Dethroning Evil, Part 1

September 22nd, 2020

It’s time for me (you decide if it’s time for you) to push through the “fluff and stuff” and cut to the chase: the election on November 3 is no longer about candidates or parties. It is about the dethronement of evil. To call it less is to run the risk of standing by passively and watching this nation unravel. My conscience will not let me do this. Niceness is no longer a virtue, if it ever is. Forthrightness is necessary. I say this as a Christian, full bore, but also as a political independent. [1] I have no “agenda,” but I am on a mission: to do what I can as a disciple of Jesus to overcome evil with good—and to do so in the context of our national election, now less than two months away. The soul of our nation is in jeopardy.

Life in Christ

I take my cue and accept my assignment from Jesus himself, who modeled nonviolent resistance to evil, and who (in his great commission) included baptism in our missional task — baptism interpreted to me by the Wesleyan tradition as “resisting evil in whatever forms it presents itself.” I have taken a vow to do this.

But as always, how we go about resisting makes all the difference. In my need to learn how to engage in Christian resistance, I gain insight from Paul’s words, ”We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12 CEB). When Paul wrote this, it was not the first time in history evil had taken root, and he knew it would not be the last. Fast forward to today, and we understand as Paul did that we are living in such a time. His words are our blueprint for action, in general and particularly in the days leading up to the election. [2]

First, Paul makes it clear that “we aren’t fighting against human beings.” We must not miss this; otherwise our resistance will be un-Christian. E. Stanley Jones wrote about this and influenced my thinking originally. Others have done so since. The resistance we are called to make is a hard saying: our fight is not against people. It is against “rulers and authorities” who have fallen prey to evil.

Donald Trump is arguably the clearest and saddest example of an authority figure whose brokenness makes him susceptible to the influence of evil — at least he is the most public illustration of it that we see daily. [3] His sister and niece have confirmed this at their risk, and with courageous detail. On an ordinary day, their witness would be enough to cause people to see through Donald’s personal and political charade (created from his pathological narcissism), and thereby be persuaded that he is a threat to the nation, never deserving to be president in the first place, and surely not to be re-elected.

But this is no “ordinary day” (as I will show below); it is a time of darkness brought on by the multiplied deceptions that the current administration continues to use to pollute the minds of millions of people. To let that go unchallenged is unconscionable.

Michael Cohen reveals the deception in spades in his recent book, but also zeroing in to say, “The cosmic joke was that Trump convinced a vast swath of working-class white folks in the Midwest that he cared about their well-being. The truth was that he couldn’t care less. Everyone other than the ruling class on earth was like an ant, to his way of thinking, their lives meaningless and always subject to the whims of the true rulers of the world.” [4]

In the past six months or so this truth has been repeated by others who know Donald well and have worked closely with him. But most of all, his own words captured in print and on tape (including his frantic attempts to revise the narratives he himself creates — something narcissists do) are the ultimate indictment. Nevertheless, some people live from their brainwashed state and continue to support him. [5] This leads to the next thing Paul said.

Second, we fight “against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.” Thanks to Richard Rohr, I see evil in a new light that has helped me understand Paul’s words better than before. [6] Evil is a societal darkness, a pre-existing condition (a mindset) that precedes any of our individual expressions. It soaks into us in a variety of ways. The Bible calls it satan. [7] By whatever interpretation, evil is real and active, using systems and groups as its instruments. We see this glaringly illustrated in the QAnon conspiracy [8] and the Christian Nationalism movement[9], two separate entities but which sometimes overlap.

Rohr rightly notes that evil masquerades as goodness (“greatness” — an even stronger appeal to egotism/ethnocentrism), and therein lies its power to deceive. This is not accidental or incidental, but rather deliberate and strategic. The workers of evil are in contact with each other [10], and they operate from a common playbook given over to lying (incessantly), bullying, denial (even in the face of proof), demeaning and caricaturing, passing the buck, deflecting (changing the subject), falsely blaming and vilifying others, preferring their falsehoods to truth, and otherwise perverting things to their advantage.

The whole thing operates and advances by deception. Richard Rohr sees this as the main concern we should have about what’s going on, writing that “People are more duped and intellectually lazy than they are malicious.” [11] And these tendencies are the things that evil leaders exploit to the greatest extent possible. Delusion is the only way such “rulers and authorities” can succeed. It is a system with roots in ancient history (imperialism), and with numerous contemporary manifestations (dictatorships) — all with leaders who enjoy a monarchial style. It is a system that’s immoral at the core: defined, designed, and directed by egoic/ethnocentric supremacies. It is the sin of Cain, who tried to say he was not responsible for his brother. Some in the current administration are skilled architects and engineers of this ancient sin, schooled in its deployment.

This is what we are called to resist…. “evil in whatever forms it presents itself.” We follow Jesus, Paul, and those before and after them, who co-operated with God so that justice would flow down like a mighty river, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream (Amos 5:24). We must oppose any and all systems that preserve, protect, and promote fallen-world imperialism. In upcoming posts, I will connect with the additional counsel of Paul in Ephesians 6. God has given us the means to resist, and now is the time to do so. [12]

For today, I take the words of Ephesians 6:12 to be God’s clarion call to resist evil, and I point to voting in the upcoming general election as a way to dethrone evil in local, state, and federal governments.

[1] I do not view any political party as perfect. It’s one reason I am an independent. Our political system is flawed across the board. But in terms of the vision (i.e. the common good) and its implementations, some platforms and politicians are noticeably better than others.

[2] The context of Ephesians 6:12 is 6:10-20. I intend to work through this longer passage in future posts. Hence, my use of “ Part 1” to describe this opening one.

[3] He is not alone. Recent brazen comments by Roger Stone and Michael Caputo to establish martial law and to prepare for armed conflict if Trump loses, reveal the same manifestations of evil, along with numerous other similar sentiments voiced by Donald’s minions the past few years. The increase of survivalist groups in the nation brings that chilling possibility to bear upon the future.

[4] Michael Cohen’s Disloyal is one of growing number of books and articles exposing Donald Trump and his administration. The rocks are crying out. Are we listening?

[5] Brainwashing as I use it here is not perjorative, it’s descriptive of the extended process that works over time to replace truth with lies so that people end up believing whatever corrupt leaders tell them. In social systems we call it indoctrination, which produces “group-think.”

[6] Richard Rohr, What Do We Do With Evil? (CAC Publishing, 2019). He is not the first to describe evil in collective and systemic senses, but it was while reading this book that some things came together for me in a new way. Prior to this, Walter Brueggemann wrote similarly in relation to imperialism, and does so in most of his books. I reference two: Journey to the Common Good and Tenacious Solidarity.

[7] I leave it to you to weave your particular beliefs about satan into this post. I do not want to distract from the point I am making by saying anything further or particular.

[8] I do not always reference Wikipedia, but the QAnon article there is a good overview, complete with numerous citations to take you into the topic in further detail.

[9] The books about the peril of Christian Nationalism have multiplied in recent years. For a starter I would recommend two: Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, Taking America Back for God and (2) Katherine Stewart, The Power Worshippers.

[10] Jeff Scarlet’s books, The Family and C Street reveal how this works in Christian Nationalism. Anne Nelson’s book, Shadow Money exposes the larger manifestations in society.

[11] Rohr, What Do We Do With Evil?, 17.

[12] Joan Chittister’s book, The Time is Now is a powerful call to nonviolent, prophetic resistance.

Steve Harper is the author of For the Sake of the Bride and Five Marks of a Methodist. He blogs at Oboedire.

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