As a child, I attended a fundamentalist parochial school, one of those mostly white private schools founded in the South after the civil rights movement for reasons that, of course, had nothing to do with race; do not be dumb.
The school brought in speakers to tell us at 13 that dinosaurs roamed Noah’s Ark, that Bigfoot is real, and that God is watching us masturbate. (I should probably talk to my therapist about this.) The years may have distorted my memory, but I remember a Bible teacher telling us that the Salem witches foresaw it. I vividly remember a high school history teacher—also a football coach, of course—advising us that the Civil War was really about rates.
On the other hand, I was a two-sport varsity athlete, slow, short, uncoordinated, occasionally stoned, so I guess there’s an upside to everything.
Either way, the experience left me with a lifetime’s worth of the Gospel version of Catholic guilt and a strange fascination with fundamentalist politics.
I watched with morbid curiosity those who claimed to be the only true followers of Jesus volunteer to be co-opted by a reactionary strain of American conservatism, while the same crowd that had had strokes from a presidential affair has become loyal foot soldiers. for a libertine crook.
Psychologically, the attraction isn’t hard to explain: fundamentalists and right-wing populists both score exceptionally high on measures of authoritarianism. Even so, it has been interesting to see how the merger – which had been underway since the mid-20th century but reached its peak under the Trump administration – affected both religion and politics.
Recently, Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research released their biannual State of Theology Survey, a poll that seeks to “take the theological temperature of the United States to help Christians better understand today’s culture and equip the church with better ideas for discipleship. ”
His findings were remarkable, especially coming from a fundamentalist organization.
“Despite the clear teaching of Scripture,” the survey reported, nearly half of evangelical Christians said God “learns and adapts to various situations.” Nearly two-thirds reject the notion of original sin, which the survey attributes to “the influence of humanistic philosophies and worldviews”. A majority – 56% – of evangelicals believe God accepts people of multiple faiths, up 14 points from the 2020 survey, 43% deny the divinity of Jesus and 26% say the Bible is not literally true.
There are literal heresies for Christians who do not just attend evangelical churches, but espouse core evangelical beliefs.
But while the theological views of evangelicals have become less fundamentalist, more than 90% of evangelicals still hold to fundamentalist teachings on abortion and sex outside marriage. In fact, the percentages that consider both to be sins have increased in recent years.
At the same time, however, 28% of evangelicals say the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality no longer applies – not many, but up from 11% in 2020 – and 37% agree that “gender identity is a choice”, against 22% two years ago.
Young evangelicals are significantly more liberal on these two issues, but not on abortion or premarital sex.
I don’t know what to make of this dichotomy. Perhaps wider acceptance and exposure to LGBTQ people has caused some evangelicals to rethink their adherence to Bronze Age understandings of human sexuality and gender, while a generation of True Love shame Waits is still working his magic. Or it could be that evangelicals, like religion itself, are full of contradictions.
But two things strike me as true: First, modern evangelicalism is as much a cultural identity as a cohesive set of religious beliefs, and that cultural identity is tied entirely to the Republican Party. Second, as evangelicalism forgets its catechism, America loses faith.
A recent Gallup poll found that just 81% of Americans said they believe in God, the lowest level in the survey’s history and down from 92% in 2011. collapses. A growing number of Americans say they have no religious affiliation — and Millennials and Gen Z are the least religious generations this country has ever seen.
It doesn’t take a prophet to see where this is taking us.
It is no coincidence that the once fringe idea of Christian nationalism – the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and that the separation of church and state is a myth – moved to the far right, with the likes of Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis kissing or flirting with him.
“But in their loyalty to Trump, they turned their religion into a cultural identity that served Trump’s political movement.”
In a recent poll, 61% of Republicans said they wanted Congress to declare the United States a Christian nation, although 57% of Republicans also said (correctly!) that the Constitution does not allow such thing. (In other words, a sizable number of Republicans want Congress to do something they know is unconstitutional.) More than three-quarters of evangelical Republicans want Congress to establish a national religion, as long as it’s theirs. ; less than half of other Republicans do.
Unsurprisingly, older Republicans are keen on a Christian state; they are more likely to be evangelical. The role of white grievances is also unsurprising: 59% of Americans who think white people face discrimination agree with Christian nationalism.
Like fundamentalism, racial grievance is a branch of the tree of authoritarianism.
Donald Trump had a hunch that evangelical leaders — after a few promises — would overlook his past sins and fall into line. They did it.
They didn’t sell their souls for nothing. They knocked Roe down, after all. But in their loyalty to Trump, they turned their religion into a cultural identity that served Trump’s political movement.
In the process, they did neither God nor American politics a favor.