July 13, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

For white evangelical Protestants, the degradation of democracy is not regrettable. It’s desirable

The point is rule by God's chosen.

For white evangelical Protestants, the degradation of democracy is not regrettable. It's desirable

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Members of the pundit corps seem to believe white evangelical Protestants (WEPs) have politicized their faith. They seem to believe the disgraced former president is the reason why. To be sure, there is something to this. After all, some adherents, especially younger ones, have fled congregations, increasing the ranks of mainline churches, according to the latest Pew poll. But on the whole, the idea that WEPs have politicized their religion overlooks a reality few are capable of seeing: It’s always been politicized.

Jennifer Rubin argued Monday that white evangelical Protestants are “panicking,” as their numbers shrink and they lose purchase on democratic politics. As a result, the Post columnist said, WEPs are embracing the Republicans anti-democratic efforts. As WEP “churches turn into MAGA political clubs, many who otherwise may have found a spiritual home with them have fled because they are alienated—if not horrified—by the politicization of their faith and the abandoning of values such as inclusion and empathy,” she said. “The price of politicizing religion is therefore bad not only for our politics (by heightening polarization and converting policy disputes into existential crises), but also for religious communities that chase away potential adherents.”

What if it’s sane, though? What if it’s rational? What if all this is being done according to a coherent set of principles by which members of the in-group are right even if members of the in-group die by the covid like everyone else?

Rubin has been right more often than not since 2016. In this, however, she’s dead wrong. She continues giving WEPs a kind of benefit of the doubt that so-called “exvangelicals”1 would never give, because they know better. WEPs are not panicking. They are not embracing anti-democracy out of fear of losing their place in the republic. WEPs are anti-democratic because that’s what it means to be a white evangelical Protestant. Young adherents are leaving not because the faith has become politicized but because they have realized how deeply political the faith already was.

What exvangelicals know that normal people like Jennifer Rubin cannot know, because they did not emerge from that religious tradition (I think she’s Jewish), is that WEPs believe they are God’s chosen (or will be). They tend to believe the United States was given to “real Americans” by God to be ruled in His name. Those who are not God’s chosen are pretty much disposable. (After all, He knows who the righteous are.) The WEP identity is furthermore based not so much of what they are but on what they are not. We are not them. They are enmeshed in the world. We live here temporarily until The End. They represent a multiracial republic. We believe Christ is our King. The degradation is democracy isn’t regrettable. It’s desirable. Theocracy is the goal.

You can be in the in-group (God’s chosen) and not realize what you are supporting. That seems to be the case for Michael Gerson, a Post columnist. He’s a white evangelical Protestant who seems genuinely stunned by what he’s witnessing from his co-religionists. On Monday, he scolded anti-vaxxers in the Republican Party, especially demagogues like United States Senator Ted Cruz, for putting politics over Americans’ lives. He didn’t call out WEPs by name, but he might as well have, given that white evangelical Protestants are the base of the Republican Party. Gerson wrote that:

Fox News’s conservative anti-vaxxers gain advantages—in viewers and influence—by feeding conspiratorial fears that can kill their viewers. Standing outside politics for a moment, is this the sum of their ambitions? Is this a reason to get out of bed in the morning? How does someone look in the mirror and say: Today, I will purposely misinform people in ways that increase their risk of hospitalization and death?2

How does someone look in the mirror? That’s easy. Morality is obedience to God’s authority. Morality is not doing to others what you would have done to you. (If that’s the lesson Michael Gerson learned, he obviously learned the wrong lesson.) As long as white evangelical Protestants obey God and His law, they will remain His chosen. More importantly, they won’t become one of them. They deserve whatever’s coming to them. We rejoice in seeing God’s will be done. Sure, white evangelical Protestants get sick and die, too, but that means little to the authoritarian mind. Fox News, Ted Cruz and the disgraced former president are not instilling terror any more than they are politicizing religion. They are merely vivifying what was always already there.

The normal people reading this column might think these people are insane for refusing to get vaccinated and not doing their part to end the pandemic. That’s what Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger seems to think. The GOP representative was on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday to support the president’s plan to knock on doors to spread the word about vaccines. He called out fellow Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene for calling door-knockers “medical brownshirts.” “It’s absolute insanity,” he said. “At no point was anybody saying they’re going to break down your door and jam a vaccine in your arm despite your protests. Listen, if you are a Republican voter, do not listen to people like Marjorie Taylor Greene. The vaccine is safe. Covid is real.”

What if it’s sane, though? What if it’s rational? What if all this is being done according to a coherent set of principles by which members of the in-group are right even if members of the in-group die by the covid like everyone else? What if a huge chunk of America won’t ever concede that everyone is created equal even in the face of a Great Equalizer like a once-a-century plague. If that were the case, perhaps we wouldn’t be asking how these people can look at themselves in the mirror in the morning. We might instead be doing everything we can to stop them from destroying the republic.

John Stoehr

1

 

I’m not an exvangelical. I emerged from an obscure orthodox Protestant sect called Christians Gathered Unto the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. According to the “Plymouth Brethren,” as the sect is sometimes called, white evangelical Protestants are liberals.

2

 

Italics mine.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.

6 Comments

  1. David Mikulec on July 31, 2021 at 12:05 am

    I was part of that scene for decades and, speaking frankly and simplistically… it’s little more than a death cult. They long for the end of the world and to see their “enemies” suffer for eternity. It’s a quite dark and miserable place they inhabit.

    • Clint McInnes on July 31, 2021 at 12:05 am

      I’m right there with you. Raised Southern Baptist, then spent 20 years in the Presbyterian Church of America before a series of events turned my brain back on.

      My sister is still fully enmeshed in that mindset. She prays daily for the end of the world, and has no interest, much less desire, in improving conditions for Humanity in the meantime. Her lack of empathy for “non-believers” is profound. It’s just terribly, terribly sad.

      I’ve tried to explain, more than a few times, how thoroughly evil is the concept of the Christian Hell, but since she doesn’t have even a hazy grasp of cosmology, she doesn’t understand (refuses to understand … she’s not stupid) the reality of what Eternity means. I think the ideas scare her. (Heck, they scare me.) But Evangelicals toss around words like “forever” when they have no concept of what it means.

      Their position is dangerous and must be opposed consistently.

    • James F Woodbury on July 31, 2021 at 12:05 am

      Yes, they want the End and seem to think they can force it when trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital!

  2. LIBA on July 31, 2021 at 12:05 am

    Good article as usual, but also as usual you make a mistake by singling out “white” in your criticism. I think this is a misdiagnosis of the problem. While they are definitely a minority, there are plenty of Hispanics, blacks, and Asians in the conservative Christian theocratic movement. (Especially Hispanics, as it is my prediction that this group in particular will provide a large portion of the bodies replenishing the conservative evangelical ranks as it loses white people.) The focus on “white evangelicals” is becoming increasingly outdated in my view.

    In addition, you also leave out the conservative Catholics that are utterly critical to the theocratic project. While conservative Evangelicals (again, of all races– not just white), may be louder, more numerous, and supply the bulk of the votes, I would argue that its the Catholic fundamentalists that are the “brains” behind the operation. I don’t think its a coincidence that all 6 Republican-appointed SCOTUS judges are conservative Catholics. Not to mention former VP Mike Pence, former AG Bill Barr, Federalist Society executive Leonard Leo (who was responsible for picking almost all of Trump’s judges), Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and almost every leader of the most prominent anti-choice orgs. The list goes on and on and on. Its not a coincidence that this is the case. And yet, for some reason, just about every critic (including yourself) of the Christian Right limits their criticism to the “WEPs” and say next nothing to about the Catholic theocrats. That needs to change.

    • John Stoehr on July 31, 2021 at 12:05 am

      Good point re conservative Catholics.

  3. SandyNC28704 on July 31, 2021 at 12:05 am

    Excellent essay. Thank you for raising awareness of this viewpoint. I have shared this with friends. One Catholic friend said she found the comment re Catholicism to ring true to her. I wish we could light a fire under ordinary Christians, especially Christian Ministers, who find these views of some Evangelical Christians to be abhorrent and not in keeping with the Sermon on the Mount and begin to raise the consciousness of their congregations that this is becoming a problem and people should stand up and be counted.

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