A "data-backed Christian nationalist machine" & other news
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Hello. This is the free edition of The Post-Evangelical Post for the week of 3/2/2020.
Let’s get into it.
“A data-backed Christian nationalist machine”
This week, The Guardian published an excerpt of Katherine Stewart’s new book The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. It is a worthwhile read, and the book is available now.
Within this excerpt we learn about Bill Dallas, a man who has been building networks of conservative Christians since the 90s, and using those networks to pursue a Christian nationalist agenda. The article ties Bill Dallas to a number of well-known conservative Christian figures (David Barton, Jim Garlow, and others), as well as how one of his organizations Pioneer Solutions Incorporated has data on almost 200 million Americans.
It’s astonishing, and frankly a bit terrifying.
I want to surface a couple of things from Ms. Stewart: one from the book, and another from the essay. Within the book, she provides a strong definition of Christian nationalism.
“Christian nationalism is not a religious creed but, in my view, a political ideology. It promotes the myth that the American republic was founded as a Christian nation. It asserts that legitimate government rests not on the consent of the governed but on adherence to the doctrines of a specific religious, ethnic, and cultural heritage. It demands that our laws be based not on the reasoned deliberation of our democratic institutions but on particular, idiosyncratic interpretations of the Bible. Its defining fear is that the nation has strayed from the truths that once made it great. Christian nationalism looks backward on a fictionalized history of America’s allegedly Christian founding. It looks forward to a future in which its versions of the Christian religion and its adherents, along with their political allies, enjoy positions of exceptional privilege and power in government and law.” - Katherine Stewart, The Power Worshippers (emphasis mine).
Keep this definition in mind as you read and observe news during this national election cycle. It will help you contextualize the motivations and goals of Christian lawmakers and pundits, and why they use the tactics they do to drum up support and rile up their base.
The other passage, from The Guardian’s excerpt, is a succinct description of the religious right:
“The religious right is not a single organization, and yet it is surprisingly well organized. It may be perceived as a grassroots movement, not answering in a formal way to a command-and-control hierarchy. But it is the big-picture strategists who are, to a largely under-appreciated degree, acting as its architects and engineers.”
These three sentences get to the heart of why the religious right remains such a powerhouse in national politics and beyond. Behind the aw-shucks appearance of any individual evangelical Christian leader, there are powerful, organized, well-funded organizations with orchestrated agendas. The left, in comparison, often fails to build consensus within its own ranks in order to advance their causes. It can be shocking for someone who leaves evangelicalism - where one is accustomed to the party/pulpit loyalty - and explore liberal politics, where the lack of such ideological cohesion is so…different. It’s liberating on a personal level, but when pursuing collective goals against such a unified enemy, it is a disadvantage. This is a lesson that I fear the Democrats have still not learned, even after all this time.
More women Empty the Pews
This week, Barna published a guest column by Burge about the accelerated rate of decline of women attending America’s churches:
“In 2009, 48 percent of women attended church at least once a week, but, in less than a decade, the share has dropped to 31 percent. During the same period of time the share of men who attended church at least weekly declined 12 percentage points. While there used to be a gender gap in attendance, that is clearly no longer than case.”
There are several legitimate reasons women have left churches: sanctioned and sanctified disenfranchisement through complementarian theologies and practices, being denied leadership roles, misogyny, and abuse.
If you have stopped attending church, what are your reasons? Feel free to leave them in the comments.
“Very little abundance by any account”
Popular author and podcaster Jen Hatmaker has a new book coming out, and an excerpt was published this week in the Dallas Morning News. This bit is #relatable:
“Then, curiously, many of my peers left the evangelical church, never to return. For something branded as abundant life, my version had thin staying power, very little abundance by any account. The threats of worldly destruction turned out to be false. The warnings of secular doom and empty marriages ruined by heavy petting were empty. After all that, our new classmates and co-workers didn’t invite us to swinger parties or peddle heroin in the bathroom. The “world” we were taught to avoid (except during sanctioned moments of systematic evangelism) was filled with ordinary people who could be good and kind and wanted the same fulfilling life we thought we had the market cornered on.”
Coming up on Exvangelical
I’ve got a great slate of guests coming up on my podcast Exvangelical:
Mark Russell, author of the comic Second Coming I reviewed last week,
Laura Anderson & Brian Peck from the Religious Trauma Institute, and
Nate Postlethwait from The Other Side of Saved,
and more are in the works!
Finally, here are a few quick things that are off-topic:
📖 I’m listening to the audiobook of Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves. The book opens with the moon exploding, and the human race having to come together and try to preserve at least some people in space - because in two years time, what’s left of the moon will begin hurtling toward Earth and destroy it. I find some odd solace in it, that people can find ways to work on the biggest problem - avoiding extinction! - because it reminds me that we can find ways to address big, impossible situations. Hope isn’t the word. But it reminds me that good work is valuable, even if we do not benefit directly from it.
📱Twitter is testing out Stories, basically. They’re going to be called ‘fleets.’ I’m cautiously optimistic about it. Twitter’s CEO is also under fire by an activist investor. Twitter is the one social network I can’t seem to quit. You can follow me there @brchastain.
📺I am very excited about the show Devs.
This newsletter is still new and taking shape. Let me know what you think! If you enjoy this, consider purchasing a paid subscription and get an additional newsletter on Mondays.
Thanks for the heads up about Katherine’s new book. I had a long chat with her in about 2013 about some of these networks.
It occurs to me that the myth of a Christian founding actually has a longstanding and established version wedded to the dominant liberal centrism of the 20th century that worked ok as long as the mainline churches were predominant and enforced a kind of liberal pluralism. When it was forced to actually include women, POC, LGBTQ people, etc. and for various other reasons the Center collapsed, there was a great deal of liberal failure of nerve — the failure of the new left, the emergence of neo-conservatism from liberal centrists and even fairly reactionary currents on the left all tended to project a nostalgic image of a virtuous religious past that grounds the culture somehow, providing a moral compass and legitimacy for imperial power.
Is there really a usable past in America, for progressives? If so, what role does religion play in it?