An American Christian VI — American Evangelicalism
Before continuing the story of GTC, it is essential to understand some of the histories of Evangelicalism. While many books have been written about this, and even more can be written, I want to provide a brief overview for those unfamiliar.
There are two ways to describe American Christians: If you’re a part of it, you call it The Church. If you’re outside of it, you refer to it as Evangelicalism.
Many sub-sects of Christianity are fused directly with humanity’s unrelenting desire to be different. Not completely different, but just different enough to be considered unique.
Baptists, Pentecostals, Non-Denominational, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalian, and Calvinists. There’s also Restorationists like Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh-Day Adventists.
For the most part, everyone seems to keep to themselves, rarely preaching against each other, except for petty dogmatic disagreements. This excludes the Restorationists who believe all other denominations have apostatized themselves, and all other denominations who believe that Restorationists have apostatized themselves.
When it comes to mainstream American Evangelicalism, it is made up almost entirely of Protestant faiths. This includes Pentecostals, Methodists, Baptists, as well as non-denominational charismatic churches.
I’ll stop for a moment because if this isn’t already familiar territory, it can get very confusing very fast. To cut down on the confusion, I’m just going to cite Wikipedia:
“Evangelicalism, evangelical Christianity, or evangelical Protestantism, is a worldwide trans-denominational movement within Protestant Christianity that maintains the belief that the essence of the Gospel consists of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, solely through faith in Jesus’s atonement. Evangelicals believe in the centrality of the conversion or “born again” experience in receiving salvation, in the authority of the Bible as God’s revelation to humanity, and in spreading the Christian message. The movement has long had a presence in the Anglosphere before spreading further afield in the 19th, 20th, and early 21st centuries.”
The problem with all of this isn’t who Evangelicals believe in, it’s that they think the Bible is infallible. They believe it is the sole source of truth and knowledge. This is not only inaccurate but dangerous. Science and reason take a back seat to everything in the Bible. Morality is based solely on a few passages from the Old and New Testament, and it is all re-interpreted through the self-centered perspectives of modern-day preachers. It’s tied to American Politics and skewed heavily towards Conservatism and Capitalism, despite Jesus himself espousing principals that are more closely related to Liberal Socialism.
The entire Bible is straightforward. It’s the story of humanity’s downfall and ultimate redemption through Jesus Christ. Since the Bible tells the story leading up to Jesus, and He is supposed to be the savior, it makes sense that you would need to listen to what Jesus said. His stated priority on Earth was to break the shackles of Religion and bring humanity closer to God. However, there is a disconnect that has happened in the American Church. People contend that it is about Jesus, but they don’t want to give up some of the more archaic rules found in the Bible. Especially since most of those rules had to do with subjugating other people. Despite Jesus coming to free us all from the burden of religiosity, religiosity is still the point. It’s hypocritical at best and destructive in every other form.
Jesus’ commandments were very simple: Love God and Love people. That was it. There was nothing else He told people to do because if you follow those two basic instructions, everything else will fall into place. If you genuinely love God and people, you will take care of the poor, the sick, and the broken. You will be kind and fair with your wealth. You won’t subjugate and enslave people. You won’t judge others on who and how they love because you love them how God does, unconditionally.
When it comes to criticizing the Evangelical Church, it’s never been difficult to find faults. From greedy televangelists and apocalyptic soothsayers to homophobic pastors getting caught paying for sex. Of course, these people are all just charlatans or “people who lost their way.” They were never true Christians. While these kinds of Evangelicals are easy to point out as hypocrites and not representative of the whole, they aren’t far off.
It would be unfair to assume that every pastor, evangelist, church, or ministry comprises frauds. That’s untrue. Some wonderful people genuinely want to create a better world within the walls of the American Evangelical Church. People who believe in goodness and humanity’s ability to overcome. People who care for others. People who I wish were more prevalent.
Despite plenty of good people, most congregants are little more than passive attendees complacently set in their belief system. This is further propagated by ministry leaders, pastors, and church board members who have a strict agenda. Sometimes the agenda isn’t even clear to them; they follow what another Evangelical leader suggests.
People like Billy and Franklin Graham, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Junior and Senior, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Pat Robertson, and a seemingly unending list of others, have gone well beyond the pale to influence US politics. Thus, they led a large group of Americans to ravenously believe that the United States was founded on Christian principles. This is nothing more than a myth.
The mythology of the United States’ Christian roots begins with the Puritans and carries on through the founding Fathers. Unfortunately, most of what the founding fathers have said concerning biblical principles and Protestant influence has largely been taken out of context. Christian historians, who have proven their biases as much as Christian Scientists, have been selectively quoting Anglican leaders for centuries.
While the first great awaking took place in the colonies approximately forty years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, its influence upon colonial politics was minimal at best. However, at this same time, many religious leaders did their best to compare the colonies’ struggle to that of Israel, escaping Egypt’s tyranny. While this mindset created great sermon fodder and helped push colonists toward supporting the revolution, America’s concept of being chosen as God’s new people has negatively impacted the entire world for close to 250 years.
There is ample evidence that the founding fathers did not base any part of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, or the Bill of Rights on the Ten Commandments or biblical ideology. While some features of it do mirror religious principals, it is merely coincidental that, hey, maybe murder is a big deal, and perhaps all men are created equal*.
*Equal at the time indicated white, land-owning men. Something that our political and religious leaders still have a hard time accepting.
In Steven K. Green’s densely historical book, “Inventing A Christian America,” he says:
“…[Historians] fail to understand that the idea of America’s religious founding was a myth consciously created over several generations. This does not mean that early historians intentionally fashioned a deceptive account of the Christian influences on the nation’s beginnings; their revisionism was intentional, though rarely motivated by deception. What this means is that succeeding generations constructed a narrative about the nation’s Christian origins as part of their efforts to forge a national identity, a process that sought to sanctify the recent past.”
Patriotism has to be based on something. Considering the revolutionary war, England’s tyrannical hold on the colonies, and the very origins of Puritanism, it’s not hard to imagine a more seemingly God-ordained founding.
The inherent issue with all of this is that it’s skewed to the point of revisionism. This has allowed for alternate histories to be formed around already mythical figures of the American Revolution. Myth in and of itself isn’t harmful, nor is it necessarily untrue, but myth does allow for great leaps in reality to make a story. The myth of America as a Christian nation has been used to continue pushing conservative agendas since the beginning.
With the recent confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, you can see the Evangelical agenda has taken precedence over Constitutional ideals. Roe v Wade being at stake is just one of many issues Evangelicals want to see changed. The claim is protecting human life when the reality of it couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s a purposeful lack of scientific understanding because all concepts of truth are based upon the Bible. A collection of books that have been mistranslated, accidentally as well as purposely, throughout thousands of years. To establish modern societal morals and laws upon such anachronistic knowledge has been a literal death sentence for countless inhabitants of the United States.
While Evangelicals claim to value life, this extends only to human fetuses. They certainly have no issue being against LGBTQIA+ rights, healthcare, mental health, social programs, racial equality, war, immigration, the death penalty, Trumpism, gun rights, and straight-up white supremacy. While this certainly doesn’t represent all Evangelicals, it does seem to permeate through the majority.
I’m sure this turned into just one more thing about politics that you had hoped you wouldn’t have to read. I’m sorry about that. I’m also sorry if you feel in any way attacked. You can be anti-abortion and still be pro-life, just as you can be pro-abortion and be anti-life. My goal is not to shame those that still hold onto conservative values, but I want you to ask yourself what you honestly believe versus what you are told you should believe.
Republican politics are directly tied to Evangelicalism; they are symbiotic. I touched on this briefly in Chapter I, but as I mentioned at the top of the page, there are plenty of books already written about this. This doesn’t mean liberal or democratic politics are free from the bounds of Evangelicalism, nor does it mean they’re all atheistic zombies. However, the number of Republican politicians that pretend to espouse the Word of God while they hypocritically try to take away healthcare or force women to go through a pregnancy that could end their life is mind-numbing. When you tie this to the Church, you have pastors and congregants who care more about nominating conservative judges than helping out their fellow humans.
Human beings are dying in cages on US soil, and churches are angry that they can’t assemble during a pandemic. Toxic conservative politics have infiltrated the Church as much as the Church has infiltrated conservative politics.
In 2008 I finally moved away from my home church, only to start working at another church in Oklahoma City. At first, I was thrilled to be in a new environment. The pastor of this Church and my new boss was different. He didn’t wear suits, and he liked rock music; he even enjoyed a drink on occasion. I concluded that this is how Church should be. This place even had an electric guitar! Something that was absolutely not allowed in my old Church. (Beth Jones once had me unplug an electric guitar during a youth outreach while the band played).
It didn’t take long to learn that while this new Church may have been more liberal with their dress and attitudes towards “worldly” things, their core was just as rotten as any other church I’d ever witnessed. They were just another American Evangelical church.
During that first year, I heard nothing but sermon after sermon explaining why Barack Obama was anti-Christian. I heard him preach that the democrats were evil and that John McCain would carry on the god-fearing standards set-up by our previous president, George W. Bush. Of course, this was preceded with “I can’t tell you how to vote, but…”
I’ll write more about this Church in upcoming chapters, but I was only there for a total of 18 months. During that time, I was paid $20,000 per year while working 60–80 hours per week with no health insurance. I contracted swine flu and spent some time in the hospital, racking up enormous debt. They eventually let me go so they could pave a new parking lot.
I filed for bankruptcy at the age of 25.
Some of what I’ve spoken about in this Chapter is mirrored in Chapter V: Voting. It is not my intention to beat you over the head with political rhetoric, but this isn’t rhetorical; it’s simply factual.
I will be returning to chapters on my life within the church and GTC, as well as sharing more stories from others who went through the program or attend the church. I will also be sharing more about my time working at the sister church in Oklahoma. Thank you for continuing to read, there’s much more coming.