The Elephant in The Pews

My wife and I (through our new church) have been taking a weekly Zoom class called “Be The Bridge,” which is an open forum for listening and sharing about the devastating effects of institutional racism, and how to be better equipped to have hard conversations about the topic with others.

It’s run by some great people, and aside from not having many personal anecdotes to share (as a white guy), overall it’s been pretty valuable, and the stories have been heartbreaking and powerful.

The problem, however, is with one of the core rules of the class: no politics allowed.

In a different era, this would have been completely reasonable, as politics should absolutely not have a place in the church. In 2021 though? It means that outreach attempts remain impotent as we dance around the gigantic elephant in the room:

Over the past several decades (with a massive acceleration over the past five years), the American evangelical church has tightly fused with the modern Republican party.

What effect does this have? It means that attempts to have good-faith conversations about any number of issues (institutional racism in this case) are met with closed ears and a dismissive “let’s not bring politics into it” stock answer. In other words, the message of the class sounds like foolishness for those unwilling to hear.

Am I saying that the church should try to convert people into Democrats? Of course not. Am I saying that the church should call out what modern Republicanism has become, by name, as racist, xenophobic and jingoistic? 100%.

Will membership go down? Almost certainly. Will this hurt financially as tithes stop coming in? Yeah, probably a great deal. But aside from being the right thing to do, it may (over time) even win back some of the younger people that have walked away, alienated by the church’s tacit embrace of Trumpism in recent years. Taking a strong moral stand is never easy, but it always pays off in the end.

Hesitant

Disclaimer: This post does not apply to any (currently ineligible) children under 12 or those with legitimate medical conditions who are unable to be vaccinated. They’re some of the people we’re trying to protect the most!

My wife and I have been warning about the dangers of the conservative misinformation ecosystem for a while now, and ever since the COVID vaccines became widely available I’ve been observing the ongoing antics of the anti-vax/anti-mask crowd with grim fascination.

Still, aside from posting snarky memes here and there, I hadn’t dedicated a post to my thoughts on the subject. Well, the past few weeks finally broke me. Specifically, seeing or hearing about:

  • A friend sharing a “vaccine hesitancy” video and information on trying to prevent mandates designed to stop the COVID spread (positioned as an issue of “personal choice”)

  • Stories like these

  • Deranged parents protesting classroom mask requirements (therefore going out of their way to place their own children in greater danger)

  • A local church setting up a separate viewing/listening area for those that are maskless (as if validating that as a reasonable option)

  • People taking horse de-worming medication rather than the vaccines

Enough.

I know that peer pressure can be strong, especially in conservative evangelical circles with extremely isolated media ecosystems that stir up strong “keep the government out” sentiments (except when it comes to reproductive rights, of course 💀).

Here’s the thing though: Beating COVID is going to take a united front. Contagious pandemics don’t care about your ill-informed “personal choice” arguments. People are getting sick and dying, and collective action is the only way out.

As a country, we used to be able to do this. Prior to the rise of always-on, instant misinformation sources, we banded together to defeat Polio and Smallpox. Measles, on the other hand, had a recent re-emergence due to, you guessed it, misinformation.

Even if you’re “hesistant” about getting the vaccine (there’s no reason to be) and slapping a mask on, putting your own reluctance or arguments about “personal freedom” above the lives of others is an inherently immoral act.

Just as free speech ends with your ability to yell “fire” in a crowded theater, the ability of the unvaccinated to participate in society (during a global pandemic!) should be dramatically restricted.

Shut up and wear the stupid mask. Get vaccinated to help do your part as a member of the human race. And please, please, please stop eating horse paste.

Naming Names

I was recently sent this piece that was written in response to the horrifying events of January 6th. It can be boiled down to a few key points:

  1. There’s pressure for Christians to “pick a side” in present-day America.

  2. These sides are generally split between the two political parties.

  3. Both sides are equally flawed (as evidenced by the 2011 Wisconsin State Capitol protests).

  4. Christians should generally work to rise above the fray.

Setting aside the ridiculous equivalency between the Wisconsin occupation and what happened on January 6th, what’s missed entirely is that the warring “sides” that culminated with the U.S. Capitol insurrection are actually truth vs. misinformation, and that Christians should absolutely choose a side: that of truth.

The thorny reality, however, is that (with few exceptions) it’s the Republican party that has been absolutely infested with believers of misinformation, and while only a minority disappear entirely down the deepest rabbit holes, many more quietly tolerate this dangerous state of affairs.

This fantastic piece absolutely nails these types of people, and the profile fits the majority of those I’ve personally encountered like a glove:

If you are in the American Church, you know this person. They are very different from the mob who stormed the Capitol; however, they have actively been building up an Evangelical culture that has contributed to the increasing political polarization and the us vs. them mentality that pervades American life today.

Specifics, please?

They often speak about what they are against, but rarely about what they stand for. They believe older male leadership in the Church is never to be questioned, even when wrongdoing is as clear as day, and they enforce that belief.

They decry cancel culture and socialism, even though they unknowingly engage in both practices. They claim identity politics is evil, not understanding that all politics stems from identity and that they are willing participants in their own way.

Many people would call them racists. Some of them are, but in my experience, I’ve found that honest ignorance and a lack of interest in understanding different lived experiences are the real challenges they face, not racism.

Voting Republican —regardless of the candidate— is a given. Though they tend to be quiet about the specific politics of the day, the singular issue of abortion will unleash full-blown brutalization, with the concept of loving their neighbor being abandoned entirely.

Sometimes they dabble in far-right ideology and misinformation, but more often than not, they adhere to socially conservative media and worldviews. The hope that the Gospel offers each person is often confused with rugged American Individualism, causing the Gospel to be supplanted with a sustained culture war.

Perhaps most importantly, they struggle to separate worshipping God with worshipping the belief that they hold the absolute truth, and wielding it against others.

Many Absolutist Evangelicals also give generously. They serve others, sometimes as the most dedicated servants in a given church. They show up to many of the weekday events at their church, which are often far less attended than Sunday morning service. Many of them are genuinely nice and warm people, right up until one of the above issues arises.

If the church is truly going to address the scourge of misinformation, we need to call it out, despite the fact that it will absolutely alienate more people on one side of the aisle than the other. Change is hard, but talking about misinformation without giving concrete examples will simply make those under its spell smugly nod to themselves, assuming that the sermon they’re hearing is meant to lift them up (as evidenced in this wishy-washy piece).

This nails it:

Especially in the wake of the January 6 insurrection, cries for unity have been heard throughout Washington, as the need to come together feels more urgent than it has in years. Here, Blight sees a useful lesson to be found in history: “In all the work I’ve done on the Civil War and public memory, the central thing I’ve learned is that you can’t have healing without some balance with justice,” says Blight. “You have to have both. The justice has to be just as real as any kind of healing.”

In other words, if we’re to start uniting behind the common banner of what is just and true, we need to name names when it comes to misinformation. Some people/topics to start with:

  • QAnon Adherents
  • Anti-Maskers
  • Anti-Vaxxers (in fairness, this one does sometimes overlap “sides”)
  • Climate Change Deniers

  • Institutional Racism Deniers

Let’s open up (consequences be damned) and fearlessly wade into these waters. It’s the only true way forward.