“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.
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.”
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.
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.