Racism is a problem in the United States. Yes, there is racism in white evangelical circles. They use the Bible and the pulpit to justify their racism, their intolerance of other faiths, and their embrace of authoritarianism. University of Pennsylvania professor and author Anthea Butler makes a clear connection between white evangelical racism and what is happening in the United States today in this article.
Racism is insidious. But many white evangelicals are more dangerous than white supremacists. Their approach to governance is informed by their commitment to spiritual correctness, an absolute certainty that their faith is correct and anyone who disagrees with them is an ungodly enemy. To defeat their movement, it is imperative that we educate ourselves on what they believe and why.
Sarah Stankorb’s excellent GEN article thoroughly covers Christian Nationalist racism. But as I read articles across the web, journalists struggle to codify the presence of Jesus at the January 6 2021 Capitol insurrection. Two excellent articles in The Atlantic, Mass Delusion in America by Jeffrey Goldberg and A Christian Insurrection by Emma Green, are good places to start. However, they do not fully examine why many white evangelical Christians support overthrowing a free-and-fair election.
I do not write this series to dispute or downplay the toxic role racism plays in white evangelical Christian Nationalist thought. As a survivor of an evangelical upbringing, I hope to provide nuance and depth to white evangelical motivations.
I grew up in an evangelical church affiliated with Jerry Falwell Sr’s Moral Majority. I spent much of my first two decades in that church: Three services per week and affiliated Christian school from kindergarten through grade twelve, meaning I was at church more than anywhere else. My freshman year of college, I attended Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.
A writer friend once told me I need to establish myself as an expert to successfully pitch publications. What does one do when one thing upon which she can claim expertise is the fundamentalist evangelical Christian dogma she escaped? Indoctrination weaves words into ropes, ideas into chains. It took over two decades to unravel and break their toxic grip. I did not want to re-live evangelical fundamentalism or explain it to anyone.
But given the failed insurrection and continued threats of violence to our democratic republic, I must speak. Perhaps this series can help journalists, political leaders and problem solvers better understand what drives this cult, add nuance and depth to reporting, and lend direction to the effort to preserve democracy.
Evangelical Christianity has many vectors. Some Christians call themselves evangelical because they believe it is important to share their faith without the trappings of political zealotry. Others claim Jesus’ instruction to go into all the world and preach the gospel gives every Christian an evangelical charge. This series will focus on evangelical fundamentalist Christian Nationalism, the specific intersection of white evangelical Christianity and aggressive political involvement begun by Jerry Falwell Sr’s Moral Majority. The many outgrowths from the now-defunct Moral Majority are radically motivated to force their interpretations of the Bible into national law and to make every American subservient to laws based upon their interpretations of spiritual correctness.
These articles will probe the deep tenets of white fundamentalist evangelicalism. If you wonder why evangelicals support President Trump, this series can help you. If you’re mystified as to how they separate his unholy misdeeds from Biblical teaching, these articles will explain their mental gymnastics. And if you are beginning to realize how shocking their goals are, you will understand why I am willing to write this series. We must develop a set of tools to rout this movement from our government. Their inflexible spiritual correctness is a danger to our democratic republic.
To many white evangelical Christians, the Bible is God’s perfect word.
Many evangelical Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Dan DeWitt, director of the Center for Biblical Apologetics and Public Christianity at Cedarville University, defines these three “I” words:
Inspired — God is the Bible’s definitive author
Inerrant — The Bible is without error
Infallible — The Bible is incapable of error because God is incapable of error
But don’t take DeWitt’s word for it. The Bible is God’s inspired word because the Good Book says it is:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. — II Timothy 3:16–17 NIV
Rationalist thinkers might correlate such a circular position with Trump’s “inspired” words:
And such dismissive thinking is understandable. For decades, subsets of liberals have looked down their noses at conservatives. They believe these things because they’re uneducated or stupid; we just need to enlighten them with our boundless life experience; I’m not engaging with people who are so delusional, or I’ll tell them how delusional they are with every breath. Many liberals stop trying to comprehend white evangelicals at this early stage, because it is easier to list all the ways evangelicals are crazy. The President contradicts his assertions of mental stability daily, but how does one argue a point of faith?
Many white evangelical Christians believe their Bible is God’s perfect word, so they are absolutely certain their faith is the “one true faith.”
A couple of Sundays ago, I took a phone call from an evangelical family member. This person had been to an hour-long church service with a thousand mostly maskless people.
They were calling to tell me, again, that the Bible is the only truth. In their view, I am a backslidden Christian who must be browbeaten back into the fold at best, and at worst, I am not a Christian at all and must be confronted with the truth in every interaction. When I ask how they can prove the Bible is the only truth, their response is always “the Bible says so.” And when I point out accepting the Bible is a matter of faith, they reply that they are certain their faith is correct, again because the Bible says so.
In her lovely book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, acclaimed author Anne Lamott says
Certainty of faith is a cornerstone theme for many white evangelicals. Growing up, one of my pastor’s favorite sayings was I know that I know that I know that I know I’m going to heaven when I die. Doubt is to be avoided at all costs, because it demonstrates a weakness of faith. Expressing their own certainty, especially to doubters or unbelievers, is a proactive tool to confront and banish their own doubt.
This behavior has a psychological basis. In his story at Everyday Psych, Jake Teeney PhD asserts that one of the most compelling ways to convince oneself to believe something is to come up with one’s own arguments. For decades, white fundamentalist evangelical pastors have been using this psychological tool. By convincing congregations of their unquestionable rightness and encouraging them to share their faith with the world, many white evangelicals confront their own doubts by persuading themselves of their certainty.
Thinking they’re delusional or crazy, or even calling them that, isn’t helpful. I usually say something along the lines of I respect your right to embrace a faith that speaks to you. Please understand that your faith doesn’t speak to everyone.
Nevertheless, this certainty of faith has permeated our political discourse. Over the past forty years, increased Republican unwillingness to compromise is rooted in the white evangelical movement’s righteous certainty of their positions. Their goal is remaking our laws using their inflexible interpretations of the Bible. They frame any disagreement with their spiritual correctness as coming from an enemy who must be defeated in Jesus’ name, making the liberal impulse to respect differing viewpoints dangerous to democracy. To defeat this, we must understand how fundamentalist evangelicals apply the Bible to every aspect of life and society.