When I was in college, we frequently had chapel speakers from the conservative side of my denomination. They yelled loudly about the fires of hell, quoted from pamphlets published by the John Birch Society, and attended the Kiamichi Men’s Clinic where they bragged about not shaving or showering for a week. On the whole I found them rather innocuous, a fringe group of primarily rural southern preachers whose education was considerably less than their hubris.
After moving to New York, I was less affected by evangelical culture because I was no longer immersed in it. I worked for an evangelical ministry, but virtually none of my friends were evangelicals. They were Jewish, or Catholics, or no religion at all. The group with the greatest effect on the development of my spirituality was my Catholic reading group, which turned out to be a wonderful 25-year experience of spiritual formation.
Since I remained employed in the evangelical world, the gap between my work life and personal life grew exponentially. A tectonic shift in that gap occurred in the months leading up to January 1, 2000. Many of my evangelical friends were obsessed with Y2K, the notion that computers were programmed to self-destruct at the stroke of midnight on January 1.
In New York, there was awareness of a problem that needed to be addressed, but there was no panic. And sure enough, concerns over Y2K were unfounded. All went well on January 1, 2000. How did my evangelical friends become so obsessed with Y2K? I asked around, and was surprised by what I discovered.
Sometime during the 90s, my friends had started watching the opinion television shows on Fox News. That was the media outlet stirring up viewers over the coming apocalypse that never was. I thought my friends would pick up on the empty rhetoric of Fox News after the Y2K fiasco. They did not.
Fox pivoted to the next big threat, and when that didn’t pan out, the next big threat, and the next big threat, and my friends kept tuning in. That is when I began to realize my days in evangelicalism were numbered. My theology had been shifting for decades. I was already identified with the left of our denomination. But now I began to wonder if I would be able to stay at all. The more these friends were influenced by conservative media, the more they endorsed Christian nationalism. I was alarmed. When would I actually leave the evangelical fold? My transition made that decision for me. But it would have happened anyway. The handwriting was on the wall.
And where is evangelicalism today? Consider the recent American Values Survey completed by the Public Research Institute. Their survey of white evangelicals discovered these alarming statistics:
71% of evangelicals believe the US has gone downhill since the 1950s.
50% believe God intended America to be the new Promised Land.
61% say society has become too soft and feminine.
61% believe discrimination against white Americans is as bad as discrimination against racial minorities.
63% view Trump favorably.
54% believe the Big Lie.
84% believe gender is immutably determined at birth.
61% believe transgender people already have too many civil rights.
25% actually know someone who is out as a transgender person.
Far too many evangelical Americans have been influenced by right wing media. Their views disagree with objective facts, as they have abandoned the rigorous search for truth.
This all makes me terribly sad. Evangelicalism is my heritage. My roots go back to the beginning of what is known as the Stone/Campbell Movement. I had literally thousands of friends and acquaintances in that world. And now, increasing numbers of those same friends have been captivated by right-wing media. In doing so, they have become a threat to our democracy. I hate that. These are good people who, by getting their information from a handful of fact-free sources, have been recruited as soldiers in an ideological war that could destroy our nation.
When I was in Bible college, I never saw the far right preachers as a threat to my denomination, let alone my nation. But that was before Rupert Murdoch and Fox News. That was before Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson and company garnered huge audiences by ignoring the facts.
I am frightened. I should be.
9 thoughts on “This is Getting Really Scary”
Few things have made me sadder than this. I’ve seen it too. 😪
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It makes me so sad, Jackina. I love the Movement so much!
But you helped to create this vision that they gave you. Were you really ever a part of it? Do you lament that it’s not real? That religion doesn’t measure up to faith? You passed it on to thousands upon thousands of people. Have you read, “Educated” ?
We need to Build Back Religion Better, practice out in the open, quiet to not scare the surroundings. First we have to survive this upcoming election then survive the climate emergency.
Thank you. I’m feeling particularly anxious these days, I always feel better when I write or read.
(Every one of you can make amends by voting Blue.)
Hi I’m Dolly, I haven’t read your analysis all the way through. But hearing the voice of the kids speaking to 911, children witnesses in the Uvalde Elementary, I am horrified by your fear, too. So I speak to that, do not be fearful, you are not 4 years old and you are bot alone. We are here, all of us who know why you feel fear. It’s okay. You’re greatest threat came from nearby, your parent. If you are seen we are here, do not fear your fellow person.
Thank you, you’ve shared your life so vividly, I who heard you read your book, I feel I took the journey with you, you are a superb communicator, thank you for witnessing and sharing your journey. You are you. You are brave. You are you, I love being near you. Thank you for being here with us. Please stay. Dolly. Sent from mobile device
I listened to an NPR segment this morning about fraud and conspiracy theories rallies (Reawaken America Tour) that are literally touring the country these days with thousands showing up to hear fiery speakers like Mike Flynn and pillow guy, Mike Lindell among others and to buy merchandise and literature from vendors. It reminded me of the old Kiamichi Clinic I attended as a teen with men from our church. I thought, as I listened, this is a rehash of that, only on tour. It was weird to me then, comic and a little scary, but it’s bigger now (though they boasted thousands in attendance back then, I think there may have been some pre Trumpian exaggeration) and more frightening in spite of its carnival atmosphere. BTW, I have moved to the far left wing of the Stone Campbell house these days. Thanks for your thoughts. Timely for me.
David, I also attended the Kiamichi Clinic. And it was weird, comic, and a little scary, with lots of exaggeration. And eerily familiar to what we see today.
So very true! It is frightening.
Intersting perspective, Paula. I don’t watch Fox News myself, but I think you know that I lean politically to the right. I try to separate my politics from my religious beliefs, except where the New Testament, and Jesus Himself, address those issues. Since I am still involved in the denomination you refer to I would say that, yes, there is a large percentage of people who are too influenced by Fox News, but I find those to be the parishioners and not so much the leaders (and you know that I know the leaders). Yes, those leaders almost all lean politically to the right, but I believe it has more to do with theology and the interpretation of scripture with respect to issues like abortion, gay rights, women’s rights (that view has changed perceptibly in our lifetimes, although there is still a lot of room for improvement), etc.
I believe that if you did some word subsitution in your post and changed Fox News to CNN or CSNBC, and changed the names of some of the celebrity anchors, a person looking at it from a politically right-leaning perspective would agree with you. You could find statistics that would be scary for people leaning left, too. They would agree that we are “in an idealogical war that could ruin our nation,” but they’re just looking at it from a different perspective.
As a student of American history I believe that the divide we have now is not unprecdented. In fact there have been worse divides (how do you think politicians, pastors, and people in the streets behaved in the 1850’s and beyond). James Garfield, who was a circuit-riding preacher in our denomination preached strongly against slavery and ended up giving his life for his beliefs.
Yes, it’s all a little scary, but is our fear founded on a political system? I hope not. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12.)” I don’t think Fox News, CNN, CSNBC, or any other news outlet has a prayer going up against “the world forces of this darkness.” It’s just a matter of how our society stands up against those forces.
And so it goes 😉
P.S. If you respond, please send an email letting me know what you have to say. I opted out of response posts I’d be truly interested in your view of what I have to say. I like to think of myself as an open learner. You have taught me a lot.
Happy New Year Paula. Good to see all is well