Evangelicals’ Dangerous Defiance

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“I’m gonna kill myself or die trying.” – Homer Simpson

American evangelicals appear to be hell-bent on committing mass suicide, and if, in the process, they take the nation’s unbelievers with them, well, that’s just the price of doing God’s business in an ungodly world.

Many churches—evangelical churches in particular—across the nation have defied health officials’ advice—and in some cases local or state restrictions—by continuing to encourage congregants to attend services where close contact is common and face masks are uncommon.

Why?

A Matter of (Mis)Interpretation

Throughout my decades of intimate involvement in the evangelical culture, submission to authorities was an inescapable instruction. Ironically, many Bible passages that formerly kept evangelicals’ often rebellious tendencies in check now incite them to defiance—to their own detriment and to the harm of all Americans.

Throughout the 2016 election cycle, many evangelicals initially opposed the candidacy of the manifestly immoral Donald Trump. But when Trump defied the odds and won the Republican nomination, most of those same evangelicals repented of their opposition and enthusiastically boarded the Trump train, baggage—his and theirs—in hand, zealous to own the libs and “make America great again.”

When Trump defied the odds and won the Republican nomination, most of those same evangelicals repented of their opposition and enthusiastically boarded the Trump train.

Why the sudden and dramatic turnaround? It really comes down to a misinterpretation—and selective application—of a few Bible passages: Romans 13:1, 1 Peter 2:17-18, and Titus 3:1-3. Those passages counsel Christians to submit to authorities—including governmental authorities. The first of those passages, Romans 13:1, is especially influential in evangelicals’ rabid support of Donald Trump. That verse says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

There it is, plain as day. God places people in positions of authority, so God chose Donald Trump (after all, He doesn’t choose Democrats). And leaders must be obeyed. Except when those leaders hold views that oppose ours. No, the passage does not say that, but that’s the very convenient caveat most evangelicals have advantageously added. God placed Donald Trump—a Republican—in this position of authority, so we must support him.

It seems that about half the time—when Democrats win elections—God is asleep on the job; He forgets to establish the right person for the position. But somehow—and this part still seems inexplicable—in 2016, Donald Trump, of all people, was just the right man at the right time. For white evangelicals, he—more than any of his predecessors, including the conservative icon Ronald Reagan—bears the divine stamp of approval. He is, for most white evangelicals, the modern-day King Cyrus, raised up by God to free true believers from their Babylonian bondage.

The result, then, is evangelicals’ unwavering, cult-like devotion to a man who, obviously, only pretends to share their deepest concerns.

The Effect

Because of evangelicals’ absolute loyalty to their new messiah, passages such as the ones I listed above have, necessarily, taken on a new meaning. Now, if “the governing authorities” express views and issue decrees different from those of “the chosen one,” those renegades and their rebellious commands must be ignored and/or silenced. Under America’s topsy-turvy Trumpocracy, being subject to governing authorities means defying any governmental authority that fails to fall in line with the new messiah’s biddings, no matter how inconsistent or risky those messianic demands might be. Divine appointment and the necessity of citizens’ obedience now applies only to the new messiah and to other officials who display their loyalty to him.

So, when evangelicals’ new messiah refuses to wear a protective face mask, the precedent is set: face masks rules are from the devil. When the new messiah says health officials’ assessments of COVID-19 dangers are exaggerated, evangelicals follow his lead. When the new messiah calls for churches to re-open—in defiance of local orders—his faithful followers proudly resume co-mingling—mostly maskless. 

And when the potentially deadly virus runs rampant through those evangelical congregations, their families and friends, and then beyond to their communities, cities, states, and the nation, and tens of thousands more Americans die, evangelicals’ ironically-rebellious subconscious death wish will be to blame.

I was an evangelical for 44 years. I mourn the death of true evangelical Christianity—the kind championed by the likes of William Wilberforce, Charles Finney, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Theodore Weld, and many others like them. But that era died with those heroes, and the movement degraded. Evangelical Christianity was already profoundly sick by the time white evangelicals handed their new messiah the keys to the White House, but that act sealed their fate. Their unquestioning fealty to their new messiah will result in their death—figuratively and literally. But, infuriatingly, their misplaced loyalty will take many others with them.

7 comments

  1. If I live to be 100 years old, I will never understand how they can set common sense and logic aside, deny hard evidence, to follow Donald Trump. And … if God is the one who puts leaders in authority, where was their support for Barack Obama? Imagine how much good he could have done if he hadn’t had to fight every step of the way just to try to help the people of this nation. Serious question, though … if Trump were to contract coronavirus and die, would the evangelicals believe then that God realized his mistake and took Trump away, or would he then become their immortal hero? Good summation, Jerry.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Back when I was a Christian, my response to some of this nonsense would have been “God gave you a brain and expected you to use it.”

    With all of their arguments against wearing face masks, I wonder how they will react now that Michael Pence has been seen on TV wearing a mask.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Am I still a Christian? That depends on one’s definition of a Christian. I still believe in the Bible and in Jesus Christ as my Savior, so by most people’s definition I am a Christian. My disagreements are not with God or the Bible; they are with the new Trump-focused evangelicals.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, I’d say you are a Christian, Jerry. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and studied for the priesthood briefly when in university. I left the church in my late 50s and turned my back on all religions. I believe in God and I still pray to Her or Him. I think that most people who belong to established religions are good, well-meaning people. I hate the authoritarian ways of religions in general. By imposing their rules and regulations on their followers, they have driven wedges between family members, fostered intolerance of other beliefs and perpetuated the intellectual insanity that divides humanity along religious lines. It is the very same insanity that divides humanity by race, skin colour, politics and nationalism. These are all wrong and need to be rooted out if we are to survive as a species. If COVID-19 doesn’t extinguish humanity, humanity will do the deed!

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks, Jerry, for this explanation. I have often been bewildered by white evangelical attachment to Trump. I’m thinking that thousands of Trump loyalists will be stricken down by COVID-19. As you say, the real tragedy is that they’ll be taking innocents with them.

    Liked by 2 people

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