The Stained Soul of Evangelical Christianity

The Stained Soul of Evangelical Christianity December 20, 2017


In the aftermath of Doug Jones’ victory, Mark Galli, editor in chief of Christianity Today, wrote a column titled “The Biggest Loser in the Alabama Election“. It begins promisingly:

When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.

With an opening like that, I was expecting to say hallelujah, another evangelical leader has seen the light! I was looking forward to a stemwinder about how evangelical Christianity has discarded its principles and cozied up to corrupt, self-gratifying pretenders like Donald Trump and Roy Moore in the pursuit of power.

Alas. Having opened with a bold statement, he immediately retreats from it, into the safety of but-liberals-are-also-bad finger-wagging:

The Christian leaders who have excused, ignored, or justified [Trump’s] unscrupulous behavior and his indecent rhetoric have only given credence to their critics who accuse them of hypocrisy. Meanwhile the easy willingness of moderate and progressive Christians to cast aspersions on their conservative brothers and sisters has made many wonder about our claim that Jesus Christ can bring diverse people together as no other can.

“The Christians who supported Trump’s racism and misogyny are bad! Also, the Christians who criticized the other Christians for supporting Trump’s racism and misogyny are equally as bad!”

This craven equivocation sets the tone of the entire column. Galli labors diligently to keep his scales of Both Sides Do It in perfect balance, with not even a single extra grain of blame apportioned to the evangelicals who voted for the child molester. He bends over backwards to argue that liberals are hypocrites for not tolerating intolerance. Meanwhile, he praises most Trump- and Moore-supporting evangelicals as good people who “must for prudential reasons cast [their] lot with a morally unsavory candidate”.

The whole column has the aura of a man in a furious struggle with himself. It’s as if Galli wants to offer critiques of evangelical behavior, but is under a compulsion to make excuses for every bad trait he observes. One of those facts he can’t keep himself from noticing is evangelicalism’s colossal flip-flop on whether a candidate’s personal character matters. Here’s how he explains it away:

What is going on here? Among other things, there is this: Many conservatives feel marginalized by the culture and remember the days when a Judeo-Christian morality didn’t need explaining or defending. They know that a people without a vision of sound moral grounding will perish. They don’t want to perish, and to give them credit, they don’t want this nation to perish.

Translated from apologist-speak, what this means is that white evangelicals are nostalgic for the days when they enjoyed almost total political power (because women, people of color and non-Christians were prevented from exercising any). In a bid to regain that control (because of course they feel completely entitled to have it), they’ll grasp at anyone who offers it, even if it means abandoning the principles they say they care about – because it’s never been about principle. It’s always been about power, dominance and their lust for same.

They are right, of course, about moral decline in America. Yes, there are all sorts of qualifications and nuances to make, and our culture, in fact, champions many biblical values (the recent #MeToo campaign and the fight against racism are but two examples). But there is no question that from a biblical perspective, our nation has lost its moorings.

Galli hilariously asserts that anti-racism and feminism are biblical values. You can see the “march of progress” phenomenon in the way he immediately assigns credit for these social movements to Christianity, even while most Christian churches are actively opposing them. After all, if opposition to sexism was a Christian value, why did Alabama’s evangelicals so overwhelmingly support Roy Moore?

There’s a fascinating contradiction here: Galli asserts that our culture is making moral progress, while at the same time he says we’ve lost our biblical moorings. Well, so much the worse for those moorings, then! Isn’t this an admission that the Bible is irrelevant to morality?

In the end, he almost offers a condemnation of the conservative push for theocracy:

What events of the last year and a half have shown once again is that when Christians immerse themselves in politics as Christians, for what they determine are Christian causes, touting their version of biblical morality in the public square — they will sooner or later (and often sooner) begin to compromise the very principles they champion and do so to such a degree that it blemishes the very faith they are most anxious to promote.

But again, he pulls back at the last minute, saying that “We cannot forsake our political duty”. It ends up in the same place that conservative Christians always end up: We have to push the same cruel and repressive political agenda as always, we just have to do it with a smile and tell people God loves them while we’re lobbying to strip away their rights. And if that doesn’t work, we can take the ultimate step: change what we call ourselves while advocating exactly the same policies as before:

Mr. Galli, the magazine editor, said he had recently brainstormed a list of 50 to 100 words, looking for a suitable substitute term. Among them: Neo-evangelical, Gospel Christian, Followers of Jesus.

“Purple-cow Christianity,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter. It’s the reality underneath that we affirm.”

I don’t mean to suggest that there aren’t any evangelicals engaging in serious soul-searching. Some of them are genuinely struggling with what their faith has become, and aren’t just making excuses for defenders of racism and child molestation. From the linked article:

Jemar Tisby, president of “The Witness, a black Christian collective,” a faith-based media company that provides commentary on race, religion and culture, said in an interview that while Mr. Trump was running for office, “we were saying, this man is promoting bigotry, white supremacists find an ally in him and this is going to be bad for us.”

“And not only did they vote for him,” Mr. Tisby continued, “they voted for him in slightly higher numbers than they did for Mitt Romney. It was a sense of betrayal.”

“We’ve let evil overtake the entire reputation of Evangelicalism,” one prominent evangelical author, Beth Moore, wrote on Twitter the day before the election. “The lust for power is nauseating. Racism, appalling. The arrogance, terrifying. The misogyny so far from Christlikeness, it can’t be Christianity.”

It often takes great courage to point out the obvious, so I applaud the lonely few dissenters like these for speaking up. But for all their bravery, I think this faith is beyond saving.

Religion is intrinsically resistant to change and moral progress, and we’re seeing that principle play out in the world today. Christianity in general and evangelicalism in particular is a poisonous tree, rooted in white supremacy, patriarchy, and the other evils of the past. If anything, it’s regressing – becoming more bigoted and hateful as the rest of the world marches the other way.

The only viable course for people of conscience is to walk away from evangelicalism. In fact, I think that’s already happening. But as they drop out, only the bitterest zealots are left behind, which means that as it dwindles, this faith is only going to become more noxious.

Image credit: Pasquale Paolo Cardo, released under CC BY 2.0 license

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