No, seriously. The question in the title of this blog post is not rhetorical. I would really like to understand not only why outside observers of Evangelical subculture, such as Emma Green, seem surprised at the extent to which Evangelical institutions discipline their members to keep them on message, but also why some people who come from white Evangelical subculture ever thought they could get away with, if not privately holding some liberal-ish views, then at least expressing them publicly while working for a conservative Evangelical employer.
I come to this quandary via Green’s recent Atlantic article, “These Conservative Christians are Opposed to Trump–and Suffering the Consequences.” I encourage you all to go give it a read. And let me take a moment to admire the bravery of those Evangelicals who gave up their jobs in order to continue taking compassionate public stands on political and social issues in disagreement with a subculture that has many mechanisms in place to discipline those who do not conform. As an ex-Evangelical, I am intimately familiar with those mechanisms; I grew up knowing where the lines were, and while I questioned and pushed the envelope because I couldn’t help it, I eventually realized I had no business trying to identify as an Evangelical (and lost the ability to affirm any metaphysical proposition with any sustained conviction).
I have never understood the roughly 15-20% of genuinely moderate to liberal Evangelicals, and I have even less comprehension of why some of them would assume they would be able to express their dissenting views while working for institutions like Focus on the Family, for which a hardline anti-LGBTQ stance and an alliance with the Republican Party are an article of faith, as they are for the vast majority of whiteEvangelicals. I’m not trying to be mean here. I just really don’t get it. (Don’t believe me about that “vast majority” thing? The numbers back me up; there is no “sea change”–the only way to make it appear that Evangelicals as a whole are diverse is to lump white Evangelicals in with Evangelicals of color, which is sleight of hand, because the two groups vote very differently. If you want to argue this point with me, I strongly suggest reading this, this, and this first.)
Purges are a factor in Evangelical Protestant institutional life. They always have been; Satan will install central air conditioning in hell before that changes. It’s true that these purges are also contextual, ebbing and flowing in relation to both local community concerns and national concerns. It used to be, for example, possible to have authentically open debate about same-sex marriage at Evangelical colleges, until anti-Obama and anti-Obergefell backlash fed into a substantial recent purge at many Evangelical schools, some aspects of which I documented in an investigative piece done for Religion Dispatches. But in a time when that backlash is continuing in the form of Trumpism–remember that 81% of white Evangelicals who voted supported Trump; they make up his single strongest demographic–we can certainly admire the bravery of Evangelicals who speak out against Trump. But can we be surprised that they are being ousted from roles representing Evangelical institutions for it?
Again, this genuinely perplexes me. But my experience of Evangelical subculture is, of course, my owe–while it corresponds to that of many ex-Evangelicals I’ve spoken with, it is not universal. With that in mind, I’d actually like to invite responses to my question. If you are an Evangelical or ex-Evangelical in particular who is surprised at the purges of anti-Trump Evangelicals within major conservative Evangelical institutions, please use this form to send me a response and let me know why. Or send me a response if this post has stimulated some other, related line of thinking. I would be happy to publish thoughtful responses here (and if you prefer your response be published anonymously, I can of course accommodate that–just let me know). Of course, you’re also welcome to respond in the comments below.
11 thoughts on “More Evangelical Purges Come to Light – Why are Some People Surprised?”
If you’re part of an evangelical church in a more liberal area, like much of the northeast, the church will still hold hard-line positions, but there’s necessary surface accommodation for other opinions. There’s also how far back your evangelical heritage goes. My dad is a convert and grew up as a cultural Catholic. He’s only just now, in his 50s, separating himself from evangelical politics, but he’s been doing ok with it. My mom has a Southern Baptist background and, while she hates Trump, finds it harder to do. Your expectations of the church can be shaped by that. I think if you are far enough into evangelical culture, you can be naïve as to how intolerant people are until you finally have an opinion that breaks from the pack. Plus there’s a difference between churches and organizations. In many cases, organizations are more radically right than the churches themselves– though I’ve seen equally radical churches.
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Thank you; this is insightful. I was very deep in it myself, but the kind of person for whom the ideology literally makes no space, so that’s why I was able to see it. In trying to get others to see the toxicity, I face a lot of pushback and denialism.
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I was raised Seventh Day Adventist, not traditionally an evangelical church, but becoming much more in recent years. My husband taught in the vast SDA education system and it was understood that along with tithing every employee adhered to a certain set of beliefs. When his understanding of age of the earth and related issues evolved (pun intended) to where he could no longer in good conscience teach a 6000 year old earth science he sought work in the public school system. They have the right to expect you to adhere to a certain set of beliefs and to live by and espouse only those beliefs. You are the example to the world of what a good SDA looks like if you are employed by the church. And when you cannot any longer live with that, it is good to move on.
However. From the article: “This impulse, to quiet political disagreements rather than engage them, will shape how these communities evolve: as places welcome to all who share their creed, or only those who hold certain political beliefs.”
Do you want to be “right”” (used in all senses of the word) or do you want to be loving and inclusive? I think we can see from the way evangelicals have behaved over the past 6 months that they do not value inclusiveness, nor WWJD, nor POC, nor any of the values we thought the Christian Right stood for. Family values, my ass.
I have appreciated your insights, Christopher. I dont like it, but I believe Christianity has made such a hateful name for itself that I am no longer satisfied to be known as a Christian.
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Thanks very much for sharing this. I do understand that it is very hard for people to face up to harm done by communities they were raised in, in which many people can be warm and caring. In fact, breaking with Evangelicalism and ultimately organized religion was a long, painful process for me. Some people go through the necessary process and land in another kind of faith environment, and that’s as valid as those who need to dissociate from religion altogether for their mental health. Unfortunately, the most visible and powerful strain of Christianity in America is the toxic, imperial one.
I had my membership in the SDA church removed about 5 years ago after many years of pondering. I think there is a place, perhaps for others to stay and try to change from within, but that is not my place. I’ve felt such peace since dissociating myself from the church even tho I still associate with friends in the church. My mind is clearer. I find myself giving energy to more worthwhile things now instead of church things. Leaving is not maybe for everyone but it has set me free.
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If you were raised in and hazed by a troop of chimps who maintain order by controlling food, territory, and reproduction/females — even if you haven’t advanced to a favorable status in the group, you believe the only alternative is superficially different tribes organized essentially the same way or passive, polyamourous, liberal bonobo hedonist-nihilists.
At the church I grew up in the mood was strongly pro-Trump, bolstered by conspiracy theories, but there were a couple of dissenters. After the election at the Thanksgiving dinner, a hardcore Trumpkin made a comment to one of the dissenters, and the dissenter called him out. They went back and forth, until the Trumpkin left in rage, and a friend had to calm him down. The Trumpkin said, “How could people in this church be against Trump?”, and doesn’t like the idea of Trump-opponents being in his church. The dissenter told my mom after the Trumpkin left, “It just drains you.” (I think the dissenter wrote in McMullin.)
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Very interesting; thanks for sharing this.
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I’M A LIFELONG PREACHERS KID AND SAW THIS BEGIN TO EVOLVE TO ITS PRESENT SUBVERSION BACK IN THE EARLY 1970’S.