The Evangelical rot

Michael Gerson’s Atlantic cover story on the disgusting moral decay and corruption of modern-day Evangelicals is so, so good.  Read it!  So many parts worth quoting.  Here’s a couple of my favorites– first the anti-science bent:

Moreover, in making their case on cultural decay and decline, evangelicals have, in some highly visible cases, chosen the wrong nightmares. Most notable, they made a crucial error in picking evolution as a main point of contention with modernity. [emphases mine] “The contest between evolution and Christianity is a duel to the death,” William Jennings Bryan argued. “If evolution wins … Christianity goesnot suddenly, of course, but gradually, for the two cannot stand together.” Many people of his background believed this. But their resistance was futile, for one incontrovertible reason: Evolution is a fact. It is objectively true based on overwhelming evidence. By denying this, evangelicals made their entire view of reality suspect. They were insisting, in effect, that the Christian faith requires a flight from reason.

This was foolish and unnecessary. There is no meaningful theological difference between creation by divine intervention and creation by natural selection; both are consistent with belief in a purposeful universe, and with serious interpretation of biblical texts. Evangelicals have placed an entirely superfluous stumbling block before their neighbors and children, encouraging every young person who loves science to reject Christianity.

And a great section on the moral compromises– especially on race– of wholeheartedly endorsing Trump:

It is remarkable to hear religious leaders defend profanity, ridicule, and cruelty as hallmarks of authenticity and dismiss decency as a dead language. Whatever Trump’s policy legacy ends up being, his presidency has been a disaster in the realm of norms. It has coarsened our culture, given permission for bullying, complicated the moral formation of children, undermined standards of public integrity, and encouraged cynicism about the political enterprise. Falwell, Graham, and others are providing religious cover for moral squalor—winking at trashy behavior and encouraging the unraveling of social restraints. Instead of defending their convictions, they are providing preemptive absolution for their political favorites. And this, even by purely political standards, undermines the causes they embrace. Turning a blind eye to the exploitation of women certainly doesn’t help in making pro-life arguments. It materially undermines the movement, which must ultimately change not only the composition of the courts but the views of the public. Having given politics pride of place, these evangelical leaders have ceased to be moral leaders in any meaningful sense.

But setting matters of decency aside, evangelicals are risking their faith’s reputation on matters of race. Trump has, after all, attributed Kenyan citizenship to Obama, stereotyped Mexican migrants as murderers and rapists, claimed unfair treatment in federal court based on a judge’s Mexican heritage, attempted an unconstitutional Muslim ban, equivocated on the Charlottesville protests, claimed (according to The New York Times) that Nigerians would never “go back to their huts” after seeing America, and dismissed Haitian and African immigrants as undesirable compared with Norwegians.

For some of Trump’s political allies, racist language and arguments are part of his appeal. For evangelical leaders, they should be sources of anguish. Given America’s history of slavery and segregation, racial prejudice is a special category of moral wrong. Fighting racism galvanized the religious conscience of 19th-century evangelicals and 20th-century African American civil-rights activists. Perpetuating racism indicted many white Christians in the South and elsewhere as hypocrites. Americans who are wrong on this issue do not understand the nature of their country. Christians who are wrong on this issue do not understand the most-basic requirements of their faith.

Here is the uncomfortable reality: I do not believe that most evangelicals are racist. But every strong Trump supporter has decided that racism is not a moral disqualification in the president of the United States. And that is something more than a political compromise. It is a revelation of moral priorities.

Lots more great stuff in the article.  Well worth your time.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

3 Responses to The Evangelical rot

  1. Nicole K. says:

    It’s a good thing that you don’t have to be Evangelical to be a Christian. I’ve been to both Evangelical and Mainline Protestant churches, and I personally find that mainline churches are more focused on the bigger picture concepts of loving your neighbor, helping those in need, and meeting people where they are. Consider the the mission statement printed in the bulletin that was handed out in the church I attended on Sunday:

    The mission of Fairmont is to love God, worship joyfully, advocate peace and justice, and serve with Christ-like compassion. Fairmont embraces the diversity of God’s children and welcomes all into the full life and ministry of our congregation, regardless of race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.

    Compare that to some articles of the Nashville Statement, which was put out by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention August 29, 2017 and signed by over 150 Evangelical leaders:

    Article 5
    WE AFFIRM that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral
    to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.
    WE DENY that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link
    between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.

    Article 10
    WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that
    such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
    WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral
    indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

    Article 13
    WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender selfconceptions
    and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological
    sex and one’s self-conception as male or female.
    WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s
    revealed will.

    And my personal favorite is Article 11, which is them giving themselves permission to treat people like me with disrespect and to intentionally refer to trans women as he, him, and sir when they interact with them because they’re doing it with “truth and love”.

    Article 11
    WE AFFIRM our duty to speak the truth in love at all times, including when we speak to or
    about one another as male or female.
    WE DENY any obligation to speak in such ways that dishonor God’s design of his imagebearers
    as male and female.
    ear by where they view the Bible as a binding list of rules handed down directly from God. It’s convenient though that they tend to excuse things like divorce and adultery while things like being LGBT, which accounts for a very small subset of the population, are singled out as beyond redemption.

    The differences on this particular issue highlight the fact that, in general, what Evangelicals believe is so far from what I’ve come to believe based on my own study of Christianity and what most liberal and Mainline Christians believe that it’s arguably a completely different religion. We may have the same texts, the same historical tradition, and similarly structured worship, but their understanding of Jesus and his teachings and my understanding of Jesus and his teachings lead to very different conclusions.

    When I read the Bible, I see a message of love, hope, compassion, and the pursuit of peace and justice in our world. They see an unchanging list of rules which are required to gain the approval and favor of God regardless of the amount of suffering and emotional turmoil that those who are forced to accept them may endure as a result.

    I just can’t bring myself to believe in a God whose unchanging desire is for my life to be one where I’m ashamed, miserable, isolated, and living an unending lie. I feel sorry for those who accept those articles as divine truth, and have to live unhappily and at war with themselves as a result. I could not think of a worse torture.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Nice analysis. Pretty stark difference. Also, interesting the degree to which Evangelicals focus on matters which were, in the New Testament, but not actually teachings of Jesus himself at all. Jesus talked *a lot* about the poor; not so much about human sexuality.

  2. Nicole K. says:

    It’s frustrating that wordpress doesn’t allow one to edit a comment after it’s been posted. I noticed I forgot to delete half a paragraph that I meant to remove directly under where I pasted Article 11, and there’s no way for me to fix it after the fact. Not a huge deal, but most other platforms do allow people to edit their comments.

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