor/priest on God’s behalf.

    • This was no benediction. This was a man showing off. Don’t settle for this type of disgrace to the cause of Christ. He may as well have just booed at God, who I doubt gave a d@mn what this man said. Be better than this!

  • Clear and concise, as always Pete. Recently I speculated (from the pulpit) on the way the Book of Kings represents the prophets. In places they are in competition with the anointed kings, almost as if they were an alternative government. Given the discussions earlier in the Deuteronomistic history about the merits and demerits of “becoming like the nations” and having a human king – replacing YHWH with someone who would instituted taxation, conscription and unholy alliances – it seems that the longing for the pre-monarchic theocracy sometimes comes through, against the more powerful current of the idea that kings are less worse than anarchy. “At that time there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” So Elisha gleefully takes over the craziness of the approach by the Syrians to have the hapless king of Israel cure Naaman’s leprosy, making the king look stupid and ineffectual. He does not permit this one-upmanship to be sullied by money, which is why he is so angry with his own servant for going after the fee at the end of the story. The lesson is that the prophets would have run the country better. But that remains a secondary theme of the Deuteronomistic history, and in the end the ideal of having Godly kings after the fashion of David remains. When we get to the NT these currents are still around, but changed. So your comments on Paul’s view of politics are apposite. Nowhere, though, does Paul spell out what a Jesus-based earthly nation might look like. Not much like your America nor my Australia, methinks. The longing for a theocracy based on earthly power is a dreadful self-contradiction, and one of the reasons we are in such a mess.

  • yes Pete, yes, yes, yes.
    I especially enjoyed the line about team chaplains.

    thanks for your prophetic dissent (and for the plug about those Wright videos, his disdain for “Left Behind” is like watching Maggie Smith on Downton Abbey).

    also, I wrote about rat tails and how to internet during an election cycle, scope it out (or don’t) just please keep writing barn burners Reverend Enns, we need ’em!


  • Does it follow that the church’s biggest screw-up ever was signing on with Constantine and his successors?

  • I think the kingdom of Isreal had its greatest victories under the king who was “a man after God’s own heart” not the other way around.
    The question is not if God is on our side, but if we are on God’s side.

  • I was absolutely sickened by this. Such an embarrassment to Christians. So sad, & so sorry for Christians who humbly follow Jesus.

  • I wonder if Mr. Ennis watch the opening prayer of both the Republican and Democratic conventions! You might want to do so!

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