It’s Time to Talk About Violent Evangelical Extremism

I began the draft of this blog quoting well-framed criticism of political figures you’d recognize if you haven’t been living in a cave. But I suspect they thrive on any publicity, even bad publicity, so in a rare act of self-control, I deleted it.

You’re welcome. I need a drink.


In the original Star Trek series, there was an episode in which M-5, a revolutionary computer created by Dr. Richard Daystrom, is designed to handle all ship functions without human assistance.

It’s thought to be an impressive achievement—until M-5 takes total control over the USS Enterprise and begins to attack other Federation ships. Captain Kirk tells Daystrom to disengage the M-5 unit, but it proves to be impossible. M-5 has grown far more powerful and dangerous than anyone could have imagined; the crew scrambles to shut it down.

“Reverse thrusts will not engage, sir,” the chief engineer, Montgomery Scott, tells Kirk. “Manual override isn’t working either.” Mr. Spock, the first officer, chimes in: “No effect on any of the M-5 controls, Captain.” And then the chief medical officer, Leonard McCoy, utters this line: “Fantastic machine, the M-5. No off switch.”

Peter Wehner, The Moral Inversion of the Republican Party, thinks the GOP may have created an M-5.


David French sets the record straight not only on Robinhood/GameStop but also on Parler: The Fog of War Shrouds the Battle Over Online Censorship.

A named Republican politician who knows better has shouted out hasty bullshit versions of each — think of it in terms of rightwing demagogues racing to stupid conclusions much as CNN and Washington Post did on the Covington Catholic story two years ago. But since he hasn’t defamed any fresh-faced boys, he’ll never be called to account with money damages and an apology.


Shifting a bit, I note that Politico interviewed Elizabeth Neumann, who was raised Evangelical and who was high up in the Department of Homeland Security. Neumann gave insight into a religiosity that proclaims itself Real Christianity® but suffers from undiagnosed theopenia:☦︎

[They conclude] that eventually, pastors will not be able to preach against homosexuality or abortion, and if [they do], they’re going to end up arrested and unable to preach. I’ve heard that argument made multiple times over the last 10 years. The irrationality is the idea that there are no protections, that the courts wouldn’t step in and say, “No, the First Amendment applies to Christians as well.”

It tries to assert that they are losing power and must regain that power by any means necessary — which is why you can justify voting for Trump, so that we can, for God’s purposes, maintain this Christian nation.

The article, titled It’s Time to Talk About Violent Christian Extremism, really should be titled It’s Time to Talk About Violent Evangelical Extremism. The interview subject was raised Evangelical and that movement, and its vulnerabilities to Christian nationalism, apocalypticism, authoritarianism and violence, was her entire focus. There was no effort to implicate any other Christian traditions in violent extremism.

More:

She sees QAnon’s popularity among certain segments of Christendom not as an aberration, but as the troubling-but-natural outgrowth of a strain of American Christianity. In this tradition, one’s belief is based less on scripture than on conservative culture, some political disagreements are seen as having nigh-apocalyptic stakes and “a strong authoritarian streak” runs through the faith. For this type of believer, love of God and love of country are sometimes seen as one and the same.

Do you see anything about the evangelical tradition that could make its believers more susceptible to QAnon?

I really struggle with this question. I’ve been trying to figure out how it is so obvious to me …

There is, in more conservative Christian movements, a strong authoritarian streak, where they don’t believe in the infallibility of their pastor, but they act like it; they don’t believe in the infallibility of the head of the home, but they sometimes act like it; where you’re not allowed to question authority. You see this on full display in the criticisms of the way the Southern Baptist Convention is dealing with sexual abuse, which is so similar to the Catholic Church [sex abuse scandal]. There is this increasing frustration that church leaders have [this view]: “If we admit sin, then they won’t trust us to lead anymore.” But if the church is not a safe place to admit that you messed up, then I don’t know where is — or you clearly don’t believe what you preach.

The authoritarian, fundamentalist nature of certain evangelical strands is a prominent theme in the places where you see the most ardent Trump supporters or the QAnon believers, because they’ve been told: “You don’t need to study [scripture]. We’re giving you the answer.” Then, when Rev. Robert Jeffress [a prominent conservative Baptist pastor in Dallas] says you’ve got to support Donald Trump, and makes some argument that sounds “churchy,” people go, “Well, I don’t like Trump’s language, but OK, that’s the right thing.” It creates people who are not critical thinkers. They’re not necessarily reading scripture for themselves. Or if they are, they’re reading it through the lens of one pastor, and they’re not necessarily open to hearing outside perspectives on what the text might say. It creates groupthink.

Another factor is Christian nationalism. That’s a huge theme throughout evangelical Christendom. It’s subtle: Like, you had the Christian flag and the American flag at the front of the church, and if you went to a Christian school, you pledged allegiance to the Christian flag and the American flag. There was this merger that was always there when I was growing up. And it was really there for the generation ahead of me, in the ’50s and ’60s. Some people interpreted it as: Love of country and love of our faith are the same thing. And for others, there’s an actual explicit theology.

There was this whole movement in the ’90s and 2000s among conservatives to explain how amazing [America’s] founding was: Our founding was inspired by God, and there’s no explanation for how we won the Revolutionary War except God, and, by the way, did you know that the founders made this covenant with God? It’s American exceptionalism but goes beyond that. It says that we are the next version of Israel from the Old Testament, that we are God’s chosen nation, and that is a special covenant — a two-way agreement with God. We can’t break it, and if we do, what happened to Israel will happen to us: We will be overrun by whatever the next Babylon is, taken into captivity, and He will remove His blessing from us.

What [threatens] that covenant? The moment we started taking prayer out of [public] schools and allowing various changes in our culture — [the legalization of] abortion is one of those moments; gay marriage is another. They see it in cataclysmic terms: This is the moment, and God’s going to judge us. They view the last 50 years of moral decline as us breaking our covenant, and that because of that, God’s going to remove His blessing. When you paint it in existential terms like that, a lot of people feel justified to carry out acts of violence in the name of their faith.


☦︎ So far as I know, theopenic and its cognate theopenia are my coinage.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s