There is fear in the power of a mob. With the Biden administration settling in, Republican conservatives are turning to a number of initiatives they believe to be achievable, at least at a state level. One of them is the curtailment of transgender rights. We need the Equality Act or my civil rights as a transgender person are going to be diminished. And who is leading the way in these irrational fear-based initiatives? Evangelicals. Should I be surprised? When I came out in 2014 I lost not one single non-evangelical friend. On the other hand, I lost all but about five evangelical friends. Thousands of people gone with one single blog post.
A lot has changed in evangelicalism since my departure, and most of it is not good. According to the American Enterprise Institute, over 25 percent of evangelicals believe the basic premise of QAnon. Over 75 percent believe, without a single shred of evidence ,that voter fraud stole the election from Donald Trump. (Only 54 percent of non-evangelical Republicans believe that to be true.) Sixty percent of evangelicals believe antifa was behind the 1/6 insurrection. (Only 42 percent of non-evangelical republicans believe the same thing.) According to a Washington Post/ABC poll, 44 percent of evangelicals will not get a Covid vaccine.
These statistics indicate what I have already believed to be true – evangelicalism has become an anti-intellectual movement subject to manipulation by baseless conspiracy theories. It is time for its leaders to speak up and stop the nonsense. Unfortunately, their leaders are afraid of the power of the evangelical mob.
We learned this week, without surprise, that the British royal family is frightened of the power of the British tabloids. The Republican Party is frightened of the power of one narcissistic ex-president who cost Republicans the Presidency, the House, and the Senate. And evangelical leaders are frightened of their members.
I spent decades with evangelical megachurch pastors. They were close friends and confidants. I know a lot of these guys, and they were all guys. They are smart, relatively well educated, and politically savvy. And I am confident they do not believe any of these conspiracy theories. They know this was a free and fair election. They know Trump is a disaster, but they are as afraid of losing their power as moderate Republicans are afraid of losing theirs.
Lindsey Graham’s wild swings from Donald Trump’s loudest critic to his biggest supporter are a sign of what motivates Graham – power. Whatever way the political wind blows is the way Lindsey Graham will rush. He will do just about anything to stay away from any storm that could remove him from his coveted perch. The same is true of many evangelical leaders.
I have been out of the evangelical world for seven years, but even back then, many of the megachurch lead pastors I knew were privately supportive of monogamous gay relationships and transgender rights. Until the tide of public opinion turned, they routinely welcomed transgender members into their churches. Jim Burgen, at Flatirons Church in Colorado, even told his entire congregation of his church’s embrace of one transgender woman. In a private conversation I had with another influential megachurch pastor, he made a half-hearted argument about homosexuality being a sin. When I said, “Come on, you know better than that.” he said, “Maybe, but my leadership doesn’t.” I had no doubt he spoke the truth.
When Burgen received pushback for supporting the transgender woman in his church, he promptly called her in and read her a prepared statement telling her she needed to return to life as a man. The statement included theological justification that a freshman Bible college student could refute. I couldn’t even follow its logic. The woman’s life was upended by Burgen’s swing from transgender support to rejection.
These guys know it is the conservatives who give disproportionately to their churches. Conservatives make up their boards, and they are not about to risk their power by fighting for LGBTQ rights. While that has been devastating to my community, their lack of courage does not stop there. They do not speak out against systemic racism. And now, they cannot even find the courage to tell their people that Donald J. Trump lost a free and fair election. They cannot find the courage to tell them that there is no evil cabal of Democrats and Hollywood elites abusing children. They cannot find the courage to tell them that Trump stands against everything for which Jesus gave his life. They cannot even find the courage to tell them that getting a vaccine could speed up herd immunity. These leaders know every one of these things is true, yet they are afraid of the evangelical mob.
In the book of Romans, Paul talked more about corporate sin than individual sin. He knew we have the tendency to behave in groups in ways in which we would never behave on our own. This is sin as a cosmic malevolent force. Evangelicalism’s embrace of QAnon and conspiracy theories about the election is an example of a cosmic malevolent force. This radical evangelicalism could lead to the loss of our democracy.
Those on both coasts do not understand the power of evangelicalism in the South and Midwest. But our system of government does. The Senate and Electoral College, by their very nature, give greater power to smaller more rural states, where evangelicals influence the outcome of elections. The embrace of conspiracy theories by evangelicals is not benign. It is a malignancy on our democracy. And there is only one group that can stop it – evangelical pastors and denominational leaders. They know the truth. The question is whether or not they have the courage to speak it.