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Long Ago, When Evangelicals Cared About Being ‘Stumbling Blocks’

Long Ago, When Evangelicals Cared About Being ‘Stumbling Blocks’ October 6, 2020

Hi and welcome back! Recently, we talked about Donald Trump and his rabid fanbase of mostly-white-evangelicals. They refused to take basic precautions against COVID-19 — and have begun paying the price for their defiance. Today, let me show you why evangelicals can’t take health precautions and can’t care about other people’s health and welfare. It’s all about the stumbling blocks, and where evangelicals see them placed — and who put ’em there and why.

(Greg Rosenke.) The caption originally asked who wouldn’t feel happy to see a bunch of Lego. My response would be that 2020 has been a sea of Lego on the floor in the middle of the night standing between me and a drink of water.

So Much For That Awesome Original Christianity.

Tribalism has consumed evangelicals’ entire end of Christianity, and part of tribalism involves creating and then destroying enemies.

Long ago, things looked really different. Back when I was an evangelical myself (in the 80s/90s), my tribe cared enormously about not making our brothers stumble.

That’s an important bit of Christianese. It comes from 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, from a passage written by Paul (possibly). He wrote about whether or not it was okay for Christians to consume “food sacrificed to idols.”

Apparently, this question represented one of the many, many doctrinal disputes for the earliest Christians.

Stumbling Blocks.

One faction of Christians thought that believers could do such a thing with no problem at all. After all, as Paul himself tells us, no gods but Yahweh existed anyway. Thus, it’s not like any other real gods claimed that food. Jesus himself had already said (or so it’s thought) that what went into people’s bodies didn’t purify or pollute them. Paul writes,

But food does not bring us closer to God: We are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

However, another faction of early Christians thought that no Christian should ever touch such food. It really bothered them to see that first faction eating it. It made their faith falter! Thus, Paul advises:

So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. By sinning against your brothers in this way and wounding their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.

Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to stumble.

And for a long time, evangelicals interpreted that passage to mean that Christians needed to take care not to give their brethren (and sistren, and I reckon nibtren, if they even acknowledge enbies at all) any reason to stumble in their faith. Such behavior created stumbling blocks that kept weaker Christians from achieving lifelong fervor and safety from Hell.

Creating stumbling blocks, therefore, became an actual sin.

Long, Long Ago, This is How Stumbling Blocks Worked.

When I was Christian, my tribe of fundagelicals included not only my actual denominational group of Pentecostal fundamentalists but also the wider group of inferior, less-hardcore, far-less-Jesus-y, heretically-Trinitarian evangelicals I counted as friends and peers. And we all tried really hard to avoid creating stumbling blocks for others.

Mostly, this involved women not dressing too sexily or behaving too seductively. In fact, that’s almost all stumbling blocks were.

Of course, the concept of stumbling blocks suffered mightily from its sheer subjectivity. As a point of reference, just greeting a strange man at a grocery store or wearing skirts that didn’t quite clear the calves might count as stumbling blocks to very controlling, ultra-repressed Christian men.

For their own part, TRUE CHRISTIAN™ men could create stumbling blocks too. Theirs involved drinking alcohol around non-Christians, playing games that were too worldly, wearing shirts with short sleeves, or maintaining facial hair.

See? See? Everyone could commit this sin, not just women with their sinful clothes and batting eyelashes!

(Worldly = not 100% Jesus-centered, therefore sinful and will send people straight to Hell.)

(Yes, I did notice at the time how strangely mild men’s stumbling blocks were compared to women’s.)

The Appearance of Evil.

Trump must have done something interesting here
(Source.) Wait, WTF happened on September 27 that this page went from hardly any hits at all for years to ZOMG HUGE HITS?

Overall, though, this concept at least got evangelicals thinking about how their behavior affected other people. They understood that perceived hypocrisy impacted the overall credibility, recruiting success, and retention rates of Christianity as a whole.

Even if they had complete freedom in Christ, as the Christianese went, they had to temper that with the understanding of how others perceived things.

So another bit of Christianese evolved to cover the concept of changing one’s behavior under those circumstances:

Avoiding the appearance of evil.

The Christian deploying this phrase declares that the behavior in question wasn’t actually sinful per se. But it might make someone think such a thing. And so, to avoid leading someone to suspect hypocrisy where there wasn’t any, and thus impact sales and retention, the Christian will adjust their behavior to avoid any suspicions.

Hypocrisy didn’t just threaten their own eternal safety from Hell, but that of anybody who noticed it as well. They wanted to avoid that end.

Then What Happened.

And then, evangelicals went full-bore authoritarian. They stopped even trying to conceal their true natures anymore.

During this remolding process, evangelical men decided that women had an obligation to please them and that all women and children of all ages were fully responsible for the emotions of all the adult men who interacted with or saw them. 

Indeed, a lot of evangelicals suddenly had a lot of trouble finding the line between appropriate expectations and utterly beyond-ludicrous ones — or didn’t want to find that line at all.

In their efforts to completely and totally subjugate women, these men sexualized even the bodies of toddlers, who got taught in homeschooling and Sunday School sessions to consider how their clothing choices might inflame the lusts of the adult men around them and thus become stumbling blocks.

In fact, it seemed like everyone except white evangelical men could present stumbling blocks to others. Moreover, white evangelical men reserved the sole right to judge what constituted a valid stumbling block.

Worst of all, it seemed like stumbling blocks existed to puncture those men’s delusions of rulership and power. Strange indeed, considering the subtopics we’ll be discussing in a moment about how these exact men perceive themselves as the only real strong Christians.

Authoritarianism Wrecks Everything.

Nowadays, evangelicals are nothing more than a tribalistic authoritarian cult. They use religious language to mask their political ambitions and control-grabs.

Maybe they always were like that. But it’s way more obvious now.

As such, the rulers of this tribe bristle at any checks upon their ambitions and control-grabs. The most lurid Gorean roleplayers on Second Life can’t even halfway match the total-power-exchange fantasies of white evangelical men.

After the remolding, two types of evangelical men now exist in the tribe.

The first type feels distinctly uncomfortable with the unearned, absolute power handed to white evangelical men just by dint of their birth and identity. They try to conduct themselves more honorably and fairly than what’s expected of them.

I didn’t know any of these men when I was evangelical. Then again, I deconverted in the early stages of evangelicals’ remolding. Long after deconverting, though, I met ex-Christian men who said that’s how they’d felt when they believed. Even now, I don’t see many men like this in the tribe. Very likely, they keep very quiet to avoid drawing the attention of the next type.

The second type revels in all of that power — and seeks more every day. They can’t get that kind of power in any other way, you see. They lack the people skills and charisma — and refuse to gain the other skills necessary — to dominate the upper echelons of social groups, secular businesses, or the military. In gaming terms, they refuse to git gud. Instead, they find a tribe that gives them those benefits without all the prepwork — and then doesn’t ever question their use of that power or take it away, ever, no matter what they do.

And How Stumbling Blocks Work Now.

After that remolding, evangelicals came to interpret that Christianese concept of stumbling blocks very differently than they did when I was Christian.

Before, evangelicals cared very greatly about Christians who struggled a bit more with the religion and its requirements. They called these Christians weaker Christians or weak Christians, and they tried to help them out by not adding to their burdens through hypocrisy or potentially-controversial behavior.

Now, by contrast, they insult these Christians and push them harder toward apostasy. Then, they gloat in giddy glee when someone leaves the tribe because their own behavior has highlighted how non-divine Christianity really is.

They’ve always rationalized all criticism as validation straight from Jesus anyway, so this slight shift of definition represents only an amplification and extension of that existing rationalization. If someone leaves the tribe in disgust over strong Christians’ freedom in Christ, it just indicates an inferior level of love and fervor for Jesus.

Other people’s opinions are not evangelicals’ problem anymore. It’s not that they ever seriously were, but now they’re not even interested in caring otherwise.

The Way the Weak Rationalize Their Weakness.

Chiropter’s linkup of Rebecca Solnit’s’ May 2020 post about h0w toxic Christian masculinity manifests in the pandemic is spot-on. Indeed: the less toxic Christian men care about others’ welfare, the more Jesus-y and superior they feel they are.

These are the Christians so weak in character that they must seize temporal power to feel safe and happy. And cosmic irony of cosmic ironies: they’re the ones who see themselves as strong Christians, while the Christians who object to their antics get called the weak Christians.

An authoritarian only knows one penalty for weakness, and that is abuse and pain. Thus, authoritarians perceive all shows of weakness as an opportunity to grab power for themselves by destroying their enemies — and perhaps feel safer for a little while.

And the new stumbling blocks are whatever hinders these toxic Christians from achieving the absolute power and limitless prerogative they crave and need like air.

These Christians see a world that doesn’t even come close to reality — and to them, The Big Problem Here is all these meaniepies trying to take away their toys.

NEXT UP: Love in the time of coronavirus. See you tomorrow! <3


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.
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