Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, we talked about culture warriors — those extremist, authoritarian Christians who want to take by force what they can’t gain by persuasion. Their beloved culture wars have produced a bumper crop of middle-aged, conspiracy-theory-addled hardliners who seem happy to resort to violence to get what they want. And now that popular culture has begun to recognize this mindset as harmful and toxic, some of those hardliners are now making some interesting new demands. Today, let’s meet Michael Brown, an aspiring big-name evangelical who now wants his fellow culture warriors to please hate their enemies more nicely.
Everyone, Meet Michael Brown.
Michael Brown is an older white evangelical who’s published a great many books and taught at various seminaries. His doctorate is in Near Eastern Languages. Though he doesn’t call himself “Dr. Michael Brown” in the Original Post (OP) we’re talking about today, he does operate an advice website called Ask Dr. Brown. The site deals only with evangelical culture-war topics and has nothing to do with his area of formal expertise. So he follows in that fine evangelical tradition of using honorifics even if they have nothing whatsoever to do with his work.
And hooboy, y’all, this dude is a fundagelical’s fundagelical. Seriously, he’s as basic as it gets.
He runs a charmingly-named talk radio show, “The Line of Fire.” Gosh, y’all, that name doesn’t sound alarmingly-violent all by itself. Nope nope, not at all, not even a little. (Okay, maybe a little.)
In addition, Brown writes a daily opinion column for Christian Post. These concern the usual things evangelicals care about: insisting that prophecy is totes for realsies, negating high-level scandals, and of course drilling down extra-hard on culture-war topics. It seems to get decent views.
When evangelicals got super-politicized in the 1990s, he clearly fell quite happily into their new normal.
Michael Brown Doesn’t Understand Human Rights.
Make no mistake about it: Michael Brown wants evangelicals to rule America. He discusses his tribe’s political ambitions in his January 27 post, “Can Christians Handle Political Power?” He begins the post by insinuating that full-stop, all-out religious persecution would be wonderful for Christians in America.
One of my friends, who lived in Israel for 16 years, was speaking with an Iranian Christian leader. He asked him, “Would you like to go back to the days of the Shah, when Christians had full religious liberty?”
The Iranian friend replied, “Absolutely not. The Church is thriving now under Islamic persecution and growing like never before. We’re actually praying for more persecution.”
Ooof. Yeah, sure they are. That totally happened.
But more importantly, this anecdote demonstrates that human rights, as a topic, isn’t even on formal-last-name terms with Michael Brown. To him, persecution would be fine, if it resulted in more sales. You can’t make this stuff up about evangelicals.
Michael Brown Thinks There Should Be a Way to Achieve NICE Cultural Domination.
Referring to John Wesley’s assertion that material wealth and comfort decrease religious devotion, Michael Brown writes in that January 27 post:
Some Christian leaders have argued that, for all of Wesley’s brilliance, he missed the simple answer here, namely, stewardship. If we could learn to be good stewards, we could be trusted with more money. Then, rather than money dominating our lives, it would simply be a tool in the service of others.
Could it be the same thing when it comes to political power?
Christians have, indeed, spent many years trying to wiggle out of Jesus’ explicit command to give everything they have to the poor. Jesus repeatedly said he despised wealth and thought it had very negative effects on people. Unfortunately for Jesus, evangelicals interpret material wealth and comfort as evidence of divine approval. “Stewardship” is their solution to that dilemma.
Michael Brown is trying to use the same reasoning with evangelicals’ political ambitions:
On the one hand, it is a fatal mistake to put our trust in a political leader (or even a political system), as if our help or deliverance could come from that leader (or system), or as if the political realm could advance righteousness or change hearts. [. . .]
On the other hand, we are instructed to pray for the salvation of our leaders (see 1 Timothy 2:1-4), meaning that having a godly leader is better than having an ungodly leader. And isn’t it positive when the gospel spreads through a country, resulting in more genuine conversions and a higher percentage of the population following the Lord? How could that not be good?
Similarly, Michael Brown Thinks That Culture Warriors Should Be NICER.
Recently, Michael Brown published a pair of posts regarding the sheer cruelty and hatefulness of today’s culture warriors.
On February 18, he ran a post called “And they will know we are Christians by our hate.” Then on February 20, we got “Jesus said that by this the world would know we are His disciples.” Both deal with the same exact topic:
Culture warriors, you see, have gotten super-duper-mean lately. King Michael Brown thinks it’s wrecking the tribe’s credibility enough that it’s inevitably going to impact their sales metrics. So in these two posts, he’s graciously provided some behavioral pointers for the discerning evangelical culture warrior who wants to take their culture-war game to the next level.
These pointers’ goal seems crystal-clear: Michael Brown wants to help evangelicals figure out how to oppress their enemies and fight against progress more NICELY. He wants to help them conduct their needless culture wars NICELY. They must learn to grab for dominance in a NICER way.
Then everything will be lovely!
Michael Brown Diagnoses the Big Problem Here.
In the first post, Michael Brown talks about his tribe. He uses words like “vile,” “vicious,” and “mean-spirited.” He talks about their “disrespect and disdain” for even each other, their lack of “honor,” “humility,” and “grace.” And he laments that his tribe has “been taught to hate.” They’ve been taught to see their enemies as “downright demons” who “deserve nothing but damnation.”
And I mean, he’s not wrong. This really does sound like today’s evangelicals.
But then he decides that The Big Problem Here must be incorrect Jesus-ing. Yes. That is what evangelicals are doing wrong. They have forgotten how to Jesus correctly.
Michael Brown declares that evangelicals need to “speak the truth in love,” “exercise self-restraint,” and “follow the example of Jesus.” But at the same time, he 100% supports the culture wars. He’s convinced that Jesus totally wants evangelicals to fight to criminalize abortion, drill down on transphobia, and fight hard against everything liberals want to do in Congress.
He just thinks that evangelicals can do all that more nicely.
When “The Truth” Isn’t Really the Truth.
Indeed, Michael Brown comes out with an absolutely breathtaking assertion:
The truth is that we can hate sin without becoming hateful. We can stand against corruption and evil without becoming vile. We can even be righteously indignant without becoming venomous.
I laughed when I read that. It’s so absolutely off-base.
Really? Are we sure that’s “the truth?”
Because history says otherwise.
Every single time evangelicals have fought culture wars, they’ve become hateful assclowns. They can’t help themselves. Hate is the very foundation-stone of the culture wars. There’s just not a way to fight against human rights and progress without becoming hateful.
The sort of hateful behavior Michael Brown describes in these two posts isn’t an unfortunate bug in the evangelical culture wars, an aberration that shouldn’t be there.
Hateful behavior is, instead, a feature of the system. It’s a sign to Christian leaders that their work has succeeded.
The Shaky Foundation.
In reality, Michael Brown wouldn’t know “the truth” if it slapped him on the keister and told him to smile.
The culture wars are, at their heart, naked political machinations. Every one of them is cynically concocted by Dear Leaders seeking more power for themselves. These leaders pick a cause that is sure to arouse the flocks’ rage and dread, then drill down on it with lies and smears. Sometimes they must try a few different topics before finding one that grabs the tribe’s attention — like they did with abortion.
A culture war’s success absolutely, positively depends on getting the flocks angry and fearful. In those states, they can be counted upon to vote the way their Dear Leaders want and to consistently plant their butts in pews (BIPs being, as they are, a strong measure of Christian dominance).
Culture warriors use irrational arguments, pseudoscience, and conspiracy-theory hatemongering to create their enemies and talking points. They oversimplify complex human situations to craft narratives that don’t even come close to resembling real life. Indeed, Michael Brown himself does all of this stuff constantly in his posts — like the one I linked earlier where he slammed Joe Biden.
The Fountain Flowing With Bitter Water.
So right out of the gate, a culture war isn’t loving at all. From the ground up, it is not built upon love. It is created from a toxic wellspring of fear and power-lust and anger. And the tribe lavishly rewards its most fervent warriors for every single act of vicious cruelty they commit. None of them ever fact-checks the claims their peers and leaders make. None of them understands how their efforts only set back the cause of human rights. And why should they? Doing that gets them punished, not praised.
Instead, they applaud while their culture warriors spew hatred and use every coercive tool at their disposal to force others to comply with their demands.
Michael Brown won’t have much luck in his efforts to convince evangelicals to behave more nicely while they oppress others, spin lies out of whole cloth, and demonize human rights. For one thing, nobody can force them to do it — and so it won’t happen. For another, niceness doesn’t appeal to his tribemates. Cruelty and nastiness does.
Of course, I don’t think a lot of liberals read his posts or follow his work — especially not the small number of liberal evangelicals in America. The chances are very good that he’s just preaching to the choir in all of his writing. He’s talking to imaginary liberals in that “open letter” format people like. And as such, he’s just virtue signaling. He’s showing off for his readers, modeling a response in the post-election, post-insurrection climate.
Michael Brown: A Product of His Tribe.
In a very real way, Michael Brown is telling evangelicals that yes, it is possible to fight the culture wars in a very Jesus-y, simpering way. Just look at him! He fights the culture wars nicely! So can they! And they should! If they fight the culture wars nicely, then Baby Jesus will gurgle happily at them and their sales will finally improve!
And yes, King Michael Brown can simper all he likes. He can give his very biggest and broadest Jesus smile while he oppresses others. If it toodles his fancy, he can nice his way all up and down the Atrocities Boardwalk. Maybe he’ll even throw in a few crocodile tears for good measure, pretending to sorrow for all the sad widdle heathens who don’t understand that really, he just wants the best for them and knows far better than they do what that is.
But at the end of the day, he’s still oppressing people, painting dishonest narratives that hurt people, demanding that Americans subsidize his delusions, and pushing his religious ideology onto others without their consent.
A Smokescreen That Increasingly Doesn’t Work.
There is simply not ever going to be a way that evangelicals will ever figure out to conduct these evil, wicked campaigns in a way that looks loving, because nothing about them is loving and never was. But Michael Brown isn’t calling for an end to the culture wars. He’s just suggesting that evangelicals figure out a way to lay a smokescreen over their hateful behavior.
As long as Christians engage in their culture wars, their religion will continue to decline. It is the culture wars that finally tipped Americans off to the sheer dysfunctionality and cruelty of the evangelical psyche.
Every power-grab they make, every lie they tell, every mind-bending hypocritical scandal that we uncover in their leadership, it all illustrates how bad this ideology is for people, groups, communities, and nations.
Strange how evangelicals don’t get back to the basics: care for the needy, comfort the grieving, feed the hungry, minister to those who ask for it, and try to be decent human beings minding their own business. That’s all stuff Jesus ordered them to do. But I guess that’s boring for evangelicals.
NEXT UP: I’m always interested in the narratives Christians build about their tribal enemies. Tomorrow, we’ll check out an older post (written a bit before the 2015 Religious Landscape Study) trying to make sense of the growing numbers of young adults leaving the religion — and offering the usual non-solutions for fixing that problem. It makes some testable claims, none of which it tests, but we’ll tackle that task for them. See you then!
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Last Thoughts: OMG OMG, y’all. Y’all. THERE IS A LARP CALLED “THE ALL-JESUS LARP.” I just found out it exists today. And I need this in my life. I’m going to find it. If we ever do a meet-up and if it’s any good, we should play it! I don’t have a Scribd subscription, but some of it seems to exist here.