For further reading
This is, somewhat, off topic for my usual work on this site but there’s also a certain compatibility with my post history that prompts me to pass along some links to you that flesh out and expand upon my rather narrowly focused essays. This may be a subject of little interest to some of you, but if you’re LGB/T in America you SHOULD have a very strong interest n the historical progression that led us to this place, and informs us in how we should react to it.
In the last couple of weeks there’s been a plethora of inter-related stories having to do with the nature of white evangelicalism in this country and how it interacts with the politics of the moment, and contrasts to almost everyone else in the population. For decades now the proportion of the population which identifies as Evangelical and is non-Hispanic Caucasian has fluctuated within a few points either way of 25%. Of these, the overwhelming majority have been reliably Republican voters on the Federal level (and ever increasingly on the state level) for almost four decades. As such, they make up some 40-50% of the Republican voter base and thus wield outsized influence on national politics relative to the size of their population. One simply cannot be nominated to high office in the GOP without bending the knee to White Evangelicals and once nominated, you cannot win without their committed vote. With very few exceptions, if there’s a Republican elected to Federal or state-wide office, they owe their job to these folks. So it behooves us to understand who they are and what they think, and to the extent possible, why. Some of these answers are bound up in theology that a non-Christian will find difficult to take seriously or even understand, and certainly they are often rankly hypocritical. But all too often the answers have more to do with cultural processes that both date to antebellum America and magnified by some pretty radical changes to our culture in the last half-century.
The first thing you need to know, as documented here, is how they have been trained to understand their position in the culture. While it’s obvious to us wo are outside their bubble that they are the most privileged of Americans, the see themselves as the most discriminated against demographic among us. From their truncated viewpoint, neither racial or religious minorities nor even LGB/T people suffer discrimination as significant as what they endure. From this attitude the fear and anger they so often exhibit draws fuel.
Once you understand that, it’s time to dig in for a deep dive. I cannot recommend highly enough this article that originally appeared on the Forbes website (then mysteriously disappeared but not before it was mirrored HERE). Contributor Chris Ladd lays out the sordid thread of bigotry that has been the lifeblood of (mostly Southern) White Evangelicalism since the days when being a minister willing to criticize slavery was the best way to become the “late minister”. In it’s origins, it is – like so many other failings of our culture – rooted in the actions of those with most of the money and their ruthless actions to keep it that way. But their actions created an everlasting echo-chamber in which the worst instincts of the believers within were constantly magnified, massaged, and reinforced. The people you see being monstrous to civil rights protesters in those photos from the 50’s and 60’s were formed in the womb of that environment, and it was all framed in a religiously fueled sense of entitlement.
The Atlantic also published a long read that is worth your time. This one, written by an Evangelical writer who reports in mournful terms about the compromise that brought (white) Evangelicals to bow down to the idol that is Donald Trump, and the reality that the process which led them there pre-dates him by many years. it is flawed in that it overlooks the key factor of racial and religious bigotry that is discussed in the Forbes piece, but it otherwise a solid piece of work. Do not misunderstand though, the evolution of the White Evangelical is highly complex and beyond the scope of either article. Books can be and have been written on the subject. it would be negligent to fail to note the connection to unrestrained capitalism being identified as God’s preferred economic system. It would be a failure if such an author did not note that the broad sense of superiority to the “other” extended beyond race or ethnicity to different religions (including, for a long while, Jews until the whole business about a physical nation of Israel flipped that bit on it’s head), to ideologies, sexualities, and identities.
It’s also worth noting that some criticize Gerson’s article by suggesting that White Evangelicals did not have all that much reputation to lose in terms of racial equality but some congregations had begun to make some inroads in that regard. And those tenuous threads of credibility are now dissolving in the wake of the Trump Cult. There are two articles relevant to this discussion that have been published recently. This one in the New York Times and this one at Religious Dispatches both take a look at the quiet exodus (as the Times headline puts it) of minority congregants from churches that had worked diligently to draw them in. As noted in both, the insular demographics of the WE population is on a path to irrelevance if they don’t reach out and bring in others, but their inherent “anti-other” DNA prevents most from trying, and the Trump sellout is serving to alienate them further even in the cases where the attempt has been made.
Finally, for tonight, there’s this bit of encouraging news which is not directly about religious views but is directly parallel to it given that White Evangelicalism is the huge proportion of “Culture War” conservatism. New York Magazine reports about a survey that indicates that young people are not migrating to the right as they get older as had happened in decades past. This is the recent link I have at hand but it is far from the only study and it comports with other surveys of doctrinal beliefs and religious participation that have been published over the last decade or so. Culture War Evangelicalism (of the sort I so often rage against here) which builds it’s intellectual foundation on fear and anger towards the other, be it gay s and lesbians or trans people, or be it Muslims or migrants or even old standbys like blacks and Jews, is nauseating to the rising generations and these churches are losing not just their spiritual authority bot their political power as their truest believers grow old and die. You may resist the correlation between more liberal politics and resistance to White Evangelicalism’s twisted and compromised doctrines, and the correlation is certainly not 100%, but it is strong.
As the old fable illustrates, White Evangelicalism has “paid too much for it’s whistle” and chosen poorly which masters to serve. The bill is coming due. We, in this generation, are hard pressed on every side by Republican bigotry and we’re in danger of losing hard-won ground. But every square foot they win is a temporary possession. They cannot continue as they are and hold that ground.We must not lose heart.
Photo by – Johnathan Gray