Christ on a Crackpot: A Pair of Dangerous Speeches from the Attorney General and Secretary of State

Last Friday, both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr were giving speeches before different groups in the middle of the country. Pompeo was speaking in Nashville to the American Association of Christian Counselors. Barr was speaking in South Bend, Indiana, at the Law School and the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame. Yet both approached their subjects from a similar perspective: that of the fundamentalist Christian. Separately, Barr’s talk is far, far more chilling than Pompeo’s. Taken togther, though, they present a vision of government as by design and, to their minds, necessity filtered through a strict, Christian interpretation of the Bible interpolated onto the secular world. The separation of church and state is non-existent in this world; in fact, a merging of Christian doctrine is seen as imperative to the continued existence of the nation and the world.

In one day, Pompeo and Barr played good cop/bad cop on transforming the United States into a theocracy.

Let’s put aside for a moment the obvious flaw in this line of thinking: Yes, Donald Trump is the absolute antithesis of pretty much everything that hardcore Christians are supposed to support. He’s pretty much a walking advertisement for all Seven Deadly Sins, with Envy, Pride, Wrath, Greed, and Sloth on ready display, and he brags about his Lust and Gluttony. Let’s put this aside because, obviously, ultra-Christians have decided that Trump is their imperfect vessel in order to achieve their social and political goals.
(Brief definition here: Don’t ever mistake the word “Christian” to mean “one who follows the teachings of the biblical Christ.” Some who call themselves “Christian” do, but mostly it’s just a designation that means “people who hate gays and abortion and liberals and modernity and want to justify it by contorting the Bible. Also, they have a weird obsession with Jesus coming back. And guns. Also, racist.”)
Pompeo’s speech was certainly less offensive, although the title, “Being a Christian Leader,” would indicate otherwise. There was a great deal of good ol’ fashioned evangelizing, about how he learned to “walk with Christ” and how he and his “wonderful, Christian wife” always “had Christ at the center of our lives.” He quoted the book of James: “Everyone should be quick to listen, and slow to speak.” Of course, there’s more to that quote. The full thing, which is James 1:19-20, goes “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
Of course, Pompeo couldn’t state that last part because we have seen him get angry or heard about it multiple times. And, again, his boss sure as hell is just a giant orange anger machine. (He also quoted Colossians, something about salt in your speech, but Chapter 4, which it’s from, starts, “Masters, supply your slaves with what is right and fair.” Does no one ever look up context for these quotes?)
Most of Pompeo’s speech was pretty anodyne. Hell, he even included a nod to people who “choose no faith if they so choose.” But the frame of it was clear: in order to be this gracious, religious freedom loving servant of God and government, you gotta get your Christ on.
However, William Barr was having none of the slightly conciliatory language that Pompeo used. In a speech that was honestly stunning, Barr embraced an ultra-conservative, evangelical Christian belief in the law while condemning those who would dare to believe that government should be part of the secular world. Here’s how he introduced his argument: “If you rely on the coercive power of government to impose restraints, this will inevitably lead to a government that is too controlling, and you will end up with no liberty, just tyranny. On the other hand, unless you have some effective restraint, you end up with something equally dangerous – licentiousness – the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good. This is just another form of tyranny – where the individual is enslaved by his appetites, and the possibility of any healthy community life crumbles.”
Then he explained that “Judeo-Christian moral standards…are like God’s instruction manual for the best running of man and human society.” And we get to the crux of the argument: Over the last 50 years (everything dates back to 1969, man, groovy) “we have seen the steady erosion of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system and a comprehensive effort to drive it from the public square.” Then he gave the usual litany of moral failings, like the “illegitimacy rate,” drug use, depression, suicide, and mental illness. That’s right. The Attorney General of the United States is blaming failure to get churchy for your depression.
Actually, the problem for Barr is “militant secularists” who “have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.” (Seriously, I heard this kind of stuff from Seventh-Day Adventist preachers and snake handlers back in the 1980s and 1990s.)
Then Barr went after the laws themselves, and that’s where this becomes even more dangerous of a speech. The legalizations of abortion and euthanasia are examples of one kind of secularization of the country. But, even more insidious, “we have seen the law used aggressively to force religious people and entities to subscribe to practices and policies that are antithetical to their faith. The problem is not that religion is being forced on others. The problem is that irreligion and secular values are being forced on people of faith.”
It’s always about that damned baker who didn’t want to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. That’s like the greatest atrocity in the last 50 years for fundamentalist Christians. Just bake the cake. Just do the flowers.
You might ask, “But did Barr happen to actually mention the gays?” Oh, yes, he certainly did. See, teaching that LGBT people aren’t sinful diseased monsters who want to rape your children “is inconsistent with traditional Christian teaching.” Of course, this led into a part of the speech about how religious schools should be allowed to freely get government money because of course it did. It was Notre Dame. Obviously, he was going there.
It was a pretty hysterical speech that called to mind Robert Bork, Pat Buchanan, and Anita Bryant. Google them.
Whether mildly or brutally, these Trump administration officials are casting government in terms that could only be described as “an establishment of religion,” which is specifically prohibited by that Constitution they declare is so awesome.
And if you think I’m being over the top here, let me leave you with this: In two speeches that specifically talked about religious freedom, the word “Muslim” was only used once, by Pompeo, describing the Uighur Muslims being tortured by the Chinese government as an example of religious oppression. Then he immediately jumped from millions of Uighurs to individual Christians. The only other time Islam was mentioned was by Pompeo when he twice called Iran the “Islamic Republican of Iran,” as in “Christian pastors today are being unlawfully arrested, beaten, detained inside the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Hmm. Wonder what that was supposed to indicate.
And, other than “Judeo,” as in “Judeo-Christian” in Barr’s speech, there wasn’t a single mention of Jews. Or Buddhists or Hindus or any other faith. Nor did the idea come up that some of those who support teaching about LGBT people may just be Christian.
So we’re pretty damn clear about whose religious freedom matters.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on October 18, 2019 on The Rude Pundit, a website featuring commentary by Lee Papa.  It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Papa.

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