by Rodney Kennedy
Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. The pastor of 7 Southern Baptist churches over the course of 20 years, he pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton (OH) – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years. He is now the interim senior pastor at the Upper Merion Baptist Church in King of Prussia, PA (which is also an American Baptist church) while also teaching homiletics at Palmer Theological Seminary. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his sixth book: The Immaculate Mistake: How Southern Baptists and Other Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump.
Time and again I attempt to engage conservative friends on Facebook regarding the teachings of Jesus. The subjects vary from the social gospel, to immigrants, to interpretation of Scripture, to American Christianity as Gnosticism, to patriotism is not a Christian virtue.
The back-and-forth will often go on for more than 25 replies from each of us. When my conservative friends tire of my arguments, when they weary of calling me names or spouting personal opinions without ever referring to the Scripture or making an argument, they fall back on the default argument of conservative evangelicals: Abortion. As one of my interlocutors sputtered in frustration, “What is your position on abortion? Tell me right now!” When I am slow in responding, the frustration builds. “What’s your problem? Why can’t you respond? Tell me now!”
What puzzles here is how this becomes the only argument that matters to my Facebook friends, and by expansion, to their friends. My question is simple. Why is the final weapon in the arsenal a bomb about abortion? When I argue that the earth is millions of years old and the universe is billions of years in the making, my conservative friends offer no evidence of their belief in a 6,000 year-old-earth. They just get frustrated and ask me about abortion.
When I assail the rapture as fake and dangerous ideology, there’s no pushback except that switch the subject to abortion. No one bothers to make the case for dispensationalism. They just drag out “abortion” from the broom closet and believe they have carpet bombed me back to the Stone Age.
From the many discussions I have had, here’s just one representative example. I was having an argument with one of my Facebook friends about illegal aliens. I mused that he seemed to lack compassion for illegal aliens. He insisted that he was compassionate and that charity should begin at home. He said, “I have a lot of compassion but not for people coming here to try to destroy our country and our religious beliefs. Are you sure you are a preacher? Charity begins at home.”
I decided to increase the pressure on my friend. I suggested, “If Jesus thought like you, he wouldn’t have gone to the cross. God loves the world, not just America.” Then I asked him to read Leviticus 19: When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Then I asked, “where’s your hospitality for strangers, your love for enemies, your provision for the poor?”
His response ignored everything I said: “Yes, I am a Christian. If these people wanted to live the way we do, it would be ok, but they do not. They are carrying a flag of the country they came from. They were offered asylum and a job in Mexico, but all they want is the free things here in America. Open your eyes!”
This went on for hours. Responses piled on top of responses. Then he reached the end of his patience, and issued his final word: “Rod Kennedy, you would rather have Hillary in charge, the abortion queen plus too many other crimes to mention. You don’t sound too Christian to me. If that is what you think, may God have mercy on your soul.”
I will take the mercy from wherever it is offered, but I am still puzzled by this pattern of argument. Is abortion really the only argument that drives evangelical Christianity? Is evangelical commitment to Donald Trump only about conservative judges being appointed to overturn Roe vs. Wade? After multiple conversations, I am more and more convinced that this is a distinct possibility.