The Biggest Threat to Christianity in the US

Preliminary demographic data about the 2020 electorate has started rolling in. The Associated Press published the VoteCast survey that revealed some disappointing, if not altogether surprising, information.

81 percent…Again.

Understanding The 2020 Electorate: AP VoteCast Survey

Four years ago 81 percent of voters who identified as white and evangelical threw their support behind Donald. J. Trump.

Now, in a reprise of 2016 presidential election, white evangelicals continued to support Donald Trump at exactly the same rate after four years of his presidency. Four years of lies, scandals, bellicosity, chaos, and racism. White evangelicals voted for him again in droves.

These numbers raise a host of questions: Is evangelicalism more wedded to political power than the Prince of Peace? Can U.S. evangelicalism be salvaged from the grip of the modern GOP? What should racial and ethnic minorities in predominantly white evangelical spaces do in light of this voter info?

One question we should also ask is: What is the greatest threat to Christianity in the United States today?

Some white evangelicals have set up Critical Race Theory (CRT) as the most insidious menace to the integrity of the Christian faith.

What is Critical Race Theory?

Kimberlé Crenshaw, a pivotal figure in the founding of the theory describes it as, “a practice—a way of seeing how the fiction of race has been transformed into concrete racial inequities.” CRT has origins with legal scholars who examined the way race and racism gets transcribed into laws that create and perpetuate inequalities.

The fear-mongering over Critical Race Theory even reached the White House. In September, Trump issued the “Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping.” The purpose of the order was to “to combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating”–a veiled reference to Critical Race Theory and racial justice efforts that may utilize components of the theory.

But here’s another question: Is it Critical Race Theory that has caused more harm to the cause of Christ in the U.S. or is it Christian Nationalism?

According to sociologists, Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead, Christian Nationalism (CN) is “an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic belonging and participation.”

In their book, Taking America Back for God, they go on to explain that the “Christian” in Christian Nationalism ” represents more of an ethno-cultural and political identity that denotes a specific constellation of religious affiliation, cultural values, race, and nationality.”

History attests to this amalgamation of race, religion, and nationalism.

On Thanksgiving Day 1915, a former white Methodist circuit rider gathered a group of his white male friends and they went to the top of Stone Mountain in Georgia. Etched into the gigantic stone are the visages of Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee, “Stonewall” Jackson, and Jefferson Davis.

On top of Stone Mountain, this group of white men resurrected the Ku Klux Klan. They performed a ritual that included burning a cross–an act that would soon become a symbol of white racial terrorism. They also constructed an altar and placed on it two objects: a Bible and an American flag.

The rebirth of the KKK in the Jim Crow era demonstrates the melding of race, religion, and nationalism in a toxic mixture that conflates Christ and country and seals its devotion with the promise of violence.

This is not just an issue of the past either.

Days before the November 3rd election, Idaho Lieutenant Governor, Janice McGeachin (R), released a video of her sitting in a pickup truck draped in an American Flag. McGeachin leans slightly out of the driver’s side window holding a Bible in one hand and a gun in other.

Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (Washington Post)

Protesting the restrictions on activity and the safety measures advised by medical professionals due the coronavirus pandemic, the Lt. Gov. said,

“We recognize that all of us are by nature, free and equal, and have certain inalienable rights. Among which are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property and pursuing happiness and securing safety.”

One could hardly draw a clearer picture of Christian Nationalism.

Christian Nationalists–a term more accurate than white evangelicals because adherents actually include evangelical Protestants, Catholics, and Mainline Protestants–are the ones voting for Trump.

As historian Kristen Kobes Du Mez explains in her recent book Jesus and John Wayne, white evangelicals, and Christian Nationalists more broadly, voted for Trump not in spite of his character, but because of it. For them, Trump represents not a betrayal of their values but a fulfillment of them.

His insults? He’s just telling it like it is.

His long history of shady business dealings? He’s the consummate deal-maker and economically savvy.

His womanizing and philandering? He’s a virile, masculine man.

His faith? Depends on who you ask…He’s either a baby Christian, God’s chosen man to bring the nation back to true Christian worship, or someone elected to serve as “Commander-in-Chief not Pastor-in-Chief.”

But what has done more damage to the witness of Christianity in the United States–Critical Race Theory and racial justice efforts generally or an allegiance to Christian Nationalism and political support for Trump?

Are Christians abandoning the “evangelical” label because people are saying “Black Lives Matter” or because some Christians cheer on a man who advocates a ban on Muslim immigration and separates children from parents at the border?

Are Black people leaving predominantly white churches because their pastors are preaching too much about racism or because they are parroting Republican talking points?

Are people leaving the Christian faith altogether because they can’t stand the talk of systemic racism and power structures or because they cannot reconcile a faith that commands adherents to “love your neighbor as yourself” with supporting a president who loves only himself?

The sad irony is that to word “evangel” means “good news.” But under Christian nationalism and Trumpism, the word evangelicals preach has become very bad news indeed.

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But don’t take my word for it. You can read hundreds of thousands of words about the threat of Christian Nationalism and the array of cultural, political, and economic commitments in its orbit.

Here’s an incomplete list:

Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States by Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead

Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

American Blindspot: Race, Class, Religion, and the Trump Presidency by Gerardo Martí

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby

13 thoughts on “The Biggest Threat to Christianity in the US

    1. I would also like to add that Mr. Tisby is very wrong in assuming that only “white evangelicals” voted for Trump. Both Hispanic and African American evangelicals also voted for him for several reasons, one of the main reasons being his support of the pro-life movement.

  1. Well said – Christian Nationalism has poisoned Evangelicals for years. It launched in earnest with the Moral Majority but has its roots in European & Founding Fathers Christian Nationalism. I was raised in it and the last 8 months has completed exposed it for me. My dad’s generation of white evangelicals who rejected the civil rights moment pivoted to conservative politics which fit nicely into a more hidden form of racism – which they are blinded to. Other books that are helping me – The Myth of a Christian Nation – Boyd; The Liturgy of Politics- Schiess. So appreciate your biblical prophetic voice!

  2. Great essay, thanks. One minor erratum: the carving on Stone Mountain did not exist in 1915. The idea for the project had been floated a year earlier, but work didn’t begin until the 1920s, was frequently interrupted (between WWII and funding shortfalls), The actual push to finish it was between 1964 and 1972.

  3. Stephen Backhouse, an evangelical theologian, recently started an excellent podcast series “Followers of the Way” which explains the errors in Christian nationalism and proposes a new Christian political imagination based on reading the Bible “from below”, recognising that the New Testament was written by and for people at the margins of society, not those in power. Start from episode 1 (30 June 2020). Support him on Patreon if you value this: https://tent-talks.simplecast.com/

  4. This is not an article written by someone who is trying to provide truthful and accurate information. There is a clear bias and agenda here. Of course most of us to have a bias or agenda, but at the same time, facts are facts, and lies are lies.

    I take issue with many of the things said here, despite the fact that it appears Mr. Tisby claims to be a Christian and to have earned a degree from a Christian school.
    I myself have been a born again Christian for over 30 years, I have a Th.B in theology, a BS from an evangelical school in Management, and I’m working on a Master of Divinity from Talbot School of Theology. So when I see deceptive claims and arguments like those found in this hit piece, I recognize it easily.

    For example, this line is clearly nonsense and has no factual merit whatsoever: “…because they cannot reconcile a faith that commands adherents to “love your neighbor as yourself” with supporting a president who loves only himself?”

    Supporting a president who loves only himself? When Trump helped black woman Alice Johnson out of jail, and pardoned black man Jon Ponder, and post humorously pardoned black boxing champ Jack Johnson, he did all of this and more because he “loves only himself” and also a “racist.” Are you seriously kidding me? And I guess Trump chose the black Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, because he’s “racist” also? Or maybe they’re all just “tokens” to make it just look like he cares when he really doesn’t? So all the Democrats who also elect or otherwise support black people have to be genuine? I smell the double standard fallacy.

    Now this is beside the fact that Trump has done many things to support and encourage religious freedom in America when people of faith were being persecuted for their faith in public schools, as show in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvS1ShJrs6o&ab_channel=News19WLTX

    This article is simply a one-sided and even distorted view of Trump, not unlike we see all over most of liberal media. While decrying about Trump’s lies, they hypocritically lie on Trump and somehow act as if they are more “righteous” than he is.

    What is the greatest threat to Christianity in the US? I would suggest it is hypocritical lies and distortions told as if they were true in the name of Christianity.

  5. Thanks, Jemar, for making some important connections. The heart of Christianity is not what individuals do to “protect themselves” and their “religious rights” with guns but what we can give to those who have landed on the lower rungs of our society, mostly due to the inequitable practices of those in power. Whatever power we have should be used to benefit the “least of these,” not to maintain our own positions in society.
    Peace to you and to all the servants of God.

  6. Lots of love from your friend and part of this demographic who voted against Trump both times. Well, to be clear I was in France in 2016 and didn’t support him and voted against him in 2020. Demographics help tell a story, but remember the people behind the numbers. Hugs to you and your family.

  7. Hello Jemar,

    I just finished reading your book and this article. I am so frustrated by your persistent demonization of Christians who hold a different political philosophy and “lived experienced” than you., including me a Puerto Rican brown person of color.

    I watched your podcast on Evangelicalism and your “it’s complicated” status in regards to evangelicals. I appreciated that you acknowledged the biblical orthodoxy shared between evangelicals and the black church. Yet, the critical animosity i sense in in chapters 7 – 11 of your book and in this article towards non-black Christians and even more so, Republicans supporters of Trump is the essence of why your relational status is “complicated.”

    I found myself asking the question of if your circle of friends are homogeneous, black / white Democrats. How many Republican white, Latino, or Asian friends do you have ?? You are so convinced why we vote Republican and yet it appears you are so close to your research area that you are actually blind to “the why.” You have lost understanding evangelicals as people and made us an academic demographic to fit neatly into your narrative. You are doing exactly what you claim white have done to blacks for for the last 400 years And your condemnation of “law and order” in modern day 2020 because how it was used in the Jim Crow era is so problematic.

    As I read your book, it reminds me of the phrase, if all one has a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. In this case, you see racism and white stereo types in everything.; it’s all you can see and it is so, so disturbing.

    I read your book hoping to gain insight . The first 6 chapters were in interesting historical narrative. Yet the rest was an approach that is simply not building bridges. As one example, the length you went to demonize Billy Graham’s ministry was astounding. Your completely ignored MLK’s comment to Mr. Graham regarding that he would have more kingdom impact in stadiums. Yet your main point is that he just didn’t do enough to your liking . How do you know that Graham’s stadium ministry did not have a even more profound impact on racism than MLK? You cannot because you can only measure dates, times, events recorded in history that you can read. You cannot possibly conduct original research on the stories of the thousands of people impacted by making a decision for Jesus at a BG crusade.

    At 40 years old ish… it is not even your lived experience. I wonder if you ever personally went to a Billy Graham crusade? I did. I felt the Holy Spirit. Contrary to your tacit disapproval, I am certain Jessis was pleased. How many people have made decisions for Jesus as a result of your book? Does it come close to Billy Graham’s ministry?

    In any case, if you want to have a conversation with an educated Evangelical Puerto Rican Republican, reach out to me via email. Or if you are ever in SoCal, let’s have lunch. I do respect your big idea desire but your approach is hugely insular and not going to have impact outside of those who politically align with your political philosophy,

    Let me know.

    Regards,

    Jon Ruiz

    1. Jon Ruiz. I appreciate your comments on this article. Although I never read Mr. Tisby’s book, from what I’ve read here and what you have said, I can see that my understanding of the problems with Mr. Tisby’s ideology is correct for the most part.

      I even wrote Mr. Tisby a direct email challenging his assumptions and claims, and so far I have not heard from him.

      But if you don’t hear back from him, feel free to reach out to me. I’m in SoCal as well. God bless!

  8. I must confess that it seems that I am not reading the same Bible as many of the commenters. I have heard many people say that they like Trump because he doesn’t believe in this “political correctness” nonsense. However, when I read James 1:26, it seems to say “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless”. There are also a few sections where it seems to imply that “bearing false witness” is wrong.

    1. Sir,

      Our politicians are not Pastors. Ultimately they are secular, policy makers. The president’s agencies create regulatory law which is not law but has the force of law. He has veto power in legislation and several other constitutional powers. He influences statutory legislation and builds coalitions for his agenda. . All policy areas. And therefore. that Trump’s policy positions were sound and pro-religious Liberty cannot be dismissed.

      You have likely lived long enough to have someone smile at you while they stab you in the back. Or be diplomatic in public to disparage you in private. Mr, Biden and politicians cut from the same cloth have this behavior. In fact, Biden has said one of the first acts he will do is roll back religious exemptions and support the LGTBQ rights at the expense of religious rights.

      Trump’s policies made sense to a lot of people. Happy to use scripture to support them.

      “Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors.”
      ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭22:28‬ ‭NIV‬‬

      Yet Biden and the like want to essentially move our border boundary by advocating for open borders.

      Abortion – And what about this one:

      “ For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”

      Yet Biden advocates to allow killing a baby in the womb.

      And Kamala Harris wants to legalize prostitution. So how about these verses:

      1. Leviticus 19:29 Do not defile your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will be filled with prostitution and wickedness.

      4. Leviticus 21:9 If a priest’s daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she also defiles her father’s holiness,

      5. Deuteronomy 23:17 No Israelite, whether man or woman, may become a temple prostitute.

      6 Proverbs 22:14 The mouth of an adulterous woman is a deep pit; a man who is under the LORD’s wrath falls into it.

      7 Proverbs 23:27-28 for a prostitute is like a deep pit; a harlot is like a narrow well. Indeed, she lies in wait like a robber, and increases the unfaithful among men.

      8 Proverbs 2:15-16 Whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their ways. Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words.

      9. Proverbs 5:3-5 For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her seductive words are smoother than olive oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.

      And if we really want to disqualify politicians let’s hold them to the requirements of an elder;

      “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.”
      ‭‭1 Timothy‬ ‭3:1-10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

      You could use this to attack Trump, an obvious lover of money and having several marriages. Joe Biden would fail miserably as well. Ask yourself, how does a government employee 47 years become a multi-miklionsyec? Jill Biden’s ex husband alleges she had an affair with Joe Biden whole they were still married.

      https://www.google.com/amp/s/nypost.com/2020/08/17/jill-bidens-ex-husband-accuses-her-of-having-affair-with-joe-biden/amp/

      And manage his household ? have you read about Hunter Biden immoral exploits with prostitutes, affairs, and drugs? And Joe says he is proud of Hunter. He could not manage his household. Biden outright rejects Catholic doctrine on abortion.

      Shall I go on??

      1. Whoever you are, thanks for making very good and salient points. I even emailed Mr. Tisby but have not heard from him. He seems to be under the illusion that everything liberal biased media says about Trump is true, and just blindly repeats what he’s heard without seriously considering policies that have been Biblical, such as those supporting unborn life and prayer in public schools, etc.

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