One of the truly surprising facts about the evangelical Christian movement today is that it’s composed of some decent people. Just as not all Muslims are jihadists and extremists, not all Christians are Christofascists.
As a former evangelical I have special insights into that world that some others without my experience may lack. I remember what it was like, seeing patterns where none existed, believing what I was told without evidence, and, most insidious of all, recognising the inevitable end of the world as a good thing, a thing to be hoped for.
I will let you in on a little secret, though. Many of us privately didn’t want the world to end. We liked the drama and the pathos of the idea, of course, but the actual end of the world per se was a thing we could really do without. We had plans, plans that included Sunday brunch after service if nothing else. We didn’t really want people to die and go to hell, which is why we almost never talked about it. We were, in short, in a state of perpetual denial about the very things we so ardently pretended to believe.
But since we could mould our beliefs into something comfortable and easy to live with we didn’t have to worry about the apparent contradictions that were growing up around us, growing up at an alarming rate. Many in the movement were becoming fanatical, and many wanted power. Evangelical Christianity became a training ground for believing and sustaining evil contradictions.
The nice people among us composed the members of the congregation who were asleep in the midst of these people, people who were all about greed and a headlong grab for power. We were the sheep in the midst of the wolves, the people who (perhaps) deserved forgIveness because we really knew not what we did.
We voted Republican without questioning it. We were told Ronald Reagan was one of us and we believed it. We sustained that falsehood in the face of another falsehood: that Jimmy Carter had been most emphatically not one of us. The opposite was really the truth, of course. The key was the political party. Republicans were becoming inextricably linked to Christianity. Over time that bond became stronger and stronger, until Republicanism and Christianity — or at least evangelical Christianity — became the very same thing.
I was long gone from the movement by the time that happened. But I saw the early stirrings of the trend. I’d like to say it alarmed me but it didn’t, really. It was only later, after I’d got out of the movement and became a political liberal, that I started to make the connection.
I don’t know why it took me so long. Perhaps I was naive. But in my own defense I will say this: I was not alone. There were many fundamentally decent people just like me who simply didn’t see what was happening around them. After all, are fish aware of water?
It seems obvious now. On some level I think we knew that Ronald Reagan was just paying lip service to Christianity because he knew we were the key to power. And that key became stronger and stronger over time.
There is one thing that Christianity seems to do that no other philosophy I know of does better. It lowers the IQ. Donald Trump’s mugging for the camera with a Bible is nothing short of laughable. His claim that the Bible is his favourite book is an open joke. When asked to name a single verse in it he can’t do it. That this thrice married conman who paid for 8 abortions that we know about is universally accepted as a Christian by evangelicals is beyond amazing. His contempt for the teachings of Christ is something he never tries to hide, because he knows he doesn’t have to.
Today it is much harder to remain a good person inside Christianity. One person who has done it is Pastor John Pavlovitz, a man who has become more and more progressive as many of his fellow Christians have become more and more reactionary. Pavlovitz enunciates what he calls the Christofascist warning and it goes like this: “If the 2022 midterms elections allow Republicans to gain control of Congress, Conservative Christians will decimate this nation, and LGBTQ people, Muslims, women, people of color, and non-Christians will never have equality under the law again. We will all be at their mercy—and they will no longer have use for mercy.”
It’s a stern warning, and a reminder of why so much is at stake in the coming election. Remember to go to the polls in November and bring as many people to the polls with you as you possibly can. It’s essential that we defeat the bringers of tyranny and intolerance. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.