David Brooks column a few days ago related an Evangelical pastor’s truly horrific–albeit edifying–experience.
A conservative preacher, Jeremiah Johnson, had reacted to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by issuing a public apology for having supported Trump. He concluded that God removed Trump from office in response to his pride and arrogance, and to humble his supporters, including Johnson.
Readers of this blog can probably guess what happened next. Johnson received multiple death threats and “thousands upon thousands of emails from Christians saying the nastiest and most vulgar things.” He was labeled a coward, sellout, a “traitor to the Holy Spirit, and cussed out at least 500 times.”
As Brooks points out, this is a window into what is happening inside Evangelical Christianity and within conservatism right now. And he defines it accurately:
The split we are seeing is not theological or philosophical. It’s a division between those who have become detached from reality and those who, however right wing, are still in the real world.
As Carey Wallace pointed out in Time Magazine, the willingness of so many “Christians” to become divorced from reality has a long and shameful history. As she says,
In the past few days, I’ve seen all kinds of statements from Christian leaders trying to distance themselves from the violent mob at the Capitol. Christian writers known for their thoughtfulness lament that “somehow” white supremacy has crept into our churches, and the faculty of a major evangelical institution put out a manifesto saying that the events at the Capitol “bear absolutely no resemblance to” the Christianity they teach. That mob, they’re telling us, is a fringe element. They’ve radically misunderstood the real message of American Christianity.
This could not be further from the truth.
I believe the mob at the Capitol has radically misunderstood the teachings and life of Jesus. But it is an absolutely logical conclusion of white American Christianity.
Wallace proceeds to lay out the long history of Christian White Nationalism, from its approval of taking Indian land (it’s okay to steal from non-Whites and non-Christians) through slavery and Jim Crow.
For the vast majority of American history, Christian ministers have spoken with passion and vigor in favor of slavery, segregation, and white supremacy.
Wallace insists that there can be no healing without facing up to this past–as she writes, you can’t cure cancer by pretending it’s not there. The White American church can’t pretend that the mob at the Capitol is not part of it.
Scholars of religion agree.The John C. Danforth Distinguished Professor in the Humanities decried the
persecution narrative of the Christian nationalist who sees Satanic power in feminism, anti-racist efforts, or religious pluralism. I want to think we reject the hubris of imagining ourselves to be God’s violent foot soldiers in the war against such so-called principalities and powers, that whether we are religious or secular, our everyday lives have meaning through caring for others, not fantasizing the bloody deaths of political foes. How to live among those who see life as a cosmic war between good and evil, self-righteously certain of just who is evil and who shall be victorious, is the great test of our time.
A number of others cited in the linked article agreed that what we saw on January 6th was “no random angry mob, but a group led and incited by elected officials, further evidenced by Trump’s affectionate words towards them.”
The next few years are going to be difficult, and not just for Evangelicals willing to confront their past, who will be attacked by those steeped in Christianity’s White Nationalism. Trump’s success in re-making the Supreme Court is seen as a “full speed ahead” signal by Republican Christian Nationalists who–thanks to gerrymandering–control Statehouses in states where their beliefs do not reflect those of a majority of their constituents.
The Guardian recently reported that we should expect a “blizzard” of bills rolling back LGBTQ rights and reproductive freedoms, and further eroding Separation of Church and State. These efforts have been supercharged by something called Project Blitz, an effort by rightwing Christian organizations to push through bills furthering their aims. It provides draft legislation to lawmakers across the country, where those drafts are basically copied, pasted and presented in state capitols. In 2018, state lawmakers introduced 74 such bills, ranging from measures restricting same-sex marriage to those allowing adoption agencies to use religious criteria to deny placements.
Have I mentioned that sane Americans have our work cut out for us?