I’m not sure what the right adjective is for the kind of Christianity espoused by Jerry Falwell, Jr, and his adoring fans in the student body of Liberty University. In case you missed it, Falwell gave a speech at a school-wide convocation in which he said, “If more good people had conceal carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they go out trying to kill us… I just want to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permits… Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”
The students went wild like it was a pep rally. Indeed, it felt more like a speech being given about a rival football team than an incitement of violence against people from another religion. I don’t think the students were saying let’s go kill us some muslins. They were saying hell yeah, our college president is a bad-ass who carries a gun in his back pocket. He’s not a stuffy bureaucrat. He probably goes muddin’ in his jeep just like us. Perhaps I’m being overly charitable, but I really think they were applauding Falwell’s lack of giving a f*** more than his targeting Muslims per se.
I got some flak on my facebook page for saying that Jerry Falwell, Jr’s speech reveals how far conservative evangelicalism has gone adrift. It’s true that that’s not quite fair. There are (at least some) conservative evangelicals who have not sold out to knee jerk Republican talking points and cowboy populism. In trying to think of another adjective for Falwell, Jr’s kind of Christianity, I figured I would go with gunslinger Christianity for now.
It’s the Christianity of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood (at least before the chair incident). It’s the Christianity that likes to talk tough and feel tough. It’s the Christianity that believes in the absolute truthiness of being caustically politically incorrect instead of the lukewarm relativism of cultural sensitivity and other such nonsense. It’s the Christianity that takes pride in how hard its children get spanked. It’s the Christianity that thinks pastors are ruined by seminary education.
In other words, it’s right-wing cowboy populism which is often conflated with conservatism but really isn’t the same thing. It’s a perversion of conservatism to conflate political incorrectness with integrity. Donald Trump is the perfect example of this conflation. He’s very “truthy” in his daringness to “talk straight” about Mexican immigrants and Muslims, but he isn’t being truthful. A real conservative cares immensely about truthfulness even if it’s nuanced and confusing and boring, while a right-wing redneck populist loves the ballsy one-liners of truthiness even if they aren’t fair or truthful. A true conservative scriptwriter would never make it in Hollywood; only gunslinger populists can come up with the bad-ass one-liners that the hero says while sucking on a filter-less, hand-rolled cigarette before blowing the enemy’s brains out.
I don’t know how widespread gunslinger Christianity is in conservative evangelical culture. My conservative evangelical friends claim it’s a fringe minority. I’m not so sure about that. I really think that evangelical megachurchianity’s uncritical embrace of celebrity culture has produced an idolatry of tough-talking, ballsy, bad-ass alpha males. Megachurch pastors like Mark Driscoll may be more intelligent than Jerry Falwell, Jr, but their brand is built off of the same kind of gunslinger bravado.
I’m not sure what any of this has to do with Jesus. I don’t think Jesus is thrilled about a bunch of twenty-year old guys getting conceal carry permits so they can play Clint Eastwood in between classes at Liberty if somebody brown and suspiciously Arab-looking shows up. For a Christian college president to encourage all of his students to go out and buy a bunch of guns is at best tremendously irresponsible. To my conservative evangelical friends who say #NotAllConservatives, you need to rein in your gunslinger friends because their witness is your witness, whether you like it or not.