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.