Paul L. Caron

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Herschel Walker And The Platform of Cheap Grace

Bonnie Kristian (Christianity Today), Herschel Walker and the Platform of Cheap Grace:

A recent campaign ad for Herschel Walker, the Republican Senate candidate in Georgia, is titled “Grace.”

Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is “a preacher who doesn’t tell the truth. He doesn’t even believe in redemption,” Walker says about his opponent in the clip. “I’m Herschel Walker, saved by grace, and I approve this message.”

The messaging, leaning on Christian language around forgiveness, is part of Walker’s campaign among Christian conservatives in Georgia. And it came two days after the former NFL and UGA football star dismissed a Daily Beast report that he urged a then-girlfriend to get an abortion after he impregnated her in 2009.

It’s a neat trick: I didn’t do it, Walker’s overall messaging says, but if I did it, you should forgive me if you believe in God’s redemption. You should give me grace. ...

Politician brazenly lies and conceals his past misdeeds is a dog-bites-man kind of story, so absent more context, this might not be particularly interesting for those of us outside Georgia.

But there’s the question of the evangelical vote: Will pro-life Georgia Republicans, many of whom consider themselves evangelicals, stick with a candidate who claims he’s “always” been pro-life with “no exception” (except for his own unwanted child)?

Polling on this race, as well as other reporting, suggests the answer is mostly “yes.” Among those voters and their critics alike, the decision has been widely framed in a grotesquely distorted narrative of Christian forgiveness. The way many of Walker’s evangelical supporters have defended their decision has opened them to accusations of hypocrisy and perversion of redemption as a tool of convenience—that is, accusations of what we would call “cheap grace.”

Many have simply accepted Walker’s denial. But others, perhaps not quite convinced, apparently had ears to hear the redemption plea. Walker had not confessed, yet they seemed eager to offer grace, which also happens to be the path toward a GOP Senate majority. ...

[W]e seem to have a partisan version of what theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously called “cheap grace”:

the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance … absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

It is forgiveness “thrown away at cut prices,” as Bonhoeffer puts it, sought in the same breath as denial of wrongdoing, which amounts to denial of any need for grace at all.

New York Times, ‘Saved by Grace’: Evangelicals Find a Way Forward With Herschel Walker:

The Senate race in Georgia has become an explicit matchup of two increasingly divergent versions of American Christianity. Mr. Walker reflects the way conservative Christianity continues to be defined by its fusion with right-wing politics and tolerance for candidates who, whatever their personal failings or flaws, advance its power and cause. Mr. Walker has wielded his Christianity as an ultimate defense, at once denying the abortion allegations are true while also pointing to the mercy and forgiveness in Jesus as a divine backstop.

Senator Raphael Warnock, his Democratic opponent, is a lifelong minister who leads the storied Ebenezer Baptist Church, home to the Christian social activism embodied in the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He has inherited the legacy of the Black civil rights tradition in the South, where faith focuses on not just individual salvation, but on communal efforts to challenge injustices like segregation.

“We are witnessing two dimensions of Christian faith, both the justice dimension and the mercy dimension,” said the Rev. Dr. Robert M. Franklin Jr., professor in moral leadership at Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

The loyalty to Mr. Walker reflects an approach conservative Christians successfully honed during the Trump era, overlooking the personal morality of candidates in exchange for political power to further their policy objectives. After some hesitation in 2016, white evangelicals supported Mr. Trump in high numbers after reports about his history of unwanted advances toward women and vulgar comments about them. They stood by Roy Moore, who ran a failed campaign for Senate in Alabama, after he was accused of sexual misconduct and assault by multiple women. ...

Mr. Warnock won the Senate seat two years ago stressing his Baptist heritage that was rooted in the ideals of Black liberation theology, which involves not just the salvation of the individual but of society. This time around, his campaign has spent time emphasizing his legislative work, including prioritizing farmers and veterans and lowering insulin costs. He has framed voting rights as a moral issue and spoken of shared humanity as cutting through political divides.

More on faith and forgiveness:

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