Daniel Deitrich, a worship leader in South Bend City Church, a “Jesus-centered community” in South Bend, Indiana, isn’t the first evangelical Christian to go up against fellow evangelical Christians who support the current U.S. president. Perhaps, though, he’s the first to author a hymn as a scathing rebuke to those 81% of white evangelicals who voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election and those who continue to uphold him.
Here are the lyrics to Deitrich’s hymn:
I grew up in your churches
Sunday morning, evening service
Knelt in tears at the foot of the rugged cross
You taught me every life is sacred
feed the hungry, clothe the naked
I learned from you the highest law is Love
I believed you when you said
that I should trust the words in red
To guide my steps through a wicked world
I assumed you’d do the same
so imagine my dismay
When I watched you lead the sheep to the wolves
You said to love the lost
So I’m loving you now
You said to speak the truth
So I’m calling you out
Why don’t you live the words
That you put in my mouth
May love overcome and justice roll down
They started putting kids in cages
Ripping mothers from their babies
And I looked to you to speak on their behalf
But all I heard was silence
Or worse you justify it
Singing glory hallelujah raise the flag
Your fear had turned to hatred
But you baptized it with language
torn from the pages of the good book
You weaponized religion
And you wonder why I’m leaving
To find Jesus on the wrong side of your walls
You’re better than this
You taught me better than this
Deitrich makes several allusions to Scripture as well as to particular Christian doctrine and practice that should resonate with those familiar with evangelical circles. Who in that group doesn’t know the frequently-sung hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross?” The song makes reference to Jesus’ substitutionary atonement, (dying for our sins) “…where the dearest and best/For a world of lost sinners was slain.”
Christians of all stripes are familiar with Jesus’ words: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink….I needed clothes and you clothed me….Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you…needing clothes and clothe you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25: 35-40). Evangelicals are taught that every life is sacred, therefore, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked is evidence of one’s love for God.
The words in red Deitrich mentions refer to certain editions of the New Testament that print Jesus’ words in red ink—a practice my ultra-conservative parents frowned upon. They thought that red-letter editions of Scripture put emphasis on Jesus’ words, privileging some Scripture over other when in reality, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). Nevertheless, Deitrich uses words in red to emphasize Jesus as the “way.”
Leading the sheep to the wolves speaks to the false prophets Jesus warned about in Matthew 7:15. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Deitrich, a modern-day prophet, calls out the hypocrisy of his fellow evangelicals much like the Old Testament prophet, Amos, called out the Israelites for “trampling on the poor” while perfunctorily performing religious rituals. Amos proclaims, “…let justice roll down like waters…” (Amos 5: 24). Deitrich sings, “…let justice roll down….”
Deitrich marries nationalistic fervor with the current administration “trampling on the poor,” upset at those who put kids in cages while ripping mothers from their babies, capturing it with the phrase: Singing glory hallelujah raise the flag. The church, according to Deitrich, no longer stands with the disenfranchised, but offers only silence or justification for atrocities done to “sacred life.” He’s now leaving the church To find Jesus on the wrong side of your walls.
Perhaps one needs to have been immersed in fundamentalist, evangelical Christianity to understand the brilliant, yet simple, lyrics Deitrich has put to music.
Of course, I don’t expect those entrenched in the evangelical communities supportive of the current administration to repent of their ways because of Deitrich’s hymn. I have wondered, though, how people who claim Scripture as their infallible guide blatantly go against what seems to me to be both the spirit and the letter of those Scriptures. However, having grown up in an evangelical community, I do know how easily many find support for their cruel behavior using the same Scriptures Deitrich uses to “call them out.”
Margaret Atwood (b. 1939), a Canadian author probably best known for her book The Handmaid’s Tale, says: “Northrop Frye [1912-1991}, a Canadian literary critic and literary theorist] used to say that the Bible is not a book you judge, it is a book that judges you — by which I took him to mean that since there are so many contrary opinions and teachings in it, the group of them you select will say a lot about who you are.”
And there we have it. We (humans) inculcate our sacred texts with power to shore up whatever our beliefs might be, at times baptizing hatred with language torn from the pages of the good book. How is it that some people used the Christian Scriptures to enforce slavery in the U.S. while others used those same Scriptures to dismantle the practice?
So, perhaps Margaret Atwood has it right. We read out from our sacred texts a reflection of ourselves. Which makes sense since those texts offer a wide variety of human experience to choose from. What we choose speaks volumes about us.
Esther Nelson is an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va. She has taught courses on Human Spirituality, Global Ethics, Christian-Muslim Relations, and Religions of the World, but focuses on her favorite course, Women in Islam. She is the co-author (with Nasr Abu Zaid) of Voice of an Exile: Reflections on Islam and the co-author (with Kristen Swenson) of What is Religious Studies? : A Journey of Inquiry.