Evangelicals, are ya’ll okay?

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been dumbfounded by the steady stream of weird that’s been flowing out of the American Evangelical font. For example:

From the Associated Press:

Former President Donald Trump is now selling Bibles as he runs to return to the White House.

Trump, who became the presumptive Republican nominee earlier this month, released a video on his Truth Social platform on Tuesday urging his supporters to buy the “God Bless the USA Bible,” which is inspired by country singer Lee Greenwood’s patriotic ballad. Trump takes the stage to the song at each of his rallies and has appeared with Greenwood at events.

“Happy Holy Week! Let’s Make America Pray Again. As we lead into Good Friday and Easter, I encourage you to get a copy of the God Bless the USA Bible,” Trump wrote, directing his supporters to a website selling the book for $59.99.

And it’s not like other Bibles with only the Old and New Testaments, either:

Besides a King James Version translation, it includes copies of the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence and the Pledge of Allegiance, as well as a handwritten chorus of the famous Greenwood song.

The God Bless This Mess Bible is available to purchase at Greenwood’s site, along with more Americana-meets-God paraphernalia. I remember when many Evangelicals would get up in arms about the Apocrypha being included in the Bible; but I guess the US Constitution is okay.

From The New York Times:

The “Conservative Dad’s Real Women of America” 2024 pinup calendar features old-school images of sexiness — bikinis, a red sports car, a bubble bath.

The models are influencers and aspiring politicians familiar to the very online pro-Trump right. In one image, a BlazeTV host in a short skirt lights a copy of The New York Times on fire with a cigar. Another model, the former N.R.A. spokeswoman Dana Loesch, hoists two rifles.

Published by a “woke-free beer” company hastily launched last year as an alternative to Bud Light, the calendar was clearly meant to provoke liberals. But when photos of it began circulating online in December, progressives did not pay much attention. Instead, it sparked a heated squabble on the right over whether “conservative dads” who happen to be Christians should reject the calendar on moral grounds, or embrace it as an irreverent win for the good guys.

Allie Beth Stuckey, an evangelical commentator and podcaster, condemned the calendar as “soft porn” marketed to married men, and saw it as proof of growing polarization between Christian and secular conservatism. Other prominent Christian conservatives joined her in expressing their disgust.

Okay, I can see why a number of conservative Evangelicals would not be feeling a cheesecake calendar, even it does feature The New York Times going up in flames. The next part, though:

The calendar’s cover model, Riley Gaines, a former college swimmer and activist against transgender women’s participation in women’s sports, frequently speaks at church events and evangelical conferences, and frames her cause as a “spiritual battle.”

In another image, a crucifix hangs prominently on the kitchen wall behind a woman in a tiny skirt, apron and platform heels. On the platform X, the model — Josie Glabach, who goes by “The Redheaded Libertarian” — said she was working to provide for her family, and defended her conservative bona fides in part by referring to her family’s Catholic faith. Using vividly vulgar language, she wrote that she doesn’t care “if the fact that I look hot doing any of it offends your senses.”

But shared fears can make some vices look like virtues. In a moment in which some Christians feel the world has become dangerously unbalanced, piety can be framed as “wokeness,” and breaking taboos as bravery.

The partial embrace of vulgarity, Dr. Kobes Du Mez pointed out, is happening in a moment of deep conservative outrage, an often visceral disgust, at rising rates of nontraditional gender and sexual identities, particularly among young people. In that context, an indulgence in heterosexual lust, even if in poor taste, is becoming seen as not just benign, but maybe even healthy and noble.

Part of the reason transgender identities are considered a threat is that they blur gender difference, Dr. Kobes Du Mez said. “Against that backdrop, it’s a wholesome thing for a boy to be lusting after a very sexy woman.”

Nothing like a little old fashioned, red-blooded, American lust, amirite? Then there’s the video from the “group of Trump supporters called the ‘Dilley Meme Team‘”. From MSNBC:

It’s a bizarre video — even by Trumpian social media standards. It plays off Paul Harvey’s 1978 “God made a farmer” speech, and uses what sounds like Harvey’s voice (although Harvey died in 2009). Notably, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis used similar themes and cadences in an ad during his 2022 re-election campaign.

This new “God Made Trump” video is eerily messianic, calling Trump “a shepherd to mankind.” It’s also laughable, claiming Trump “finish[es] a hard week’s work by attending church on Sunday.” Trump never joined a church in Washington, D.C., and was only observed attending services a handful of times as president.

Here’s the aforementioned video:

Um, okay. (shudder) There are millions of Evangelicals who believe that Trump (TRUMP!) was born for such a time as this. From The Economist:

For years scholars have tried to explain why conservative Christians so avidly support Donald Trump, a man who is more intimately acquainted with the seven deadly sins than the contents of the Bible. Some chalk it up to Mr Trump’s conservative policies. (He appointed the judges who gave back to the states the power to ban abortion.) Others think they share Mr Trump’s nostalgia for America’s past—an era when white Christians dominated the country. Yet another factor may also have played a role: the belief that Mr Trump was anointed by God to lead the country.

In 2016 a self-styled prophet named Lance Wallnau had a vision: the next president would be a latter-day Cyrus, the Persian emperor who, though not Jewish, was chosen by God to free the Jews from captivity. Mr Wallnau proclaimed Mr Trump, then a Republican candidate, the Cyrus of his dreams. The message was, even though he is not evangelical, “Trump is sent by God to deliver conservative Christians back from cultural exile,” says Matthew Taylor of the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies in Maryland.

Mr Wallnau and Mr Hood are leaders of a Christian revival known as the apostolic movement or New Apostolic Reformation (nar), which emerged in the 1990s. (Mr Hood denies belonging to the nar yet espouses its beliefs.) Its adherents believe that God wants them to build his kingdom on Earth. Hindering them are demons, who govern vast swathes of the planet. To use a metaphor favoured by Mr Wallnau, these demons control seven mountains, each symbolising a sphere of life: family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business and government.

To vanquish the demons, believers must reform the church. The bureaucracy of Protestantism must go. The church must be ruled instead by independent, supernaturally gifted apostles and prophets, as it was in its early days. This is controversial: the church has not recognised apostles since the first crop appointed by Jesus, and Protestants broke with Catholicism because they believed spiritual authority resided in scripture, not a caste of intermediaries.

Champions of latter-day apostles and prophets retort that only these figures have the charisma, dynamism and spiritual authority to kindle the fervour necessary to best the demons, says Mr Taylor. By waging spiritual war against Satan’s demon-generals, apostles and their flocks will recapture the seven mountains and plant God’s flag in America.

After Mr Trump lost, an apostle named Dutch Sheets went on a tour of swing states, dubbed Operation Valkyrie, to prevent Satan from “tak[ing] over the nation”. “Through late November and early December, Dutch Sheets and his travelling band of prophets build this fever pitch of charismatic anger and assurance that God is going to intervene,” recounts Mr Taylor in a podcast on the subject. Much of the rhetoric at these prayer meetings sounded like a call to arms: “the militiamen…of the kingdom of God are rising up in this hour” and “expose the neck, swing the sword, finish the job.” Hundreds of thousands of viewers watched live-streams of these rallies in late 2020.

On January 6th 2021 many heeded the call. “Christian Nationalism was the central driving force” that day, wrote Andrew Seidel, an expert, in testimony to Congress. Prophets battled the evil spirits embedded in the Capitol by praying, their voices amplified on a pa system. Protesters blew shofars, ram’s horns which they believe can summon the forces of heaven. Many protesters brandished flags emblazoned with the words “An Appeal to Heaven”, the apostles’ rallying cry for a Christian conquest of America.

Neither Mr Sheets nor Mr Hood was in the Capitol when rioters stormed it. But they spoke at a spiritual-warfare conference call with 4,000 apostles and their disciples. “America, you’re being saved,” Mr Hood declared. “You’re rising up, you’re standing up, you’re coming up out of the ashes,” his voice a battering-ram of righteousness. “This is the day I have promised you, says the Lord. Awakening is here.”

illustration: agnès ricart for The Economist

Funny how some of the folks who hate all things “woke” LOVE awakenings, historic and whatever Hood is calling it in the present.

So what now? I recommend reading Tim Alberta’s excellent, The Kingdom, The Power And The Glory: American Evangelicals In An Age of Extremism. Although I long since left the Evangelical world (I’m still a follower of Christ, fyi), Alberta is still Evangelical, but it is vehemently opposed to Christian nationalism, Christofascism, and the political punditry all up in many a pulpit. From the book:

“In February 2023, a landmark national survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and Brookings Institution found that roughly two-thirds of white evangelicals either explicitly supported the notion of Christian nationalism or were sympathetic to it. The share of white evangelicals who expressed support for certain ideas—that the government should declare Christianity the state religion; that being Christian is an important part of being an American; that God has called on Christians to exercise dominion over all areas of society—dwarfed that of white mainline Protestants, white Catholics, and Protestants of color. The research established a clear link between Christian nationalist ideology and racism, xenophobia, misogyny, authoritarian and anti-democratic sentiments, and an appetite for political violence. The most remarkable finding: Nearly 90 percent of white adherents to Christian nationalism agreed that “God intended America to be a new promised land” run by “European Christians.” The broader sample of respondents rejected that statement by a two-to-one margin.”

“Champions of Christian nationalism would have you believe that these efforts to rule the country are inherently theological; that they are in service of a broader effort to reclaim America for God. This is a lie. Christian nationalism is a contradiction in terms: Paul told the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” This assurance—that anyone who accepts Christ becomes a part of the Abrahamic family, residents of the promised New Jerusalem—transcends all known racial, ethnic, and national identities. This is why Paul wrote so explicitly to the people in Philippi, a Roman colony full of soldiers and state officials, imploring the Christians there to pledge allegiance to Christ alone. “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things,” Paul warned of those who would reject his plea. “But our citizenship is in heaven.”

There is nothing here to reclaim. This country—a drop in the bucket, like all the nations—was never God’s to begin with, because “God does not show favoritism,” as Peter said, “but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”

If you’ve read all of this and you’re an Evangelical (or not) Christian and you don’t find ANY of this star spangled sacrilege weird… I just… I just don’t know what to tell you. Have your pin-up calendars, but save the Purity pushing that harms kids, especially girls. Have your unregulated guns, but save the “thoughts and prayers.” And keep supporting Trump if you like, but stop casting him as some latter day King Cyrus, or King David. He’s a means to an end (one that’s giving The Handmaid’s Tale), and ya’ll have baptized utilitarianism and called it anointed. The rest of us get it. That’s your man, and you’re going to stick beside him.

It’s still weird, though.

Share your thoughts