Every time Bob McDonnell talks about his corruption conviction in Virginia, he mentions how Jesus Christ is sticking with him all the way, which surely is true. Jesus does not dump a guy just because he is sleazy. The Lord has always been there for thieves and malefactors, but this is mercy; it doesn’t mean that Jesus approves of taking more than $150,000 in gifts from a man cozying up to a governor, as Mr. McDonnell seems to suggest. Jesus didn’t wear a Rolex. He did not hit up the Pharisees for thousands of shekels so the apostles could have rib-eye steak and a 35 B.C. cabernet at the Last Supper.
Well, we all have our little inconsistencies, don’t we? Einstein unlocked the secrets of the universe, but he had a hard time piloting a small sailboat. I am no model Christian either. I love my neighbor as myself but only because I don’t much care for myself. I believe in prayer, but if you asked me to pray aloud in Men’s Bible Study, I would turn purple and leave the room.
The wrestling coach from Illinois named Dennis Hastert is another born-again Christian who’s fallen into disgrace, due to his long-ago interest in naked young men and now the allegations that he used his power as speaker of the House to load up his bank account, which apparently was how he could afford to pay blackmail all those years. He has mostly maintained silence so far, but surely a book deal will be offered and it would be easy for him to write about how prison deepened and enlarged his faith. Though not writing a book might be a better sign of deepening and enlargement. Along with giving the loot he took as a lobbyist to benefit the children of rural Illinois.
Give credit to Donald Trump that, after his unfortunate reference to Two Corinthians, he has given up on being evangelical, just as he’s given up on claiming that going to a military school is as good as serving in the military. The man is teachable.
The evangelicals who brought me up avoided politics, believing that the Second Coming was imminent, perhaps only hours away, which would usher them into God’s Presence and the unfathomable rapture of celestial splendor, so why waste time trying to pass a bond issue for curbs and gutters? And they certainly avoided money-grubbing. They were above that. So unbecoming for a Christian, as Jesus descends through the clouds on shafts of heavenly light, accompanied by cherubim and seraphim, to be caught wheedling and conniving and flattering in order to scrounge up watches and free trips and weekends at deluxe hotels and all the loose cash around. Like the poor wretch in “The Pilgrim’s Progress” who grubs in the garbage with a rake and does not notice the angel holding a gold crown over his head.
Those evangelicals are still around, studying the Word, doing good and living modestly, and they are writhing in discomfort at the carryings-on of the Rolex Christians and their gospel of prosperity. And their shamelessness.
Back in the day, before caller ID and credit cards, when people drank water out of the tap and there were four TV channels and your mom kept leftover boiled potatoes in plastic dishes with snap-on lids, we perhaps had a clearer understanding of shame. Back then, if you threw your mother down the stairs because she wouldn’t buy you a watch with real jewels on the face, you would be expected to plead guilty, sob in the courtroom and take your punishment. You wouldn’t claim that you didn’t push her that hard, or that as you pushed her you felt the Lord’s Presence.
But that was then and this is now. Now you use your faith to build your brand and eventually you monetize it. I say: whatever lights your candle. For me, what works is high Anglican, a modest rector, not overly jovial like a game show host, an organist who knows his place, and liturgy with some long silences in it. “Be still, and know that I am God,” He says. So let’s. God speaks in the stillness. For that reason, friends of mine prefer a walk in the woods to a place in the pews. Good for them. Enter into the woods with thanksgiving and into the pasture with praise. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endures to all generations. And wherever two Corinthians are gathered together, there He is in the midst of them.
Garrison Keillor is host of “A Prairie Home Companion.” He wrote this for the Washington Post.