. . . As a person of the Christian faith who has spent most of my adult life attending evangelical churches, I wanted to understand the splintering of churches, communities, and relationships. I reached out to dozens of pastors, theologians, academics, and historians, as well as a seminary president and people involved in campus ministry. All voiced concern.
. . . of course Trump did not appear ex nihilo. Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a history professor at Calvin University and the author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, argues that Trump represents the fulfillment, rather than the betrayal, of many of white evangelicals’ most deeply held values. Her thesis is that American evangelicals have worked for decades to replace the Jesus of the Gospels with an idol of rugged masculinity and Christian nationalism. (She defines Christian nationalism as “the belief that America is God’s chosen nation and must be defended as such,” which she says is a powerful predictor of attitudes toward non-Christians and on issues such as immigration, race, and guns.
Du Mez told me it’s important to recognize that this “rugged warrior Jesus” is not the only Jesus many evangelicals encounter in their faith community. There is also the “Jesus is my friend” popular in many devotionals, for example. These representations might appear to be contradictory, she told me, but in practice they can be mutually reinforcing. Jesus is a friend, protector, savior—but according to one’s own understanding of what needs to be protected and saved, and not necessarily according to core biblical teachings.
“Evangelicals are quick to label their values ‘biblical,’” Du Mez told me. “But how they interpret the scriptures, which parts they decide to emphasize and which parts they decide to ignore, all this is informed by their historical and cultural circumstances.” That’s not simply true of this one community, she added, but of all people of faith. “More than most other Christians, however, conservative evangelicals insist that they are rejecting cultural influences,” she said, “when in fact their faith is profoundly shaped by cultural and political values, by their racial identity and their Christian nationalism.” . . .
. . . Du Mez pointed out that even men who embrace a kinder, gentler version of masculinity— servant leadership, for example—may tip into a more rugged, ruthless version when they deem the situation sufficiently dire. And for more than half a century, she said, evangelical leaders have found reason to deem the situation sufficiently dire. They rallied their congregations against the threats of communism, secular humanism, feminism, gay rights, radical Islam, Democrats in the White House, demographic decline, and critical race theory, and in defense of religious liberty. . . .
Published October 24, 2021. Peter Wehner. The Atlantic. “The Evangelical Church is Breaking Apart.” https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/10/evangelical-trump-christians-politics/620469