My gap year after high school was in an evangelical cult. Aka an internship with the now defunct Teen Mania Ministries. Nobody knew it was a cult back then. That’s just what friends said when they learned about some of the rules we had to follow like no dating, no secular music, and no R-rated movies.
I was in that cult when the 2000 Election occurred. They bussed all of us who were old enough to vote over to the polls. Though our leadership didn’t come out and tell us to vote for Bush, they made it clear that “God chose George W.”
Nobody can really understand what goes on in evangelical circles unless they’ve been a part of them. Even then, it takes time to process what’s going on.
I am increasingly reminded of my evangelical upbringing as well as my cult year now that Donald Trump has been in office for nearly one full term, and his evangelical base is working hard on his reelection.
It’s easy to laugh at Trump, but dangerous to underestimate the evangelicals who help put him into power.
Lately, a NowThis video has been making its rounds on social media, introducing the public to Trump’s spiritual advisor, Paula White.
I watched the video yesterday, and there wasn’t anything in it that surprised me because this is the exact environment in which I was raised. People may be surprised by Paula White’s bold claims, yet laugh them off as nothing to worry about.
Unfortunately, the evangelical right is dead serious about its claims that opposing Trump means opposing God.
The evangelical platform rests upon a few key issues.
The two biggest issues that evangelicals care about when it comes to politics are abortion and gay marriage. Lay people in the religious right remain deeply convinced that God condemns homosexuality and abortion, and that America will be punished for “allowing” either practice.
There are other issues, of course. Evangelicals typically side with Israel in any conflict because they conflate the biblical Israel with the modern day political power. Religious freedom is another big issue, but only if it swings in their favor.
“Religious freedom” to evangelicals is a one way street.
Recently, Trump has been chattering on about getting Paula White’s supposed expertise into the Whitehouse. According to NBC Los Angeles, “The White House initiative she will advise was created by the Trump administration last year to help faith-based groups partner with the federal government.”
If that doesn’t sound scary to you, it should, because in the evangelical world, religious freedom is a one way street. Which means, they want freedom to practice Christianity how they see fit. That means passing legislation based on the bible and other evangelical beliefs.
No such freedom is going to be given to anyone else, because any other beliefs are considered demonic.
It doesn't matter that Trump isn't much of a Christian.
Back in the day, phrases like "Christian charity" used to mean something. Many people within the early civil rights movement fought for justice because of their Christian values.
But times have changed.
A foundational belief in Christianity is that a person needs to ask God for forgiveness. This is a key point to the gospel. Trump, however, has gone on record saying that he's never even asked God for forgiveness, and the evangelicals still cast him as some Christ-like president.
"I like to be good. I don’t like to have to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don’t do a lot of things that are bad. I try to do nothing that is bad."
Here's the truth: they don't care that Trump's life is devoid of Christian "fruit." It's not exactly Christ-like for Trump to criticize and belittle others as he so often does. But that's not what evangelicals care about these days.
Trump could get away with murder as long as he supports the religious right.
On more than one occasion, Trump has boasted about his followers being incredibly loyal to him. So loyal, he once claimed he could publicly shoot somebody and not lose a voter.
His statement was not horrific to evangelical Christians, because for decades now, evangelical leaders have been convincing people that political power is something the church needs.
It doesn’t matter that their claims are unsupported by the bible they thump. Doesn’t matter that there’s nothing in scripture to support Christian legislation in an otherwise secular government. Jesus was completely disinterested in matters of government. This isn’t about Jesus. This isn’t about goodness.
It’s just about power.
Everyday Evangelicals believe they are completely in the right.
As a rule, I don’t bother arguing with most evangelical Christians about hot-button issues like abortion, gay marriage, Israel, or any of it. I don’t argue with them because I know that they believe wholeheartedly that they are doing the right thing.
They don’t believe they’re discriminating against anyone. In fact, taking them to task on any big issue will only further their belief that they are the victims of prejudice and oppression.
We’re essentially in a culture war.
Back when I was still in an evangelical bubble, it was very common to hear leaders use military analogies in their teachings. As a young person, it was routinely hammered over my head that we were in a cultural war.
In this war, evangelical Christians believe that the devil is doing his damndest to lead them astray. Where you and I see human rights issues for LGBTQ+ people, they see a liberal agenda to corrupt children. They see demons. They see fire and brimstone.
If anything, it’s the evangelical Christians who started the culture war. How dare anyone say "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas." They have, after all, been the ones to persecute others who don’t share their beliefs while crying foul.
The only way to keep moving forward is to beat them at their own game. How do we do that? Accept that we’re in a culture war. And keep working for social justice. Applaud inclusion. Keep speaking up for human rights.
The exvangelical movement offers hope in this Trump era.
People leave their evangelical bubbles every day. When we do, we often end up calling ourselves exvangelicals. It’s easier to do that when we experience people and media beyond the evangelical worldview. But we can’t afford to underestimate the Christian right’s agenda to “make this country a Christian nation.”
Everyone underestimated the political power of evangelicals that got Trump elected in the first place. Let's pray we're not on track to make the same mistake twice.