This is a guest post by Kristen J. Kristen J. is a frequent commentor at Feministe and a former member of several Evangelical churches located throughout the U.S.
The Evangelical Christian Movement is a broad social and political group dedicated to reproducing a set of values that are antithetical to the very concept of social justice and equality.
Huh? What was that? Sweeping generalizations are not helpful? You want an explanation of how I got to that? Fine. But this is going to take a bit, so find a comfy chair.
As I mentioned in the comments to the last post, the Evangelical Movement isn’t coterminous with Evangelical Christianity, but the two have sufficient overlap that I think we can begin our analysis of the Movement with a discussion of the religion Fortunately, the hard work on that topic was done a few decades ago by David Bebbington (an academic historian) who famously identified the four characteristics of Evangelical Christianity: (1) biblicism – the belief that the bible is true; (2) conversionism – the belief that to be saved you must be reborn in Christ or experience a transformation of self; (3) crucicentrism – the belief that Christ ‘paid for the sins of all of humanity with the crucifixion; and (4) activism – the belief that salvation occurs by living and acting in accordance with God’s plan. (Amazon)
Bebbington’s definition is helpful, but I would note that, within the U.S. at least, “Evangelical” has expanded in recent years. For example there are Evangelical Catholics, Evangelical Methodists, even Evangelical liberals (GASP!). As a consequence, the adjective “Evangelical” has come to mean orthodoxy or perhaps a heightened focus on Biblicism with an activist component.
In my view it is the biblicism and activism that form the core of the Evangelical Movement. So let’s take a moment to unpack those particular ideas.
Biblicism is a funky kind of belief that reminds me of “strict constructionism” and the U.S. Constitution. Even the strictest adherent of biblical literalism believes that some of the stories in the bible are metaphorical or take the form of a parable. So while Evangelical Christians agree that the bible is the true word of God, there is a vast difference in how that true word is interpreted. This, in part, explains why some Evangelical sects require women to walk a few paces behind their husbands while others officiate same-sex weddings.
Despite their interpretative differences, there are a few generally accepted beliefs that are relevant to our purpose.* First, God gave humankind dominion over all the Earth (Christian Century). Second, there are angels and demons in the sense of real, non-metaphorical beings.
[Pastor Billy Graham from a sermon entitled “Will the World Survive?” – Note: This is an older sermon. It was difficult to find recent sermons that covered this topic explicitly rather than referencing it generally. – Transcript beginning at 8:00 and ending at 8:18.
Because the bible teaches there is such a thing as a devil. And the bible teaches that there is such a thing as demons. And these demons have tremendous power and tremendous influence. And they are at work in our world today. And they are at work in Philadelphia today (Ed Note: Cheap pop!).]
Third, there is a real, non-metaphorical war between good and evil that impacts the lives of human beings on Earth.
[Pastor Tony Evans from a promo entitled “Victory in Spiritual Warfare” – Transcript beginning at 0:00 and ending at 1:26.
One of my all time favorite movies involves a man who had to make a choice. He had to choose between the physical, visible realm and this invisible realm that he did not know. The choice came about when he understood that this invisible realm was controlling what is happening in the visible realm that he lived in and was so accustomed to. This movie, the Matrix, challenged Thomas Anderson to make a decision because he understood what the real world was. There are two worlds. The world we live in and this world behind the world, the spiritual realm. And the principle is simply this: Everything visible and physical is controlled by something invisible and spiritual. Therefore if you want to change the realm that you know then you must draw from the invisible and spiritual realm that you do not see. Cause everything visible and physical is controlled by the invisible and spiritual. He had to make a choice and so do you. We’re in a battle, a spiritual war, but unless you know how to access your spiritual resources, in this case the armor of God that he has given us to equip us to fight in this world from that world, you cannot know spiritual victory.]
Fourth, there is some sort of final accounting for one’s actions.
[Pastor Joyce Meyer from a sermon entitled “Its Time to Get Serious” – Transcript beginning at 2:35 and ending 3:10
We need more reverential fear of God. Not afraid of God in a wrong way, but we need to realize that Jesus is coming back. And that we will stand before God. We will give an account of our lives. What we’ve done with them. Our resources, our gifts, our talents, our time. And you don’t want to wait too late to get ready for that. I always say “Ready or not here he comes.”]
If you ply me with a few drinks (preferably Macallan 25) such that I wax philosophical (like it takes a lot to do that), I would say that the success of Evangelical Christianity is that it conditions salvation (i.e., not going to the burning flames of hell) on acting in accordance with Godís plan. But what does that mean?
[Pastor John MacArthur, Reality of Hell ñ Transcript beginning at 0:02 and ending at 0:33
Hell is a real place. There is no doubt about that. The scripture defines it, describes it, describes it in very graphic terms as a place of outer darkness, as a place of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. It is described as beyond the grave. It is a place where the worm never dies, the fire is not quenched.]
That’s some significant motivation right there. I don’t know about you, but if *I* believed in an eternity of fiery doom, I might stand on corners handing out pamphlets too.
So now that we have a better grasp of the central tenants of Evangelical Christianity the question is how those tenants translate into a political and social movement that blocks clinics, bullies children, and mandates death for people who are gay.
The key in my view is Entitlement. I know that in social justice circles we use that word so frequently, that it has been devalued. But I think in this context it takes on a new depth of meaning. Members of the Evangelical Movement genuinely believe that the Earth belongs to them. This deeply seated sense of entitlement underpins many of the seemingly irrational beliefs held by members of the Evangelical Movement from Manifest Destiny to global warming denial. They are the Chosen, the Blessed. God has promised them this world and all its wealth and happiness. And God doesn’t break his promises. So your land? Belongs to them. Global warming can’t be right because that implies that the Earth might not be available for future use.
[Pastor John Hagee, Cornerstone Church from a sermon entitled “The Great Tribulation” – Transcript beginning at:0:12 and ending at 0:47.
[God’s wrath is your choice. Don’t ever get the idea that God pours it on some people and don’t poor it on the others. God’s wrath is your choice. If you choose to obey God, he said “I will bless you. Exceedingly, abundantly, above your capacity to contain it. I will give it to you pressed-down, shaken together and running over. You should be like a tree planted by rivers of living water, your leaves shall not wither, your fruit shall bear its season and whatsoever you do shall prosper.” That is the blessing of God.]
And what stands between them and all of God’s promises? Me. Also probably you. Its all part of that war between good and evil. They’re good. They are executing God’s will on Earth. They are preparing for those infamous End Times. They are on the side of angels.
I, on the other hand, am a heretic, a God denier, possessed by Satan. (Those are direct quotes by the way.) I am an impediment to God’s will that will probably assist the Anti-Christ in creating that horrible future that will precede the End Times.
Essentially, the Evangelical Movement sets up a sharp dichotomy in which some people are good and the rest are bad, wrong, and possibly inhuman. But it also raises the stakes. I mean, there are lots of people I am not particularly fond of…many of whom you’ve heard from in this post…but I don’t think they are part of some big cosmic battle that will impact my existence for all of eternity. Hell, I don’t even think they’re inhuman. But when you set people in direct opposition, instill fear, and dehumanize their opponent, you shouldn’t be surprised when things get very ugly, very fast.
[Trigger warning: Hateful classism and ableism.]
[Pastor John Hagee, Cornerstone Church from a sermon entitled “Faith Under Fire” [Transcript beginning at 4:50 and ending at 5:15]
[We’ve rewarded laziness and called it welfare. You no longer look to God, you look to a check in the mail. In the bible, the bible says “The man that does not work, should not eat.” I still think that ought to be the law in the United States of America. If you do not want to get up off your blessed assurance and go to work STARVE. I don’t care. (applause) STARVE. (more applause) I don’t feel sorry for you. (increasing applause) Go to work.]
Disturbing isn’t it. It’s the clapping on that one that made me have to get up and go hug my dog. In fact, here’s a puppy video to ease that nausea you’re probably feeling right now.
[Description: Short video of a small black dog, frolicking in the snow with Mr. Kristen J and myself chuckling in the background.]
Feel better? Okay, cause it gets worse. That activism component of the Evangelical Movement means they don’t just think these things quietly to themselves (or loudly in a church of tens of thousands). They act upon it. Their very salvation depends on acting on it. The horrible things we discussed last time that are the product of that action, this same hate and rage (dressed up as love, compassion, and conviction) underlie each and every one of those events.
So what is this Plan of God, the correct values that will keep you on God’s good side? Well, to be honest, it depends. Historically, the Evangelical Movement has supported everything from the abolition of slavery and (white) women’s suffrage to soup kitchens. The ideology of the Movement shifts dramatically over time and between churches. At present the political force of the Evangelical Movement is inspired by the “Moral Majority” of the late 70s and early 80s (Wiki). The modern Evangelical Movement is explicitly forced birth, anti-contraceptive, anti-gay, and pro-“Traditional Family Values.” To that mix they seem to have added in pro-starvation, or at least a healthy dose of classism.
A charming brew of hate, no doubt. And clearly anathema to my own notion of social justice.
I suppose we could stop there. That in and of itself is likely to convince most of you that the definition I provided at the beginning of this post is at least serviceable in the current political environment. But I have one more argument to make.
The Evangelical Movement is antithetical to social justice not just because some windbags have fucked up opinions, but because the very notion of God’s Chosen is contrary to equality. The sense of entitlement discussed earlier is wrong not just when its telling women how to use their own bodies, but also when its providing food to those who have no choice but to stomach their sermons or financial assistance to those forced to endure periodic drug testing. The idea that you have greater access to a universal truth, to God’s Plan, tends to make a person a wee bit paternalistic. In my view that paternalism is contrary to treating every person as a full and complete human being. I know I’ve talked about this before, but if you want to know where my aversion to certainty and absolute truth comes from…this is it.
Is that enough of a rationale for my “Working” definition? I know some of you have had different experiences with the Evangelical Movement and may have other ideas about what is most important. What’s your take? What do you see as defining the Evangelical Movement?
*The clips are not intended to summarize all of Evangelical belief, but rather to illustrate what is meant. Different sects may have different interpretations of similar biblical precepts.