No matter how bad the scandal might be, no matter how great the disgrace, Christians just can’t quit their leaders. This past week, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) apparently decided that enough time had elapsed between all their various scandals that they could re-open shop for business as usual. I want to show you how some of these disgraced leaders are trying their best to make a comeback–and why they will succeed, and then fail.
Paige Patterson Returns.
Last summer, Paige Patterson stood as one of the most prominent ultra-conservative Christians in America. Though he wasn’t well-known outside the SBC, within it he was a giant. His devoted followers (like fundagelical mouthpiece Ed Stetzer) revered him as a teacher, pastor, evangelist–and most especially as one of the architects of the Conservative Resurgence. That was the movement that turned the SBC from a surprisingly-progressive denomination to the super-politicized, super-misogynistic, super-racist, super-bigoted, super-controlling beast it is today.
Certainly people had voiced criticisms of Paige Patterson through the years. They’d been doing so for years. But the man seemed untouchable. Then, with #MeToo, those criticisms finally landed. Paige Patterson struggled hard, but he still eventually got fired from his cushy seminary job.
But what were they expecting him to do? Create a casino empire? Dude earned his living for years pushing culture wars, moral panics, the Christian entitlement mentality, and white male supremacy. He helped build a denomination that coddles and protects powerful white men at all costs.
Seriously, what did anybody expect here when he himself needed that coddling and protection?
In the first sermon, he described the body of a woman who was both “fat” and a suspected weightlifter. He claims that he helped convert her to TRUE CHRISTIANITY™.
You can believe in her existence or not as you please (receipts or he can GTFO), but the mere example demonstrated a shocking insensitivity to the charges that eventually brought him low. He needed to make this woman sound as grotesque as possible to his audience. So he lavished time on explaining just how sexually unappealing she was to him. For good measure, he made sure to mention that she pursued a hobby that misogynists dislike seeing in women.
Then, in the second sermon, he drew upon the Bible’s mythical story of Joseph, focusing on the time a woman falsely accused Joseph rape. That background story formed a flimsy excuse for Patterson to rail against the #MeToo movement. He also very vocally criticized women who “falsely accuse a man” and thus take on “the risk of ruining a life.”
It’s not hard to imagine which life he meant here.
It Gets Worse.
If you’re wondering what morally bankrupt Christians teach in a fundagelical ethics class, apparently it’ll involve culture war issues: abortion, LGBT equality, “religious liberty,” and stuff like that.
I never doubted that male fundagelical leaders would, as a group, accept Patterson back with open arms. His comeuppance must have felt very threatening to them. But Christian women (and to be fair some of the men) do not seem nearly as enthusiastic. Not even Relevant, a fundagelical mouthpiece if I ever saw one, sounds like it approves. (Religion News Service doesn’t either.)
In fact, I didn’t see a single voice of support on Twitter for his triumphant return. Richard Land made super-sure to loudly compliment Patterson’s “sterling” character to the skies, sure, but few laypeople have joined him in the love shack.
That lack of support might not matter to Richard Land, who has his own moral bankruptcy to deal with. But maybe his support will, in turn, matter to the few remaining compassionate SBC members still warming pews.
As we reel (or sigh in exasperation) at the incoming installment into the Supreme Court of a judge who suffers from his own moral bankruptcy, we can’t help but notice some new studies that confirm what we’ve known for decades: white evangelical Christians are, as a group, absolutely abhorrent people.
Rewire (formerly Religion Dispatches) recently shared a survey revealing deeply racist and unsettling views from Donald Trump-supporting white evangelicals. These Christians identified as “religious conservatives” and most of them were regular church attendees (76% claimed more-than-once-a-week attendance). The piece implies very strongly that it’s the church attendance that instills these racist attitudes–because even white Hillary Clinton voters who attend church regularly have way more racist views than non-churchgoers.
White evangelical Christians are also the demographic that was least likely to believe Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Brett “HE LOVES BEER, OKAY” Kavanaugh of assaulting her. 29% of the respondents in that survey also thought Kavanaugh should get the confirmation even if the accusations were true. A similar survey run in 1991 about Clarence Thomas found slightly better results–back then, only 21% of respondents thought that about Thomas.
These Christians are toxic. They poison the environment around themselves; they befoul whatever they touch in their push for dominance.
Mike Pence has another name for them: values voters. He is right now this moment busily rallying these belligerent chest-thumpers on a platform of hatred, xenophobia, control-lust, and culture wars. His speeches especially seek to arouse TRUE CHRISTIAN™ rage toward those who defy their reach.
He avoids speaking of love, sacrifice, forbearance, and kindness even to his enemies. He knows that boring stuff won’t sell. Instead, he tells his adoring audiences that they deserve to rule America. His entire platform consists of Vote for my party, and we’ll STICK IT to those evil degenerate liberals. And his followers hear the message loud and clear. His master is busy doing the same thing to the Christians who constitute an even lower common denominator.
And speaking of Cheeto Von Tweeto, more than a few of these “values voters” really truly believe that Donald Trump was put in the Oval Office by none other than Jesus himself. They’ve bent over backward to try to explain how a serial adulterer and possible sex abuser who holds not a single one of their traditional virtues could be their champion.
Some of them even think he’ll help kick-start the end of the world.
The Nature of Power in Toxic-Christian-Land.
I’m not bringing this stuff up because I think anybody actively needs a reminder about just how bad Christians can be. Indeed, you might have noticed I’ve steered kinda clear of that whole awful situation this week. I figure y’all are probably as weary and heartsick as I am right now.
I’ve got a grander purpose in mind. I want to show you why these Christians embrace their leaders’ return no matter how horrible their disgraces are.
To find that answer, we must follow the footprints of power distribution in the religion.When we look at the very worst Christians–be they fundagelicals or the nuttiest of Catholic hardliners–we need to remember that they care only about amassing and maintaining power.
From the top to the bottom, they’ve aligned themselves completely with that goal. They want personal power, defined as the ability to control others and be the dominant (if not the ONLY) voice heard on any given topic. And they want institutional power, which is their ability as a group to control their culture and government.
To achieve those ends, toxic Christians have carefully set up their various systems to grant unilateral power to a small group of people within their various subgroups (the haves), while peeling all autonomy and self-determination from the people they consider inferior to themselves (the have-nots).
Why Nothing Changes in Toxic-Christian-Land.
Now here’s the kicker.
Most of the have-not Christians don’t care about that disparity of power.
They all want power for themselves, no matter their subgroup. So they move as close as they can to the people who hold more power, in hopes that some of it rubs off on them. They try to finagle as much as they can from the system itself.
Consequently, they will not want to change the system. They feel like they’re benefiting from it.
But some Christians don’t like how that system works. They don’t like seeing all the damage their peers and leaders wreak. They don’t like how easy it is for a fallen leader to slide back into their groups’ DMs.
Maybe they’ll even push back against what they see.
They’ll write letters. Maybe they’ll raise a stink. Natch, they’ll also write social media posts.
Here’s the problem: if they stay part of the tribe, none of their agitating matters.
Fundagelicalism As A Bad Boyfriend.
A lot of us have had the same experience with a terrible significant other. I sure have!
My Christian ex Biff was pretty much the nadir of boyfriends/husbands. And he fully expected me to get angry about his behavior. See, I still stayed with him. So he felt that I wasn’t bothered enough to do anything about the situation. He got so much out of our relationship that he considered complaints and arguments collateral damage. He was fully willing to endure them.
I don’t think it occurred to him even once to take my grievances seriously. As far as he was concerned, I’d demonstrated repeatedly that no matter what he did, no matter how angry I got, no matter how bad our arguments became, I wasn’t going to withdraw from the relationship. All he had to do was weather the storms, and he’d soon be back to enjoying the perks he received from me.
Biff considered my continued presence in his life as a weird kind of sign of divine approval. He perceived no reason whatsoever to second-guess himself. All he cared about was getting what he wanted–at my expense. Meanwhile, his abuses escalated steadily.
In response, he went into crisis mode.
Suddenly, he pulled out all the stops to demonstrate how much he’d changed overnight. For terrifying months on end, he tried to prove to me that he was a man reformed by Jesus, fully grieved in his spirit and sorrowful, completely repented and now accountable.
See where I’m going with this?
When I see Christians reacting with shock and outrage over what their leaders are doing, it’s nice, sure. But I know it won’t matter. Their leaders don’t care how shocked and outraged the sheep are. The sheep have demonstrated repeatedly that no matter how terrible those leaders behave they won’t leave the fold. Thus, the leaders think they can act with complete impunity. (Yes, it’s really victim-blamey, but that’s how narcissists think.)
Those leaders have already completely shorn the flocks of any ability to meaningfully push back against them. Let the sheep grumble, let them rage, but they can’t actually do anything. And their “shepherds” will squeeze them tighter and tighter to gain more and more power over them.
Little wonder that more and more Christians have started coming to the same conclusion about their various groups that I came to with Biff. More and more, they realize that they can’t reform something that is, at its heart, broken and foul.
That awakening has led toxic Christians’ political victories to be increasingly Pyrrhic in nature. The bigger the win they get in their culture-war skirmishes, the more people drift away from their banner in direct response.
Hell, gang, Pew Forum just discovered that only about a third of the country would come anywhere close to qualifying as a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ to Mike Pence and Paige Patterson and their hangers-on.
See also this interesting video.
And if studies like these don’t drive toxic Christians into overdrive panic, they ain’t paying attention.
Calling for His Brown Pants.
And what are their Dear Leaders doing in response? Drilling down harder on the broken system they created and cherish so much.
A few days ago, J.D. Greear, the current SBC President, issued a totally urgent call to
pray think at the ceiling super-hard–on behalf of five SBC sub-groups seeking leaders all at once. The very next day, he released a column exhorting the (remaining) flocks to GET OUT THERE AND SELL.
I haven’t seen him address what’s going on with Paige Patterson. He might not even realize that this time might be different–this time the ignored disgrace might be a dealbreaker.
I wonder how J.D. Greear would be talking if every one of the outraged Christians in his flock got up together, en masse, and quietly marched hand-in-hand out of the fold. I wonder what he’d say to those who’d walk away from his imaginary Omelas.
The funny part?
Maybe he wouldn’t say anything differently at all–out loud, anyway.
But maybe by-and-by we’ll be finding out together.
Courage, friends. Hold the line. Times are dark, and likely will get darker. But take heart. Christians are doing all this awful stuff because they know they’re losing their grip on us.
The end of this road looks like freedom.
NEXT UP: A busy week! Greear’s exhortation, cause and effect, and a gaming party divided against itself. But first, Monday’s LSP will be a FULL KITTEN UPDATE! See you soon.
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“Cheeto Von Tweeto” is not original to me. I have no idea who said it first. I recently spotted it on Black People Twitter.