Fireballs From Heaven

The extraordinary reckoning on white evangelicalism

Beverly Garside


Photo by Luke Jernejcic on Unsplash

Unfaithful Shepherds

You just can’t find good help anymore. If it’s any consolation, those of us suffering from this problem are far from alone. Even the god of Bible can’t seem to find enough staff to run his operations here in the U.S. Not being acquainted with Judaism or Islam, I will limit my observations to his Christian servants.

You don’t have to be Christian to see the picture. Stories are everywhere: lingering Covid-19 habits, policies about women and LGBTQ people, and rampant fraud and sex abuse scandals are dividing congregations, splitting denominations, and driving away parishioners in droves, especially the young.

“You’ll come back here when you have kids of your own,” they’re told, as they finally get too old to be dragged kicking and screaming into that weekly house of torture. But they don’t. They drive right by it, kids in tow.

I don’t believe in the god of the Bible. Not raised in religion, I became a devoted white evangelical for several years in college, and an exvangelical shortly thereafter. But if I did still believe, I’d say he’s just had it with everybody here who claims to be his favorite children. I’d say he was reverting to his Old Testament practice when the Israelites pissed him off.

He used to let them get defeated, captured, and enslaved by some other nation. He used to really let them have it.

They’re taking their lumps, and they know it. The corruption, pedophile rings, misogyny, financial fraud, … we all know the drill. But of them all — the Catholics, Mormons, Orthodox Christians, main-line protestants, etc — there is one group that has clearly been the largest target for punishment.

No faith in the U.S. has taken a harder beating than white evangelicalism.

It’s not surprising. In most instances, they brought it upon themselves. They drove their own kids out of their own churches with their hate campaign against millennials. They exasperated issues of COVID and church attendance by declaring the virus a hoax, or proclaiming that Jesus would protect them, or defying local laws and mandating personal attendance. When a major Baptist sex abuse scandal and Church Too broke, it was after decades of self-righteous crowing that this had only happened to the Catholics because of their flawed theology, and that evangelicalism was immune to such sin because they had the right doctrines.

Rap sheet

White evangelicalism’s list of offenses was longer than that of other churches. Specifically, they spawned an infestation of megachurches and celebrity pastors that turned their religion into a business run like any other corrupt corporation. Evangelicalism is also the only home of prosperity gospel preachers, miraculously capable of sucking in wallets and spouting out Jesus in a single breath. Ditto for the phony faith healers and miracle workers, selling holy snake oil and robbing countless grandmothers of their social security checks.

And of course, there is the elephant in the room — their love affair with Donald Trump. They claimed to speak for God, declaring that he had chosen Trump to be the leader of our nation. They actually compared him to the biblical King Cyrus — because numerology and his name sounds like trumpet! And they presented themselves as the inheritors of a reclaimed Christian America that had supposedly replaced Israel as God’s favorite nation.

There were mouthfuls of gobbledygook about Jerusalem, rebuilding the temple, and Jesus coming back to slaughter everyone who wasn’t them and give them all crowns of glory.

But that’s not what happened.

A plague of apostasy

Photo by Jairo Alzate on Unsplash

Instead of a rebuilt temple, theocratic dictatorship, massacred masses, and crowns of glory, they got a slow, chill breeze of reality. They got prophesies that proved false, a lost election, more failed prophecies, dump trucks worth of conspiracy theories, more lost elections, and a fire sale on copium. Even the victory over Roe versus Wade fizzled into complexities they had never considered, like miscarriages and mail-order Plan B, or backlash at the ballot box.

Jesus didn’t show up either.

It was a slow slumping shit-slide of disappointment. Either God had failed them, or their religion had. Or maybe they just weren’t doing it right, because white evangelicals can never do it right. But there was an alternative — a splinter movement right in their midst of their own charismatics — that suddenly seemed to beckon.

The New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) hit white evangelicalism like an asteroid breaking up into flaming boulders. Teaching that Jesus can speak personally to each believer, and that each believer can therefore prophecy and perform miracles, it unleashed a plague of ravenous demons upon the churches.

First, it sucked even more people out of the pews. And these weren’t just young people. They were the faithful baby boomers who had stuck it out, secretly cheering after those revolting millennials finally got out of their church.

Next, their prophets were everywhere, holding forth to cheering geriatric crowds about what Jesus told them in the shower that morning. JFK Jr. was going to come back from the dead, the election had been stolen, God was going to intervene to install Trump as King, and Democrats were going to be arrested or shot dead in the streets.

Apparently, the Holy Spirit was now speaking through a prophet called Q.

Finally, they stormed the Capital, raised a noose for the Vice President, and tried to kill the Congress and overturn the 2020 election.

Indecent Exposure

The apostasy does not stop there. While some evangelicals decided Jesus could personally tell them anything they wanted to hear, others went a step further, dispensing with Jesus altogether. Russell Moore, editor of the evangelical flagship publication Christianity Today, reports hearing from multiple pastors that their congregations now think Jesus’ teachings are too weak and woke.

They want somebody strong and vicious — a fighter to take on the libs. They want the Donald.

This is not just a sin and a violation of the 1st commandment (Thou shalt have no other gods before me). It’s like a declaration of war against Heaven.

White evangelicalism is losing more than its membership and reputation. it’s losing its fig leaf. The fig leaf provided the pretense that evangelical congregations were about following Jesus. But it is now stripped naked for the truth to shine out in all its darkness.

Photo by Максим Власенко on Unsplash

It was never about any Jesus. It was about white supremacy, patriarchy, and Christian privilege in society. Now that these are threatened on the national square, white evangelical parishioners see their religion only as a club to beat their political enemies with. Take that club away from them and they have little use for it at all.

Losing our religion

Of course, not all white evangelicals split off into the NAR or reject Jesus as their champion. Traditional white evangelical churches still struggle on every Sunday, but they are dwindling. In his memoir of his days as a senior official in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Losing our Religion, Russel Moore speculates that “Evangelical Christianity as we know it may not survive. American evangelicalism might not be there for the future.”

And for what it’s worth, publishing and the internet agree with him. The exvangelical genre explodes larger every day, with entire You Tube channels dedicated to horror stories about fundamentalist religion and how someone escaped its clutches. The trend has even spread to evangelicalism’s celebrities, who sell even more books telling their deconstruction stories and recanting their past teachings.

I sympathized with Moore when he recounted the vicious gut punches he suffered over his spiritual mentors’ and life-long friends’ response to the SBC sex abuse scandal. It was devastating to learn that that two of its most revered senior leaders— Paul Pressler and Paige Patterson — had themselves raped boys (Pressler) and covered up the rape of women (Patterson).

But the worst was yet to come. As Moore advocated for reforming SBC abuse reporting practices and compensating the victims, SBC leaders branded him the enemy and ostracized him. The very people who taught him so much about spiritual leadership and the gospel, now threatened him for not “playing the game” and counseled him to “consider your career.”

Jesus? Who cares about Jesus when careers, budgets, and institutions are at stake? Who cares about women and kids when you have a reputation to protect?

Apparently, it wasn’t just parishioners who were never into Jesus in the first place. And Moore, who was in the room at the time, just exposed this to the whole world.

A reckoning from hell

Will white evangelicalism survive? It seems like the god of the Bible has decided that some servants are so toxic they are worse than having nobody. He is not only firing them, he’s stomping on them on their way out the door. Maybe he’s making an example of them, not just to his other servants, but to all of us as well.

Don’t be like this, not to your fellow human beings, nor to your god.

Even if he doesn’t exist.



Beverly Garside

Beverly is an author, artist, and a practicing agnostic.