You may have seen the above snapshot floating around the internet recently. It’s part of the schedule for the upcoming CPAC conference.
If you haven’t seen it, you’re probably nevertheless familiar with the “heaven has a wall, extreme vetting, etc.” talking point that has become popular among Trump supporting Christians.
The rhetoric is taken from Revelation 21 in which John describes what heaven looks like – using a heavy dose of apocalyptic imagery to do so.
At the most basic level, this is a classic example of a false equivalence, which itself is the basis for so many internet memes that try to equate two unrelated issues based on a shared trait. Despite being a logical fallacy, the seemingly straightforward checkmate power of the false equivalence has made it the crack cocaine of many a political debate – especially on the internet.
But worse than just a logical fallacy, the “Revelation supports Trumpism” rhetoric is lazy, blasphemous theology. It’s lazy because it puts absolutely zero effort into biblical interpretation by pretending as if a work of metaphor dependent apocalyptic literature can be stripped of its context and presented as a literal, documented historical fact. Had even the slightest bit of effort been put into this pseudo-exegesis, its proponents would have noticed a rather inconvenient truth: according to the book of Revelation itself, the gates of heaven are never closed.
Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. – Revelation 21:25
Of course, this doesn’t jive well when you’re desperately searching for a proof-text that will reconcile the unreconcilable – following Jesus and supporting the policies of Donald Trump – but as we all know, we live in the age of alternative facts. Objective truth has died and in its place has risen the notion that whatever we want to be true is true so long as we believe it passionately enough.
Facts be damned, even if our souls go along for the ride.
And so we’re left with a large swath of self-professing Christians – 76% of white evangelicals to be exact – who have no problem tossing the life and teaching of Jesus into the garbage while still claiming to be Christian because their new savior Donald Trump has promised to keep the brown people away and at the end of the day a false sense of security is more important to them than fidelity to the gospel.
Which leads us to the blasphemy.
One of the biggest sore spots in the relationship between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day was the radically inclusive nature of his ministry.
Jesus ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, made women part of his inner circle, turned the villainous Samaritans into the hero of his parables, and perhaps most unacceptable of all he declared that come judgment day, entrance into heaven – what the folks using Revelation as their prooftext might call “vetting” – will be determined not by profession of faith (a religious test) or agreement to a list of doctrines (an ideological test) or keeping all the rules (following the law) but by how we treat the least of these among us. What makes this so unacceptable both for religious leaders of Jesus’ day and many religious leaders of our day (other than the lack of emphasis on doctrine and rule keeping) is that it flings wide open the gates of heaven to welcome in anyone who embodies the Greatest Commandment – regardless of ethnicity, social standing, or even their profession of faith.
Then once again when Jesus appears to John the Revelator to unveil the end of all things, he makes sure John takes note of the fact that despite what religious folks had been told for so long by religious leaders keen to decide for themselves who’s in and who’s out, the gates of heaven are wide open and will never be closed.
The opened gates are not necessarily an affirmation of universal salvation. Jesus makes pretty clear in Matthew 25 that eternity looks different for the goats than it does for the sheep, but one thing is abundantly clear in both the life of Jesus as well as his penultimate Revelation: God is a God of radical inclusion.
Which is why perverting scripture by twisting it into a proof-text for the sanctification of xenophobic marginalization is nothing short of blasphemy because it presents God as something God is most definitely not – a fear-monger who only makes space for a privileged few.
Sadly, the apostle Paul predicted this sort of falling away long ago when he wrote to his protegé Timothy…
For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.
There may be no better modern incarnation of this passage than those who have abandoned following the Truth because they’ve wandered away to alternative facts about the danger of refugees, Muslims, and immigrants.
The folks who have left the narrow way for the promise of safety – and white supremacy – may be hopelessly entrenched in fear and bigotry, but that doesn’t absolve the rest of us from following the second half of Paul’s charge to Timothy…
As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
Being Christian comes with risk, risk that may bring about danger and danger that may produce suffering. That is why the “but safety” justification for selectively following Matthew 25 holds absolutely no water in orthodox Christianity. Christians have been staring down death for the cause of Christ for 2,000 years and will continue to do so until Christ returns. Our safety is not a Get Out Of Discipleship Free™ card – especially when the purported need for safety is built on lies.
Being Christian also means being sober – and Paul’s not talking about avoiding a glass of wine at dinner. When Paul tells Timothy to “always be sober” he’s calling on him to be sober-minded, to be studious, logical, and serious about his faith. Doing so, that is to say being faithful to truth, accuracy, and intellectual integrity is part of carrying out his ministry and what it takes to be a faithful evangelist.
And being a Christian means proclaiming the truth – both big “T” Truth and little “t” truth. Those we proclaim it to may not be interested in listening, they may even fight back with their own version of the truth, but to borrow something the prophet John Oliver recently said, we’re in a fight for reality and as Christians, that fight is for a reality that extends beyond just the here and now but which is at the same time very much grounded in the here and now.
Which is why we can abide neither previsions of scripture, nor the lies they are based upon.
Lives and souls are at stake.
So, if you run across self-professed Christians using the book of Revelation as a proof-text for their anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim worldview, kindly, but firmly remind them their logic is flawed because according to Revelation itself (and that guy named Jesus), the gates of heaven have been flung wide open by a radically inclusive God who has promised they’ll never be shut.