Is Evangelicalism a Threat to Democracy?

—Oh boy, where to start? The title sounds like click-bait, and I wish it were. As I have stated in the past, I grew up in the Assemblies of God, the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world and 4th largest Protestant denomination. Although fiercely non-Calvinist, the denomination shares much of the same inclinations of conservative Calvinist churches. Although I have very little in common with the denomination now, I have always held out hope that they would move into the 21st century and leave the 19th century behind. This of course, is my hope for the Calvinist groups like the Southern Baptist denomination as well.

—The Assemblies is the fastest growing church body in the Global South where Pentecostalism is spreading like wildfire, growing 3 times as fast as Catholicism. While Christianity is shrinking in the Western Hemisphere, in Asia, Africa and Latin America it is growing rapidly. But there is a disturbing side to all this. Those countries have been politically swinging to the hard right as of late. Brazil is one such example. (1)

—Brazil has had its share of financial and political problems and scandals. Socialist reforms have, in large part failed in the Global South as a result of widespread fraud and governmental corruption. Pentecostals have been slowly building influence and political clout in Brazil. Tired of the problems in their country, they have turned to a right wing politician that has expressed disturbing views. I bring this up as it fits a pattern we are seeing among evangelicals: support for and enthusiasm for authoritarian leaders. They fit the pattern of populist support of right wing oligarchs that promise “law and order.”

—Instead of the Global South bringing a new perspective: a non-white perspective, to evangelicalism, we are seeing the same fears and xenophobia exhibited south of the border as we are seeing among white evangelicals north of the border. Any hopes I previously held in this regard for the state of evangelicalism have been dashed.

—So what does this have to do with democracy; it fits into a broader ultra conservative backlash that we are seeing around the globe; a pushback, if you will against progressive ideals. This is exactly what is behind the almost monolithic support among evangelicals for such an antichrist figure as Donald Trump: he feeds off their fears, and represents a past where they felt they were in control of things.

—The ironic thing about the “average” evangelical, American or other, is the sense of “patriotism” they feel they are exhibiting. But in fact, the controls they wish to enforce on others, the limitations on other’s personal freedoms, the restrictions on immigration and asylum, are antithetical to a free democratic society. What we are seeing among many evangelicals is similar to a “soft fascism.” The yearning for a regimented society, strict laws and an ultra-Nationalist viewpoint; all hallmarks of the Trump agenda as well as Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.

—As Trump has recently expressed, he is a “nationalist,” (2) so too are most evangelicals. Evangelicals in America have so completely identified with a white brand of nationalism that true democratic principals are almost impossible to find. Let me be clear; all forms of government are man made attempts to solve real world problems and evolve the use (or misuse) of power. Democracies, dictatorships, communism: all fall under the category of “principalities and powers.” As such they are more or less antithetical to the Kingdom of God as they operate on the principals of coercion rather than self-sacrificial love. But some systems allow more leeway for the principals of the Kingdom of God to operate than others. Fascism is definitely not one of those systems that allows for free expression of a cruciform church.

—This is what I have tried to express in past posts; a church that is controlling, that seeks power, that marginalizes others is not in the will of God. It is not reflecting the cruciform love of Christ. This is not only bad news for the witness the Church is supposed to have in society, it is bad news for a free democratic society. I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but I think evangelicalism has become dangerous!

1 https://theconversation.com/brazilian-evangelicals-swinging-hard-to-the-right-could-put-a-trump-like-populist-in-the-presidency-96845

2 https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/10/texas-trump-speech-takes-turn-nationalist-181023143833295.html

7 thoughts on “Is Evangelicalism a Threat to Democracy?

  1. Excellent observations here. I think along the same line as you can read in my latest blog post. Sadly, after reading Matthew Sutton’s “American Apocalypse” I’m convinced that evangelicalism has always been this dangerous.

    Liked by 1 person

    • American Apocalypse is the book that started my deconstruction a half dozen years ago. Your post was spot-on, BTW. If we look at the trajectory of white privilege and racism that has historically been the undercurrent of fundamentalism it is easy to see that conservative American Christianity has always been a threat to democracy. Odd that I never saw it before, but evangelicalism is a bubble constructed almost entirely of confirmation biases.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m reading the book in preparation for a scholarly essay on the problem of evangelical soteriology in which vertical concerns (getting Jesus in your heart) dominate and override the horizontal concerns (social justice). Thanks for the interaction!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, that is the major problem with the individualistic “born again” slant on the gospel message by evangelicals. The recent Statement on Social Justice by MacArthur is an excellent illustration of the problem.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s hard to know how to handle the “evangelical/fundamentalist” problem. If it were simply a problem of theological/doctrinal differences, they could be allowed to cluster together in their mega-churches and simply become irrelevant. But they are actually hurting society, and not just America, but around the world. I see them now as less a religious movement as a they are semi-fascist, ultra conservative political movement. The problem is confounded by the fact that our families, those we love, are entrenched in it. I still attend an evangelical church, but get very little out of it. It is more by necessity than any sense of “belonging” there; my 94 year old mother has never known anything other, and we take her there. My wife is evangelical as well, but much more postconservative than the rest of our families.

        Liked by 1 person

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