A lot of Christians these days sure do sound angry.
The more right-wing the Christians, the angrier they sound–and the more vengeful, controlling, belligerent, and aggressive. Some of their worst blustering to date has occurred around their current culture war against transgender people. They’re fighting as hard as they can against what are essentially human rights for people who, if these same Christians really cared about what Jesus told them to do, would be the first people they’d nurture, protect, and love.
I think a lot of their anger comes from a place of fear more than anything else.
And it is worth examining.
A New Look at an Angry Christian.
Pastor Greg Locke of “Global Vision Bible Church” of Juliet, Tennessee is angry.
He had a few things to say a few weeks ago about Target’s new inclusive bathroom policy:
Mr. Locke is furious that Target is now allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms they are most comfortable using without fear of TRUE CHRISTIANS’ harassment. Of course, he himself once employed a sex offender as a youth pastor in his own church, so I’m not sure he’s really got a good vantage point from which to judge others, but that’s not the point.
Not to him.
Look at this guy. Listen to his frothing rage on the video posted to Able to Choose, if you are able. Notice his desire to control, his indignation about, and his sheer contempt for anybody who dares to disagree with him. Notice his sheer arrogance and his automatic assumption that he’s always right, while his critics are always wrong.
Notice that, even by the standards that right-wing Christians have set lately, this guy is angry.
It’s not hard to see that here, indeed, is a person who intimately understands the language of shame and humiliation, of threats and aggression.
He doesn’t care that no transgender person has ever, even once, assaulted anybody else in a bathroom, ever, while cisgender people (almost all of them TRUE CHRISTIANS™ just like him!) have assaulted trans people in bathrooms regularly enough that trans folks sometimes “hold it in” so long they hurt themselves because they’re that terrified of being attacked by the self-appointed (and failed) ambassadors of the Prince of Peace and Lord of Love.
He doesn’t care that the real danger to children is cisgender men just like him who don’t care about consent, not transgender women who only want to pee in peace away from his tribe’s harassment and abuse. (Like many of his peers, he doesn’t appear to even comprehend the existence of trans men.)
And he really doesn’t care that his end of Christianity is mired so deeply in hypocrisy that nobody is even surprised anymore when its most fervent culture-warriors turn out to be committing truly shocking acts of abuse toward children.
None of that matters to Greg Locke.
What matters to him is that this bathroom policy represents the further slippage of his tribe’s grip on American culture.
And he doesn’t like losing his sense of dominance and control–nope, not one little bit.
That loss of dominance is the real problem here.
That is the real threat he’s addressing and the real source of his anger and fear.
Hypocrisy in Action.
I used to be simply baffled by Christians like this guy. They don’t even appear to realize that they are in the wrong, that they are displaying hatred and bigotry rather than love and compassion, and that they are being totally hypocritical. It was even more confusing to see them label their hatred, dishonesty, and hypocrisy as “love!”
Most of all, I was confused by their unreasonable fear.
There is always some huge, awful, groaning threat facing our country and world, in fundagelical eyes. Always. Any scraping away of their power as a group means that any day now the Tribulation will start. If a Democrat got elected President, that meant that Christians will soon be exterminated by, well, someone. If science ends up getting taught in science classrooms rather than Creationism, then obviously society will totally break down. If women continue to be “allowed” to use contraception and seek legal, safe abortions, then that will lead to Satan taking over. And whoa buddy, you don’t want to know what’ll happen if LGBTQ people get access to their full complement of civil rights and liberties.
It’s like they revel in these lurid, ludicrous threats–like they actively enjoy that thrill of fear they get when their leaders make these outrageous (and always false, obviously) predictions of doom if this or that culture war of theirs is slapped down. Once they realize they’ve well and truly lost one battle, they bustle along like clucking hens to the next terrifying threat, and they do this over and over again like they don’t even remember all the last ones that turned out to be false alarms.
It took a while for me to understand Christians’ constant fever pitch of terror.
I know now that the Christian in this video answers to a far higher power than any imaginary man in the sky could ever be. His fears go way deeper than “being set on fire forever after he dies.” And his hatred has a source so easy to see and understand that I’m not at all surprised to see that he’s latched onto the culture war his leaders created.
It doesn’t matter how often one presents such Christians with hard evidence that their fears are groundless and their behavior hateful and cruel. They literally can’t accept that feedback. They will fight tooth and nail any suggestion that they’re in the wrong. They will view the people offering that feedback as evil traitors or agents of Satan, and after reviling their enemies they will only drill down all the harder on their errors. Their entire culture seems incapable of critically examining anything its adherents are doing, much less effecting real change to their erroneous behaviors and beliefs.
A Feedback Loop, Thwarted.
Healthy people value the feedback given to them by their peers. It’s how we improve ourselves. We’re like a ship going down a river: we need to know where the riverbanks are so we can avoid going adrift. Feedback from other people is how we keep ourselves on the right track.
There’s a constant process of give and take in our social interactions–both in business and in our personal lives. Ideally, we’re constantly learning and growing. Sometimes learning and growing means realizing we’re wrong about something. Maybe it was something small–a misused term, maybe–or maybe it was something much bigger, like our religious beliefs. A well-adjusted person can get feedback about a potential error and assess that feedback without feeling threatened, incorporate the new information into their worldview if need be, and move forward with an improved set of ideas about the topic at hand.
That’s a process I never, ever saw happen among my peers when I was Christian myself, and certainly do not often see now in their ranks. I’d sooner expect to see a true-blue fundagelical to declare that Jesus didn’t actually exist than see one concede that the culture war Christians are waging upon LGBTQ people (or women’s rights for that matter) was a sinful and hypocritical idea from the start.
That’s because right-wing Christianity is becoming more and more drenched in authoritarian ideas and social structures. As less-authoritarian people get fed up with that form of Christianity and leave, the remainder drill down all the harder on their increasingly-extreme ideas–and as they do that, more-authoritarian outsiders become drawn in by what they see coming out of that tribe. Consequently, right-wing Christianity is fast approaching dangerous levels of concentrated extremism.
Authoritarian people are often quite narcissistic. Among other things, that means that they have a really tough time accepting any kind of feedback about their opinions and behavior. They are likely to react to any criticism like someone just suggested eating their babies with a nice garlic sauce. They rally around people who validate and confirm their worldview, and avoid or revile anyone who pushes back against it.
To people like that, being wrong is literally the worst thing that can possibly happen to them. It means losing control to someone else. It means being shown as inferior to the person who showed them they were wrong. It means having their dominance threatened–and probably peeled away.
A person who cannot accept criticism is someone who cannot bear to be anything less than perfect–and the roots of that dread seem to happen very early in their lives.
The “Best” Defense.
When someone is raised in a culture filled with violent imagery and swaggering inequality and is taught from birth that compliance is the only way for someone powerless to stay at least a little safe (except when it doesn’t work), it’s little wonder that person is going to come out of childhood leaning toward aggression as a means of solving problems and maintaining their dominance. It’s even less wonder that such a person will see the loss of control in any way whatsoever as a direct attack on themselves, and will see the gaining of unquestioned and unilateral personal power as the only way to avoid victimization.
In effect, people raised in these sorts of authoritarian households learn that the best defense is a good offense.
And they learn this lesson in an environment where aggression is normalized and considered acceptable when someone’s anger or frustration become overwhelming or when more peaceful negotiations with other people have broken down. They simply don’t learn other, more constructive methods of dealing with either frustration or conflict. Literally all they’ve got is “give those bad emotions to Jesus and he’ll fix everything,” but because there is no “Jesus” doing anything, they’ve got no way whatsoever to really resolve those feelings in a healthy and mature way.
That’s why studies show that domestic violence is just as likely to erupt in an evangelical home as in any other (and why crime rates and other marks of dysfunction in ultra-fundagelical areas are astronomical) and why pastors often counsel women who are abused to “submit more” to their abusers. That’s why so many fundagelical homeschooled kids report shocking abuse in their homes. It’s why church authorities are still fighting among themselves about whether or not they should report child abuse to the authorities, long after the rest of us realized that yes, they should, all the time, no matter what, why are they even discussing this like there’s some kind of question about it?!? WTF?!?
But when anybody tries to talk about the glaring disconnect between Christianity’s claims and its adherents’ lived reality, Christians’ usual response is to ignore allegations of abuse and hypocrisy, demonize and try to silence those calling attention to them, and find some way to cover the accusations up before outsiders find out just how flawed these salespeople’s product really is.
And it’s why, as Christianity’s numbers sink lower and lower and its credibility as an ideology plummets further and further, right-wing Christians solution to this problem is to try even harder to mercilessly dominate and control culture. Any effort whatsoever to erode that control gets bitterly opposed by fundagelicals–and that’s totally understandable when someone understands their fear of being wrong about anything and what they think will happen if they lose that dominance.
Their culture teaches them that if they dominate and control their victims brutally and thoroughly enough, then they will get the deference and obedience that will keep them safe. Because of that mindset, they know what a huge threat it is to them and their way of life that people are starting to reject their overreach in greater and greater numbers. They can’t enjoy effortless power–and the imagined safety from victimization and rejection that goes along with it–without someone giving it to them, and they know it.
So if they can’t get the power they crave in an honest way, then don’t be surprised at all when they seek it in dishonest ways. Desperate people do whatever they can to get what they think they need, and Christians are sure that they need to be in control of everyone in sight.
And yeah, a lot of them may well be shameless, near-sociopathic opportunists who are not themselves as fearful as I describe here, but they still use fearmongering as their tool of choice when manipulating their audiences–because they know that their audiences speak that language fluently. Christian leaders couldn’t so successfully use fear as a gimmick if Christians as a group weren’t so terribly easy to scare.
(So much for perfect love casting out fear.)
When we see Christians freaking out about transgender rights and bathroom bills, we are seeing their utter terror of losing control over a culture they think they once effortlessly dominated. We are seeing leaders who are both fanning the flames of that fear and taking ruthless advantage of it, and followers who think that the only way to avoid victimization is to be in total control of their culture. And we’re seeing their increasingly-impotent rage over those losses, an anger that is fueled even further by their fear.
We’re going to talk next time about why it can be so scary to be wrong and to lose dominance. I hope to see you then!