Too little, too late as white evangelical leaders try to course-correct

Is it introspection, or deflection? Time will tell.

There’s a lot of infighting and hand-wringing going on among the white evangelical elite.

First, the hand-wringing.

Over the weekend, white evangelical leaders began finally decrying Christian nationalism in response to the Jericho March event and subsequent violence in Washington, D.C.

Notably, Beth Moore called out Christian nationalism as being “not of God.”

Beth Moore has nearly 1M followers on Twitter, and the result of this mild rebuke of Christian nationalism? She trended on Twitter.

Other conservative Christians joined the chorus, including David A. French, here on Substack:

This is a grievous and dangerous time for American Christianity. The frenzy and the fury of the post-election period has laid bare the sheer idolatry and fanaticism of Christian Trumpism.

A significant segment of the Christian public has fallen for conspiracy theories, has mixed nationalism with the Christian gospel, has substituted a bizarre mysticism for reason and evidence, and rages in fear and anger against their political opponents—all in the name of preserving Donald Trump’s power.

As I type this newsletter, I am following along with a D.C. event called the Jericho March. Eric Metaxas, a prominent Christian radio host, former featured speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast, and the best-selling author of Bonhoeffer is the master of ceremonies; former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is a featured speaker. The event also includes a flyover from Marine One, the president’s helicopter.

That last paragraph segues into the infighting.

Earlier in the month, which is about 6 months ago in 2020-Time, RNS published a piece about how many of Eric Metaxas’ fellow Christians were shocked at his conspiratorial turn. The head-scratching continued over the weekend. Rod Dreher spent much of Saturday live-tweeting his observations:

Dreher continues his condemnation of Metaxas at The American Conservative:

Metaxas said it doesn’t matter what can or can’t be proven in court, he knows, and we know, that the election was stolen. When Kirk, who is very sympathetic to Metaxas, asked him what he thought of where the cases stood, Metaxas blithely claimed that he is “thrilled” to know nothing about them.

This knocked me flat. I have known Metaxas since 1998. He is one of the sweetest men you could hope to meet, gentle and kind, a pleasure to be around. Not a hater in the least. Though I have not supported his Trumpist politics, I would not have figured him for someone who would go as far as he did on the Kirk interview. What kind of person calls for spilling blood in defense of a political cause for which he does not care if any factual justification exists? What kind of person compares doubters to Nazi collaborators? A religious zealot, that’s the kind. The only way one can justify that hysterical stance is if one conflates religion with politics, and politics with religion.

Metaxas is becoming radioactive. But Metaxas doesn’t seem to mind. He’s made his choices, and he’s sticking to them.

Sidebar: What’s his motivation - to get a Fox News hosting spot? To ensure his Trump-as-Fascist-Fred-Flintstone book sales don’t drop? Who knows.

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I’ll be honest: I was slightly encouraged by the fact that Beth Moore and others said anything, because it showed a modicum of self-awareness. That being said, acknowledging the presence and influence of Christian nationalism is just the start.

White evangelicalism—and white American Christianity more broadly—has much to answer for. Yet I do worry that (among white evangelical leaders in particular) the term “Christian nationalism” will be used to deflect any criticism against white evangelicalism’s role in propagating Christian nationalism. I can easily see Christian nationalism being weaponized in a ‘no true evangelical’ type framing, to escape accountability for all manner of things that were done to pave the way for Trump, and all the policies they helped to enact under his administration.

As Metaxas is learning (and Falwell Jr already learned), ‘respectable’ evangelical leaders are quick to cut ties in order to cut their losses. They aren’t going to bother going after the lost sheep when they have the devotion of the many.

But people are paying close attention, and they are speaking up. One of them is Dr. Anthea Butler, who wrote this today in RNS:

Moore, David French, Michael Gerson and other evangelical writers have been wringing their hands for years about evangelicals and Trump. They have made a cottage industry of the “I’m shocked” genre of commentary. This group is quick to proclaim they’re upset every time an evangelical pastor or a political leader widely supported by evangelicals acts up in the name of Trumpism.

This performance of piety in the face of evil is empty, because it does not deal with the core issue: white evangelicalism’s own racism.

Complain as they might about Trump, this president simply tapped into the racist id that has always been a foundation of American evangelicalism. Now that white mobs are marching and inciting violence, they export the racism and violence to a specter called Christian nationalism.

Here’s the hard, ugly fact: Evangelicals support the racism, sexism and violence done on their behalf by so-called Christian nationalists. Black Christians have seen this for more than 400 years. We are not surprised, and these evangelical writers shouldn’t be either. Evangelicals’ politics are about their power. They use morality to hide their thirst for it.

I recommend the entire article, as well as this incisive thread:

Christian nationalism is a complicated topic. There are many lenses required to understand it, which is why I spent a whole season of Powers & Principalities on the topic, talking to experts exploring it from political, sociological, theological, and cultural perspectives. We need them all.

More than anything, we need these supposed calls to sanity to be truly introspective and not cheap deflection tactics. White American Christianity needs to address its role in justifying racism and perpetuating it; white evangelicalism needs to address its role creating this endless toxic sociopolitical culture war and its enabling of a fascist, racist demagogue; conservative Christianity needs to address its sexism and homophobia. If they cannot do this—if they cannot change, when we so desperately need them to change, because they have been told their truth is eternal, immutable, and irrefutable—then these institutions will eventually die away so that something else has a chance to grow and be born.