I was frightened by the religious right in its triumphant phase. But it turns out that the movement is just as dangerous in decline. Maybe more so.
If they can’t own the country, they’re ready to defile it.
White evangelicals once saw themselves “as the owners of mainstream American culture and morality and values,” said Jones. Now they are just another subculture.
From this fact derives much of our country’s cultural conflict. It helps explain not just the rise of Donald Trump, but also the growth of QAnon and even the escalating conflagration over critical race theory. “It’s hard to overstate the strength of this feeling, among white evangelicals in particular, of America being a white Christian country,” said Jones. “This sense of ownership of America just runs so deep in white evangelical circles.” The feeling that it’s slipping away has created an atmosphere of rage, resentment and paranoia.
QAnon is essentially a millenarian movement, with Trump taking the place of Jesus. Adherents dream of the coming of what they call the storm, when the enemies of the MAGA movement will be rounded up and executed, and Trump restored to his rightful place of leadership.
“It’s not unlike a belief in the second coming of Christ,” said Jones. “That at some point God will reorder society and set things right. I think that when a community feels itself in crisis, it does become more susceptible to conspiracy theories and other things that tell them that what they’re experiencing is not ultimately what’s going to happen.”
But the idea that public schools are corrupting children by leading them away from a providential understanding of American history has deep roots in white evangelical culture. And it was the Christian right that pioneered the tactic of trying to take over school boards in response to teachings seen as morally objectionable, whether that meant sex education, “secular humanism” or evolution.
As Jones notes, the Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845 after splitting with abolitionist Northern Baptists. He described it as a “remarkable arc”: a denomination founded on the defense of slavery “denouncing a critical read of history that might put a spotlight on that story.”
The backlash of decline underscores that decline. If there’s a good take to ongoing defilement, it’s that: We’re doing it! We’re emptying the pews of toxic Christianity.
Since 2006, white evangelical Protestants have experienced the most precipitous drop (of all groups) in affiliation, shrinking from 23% of Americans in 2006 to 14% in 2020.”
These are our stories—of heartbreak and hope, terror and courage, rupture and reconciliation. We hope they’ll resonate with you in some way, whether you’re a believer, a former believer, or one of the increasing number of people raised without religion. Love it or hate it, America has begun to empty the pews. May this anthology help usher in a new sort of testimony.
#EmptyThePews points to the necessity of abandoning and confronting anti-democratic Christianity. Some religion embraces pluralism, but fundamentalism, in its intolerance, undermines pluralism, and white evangelical Protestantism is a variety of fundamentalism.
Previously on toxic Christianity,
- Biblical Inerrancy and The Cult of Ignorance
- Spiritual Warfare and the Politics of Paranoia and Providentialism
- Empty the Pews of Toxic Christianity
- The Long Southern Strategy and the Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity
- White Resentment: The Grand Bargain of White Supremacy
- The Segregationist Discourse
- Texas Republicans: Upholding White Supremacist Mythology with the Power of Law
- Republicans: A Relentless Source of Minority Stress
- “Those Burning Crosses Are Symbols of Evangelicalism”
- Trinity of Toxic Nonsense: White Supremacy, Misogyny, and Purity Culture
- I Cannot, and Will Not, Believe in That God: Libraries as Candles in the Dark
- Purity Culture, the False Gender Binary, and Abuse at Heritage Christian School
- The Breathtaking Bigotry of Unreconstructed America
- Post-truth, Open Society, and the Business of Behaviorism
- Texas Republicans Suppress the Crip Vote and Prescribe Forced Intimacy
- There’s No Glory in Dysphoria, Victoria