Last month, The American Prospect published my profile of Elaine White, a former missionary and Christian Coalition political operative who grew disillusioned and left her life of conservative religious political activism behind. That was more than 15 years ago, though, and in my piece, White describes the “long, slow, and agonizing process” of “rethinking everything.”
By age seven, White says, she knew she wanted to be a missionary, having heard tales of Lottie Moon, another beloved Southern Baptist missionary who spent forty years evangelizing in China. “Going into all the world, sharing the faith, and making disciples,” she now says, echoing the missionary line, “that sounded very exotic.”
Nearly twenty years later, White found herself in Mexico, the wife of a young man she met at church soon after she enrolled at Baylor University, where the two would work as missionaries for a controversial charismatic group, since disbanded, the Maranatha Christian Church. When the couple returned to Texas twelve years later with their two children, they arrived during the heyday of the Christian Coalition takeover of the state Republican Party. White became executive director of the Capital City Christian Coalition in Austin, and the Christian Coalition’s lobbyist in the state capitol.
“I was brainwashed,” she says. Now divorced for sixteen years, remarried and bearing her birth name, White is no longer a card-carrying member of the Christian right.
I first met White four years ago; it took her that long to be ready to tell her deeply personal political (and religious) story to the world. The piece published last month is the result of many interviews and conversations, in which White contextualizes her personal life, as well as her role in the conservative takeover of Republican Party politics in her native Texas in the 1990s.
The Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance—also someone very familiar with the conservative politicization of southern religion—interviewed White on his radio show State of Belief last week. Read White’s story, and then listen to these two kindred spirits share the similarities in their religious and personal lives.