Christofascism, Trumpism

Evangelicals Backslid from Jesus and the Bible. Sad. 4 Issues

Are they anti-evangelicals – the Opposite – that which undoes the Evangel, the Gospel? We hear repeatedly that white evangelicals are massively Trumpist, that 81% of them voted for DJ in 2020. How could that come to be?! (It’s important to notice the word “white” there.) That is SO embarrassing.

Evangelicals BackslidAre such people really “Evangelical Christians” — if being evangelical means holding to the Good News of Jesus? If it means maybe even being a follower of Christ? After all, “evangel” means “good news”, as in Gospel. I don’t think they are evangelical if that’s the definition — sad for me to say, because I’ve been associated with them and their churches, often as a paid minister, for many decades.

The 4 Key Descriptors

American Evangelicalism is not very “good news”, nor is it rooted in the Good News that Jesus preached, exemplified, instituted. It just is not the same critter.

Kristin du Mez says the same. She mentions the Bebbington Quadrilateral (see the next section) but says it is not adequate.

That some lives are changed is true. They are changed to imitate a cultural in-group. On rare occasions that actually saves lives,
This does not really describe what I’m looking at. I don’t think theological doctrines are really at the center of this movement that I’m trying to describe … alarming numbers of evangelicals are theologically illiterate, and in fact hold ideas that count as heresy …
[view] Evangelicalism as a series of networks and alliances … that works through publishers, through denominations like the SBC [Southern Baptist Convention], through organizations and conferences, groups like The Gospel Coalition, and … relations of power among them … essentially I look at Evangelicalism as a consumer culture … I look at how immersed a person is in this evangelical subculture. And there are a lot of Americans who are all in.

Then, appropriately enough, she goes on to deal with Evangelical authoritarianism for several minutes.

I was also struck by the emphasis on authority  (quotations from a speech at the University of VA School of Law, 2022)

And it’s not the authority of the Bible or of Jesus Christ that Evangelicals are in practice committed to.

See More on PublicChristian:
Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin du Mez: Evangelicals’ 2 Saviors, Jesus or Trump; Choose Wisely.

Then What IS An Evangelical?

For 30 years or so a standard way to define an “Evangelical Christian” has been to refer to a list published by historian David Bebbington in 1989 (the link is to a much more recent work of his on this issue).

  1. Biblicism: a particular regard for the Bible (e.g. all essential spiritual truth is to be found in its pages)
  2. Crucicentrism: a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross
  3. Conversionism: the belief that human beings need to be converted
  4. Activism: the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed in effort (from Wikipedia)

So if we use their own definition, do they measure up? Here’s the Bebbington list as presented on the website of the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals). It seems they’ve adjusted it a bit to fit them better:

  • Conversionism
    the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus
  • Biblicism
    a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  • Activism
    the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  • Crucicentrism
    a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity

Here’s what I see and have been seeing for many years.

CONVERSIONISM as practiced among Evangelicals

A. Being converted (“born again”) puts the emphasis in a dangerous place.

The NAE list is in a different order from what I have found at other places online. It puts conversion first – which in practice is an in-group experience. You don’t decide to listen to Jesus (brought to us in the Bible). You choose to listen to some specific self-identified spokesperson(s) for Jesus. And you prove and protect your decision by associating with some local group with roughly the same loyalties – loyal not really to Jesus, but to a group – which has fairly strong ties to a white American “Evangelical” subculture of music, media personalities, denominational and para-church associations, colleges, radio stations, “book” stores, featured heroes, etc.
Other lists put the Bible first. That at least in theory, might provide an objective information-source that can be appealed to by anyone. That’s supposed to be a major gift of the Protestant Reformation – sola Scriptura!
But by putting “conversion” first we find ourselves more in the realm of the in-group itself, more at the mercy of our local (or national) culture-setters, truth-definers. It’s more subjective and lends itself to strong abuse by authoritarians, wanna-be protestant Popes, and ultimately the former guy himself, the orange anti-Christ, DJ.

See Also here on PublicChristian:
The Trump Cult: You Must Surrender – And Stop Researching. 3 Lists of Cult Behaviors.
Christofascism – It’s Real, It’s Deadly, And It Intends to Dominate Us All

B. How conversion works. Does it work?

They have a variety of little rituals to initiate conversion (or the new birth). All are of course supposed to be done from an honest and good heart (an interesting requirement for someone so deeply warped, even mentally, from inherited sin nature!). The rituals range from baptism, to praying a prayer of confession and profession, or confession and acceptance, to taking communion, to making certain confessions (of sin, and of belief), to “going forward” in some public setting, etc. The rituals frankly don’t seem to work too well as far as actual conversion or transformation of persons goes.
It does not regularly, in my observation, have much at all to do with gut-wrenching, or life-changing, ongoing exposure to the Divine (as mediated to us by Jesus of Nazareth).
That some lives are changed is true. They are changed to imitate a cultural in-group. On rare occasions that actually saves lives, as in church-related sobriety ministries or food or homeless services. But those are relatively rare — certainly not primary emphases.
On the other hand, “converts” too often only demonstrate change when in the context of the local church or church people. Real life at home, work, school, etc, can be quite un-churchly, non-Good-Newsish, not flavored much by the teachings of Jesus or the Prophets, unChristlike.  If there’s no new life, was there a new birth?
So – life-changing conversion? Eh … not so much. Or at least not very deeply.

BIBLICISM as practiced among Evangelicals

On the other hand, “converts” too often only demonstrate change when in the context of the local church or church people.
Bible-worship, “bibliolatry,” would be more like it. A Bible quote or two can quickly end any open discussion or freedom of thought — especially if spoken by a leader, pastor, or other authority figure.
But their worship of the Bible, while deliberate, is pretty shallow.  In fact they (especially those leaders-pastors) are much more attentive to Bible teachings that serve their, or their followers’, cultural preferences, social fears, historical fantasies, a priori political commitments, and greed and simple power-lust (and other kinds of lust).  But those “Bible teachings” are in fact very few, and frequently if not always misused. So it’s not Bible-centered. It’s Bible-as-cover centered — cover for their carnal, worldly, temporal interests.
They talk a lot about what the Bible says – they like that phrase, carried on from Billy Graham I suppose, “the Bible says!” — and they talk a lot about following Bible guidelines. But they don’t do it. Here Kristin du Mez’ remark is apropos:

I don’t think that theological doctrines are really at the center of this movement … that becomes very clear if you look at the question of race, because the majority of Black Protestants in this country could check all of those boxes. But the vast majority of Black Protestants do not identify as evangelical, because it is very clear to them that there is a whole lot more to being an evangelical than these doctrinal commitments. And in fact, there’s often less as well.  (quotations from a speech at the University of VA School of Law, 2022)

One crude and blatant example is using a very short list of Bible references to claim that anti-gay legislation and preaching represent true Christianity. There are four huge problems there:

  1. Jesus NEVER talked about that.
  2. grossly misrepresenting and misusing those references
  3. studiously, even ferociously, ignoring the actual emphases of that same Bible
  4. biggest of all, lack of love

It’s sadly quite easy to predict that those most vigorously “standing up for” Bible teaching about, for example, sexual practice more generally, are with embarrassing frequency going to turn out to have been sexual abusers, and/or hypocrites, in one way or another, or to have been protectors, even enablers of abuse.
Same with greed. Same with “bearing false witness.” Same with oppression of many types of minorities.

See also here on PublicChristian
6 Ways to Believe in Jesus Without Taking Him Seriously
Jesus and Racism – Samaritan Lives Matter – Black Lives Matter
6 Anti-Gay Clobber Passages – Biblical Authority (Mis)Used Against People. Ouch!

ACTIVISM as practiced among Evangelicals

What kind of activism did Jesus practice, for he was quite active? Well, the Bible says that he “went around doing good” (Acts 10:37-39). And got killed for it.
But “evangelicals”? Not so much. Some of them do, a bit. We are thankful for that. But their real effort and expense – zeal, time, fund-raising – go into their religious institutions. Of course, they flatter themselves that those institutions are saving people from eternity in hell. Don’t they wish!?
But they truly love them some political power! And, frankly, many of them truly love money – others of them at least love the idea that some people have lots of money. But political power – that’s what Trump offers. And they will sell any thing and anyone – including their own integrity, their souls – to earn his favor and thus maybe get access to real (though temperamental and temporary) power.
It’s quite disgusting.

CRUCICENTRISM as practiced among Evangelicals

This is de-emphasized. On the NAE list on their website it has been moved to last place, fittingly.
After all, who wants to stress that following this One who “went around doing good” is likely to get you killed by the big-money boys (and girls) through their alliance with brutal secular authorities?
But they do use this idea to DE-emphasize how Jesus actually lived, and the things he actually taught about.
After all, according to their bizarre teaching, the message of Jesus is not really about loving God, not about loving neighbors and enemies, about doing good, or treating women or ethnic or religious minorities with respect. Nope. Jesus was “born to die.” Jesus’s only real purpose was to be bloodily sacrificed to an angry and vengeful God (who “is love”?!) so a few of us would not have to suffer a similar (though much longer-lasting) fate.
But they’re wrong. Jesus was born to live, and to love, and to suffer the consequences of THAT. He showed us what God is like. And doing THAT is what got him rejected and murdered by the powers that be (religious, political, economic, etc).
So of course they have to somewhat de-emphasize this idea, this crucicentrism.

ARE they Evangelical Christians? Doesn’t much look like it, eh?

Not according to Bebbington’s four criteria.
And sadly, even if they lived up to that list – they would still not be what we need.
That list still does not represent the things Jesus emphasized in his teaching and in his life of service. So it’s being proven to us that one can be “evangelical” and not really be a Christ-follower. How interesting. That would seem to an important discovery!

Am I too hard on this movement?

Nope.  If they don’t want their behavior talked about in public they ought to stop the problem behaviors. As it is they are an actual and deadly threat not only to Christianity in the US but to our whole multi-faithed, diverse nation.

1. Kristin Kobes du Mez:

In the speech quoted from above, du Mez maintains that American evangelicalism is not actually a Christian movement, though it clearly has some Christian (and Biblical) terminology. The subtitle of Kristin du Mez’ book is, “How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.”
(Her book won the George Orwell Award from the National Council of Teachers of English (“George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language”). She has a PhD from Notre Dame and is a Professor of history at Calvin University.)

2.Chris Kratzer:

Former Evangelical pastor Chris Kratzer (chriskratzer.com) says don’t listen to their talk about Jesus. For one thing, they don’t mean it, but more importantly they don’t listen to him. They really would rather have their orange mini anti-Messiah (i.e. anti-Christ) – he’s much tougher, not a softie like Jesus.

Instead focus on their selfishness. Hold up a mirror to their unrelenting desire to lord their values and assert dominance in all of society, even at the cost, suffering, and unfair treatment of all others. Open the sewer of their insatiable hunger for white, conservative Christian privilege, at the expense of the freedom and equality of others.
Focus on their willingness to give unlimited pass to sin, immorality, violence, and duplicity in order to protect and prosper their way of living.
Focus on their willingness to let people suffer and die in the wake of their religious pursuits and ideologies.
Focus on their racism. Pull back the scab of their hypocritical treatment of a black President, over their lust for a lying, bullying, unrepentant, white President, who beats the drums of nationalizing their faith.
Focus on their willingness to allow (and even foster) systemic racism, while turning a deaf ear to their white privilege. Open the playbook of their double standards towards their own protests, versus the protests of the black community.
Focus on their hijacking of America in hopes of ridding it of true diversity, human equality, and religious freedom. (from Stupid Shit Heard in Church, p155.  Chris K as you can see is more angry than Kristen du Mez.  But he has reason.)

3. Mark Labberton et. al.

See here on PublicChristian:
My review of Labberton’s book “Still Evangelical?“, a valuable collection of articles from different people within the Evangelical movement.
Evangelicalism is Broken. Do They Know? Do They Care? (review of Labberton’s “Still Evangelical?”) (Jan 2019), also
Why Many Christians Do Not Vote Republican (2004-5)

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