If military service shaped Kinzinger in some important ways, Christianity has shaped him in others. Kinzinger was raised as an independent fundamentalist Baptist until he was 20, but the experience left him alienated. “That was a really damaging, in my mind, a very damaging religion,” he said. I asked him why.
“The best way to put it is your salvation is by faith alone unless you do something wrong—and then you were never saved in the first place,” he said. “And by the way, we have these really strict rules that you have to follow that nobody can follow, but everybody at the church is going to act like they are and you’re the only one that isn’t.”
For Kinzinger, that sort of legalism took “the joy out of Christianity.” He resolved to find something different; today, he considers himself a nondenominational Protestant. “The second part of my life has been the journey to really, truly understand what faith is,” he said.
This new phase in his pilgrimage has made him less rigid. “I think as I’ve gotten older and I’ve kind of journeyed on in my faith, I understand what salvation is. I understand that Christ spent his time hanging out with sinners, not great people—and not because they were sinners but because that’s just where his compassion was.” Twenty years ago, he admitted, he had a hard time seeing how a Democrat could be a Christian; today, it’s easy for him to understand. “There are frankly roles for Christians on all sides of the aisle,” he told me. And like many Christians, Kinzinger believes the Trump years, in which so many conservative evangelicals enthusiastically embraced a man who embodies an ethic antithetical to biblical Christianity, have done untold harm to the Christian witness.
“My goal is frankly to admonish the Church for the real damage it has done to Christianity,” Kinzinger said. “The thing I’m always asked, and I don’t think anybody with a straight face can answer differently—maybe they can, but—‘Do you think the reputation of Christianity is better today or five years ago?’ And I think most people would say it was better five years ago.”
Kinzinger’s stance has earned him some critics. One of Trump’s fawning court pastors, Franklin Graham—the son of the prominent evangelical preacher Billy Graham—attacked the 10 Republicans who supported impeachment. “It makes you wonder what the thirty pieces of silver were that Speaker Pelosi promised for this betrayal,” Graham wrote on Facebook.
“He said we took pieces of silver from Nancy Pelosi because—what?” Kinzinger asked me. “Trump is Jesus Christ? Christians have got to open their eyes and be like, ‘What is happening?’”
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