A Somewhat Cynical Take On The Future And Soul Of Evangelicalism

Hidely-ho, readerinos! It’s time for one of our favorite running gags around the RD religio-sphere, to wit: “Watch Evangelicals Desperately Squirm To Avoid Being Blamed For The Consistent Pattern Of Rigid Sexual Authoritarianism And Barely-Concealed Racism Of Their Community!” Or, for short, “A Day That Ends In ‘Y'”.

Oh Gosh, today ends in a y! And indeed, there is another installment, this time from The Washington Post:

About 50 top leaders of major evangelical institutions will attend an invitation-only gathering this week to discuss the future and the “soul” of evangelicalism at a time when many of them are concerned their faith group has become tainted by its association with divisive politics under President Trump. It runs Monday and Tuesday.

Well, I don’t know why they would be afraid of being associated with Trump and all he stands for, other than that 81% of white evangelicals voted for the dude, or 61% percent of them still support him (admittedly down from 78% two months into his problematic spell in the nation’s capital), or that 37% of them said they were more likely to vote for the loathsome horse-menacer and close Trump proxy Roy Moore after allegations of his child-briding ways came out, as indeed 80% finally did. I mean, other than that, Americans have hardly any reason to suspect evangelicals might be puritanical hypocrites cynically engaging in transactional politics to further their agenda of regulating ladyparts and/or shaming non-standards-compliant ladyparts!

And maybe they have a point, after all:

“When you Google evangelicals, you get Trump,” Birdsall said. “When people say what does it mean to be an evangelical, people don’t say evangelism or the gospel. There’s a grotesque caricature of what it means to be an evangelical.”

You know, 81%, Fox News purring about how Franklin Graham is grateful to have a president who understands prayer, and support for every Republican president and every conservative plank in the GOP agenda dating back to Ronald Reagan, but let’s spot them the point, because goshdarnit, they’re trying, by going back to the same well they’ve gone to ever since Franklin’s somewhat-well-known dad Billy got his first preaching gig:

Those gathered will not necessarily oppose Trump and some may even be friendly to some of his policies, said Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary, who is also helping to organize the event. But organizers said evangelicals need to return their focus to the term’s true definition: a person who believes in the authority of the Bible, salvation through Jesus’ work on the cross, personal conversion and the need for evangelism.

I feel for them, truly I do. As mentioned above, they’ve been at this work literally for decades, trying to get focussed on their core business. But somehow they keep getting distracted by one thing after another: segregation academies, or anti-gay crusades, or abortions (even though they still use Planned Parenthood), or preserving Daddy’s authority (even if it means hitting the kids with a stick), or getting involved in shady politics or supporting wars of choice, or dealing with HIV outbreaks they helped cause, or keeping immigrants out of the country, or…oh, dear. That seems like rather a lot of distractions, doesn’t it?

It’s true that these are mostly the sins of white evangelicals, and there will be voices at the latest table like A.R. Bernard, the African-American pastor of a New York megachurch, who calls on evangelicals to focus on “systemic injustices that most concern black evangelicals, such as economic inequality and radicalized policing.” Bernard, to his credit, left Trump’s religious advisory council in the wake of white nationalist violence in Charlottesville. And World Relief vice president Jenny Yang will also be there to push for a cleaner separation between America’s Problem Child and the evangelical movement. Yet somehow these prophets continue to go unheard (it’s hard when you’re outvoted by 50 points), or find themselves compromised by the same stances for which people revile the current administration.

It would take a true cynic, a broken and deformed malcontent to suggest that evangelicals are and always have been at the heart of the modern conservative movement, and like that movement are reaping what they have sown for 50+ years. I mean, you’d practically have to say that the following is laughably wrong:

Since World War II, American Protestants have tended to group themselves into three broad categories: fundamentalism on the right, mainline Protestantism on the left and evangelicalism somewhere in between.

I don’t know anyone who would suggest that mainliners are actually the center, and evangelicals and fundamentalists both take up the right, do you? Who would be so jaded as to claim that the religiously unaffiliated are actually the liberals, much less that they’ve come to their liberalism through rejecting contemporary evangelicals’ rich and well-earned reputation for being less a religious movement than a political brand for conservative, white, and supremely resentful Christians?

Why, a debased person like that might go so far as to suggest that if evangelicals don’t want to be associated with Trump, they ought to let go of public relations strategies or the bromides they learned in Sunday School and look into repenting of their sins and changing the sociology of their movement! He (hypothetically) might even say that, given the myopia and reluctance to face up to the demonstrated character of the vast majority of the evangelical movement, this week’s meeting at Wheaton won’t accomplish much of anything.

Well, that’s it for today’s installment of “Watch Evangelicals Desperately Squirm To Avoid Being Blamed For The Consistent Pattern Of Rigid Sexual Authoritarianism And Barely-Concealed Racism Of Their Community!” See you next time! Don’t worry readerinos, it won’t be long!

Update 3/18: Indeed, looks like we’ll need another conference sooner rather than later. According to PRRI, Trump has hit an all-time high approval rating among white evangelicals: 75%. 58% of them want Trump to be the GOP presidential nominee in 2020. Noticing this is of course cynical as all get-out.