A new religious heresy is afloat in America. It’s been around a long time, but it’s enjoyed a recent boost in both popularity and influence as it has allied itself with a powerful secular counterpart. I call this heresy Mammonism—and it’s a kissing cousin to Trumpianism.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines “heresy” in part as “a belief opposed to the official belief of a church and that is considered wrong.” The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, in a much longer article, sums up the original New Testament Greek term, hairesis, as “A deliberate denial of revealed truth coupled with the acceptance of error.” In its more expanded treatment of the subject, the latter dictionary interestingly points out that the term is “synonymous with ‘schism’ . . . resulting not so much with false teaching as from the lack of love and from self-assertiveness which led to divisions within the Christian community.” This last point is a critically important one that I’ll allude to at the end of this blog.
For now, let’s agree that there are a lot of heresies in the world. There are many beliefs and practices that contradict the teachings of the Bible, oppose the core doctrines of most Christian churches, and that are antithetical to the model, ministry, and commands of Jesus Christ. To be frank about it, we all take a turn at being heretical whenever we act contrary to or fail to live up to a core teaching of Christianity. It could be something as simple as harboring hatred, taking the Lord’s name in vain, or failing to feed the hungry. But this type of partial, episodic, even momentary heresy is different than taking on a thoroughly oppositional stand to Christ and His gospel.
And this is where Mammonism comes in.
“Mammon” (spelled in the New Testament Greek, μαμωνᾶς—“mamónas”) is an Aramaic word referring to money, but specifically in the context of greed. Borrowed from the Hebrew mmôn ('ממון) and “omen” (אָמַן), that is “amen,” this gives the term the meaning of riches, wealth, or greed as something pursued as objects of faith or trust. Therefore, Jesus says of mammon, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money [mammon].” (Matthew 6:24)
When a former Christian—that is a “little Christ”—gives up emulating the core message and practice of Jesus, trading them instead for the message and model of those who pursue wealth, opulence, luxury, power and prestige, they set up a false god—an idol. The result is a de facto abandonment of the true faith.
Today we’re constantly bombarded with news reports, social media posts, and even in-person conversations indicating the majority so-called “evangelicals” in the U.S. unreservedly support President Donald Trump and his political culture of unbridled power and avarice. Nationally recognized “evangelical” figures heap accolades on the billionaire real-estate tycoon and TV star who built his fame on his excessive, flamboyant and Playboy lifestyle. Since being elected to office, Mr. Trump has engaged in unapologetically contemptuous language about the poor, derisive attacks on children, women, and minorities, and has publicly ridiculed the obese and the disabled. Moreover, Mr. Trump routinely praises tyrants, strongmen, and dictators known for their cruel, oppressive and even murderous behavior. By his subtle suggestions that violence be used against asylum seekers at the border and whistleblowers that criticize him, and threatening to arrest members of congress who call him to account, Mr. Trump flagrantly violates, contradicts, and makes a mockery of the virtues announced by Christ in His Sermon on the Mount. (See Matthew 5)
The self-described “evangelicals” who embrace the Trumpian antithetical value system and genuflect at the altar of this new American imperial cult have abandoned “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” (Jude 1:3) I would argue such people are no longer “Christian,” and most certainly not “evangelical.”
The word we translate into English as “evangelical” comes from the Greek, εὐαγγέλιον—euangelion—meaning “to announce good news.” The message heralded by Mr. Trump and his minions is anything but “good.” It is dour, pessimistic, demeaning, negative, alarmist and even menacing. The religious champions of Mr. Trump and his ilk are instead announcing “bad news.” This makes them adherents of a very different movement than the one that John Wesley, one of the premier progenitors of modern-day evangelicalism, called the “religion of the heart.” It was Wesley who admonished evangelicals to, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Two centuries later, it was the man who came to embody American evangelicalism, Billy Graham, who said, “The greatest legacy one can pass on to one's children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one's life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.”
Trumpian religion does not emphasize character or faith. Neither does it espouse doing good to others. In contrast, it inflicts harm and divides into schisms based on fear, suspicion, and animosity. (That would be in keeping with the meaning of “heresy” as set out in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology referenced above.)
It’s past time for us to distinguish between real evangelicals—those who follow and obey Jesus Christ, and seek to live out and proclaim His message of love, humility, honesty, acceptance, forgiveness, peace and human dignity—from those who promote a false and contrary message of hate, pomposity, deceitfulness, vindictiveness, conflict, humiliation, and self-aggrandizement at the expense of others. The former is rightfully known as “evangelicals”—announcers of the Good News; the latter should be known as what they are, Mammonists.