by Elizabeth Oldfield
Wednesday, 20
January 2021
Idea
08:35

The two faces of Christianity in Joe Biden’s America

The practising Catholic inherits a country divided by faith
by Elizabeth Oldfield
Joe Biden inherits a country divided by faith

In the lead up to the presidential inauguration, when Joe Biden will put his hand on a Bible and swear to defend the Constitution (so help him God), the US has been occupied with two very different faces of political Christianity.

The first has been burnt into memories by a goat-horned shaman, covered in tattoos of the Norse pantheon, thanking Almighty God and a very New Age “white light” for “allowing” the Capitol insurgents to “send a message to communists, globalists and traitors” in the Senate chamber. Ridiculous, yes; heretical, almost definitely; but followed by pastors and many bearing Jesus banners.

The second, celebrated two days before the ceremony, is Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. His legacy is often neutered into a twenty-first century liberal fit for Instagram quotes, his brimstone-Bible preaching carefully tidied away. Nevertheless, he took the scriptural principle of “turn the other cheek” and used it to lead a revolution.

One political Christianity sees the faith as an identity marker, an ‘us and them’ system, the other draws from it a much larger “we”. One uses the symbol of the cross to exclude and terrify, the other sees it as a world-changing symbol of sacrificial love and reconciliation. But to deny that both are, in some sense, Christian would be as disingenuous as well-meaning politicians who claim Islamist terrorism is nothing whatsoever to do with Islam. In both cases there are many degrees of separation, but the Capitol insurgents are nevertheless mainstream Christianity’s distant cousins.

As President Biden, himself a lifelong practicing Catholic, takes office, he faces two temptations. One is to deny the “Christian” in this ugly Christian nationalism, which fails to tackle the problem. The other would be to swing the distinctly American brand of noisy, religiously vibrant secularism towards a harder-edged, more exclusionary French direction. While I am sure he faces pressure from some in his party to do just that, Biden’s reflections on his own faith and politics make it unlikely. He is also a savvy political operator and understands that in a country where 75% still affiliate with religion, it wouldn’t go down well.

From his public statements, I think President Biden knows that the antidote to bad religion is not no religion. The antidote to thin, exclusionary political Christianity is not no Christianity, but deep, theologically rigorous, humble Christianity which serves the common good, as almost all churches continue to do. I hope President Biden resists doing further damage to the fragile pluralism of his country. But there is damage he cannot fix, the damage to the reputation of the church that those scenes inflicted. Only the church, by showing up and bearing the second face of political Christianity, can hope to fix that.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
30 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

‘As President Biden, himself a lifelong practicing Catholic, takes office…’

The idea that Biden is any sort of Christian is a sick joke. It is hard to think of a US politician with a more unChristian track record. His Crime Bill led to the long-term incarceration of millions of people (mostly black or Hispanic) for non-violent offences, he supported every war and military adventure, he has enabled the credit card companies every step of the way, and he has facilitated the massive enrichment of his family through various corrupt means. When applied to the likes of Biden and Bush, the word Christian loses all meaning.

J StJohn
J StJohn
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I’m prepared to accept the choice of the american electorate that, when choosing between two men who either hate or misunderstand Christianity, or possibly both, Biden is the slightly less evil choice over Trump. We’ll probably know for sure soon enough. Frankly though, in a world of ‘bread and circuses’, POTUS qualifies as circus. Decisions are made and enforced from a deeper part of the state, are they not?

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago
Reply to  J StJohn

By what measure is Biden slightly less evil?

Joe Francis
Joe Francis
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

And that’s not counting his record on abortion. For all his supposed “lifelong” practice of Catholicism, he’s really very bad at it.

lizzzygoode
lizzzygoode
1 year ago
Reply to  Joe Francis

Agree. Many Catholics are dreading his Presidency , especially his choice of Vice President (who is considered at best as anti Catholic).
If his level of devotion is what can be described as ‘practising’ then no one who is anti-religion or even anti Catholic will have a problem with his method of practising his faith.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Agreed – I’m not entirely sure that being more Christian – or more Catholic – inclines a person to be more morally upstanding.

The expression “good Christian” contains both a noun and an adjective ..

David George
David George
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Look the hell out whenever you see the creation and exploitation of that most unchristian of emotions, resentment.
We had Joe Biden come out last week and announce that minority owned businesses would be priortised in government assistance. This is the man that is supposed to be unifying America? Is he completely clueless. Unity through division?
Minority resentment good and justified, mainstream America, we’ll just keep right on poking you, any resentment from you and you’re a nasti, racist, white supremacist or something.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

I see the fluffing of Biden has begun. Sure, he’s “a practicing Catholic” who is wildly at odds with the church’s most fundamental principles.

He is also a savvy political operator and understands that in a country where 75% still affiliate with religion, it wouldn’t go down well.
so savvy that he had little problem insulting those not like him with various comparisons to Hitler, white supremacists, and so forth.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
1 year ago

To use this “goat-horned shaman” as a representative of one side of American Christianity is, in my view, an affront to the many million of serious and committed Christians in that country. It is easy to use the Name of Almighty God in vain to legitimise your words and actions, but those who do need to know there is a judgement awaiting those who take His Name in vain.
There are in fact 3 faces to Christianity in the USA. There is “cultic”Christianity which is a distorted and perverted misrepresentation of the Faith. Some, but by no means all, current tele-evangelists would be examples of that. There is also liberal Christianity which basically sits loosely to the authority of the Bible and seeks to serve the prevailing culture through compromise. Finally there is conservative Christianity which takes the authority of the Bible seriously and is willing to espouse teaching and policies which is definitely counter-cultural.
The conservative Church has been recognised as having significant political power because of its numerical strength and common platform and is therefore habitually wooed by presidential candidates. Donald Trump broadly won their support in two elections. But conservative Christians are not naive. They were fully aware of his character and behavioural flaws and contradictions. But they believed he would be sympathetic to their priorities and they were generally proved to be right.
I think it’s absurd to suggest that the Church’s reputation was damaged by the antics of the wannabe Viking in the Capital on 6th. January. The fact is that the Church in America remains strong and despite some decline is vibrant and growing in its conservative manifestation. It remains respected and highly regarded where it really counts – at the local level.

David Waring
David Waring
1 year ago

Hmm fascinating and off we go on another iteration with power in the hands of the US Party originally set up to counter Lincoln,a party which has caused more death and suffering than many others.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

Just read a very long book about how the Christian leaders of both sides drove the young men of their countries to fight in WW1. The enemy (Germany or France or England) was spoken of as the devil in every pulpit in Europe.
A later follow-up by Bob Dylan, “With God On Our Side”, explained it well. IN view of all of the cruelty in recent history, justified by religion, it is difficult to take it seriously.
Which brings me to Marxist thought.

Vóreios Paratiritís
Vóreios Paratiritís
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Sacred Nationalism was Europe’s Great Sin, one it paid for with… everything.

David George
David George
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

“The enemy (Germany or France or England) was spoken of as the devil in every pulpit in Europe.”
I’m sure that’s an exaggeration. If that was done it’s clearly not Christian but a manifestation of something else.
It was Marx that provided the philosophical and moral justification for , resentment. No wonder he came to hate it’s counter in Christianity.
There’s a (shortish) clip on Youtube “I’m a Christian and a Marxist” that’s well worth a look and includes the reading of a chilling poem by Marx, helps explain how the adoption of his ideology led to the untold death and misery that it did.

Claire D
Claire D
1 year ago

I’m tempted to say this is a rather naive article, I can only hope it is’nt.

Vóreios Paratiritís
Vóreios Paratiritís
1 year ago

He should start by giving up his party’s false witness about the Capitol rioters by calling them supremacist insurrectionists.

It’s the first hurdle and although few see it, how he jumps it will determine the rest of his presidency. We will know more by then end of the week.

Looking back Trump failed out of the gate by not throwing a rhetorical fit against Richard Spencer and other far right grifters when they tried to ascribe their meaning into his victory. Biden faces the same challenge now form radical leftists, one made all the harder by the fact that powerful personalities within the Washington governing bureaucracy are happy to accumulate the power an “us versus them” narrative would bring.

It’s a test.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
1 year ago

This misses the point of what American Christian Evangelists actually believe. They don’t for one second think that Trump is a Jesus-like figure. However, they do believe God moves through him, much like he did with the gentile rulers of the ancient world that associated with the Jews of the Old Testament.
I’ve noticed a stronger strain of anti-Christian sentiment running through the mainstream media lately. It seems that you can’t call yourself a real Christian unless you express vacuous tolerance for Democrat causes.

John Alyson
John Alyson
1 year ago

“The antidote to thin, exclusionary political Christianity is not no Christianity, but deep, theologically rigorous, humble Christianity…..”

One thing Biden doesn’t do is theologically rigorous Christianity. He wears his Catholicism on his sleeve, almost literally with his famous rosary beads that he threatens to stuff down peoples throats if they challenge his religiosity, and yet he is dreaded by the more traditional Catholics and has even been refused Communion due to his support for abortion.

No, what we get from Biden is the type of religious posturing we got from Trump except a lot more tribal and with less actual action for the religious votes that he might win with it. But hey, he is apparently more respectable than Trump.

Jim Cooper
Jim Cooper
1 year ago

The idea that there is a REAL christianity is as stupid as the claim that there is a REAL islam. Wars of religion emerge from just such unanswerable claims – hence their danger. Wars of religion are ONTOLOGICAL rather than EPISTEMOLOGICAL. Unless pastor x or imam y claim to know the mind of Their god – which neither ever would – religion goes up in smoke..

Vóreios Paratiritís
Vóreios Paratiritís
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim Cooper

You can only measure the fruit. And some answers are apparent. The traditional apostolic Churches are “more real”

Gary Anderson
Gary Anderson
1 year ago

Thoughtful commentary, Elizabeth. I pray that American Christians WILL show up and reflect the love and grace of Christ and forego the vitriol. The gospel message is offensive enough. We don’t need to add to it with abrasiveness, hostile rhetoric and dedication to a failed man who exhibits nothing of the character of Christ.

Jonathan Barker
Jonathan Barker
1 year ago

The original face of applied Christian politics in two stark images.
http://www.dartmouth.edu/~s

http://www.dartmouth.edu/~s

And its present-time manifestation as described in this essay – note the unspeakably vile sado-masochistic snuff/splatter movie featured in this essay. A movie in which every single person and humankind altogether is systematically beaten to death – in order to be “saved”.
http://www.logosjournal.com

It is interesting to note that both the artist who created the images, and the author of the essay are/were both Marxists. It is also interesting to note that the huge mural was put together in the library of a Christian university. Such would of course now be totally impossible.

Ann Ceely
Ann Ceely
1 year ago

This article has nothing but emotive words.
Christianity should have no political stance.
It is a personal religion about the individual.

However, in reading this, I assumed that Biden was expected to be leading the Capitol insurgents. But the 2nd description made no sense.

Jonathan Barker
Jonathan Barker
1 year ago

Jesus of course was never ever in any sense a christian, nor did he create or found the power-and-control-seeking “religion” about him, all of which was created by others, none of whom ever met him in an up close living-feeling-breathing human being.
Many people claim to know so much about “Jesus” and yet they cant even account for their appearance here. Indeed even to do so one would have to take into account every paradoxical fraction of space-time (past, present and future) beginning from day one (whenever that was).

And if you seriously and rigorously study/investigate any and all of the Christian truth-claims about what we are as human beings, our relationship to the natural world or The Cosmos, and the nature of the Living Divine Reality you will (if you are at all honest) inevitably find that there is no basis in Truth & Reality for any of them.

Howard Medwell
Howard Medwell
1 year ago

chilling to be reminded that 75% of the population of the most lethally powerful country in the world believe is supernatural beings, And for some of them, it’s a short step to believing in paedophile conspiracies, lizards in human form, etc. Say what you like about us stupid old Brits, we sloughed off religion years ago – at least as long ago as the 1851 census. The irreligiosity of the English in particular is often portrayed as a deplorable national weakness, associated with social breakdown, crime, drugs, etc. In fact, it is the result of the struggles of our history, going back to the sixteenth century or even the middle ages. Admittedly, we haven’t yet found anything ese to believe in, apart from football and money.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago
Reply to  Howard Medwell

I once went to a Reading v Crewe Alexandra game where the Crewe fans (as part of their 400 mile round trip) were singing “we’re by far the greatest team the world has ever seen”

That’s worship at its very best ….

Vóreios Paratiritís
Vóreios Paratiritís
1 year ago
Reply to  Howard Medwell

Protestantism is one hell of a heresy. Everything devolves from this point.

Stanley Beardshall
Stanley Beardshall
1 year ago
Reply to  Howard Medwell

Nice point, Howard. I stand amazed at posters who still believe in fairies; a large group of Americans are also so afflicted and should be viewed with sympathy as well as caution. It is our duty as Britons to promote secular study of our world. I live in France and am pleased to see the slow but sure death of one of the truly horrible faith systems unroll over here – only one priest left now in our whole valley of seven villages, each with a church. I think we can thank an Englishman, Berners-Lee, for much of our triumph over obscurantist bigotry…..

Adrian Maxwell
Adrian Maxwell
1 year ago
Reply to  Howard Medwell

You revealeth the truth.

Claire D
Claire D
1 year ago
Reply to  Howard Medwell

You are mistaken in two ways :
1. Sneering at something you do not understand.
2. Writing off Christianity in the UK just yet, there are still around 1 million regular C of E church goers, and over 4 million Catholics, + all the people who count themselves as Christian but do not go to church.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
1 year ago
Reply to  Howard Medwell

Religion is a natural part of human evolution. It gave rise to art, poetry, scientific thinking, and more importantly meaning to life. It elevated us out of subsistence living conditions and held create empires and civilizations. Out of all existing religions, Christianity is the most universal in that it seeks to transcend ethnic differences and tribalism by loving your neighbor and having faith that everything will turn out ok in the end. It is supreme arrogance to think we are above it. Many of our public institutions are rooted in Christian theology, although that seems to be eroding lately.

When you no longer believe in God, you end up believing in everything, which is what is currently happening in the West. Many people mistake secularism as being religion-free, when it is anything but. What is ‘Wokeness’ if not a secular form of religion? It is pious zealotry run riot – literally, if we judge by recent events.