Why Evangelicals don’t know they are Racist

​Evangelicalism as an offshoot of slave society


“You got niggers in your church?” the woman asked me after I showed her my wedding photo album (1980, Churches of Christ, rural Alabama). 

Chevy Chase surveying his labors


Historians have noted that the South has been particularly religious, in the evangelical sense. Since 1980 historians have called the tragic identity of southerners after the Civil War the Lost Cause, and have noted it is a religion that combines southern Confederate values and Christianity. 


My relatives raised in the Churches of Christ (non-instrumental) would have said that they were restoring the One True Church that Jesus established on the Day of Pentecost, A.D. 33. Left out of the narrative was that the Churches of Christ split off from the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ in the north (1840-1880) because the northern congregations were beating the abolitionist drum, according to David Harrell, leading up to the Civil War (1860-1865). I heard that the One True Church had to leave the Christian Church because they were using instruments of music in worship, and because they had established a convention and elected a president, clearly the first steps toward establishing denominational hierarchy not found in the One True Church in the book of Acts. But I never heard that we split off because we hated abolitionists and wanted to keep slavery. 


Everyone knows that the Ku Klux Klan were racists who believed that the only way to protect white jobs and control the sexual sins of the black man were to lynch a few every once in awhile. But we didn’t know why they burned a cross. It was because they were an evangelical Christian organization. They did not allow Catholics or Jews to join, only Protestant Christians. They sang a hymn and prayed at every meeting. We pointed at them as the racists. They never believed they were racists at all, they were just pointing out the biblical order of society and races. We couldn’t see that we were part of a larger movement that included the Ku Klux Klan and all the white evangelical southern churches. 


​Almost all of the denominations and sects split​ during the abolitionist movement, south from north. The Southern Baptist Church, The Southern Methodist Church, the Churches of Christ, the Presbyterian splits, almost all of them embraced slavery in the south and eschewed the Abolitionist Movement. Long after the Civil War they upheld the superiority of whites, and the tragedy of the undisciplined Negro, who unconsciously longed to go back under slavery where they were well treated, and benefited from an organized productive life as slaves. 


My parents taught me privately to not be racist. And by the 1950s nobody talked about supporting slavery, but they did hate the Supreme Court for interfering in their Lost Cause Civil Religion, as they hated “Martin Lucifer Coon” for registering black people to vote. “What are they even marching for?” “Why are they causing trouble at the lunch diners? Nobody wants to mix. They prefer being separate.” “Why are they rioting?”
“Excuse me, there’s a Negro congregation across town on Lexington Avenue. I’m sure you would be much more comfortable over there.” (1964)

I never heard about Martin Luther King, or the struggle to vote, in my home, or in my church. I heard that the Baptists were wrong because they believed in Once Saved Always Saved, and used instrumental music in worship (The apostle Paul said, “Sing and make melody in your heart”, NOT on a piano, “in your heart”). But I never heard that black people were not permitted to buy an FHA financed house, and were not permitted to live in a white neighborhood and attend white schools. 

The Lost Cause Civil Religion is a continuum. On the right is the KKK, and on the left are those who welcome black people into their congregation, as long as the black person leaves the congregation the same as when they entered, no changes, no discussions of race, except to confirm our beliefs.

Fear of the black man was what drove much of the Lost Cause Religion: 

  • Jingoistic patriotism, flag and country, and Dixie flag and the South shall rise again.
  • Traditional male-female roles: men provide for their families, men defend women’s honor, women keep the home and raise children, men go to war, 
  • bootstrap ideology, work hard and you will succeed,
  • opposition to socialism because socialism rewards the lazy, 
  • authoritarianism: harsh towards the weak, obedient to the powerful, competitive with peers. 
  • Children should be seen and not heard, paddled often, should be fearful and obedient. 
  • Whites were righteous, god-fearing and trustworthy. Blacks were addicts, thieves and violent. 
  • Our religion is right, yours is wrong. We’re saved, you’re going to hell. An evangelical prayer before every team sport.

One of the deacons in our church in Indiana used to tell Jewish jokes to his Jewish boss, who didn’t laugh. He was employed as a catalog photographer. When he was replaced by a black photographer he was incensed at the boss, the company, and President Carter’s policy of reverse discrimination. There was no self reflection. When the congregation started using overhead projectors he objected because they were unscriptural innovations. His Jewish jokes weren’t sinful, but the government and the overhead projectors were sinful. 

When we drove from Indiana to Mississippi to see our grandparents, every bathroom stall had anti-black pro-KKK graffiti–every bathroom stall. 

So now I realize that I was raised in a milder version of the Ku Klux Klan. And when I pointed out inconsistencies in the Churches of Christ I was met with the same nasty attitudes shown to the Freedom Riders and the Lunch Counter Protesters, and the Voting Registration Marchers in the 1950s-70s. I was opposing the real religion: The Lost Cause of Genteel Southern Society based on the backs of cheap black labor. That was and is the true religion of Evangelicalism in the United States. 

The Lost Cause Religion can be seen in Evangelical Christians voting for the Republican Party:

  • The embracing of the slogan Make America Great Again, by going back to the era when there were no blacks in the professional jobs at work, and one could tell jokes about Jewish stereotypes and not get fired. 
  • Evangelical Christianity is the true religion of the USA.
  • This nation was made for white people, the others need to be quiet and try to fit in. believing that anything that is not white and evangelical is evil. Agreeing that voting stations in black neighborhoods should be closed.
  • The belief that voting for Republicans saves more innocent lives because they are ProLife.
  • Accepting that Mexican children can be separated from their parents and housed in chain link prisons for months and years resulting in permanent mental illness.
  • Voting for more and more military power.
  • Sending their children off to fight in wars far away.
  • Wars with Arabs who believe in an evil religion. 
  • Being baffled by the anger around Black Lives Matter. What are they even fighting about? Blacks are treated better than Whites now. 
  • Democrats cheat and Republicans don’t cheat. The belief that Trump tells the truth (everyone who has played golf with him says he cheats on every hole).

Jesus was hated after he told the story of the Good Samaritan. That’s like telling a story about the Good Negro here in the Bible Belt, and how the Evangelicals crossed the road to get away from the bloody body in need. 

They told me I was raised in Christianity, but what I was raised in was Racism and Authoritarianism: the opposite of Christianity. Evangelicalism is not primarily about Jesus, it is primarily about perpetuating the Lost Cause Religion of the South. If Jesus can fit in the cracks somewhere, then fine, we’ll let him in. But what the Bible Belt Evangelicals really want from Jesus is a nice Christmas dusting of snow so we won’t have to see the evil in our hearts. 

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Racial Humor in the Religious South

No-one has been prosecuted for the many Martin Luther King statues that have been desecrated, some of which are on display in a museum in Amsterdam.

As Black Lives Matter becomes mainstream it is interesting to me to see my religious relatives’ anger rising. Where did this come from?

My parents were less racist than most as I was growing up, but we grew up in the Bible belt, north of the Mason-Dixon line, where there were small enclaves of acapella Churches of Christ, non-instutional (my 90 year old father has never quit preaching about the painful split (1957-1964) in the acapella Churches of Christ.

I had always been taught that the Churches of Christ split from the Disciples of Christ and Christian Church when they formed the American Christian Missionary Society in 1849. What we were taught was that missionary societies, in and of themselves, were unbiblical, an organization bigger than the local congregation, with no authorized organizational structure in the New Testament. Churches (local congregations) were authorized in the New Testament to send out missionaries, but not a larger organization.

What we were not told was that the American Christian Missionary Society our sect split over had taken an abolitionist stand. Further we were not told that the Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians split at exactly the same time (North vs South) over abolition vs slavery. And that most of the Churches of Christ were in the South, and the Christian Church and Disciples were in the North.

There is still doctrine in the Churches of Christ, non-institutional (NI), against any organization on earth, greater than the local congregation, to do the work Christ assigned to the local congregations. There is still rampant racism as well, not overt racism, which is taught against, but I had never seen a black person in a congregation I attended until I was 14 years old. The Churches of Christ are strong only in the South, and areas where southerners moved to, or where slavery was strong in the north and west.

When I studied to be a minister in the Churches of Christ, NI, I first interned in 1977 at a church in Buckner, IL. I learned from the congregation that it was located in an all white county. In the late 1960s a black family had moved into nearby Benton, IL, and people burned their garage down the first night. The family moved out the next day. The congregation told me that there used to be a sign up at the edge of town that said black people were not permitted to spend the night in that town.

The minister (in his 50s) I was working with, Eural, was renovating his house. He casually referred to the black insulation board as “nigger-board”. When I raised my eye-brows he looked embarrassed and said, “That’s what they call it at the lumber yard. I don’t think they have another name for it.” He was very upset when his daughter dated a black man in 1976. He told her that he knew men years ago who would warn the black man, then if he didn’t stop dating a white woman they would kill him, and those men were still alive. So she stopped dating the black man.

One of the elderly congregants, Sister Flatt, asked me if the beast of the field in the book of Genesis wasn’t black people. I later learned this is an old doctrine. (When I acted upset at that idea, she quit inviting me for Sunday dinner.)

The second place I interned in 1978 was in Gainesville, FL in an all white congregation. The minister (50s), Jim, was from Arkansas, wore cowboy boots every day, was writing his thesis for his doctorate in education, and wanted the congregation to sell the minister’s house because blacks were moving into the neighborhood. The other intern I worked alongside, from St Louis, MO, made comments about black people frequently, at least 3 comments per day, thought it was funny to call blacks “Jigaboos”. Nobody thought of themselves as racist.

One of the elders in the congregation invited me for supper. He was a laconic country boy, blue collar, with three sons, living on a small farm. He worked as a postmaster in a small town. He had named his last son, Plenty, because he had plenty of sons. Plenty told jokes at the supper table. (Trigger warning: these will keep you up at night.) “A guy killed three niggers and skinned ’em. He sold the skins to someone as wetsuits, but the customer brought them back, complaining the snorkels were at the wrong end.” I was upset by the joke. His father sat stolidly shoveling food in his mouth. His mother said, “Plen, I wish you wouldn’t tell that.He doesn’t want to hear that.” Plen was a small teenager (16) and attended a mixed rural high school. Looking back on it I realize he was terrified of his fellow black students.

I was taught at home that racism was wrong, but my father, a minister, never taught against racism from the pulpit or in a Bible class. He didn’t see it as a huge problem. (My father treated almost everyone as a second class citizen, white or black.) He relegated teaching against racism to what should be taught at home. He did however teach against mini skirts, homosexuality, women having careers, divorce, pornography, as well as the usual laundry list of lying, stealing and hating, enough to keep us feeling guilty all the time. When Martin Luther King Jr was marching to help blacks in the South gain the right to vote, my father never mentioned it to his congregation, or to us. When Martin Luther King Jr was shot, he never discussed it.

What strikes me now is that I was duped into participating in the Lost Cause movement. The Lost Cause movement is a civil religion of sorts, similar to the movement after the War of Independence in 1776. After 1776 the American civil religion became democracy. “All men are created equal” originally meant “All landed gentry (usually with slaves) are equal to the royals in England.” But after 1776 it meant that we were the newest, most modern, socially progressive nation in the world, and every real American was deeply proud of that fact. That became our civil religion. Almost all churches have an American flag on the dais, illustrating that nationalism permeates American religion. Europeans saw Americans as progressive leaders, but also as naive idealistic teenagers.

The problem with all men being equal is that it made people think that slaves might be equal too, which upset those whose livelihood and economy was based on slaves. (Aside: It is odd that the genocide of the Native Americans 1830-1890 occurred at the same time that abolition was being preached.)

The North has its own brand of racism, as can be seen in the ironic fact that Minneapolis served as the latest catalyst for BLM.

After the Civil War (1861-1865) and Reconstruction, the South was devastated and demoralized. They were compelled to develop a new identity from the ashes: The Lost Cause, which became their particular civil religion, separate and distinct from the North. The Lost Cause includes:

  • honor,
  • patriotism,
  • tradition,
  • Bible-believing Christianity,
  • family,
  • traditional roles,
  • strict child discipline,
  • protection of women (especially from uncivilized black men),
  • having been Victimized by the North, (being misunderstood because the North has had no experience with southern blacks),
  • slaves were actually well-treated and happy under slavery, but now blacks are adrift, shiftless, and useless. (Therefore they are better suited to prison and not voting, not all blacks, just most of them.)
  • the South has never been racist.

I served as a minister in Starke, Florida, in 1980, for a tiny congregation. Starke, FL was the home of the state prison. As soon as I was hired an older member, Brother Wall, of the congregation had to talk about whether I was a Yankee or not. He had to tell me how General Sherman’s scorched earth policy included awful treatment of women and babies. Sister Wall told me with disgust that you couldn’t get any blacks to clean your house anymore. There were no mixed neighborhoods in town. I attended the high school graduation. there were ten cum laude students, 8 were females and two were feminine males, all white. 95% of the men in the congregation chewed tobacco, and 25% of the women. Every pickup truck had a spit can on the dash.

The Lost Cause is alive and well in the Evangelical Church and can be seen in reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement:

  • anger at LGBTQ steps forward, including the latest decision by the Supreme Court that nobody can be fired for being gay or transgendered. This violates their belief that the bible condemns homosexual acts.
  • empathy for the police who are being heaped with insults during the protests,
  • viewing the protesters as rioters, violent, against law and order,
  • a call for more law and order, and submission to authority, and more discipline of children,
  • seeing police killings as normal reactions to individuals who are rude and obstructing justice,
  • the same number of whites per capita are killed by police as blacks, so why don’t All Lives Matter?
  • if people would submit to the Bible, as we understand it, there wouldn’t be all these problems. Why are people upset anyway?

If you told them they are participating in a civil religion called the Lost Cause, my relatives would be irritated and deny it. My relatives would endorse all the values of the Lost Cause, except the ones about blacks. They believe they are not racist, and would welcome blacks in their congregation. However, they are perfectly comfortable with Confederate flags, Confederate monuments, angry at BLM, and happy to attend covertly racist congregations, where they do not hear anti-racism sermons in their churches. They are blind to abuses of the Lost Cause movement.

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Race Relations in the Church

trumplafayettebible

President Trump cleared protesters out of this square in front of a church so he could have a photo op with a Bible.

Take any class in the world on how to mediate conflict. Rule #1: Get both sides to respectfully listen to the other side. What is amazing to me is the number of white people who have said to me over the past week, with great emotion: “What are they upset about? There is no need for them to be demonstrating.” Well, I wish that those white people would listen to black people before they make those pronouncements.

The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, split off from the Methodists in 1844 over slavery. The southern Methodists embraced slavery and pointed to scriptures in the Bible that talked about slavery as justification for maintaining slavery, while the northern Methodists condemned slavery as against Jesus’ teachings.

The Southern Baptist Convention split off in 1845.

The Churches of Christ (in which I grew up) split from the Christian Church/Disciplies of Christ in 1863 when the American Christian Missionary Society backed the Union side during the American Civil War (in which the slaves were freed). The story I heard was that the Churches of Christ split over the formation of the missionary society, and later over instrumental music. Yes, all those were contributing factors. But the one factor conveniently left out of our oral history is that all the other protestant denominations split over slavery, and lo and behold, all the Churches of Christ/Disciples of Christ were splitting at the same time and for the same reasons. Currently Churches of Christ are centered in former slave states, and in states where southerners moved to (e.g. Michigan to work in the auto factories, and California).

Presbyterians split over slavery 1857-1861.

My theory is that we humans join and shape religions to support what we already believe and feel. Our faith does not often change us, but we often change our faith.

After the ravages of the Civil War, the Southern slave states tried to treat blacks the same way they had been treated during slavery. So the federal government (the North) imposed Reconstruction on the South. About 1500 blacks were elected to local and state offices. Whenever the Federal government let up on control, the southern former slave states reenacted laws that took political power away from blacks. They imposed poll taxes and Jim Crow laws to prevent blacks from voting: literacy and knowledge of the state constitution became requirements for being allowed to vote; in practice only blacks were disqualified from voting. Whites were not required to know anything about the state constitution.

When Jim Crow laws were outlawed by the federal government, redistricting took place. Each district was divided so that the black voters were outnumbered by white voters when voting for a local candidate.

In the 1950s and 60s black people in the southern former slave states marched for the right to ride in the front of the bus, eat at a public diner, and to register to vote unhindered, the way white people were allowed to register. Since that was the age of TV, there is extensive video on how these marchers were treated: whipped, beaten, water cannoned, imprisoned, lynched.

Currently there is controversy over closing  1200 polling stations in largely black neighborhoods, so they have to travel to white neighborhoods to vote.

Lynching was a way to keep blacks cooperative with the white agenda.  Lynchings were almost always connected to accusations of black men raping white women and children. Lynchers were revered as protectors of the honor of the women in the community. My nephew teaches modern history at a State College near Atlanta. Each year he teaches a short module on the lynchings that occurred in the city in which the college now resides. The last lynching was near 1920. A special train was scheduled for the event (the lynching was scheduled in advance). There were ads in the local newspaper in advance of the lynching. Families packed picnic baskets, laid out blankets on the lawn and ate their lunches, then watched the lynching, then had their family photos taken with the hanging corpse. Some of those photos are carefully pasted into family photo albums. In the following days the local butcher shop sold the knuckles of the lynch victim.

Lynching was used to intimidate blacks into submitting to whites.

In 1921 an entire middle class black community was massacred in Oklahoma, simply for forgetting their place and being wealthy.

After WW2 white soldiers returning from Europe were encouraged to buy a house with federal assistance (FHA), but they were not permitted to buy a house in an unstable neighborhood (defined as a black or mixed neighborhood). Thus the white middle class began building wealth by owning their own homes, against which they could later borrow for large purposes: starting a business, sending one’s kids to college, etc. Blacks lived (and were confined) in black neighborhoods, which the federal government deemed unstable, therefore they were not eligible for house loans up until 1968, when it became illegal to prevent blacks from living in any neighborhood, and when it became illegal to enforce race clauses in property deeds preventing the sale of property to blacks (or Jews). [edit: Fred Trump and his son Donald were sued by the federal government in 1971 for refusing to rent to blacks, whom Fred referred to as “die Schwarzes”.]

Black neighborhoods were ravaged when they were targeted for the path of interstate highways, because they didn’t have much voting capacity anyway. Everybody wanted interstate highways, nobody wanted them to go through their neighborhood, so the neighborhoods with the least voting influence got the highways built right through them. Black neighborhoods have seldom had equal funds for education.

So in Minneapolis in 2018 (notably not a former slave state, not southern nor a Republican state) white families with an income of $80,000 were almost twice as likely as black families with incomes of $80,000 to own their own homes. Researchers have found that when they filled out two identical mortgage applications and ticked off white or black on them, the white application was far more likely to be approved than the black application. And this is almost always unconscious. The mortgage lenders swear they are not biased, and just go by the numbers, and they truly believe this in their hearts, but the numbers don’t lie. This is called Unconscious Bias.

[One explanation is that blacks generally have less savings because successful black families are helping their relatives to get an education and get our of poverty. Something white families don’t have as much pressure to do, and have houses to borrow on.]

Prison has been used to lower the number of black voters. 10% of black men aged 40 have a felony on their record, and in slave states they cannot vote.

Some of the precursors to our modern police force were the laws in the pre-Civil War slave states that empowered any white person to arrest any black person not in the company of their master, which developed into slave patrols.

America Protests , Washington, United States - 01 Jun 2020

The president cleared a path so he could walk to this church to hold a photo op while holding a Bible.

Northern states developed police departments in the mid-1800s (around the time of the Civil War) to protect rich people’s property and to control labor union violence. Lower class people, regardless of race were the original targets for the police.

Never have the police been as gentle and as conscious of their image as now. Before our era they could kill people low on the social totem poll and seldom have to face any consequences.

After the Civil Rights marches, Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination, John F. and Robert Kennedy’s assassinations, the slave states floundered in their ability to control blacks. The War Against Drugs became a way to control black people. The favorite drugs of black people during the early years were marijuana and crack cocaine, because they were the cheapest. Compared to powdered cocaine, which was much more expensive and which became the favorite of whites. Comparing black vs white drug use, they are virtually identical, except for type of drug. So the types of drugs favored by black people were deemed felonies, while the type of drugs whites used were deemed misdemeanors. The War Against Drugs became another way to imprison blacks and ensure they could never vote in the slave states.

When busing of students to create a more mixed student body in each school became the law in the early 1970s, white people moved to all white suburbs that were not included in the cities that were busing.

Middle class people are the most authoritarian people in any society. They know which side their bread is buttered on, and they are faithful to their employers and the social ladder they are climbing. They teach their children to keep their elbows off the table (like rich people), are the most likely to endorse Law and Order as a value, and to condemn anyone that their rich employers condemn.

So all of this is to illustrate the fact that when a police officer kills a black man they are arresting, there is already a boatload of frustration built up to fuel protests. People don’t suddenly protest or become violent. They have a long history. There has never been a time in our history when there has been political equality between the races. Currently whites don’t want to lose “equality”, while blacks still aspire to “equality”.

If we want peace we will have to listen. We don’t have to agree, but we definitely have to listen and listen respectfully.

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How Double Binds keep us in Sects and Cults

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This morning I was searching for an online Church of Christ service so I could put a screenshot of an online service into my blog. I came across a Lord’s Supper prayer (you’re supposed to take the Lord’s Supper at home during Coronavirus, while everyone else watching the service takes it, so you’re taking it together). In the prayer I heard the familiar phrase: “Lord, help us to examine ourselves to see if we are worthy to partake of this Supper.” This is a misapplication/misquote from I Corinthians 11: 27

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Each one must examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.

The apostle Paul wrote this to the church at Corinth because they were engaging in competitive picnicking as communion/eucharist. The apostle Paul said this was the opposite of the purpose of remembering Christ’s death. But the Churches of Christ I grew up in use the passage to make everyone feel guilty for taking the Lord’s Supper. If I have committed even one sin, then I am unworthy to take the Lord’s Supper. Which is also the opposite of why Jesus instituted communion: feeling forgiven by God.

So the Churches of Christ I grew up in required us to take the Lord’s Supper every Sunday (because the only example we have of the Lord’s Supper is on a Sunday, and Sunday comes every week, Acts 20:7). If you didn’t take it you had sinned  (like a mortal sin in the Catholic Church, in danger of hellfire damnation). If you take it in an unworthy manner (or as misquoted: if you are unworthy of taking it–as everyone is) then you have also committed a sin (in danger of hellfire damnation).

So a nice neat double bind: one of the requirements of all sects and cults. If you take away all of the coercion in a sect, and just keep the tight community and wonderful singing, then it all falls apart. The Catch-22, No-Wins are the foundation of sects and cults. 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses put out an edition of the Watchtower pamphlet every 2 weeks. Every member is expected to study it and answer questions about it at the next Bible Study. Every month or so a pamphlet will offer a slightly new interpretation of the Bible, not too radical from previous doctrines, but definitely a slightly new angle than they have taken before, or a new prophecy of when the Kingdom will come on earth. If you question the pamphlet, you are disciplined, and if you don’t accept the discipline you are kicked out. So the pamphlet insures that each member is toeing the line. You have a monthly eradication of all dissidents, the kingdom remains pure. A double-bind: I have to accept the previous doctrines, and then I have to accept changes to doctrines without questioning.

Double-binds keep us feeling helpless. The doctrines in the Churches of Christ I grew up in kept me in constant doubt about myself: Was I worthy? Of course not. Well then, why was I taking the communion? But what if I stop taking the communion? Several preachers would speak up and loudly proclaim that we had gotten that verse wrong and to stop using that phrase in our Lord’s Supper prayers, but the poor deacons kept using the phrase, and really, they were the ones who knew the true doctrines of the Churches of Christ, not the radical preachers: You are never allowed to know you are saved, you have to remain always in doubt. That is the most holy feeling: guilt and fear.

It is mostly empowered people who leave sects and cults, so keep the people disempowered. It is not poor destitute people who go on strike, it is the ones who have the most rights and the most empowerment who go on strike. It is seldom slaves who riot, it is slaves who have had a taste of freedom.

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The End of Fundamentalist Sects

COVID-19 is going to end Fundamentalist Sects in the USA. Several states have banned church services. Once people get used to not going to church, the threats of hellfire won’t be enough to bring them back to church.

Why do people go to fundamentalist sects?

  •  born into the sect
  •  believe what they are taught
  •  fear of eternal damnation and hellfire
  •  tight community
  •  safety net wherever they go
  •  the singing is great!

Now that their sectarian community has dissipated to online communication during the virus, they have lost their tight community. They have only their tradition and their fear of hellfire to keep them in line. Each week they don’t attend, and don’t eat the bread and drink the grape juice, the hypnotic hold lessens it’s grip on their heart. They find other ways to cope with life. Their sect helped them cope with life by being a tight community, instant friends if they moved to a new city, just show up at the local gathering of the sect, easy job networking. That support is no longer there. They are resorting to all manner of other supports now. And the support of the sect becomes less and less important.

If the virus lasts for 18 months, as many scientists are warning, they may find that once real church services recommence, they will allow a week to go by without attending, and another.

Currently they are tuning in to the twice a week church services, but nobody is checking to see if they are there or not. Nobody is watching. So they can tune in, and just walk around the house in their PJs, and eat brunch while the service goes on. The singing is awful: because there is a 2 second delay, nobody can sing along and be heard, you have to mute your mic in order to sing along. You can’t really see anybody else worshiping. During the sermon you can answer emails, or read the news, post on Facebook,

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Centerville Church of Christ online worship service during the virus 2020

turning the volume down if it gets boring. The group pressure to conform is less and less.

Some sects have adapted. They have small Zoom Bible studies every week. Each participant is quizzed and nobody can mute the Bible study and pretend they are there. Those groups will survive. But most sects don’t adapt. They are populated by

  • traditional,
  • reactionary,
  • scared people.

They want things to remain the same, and they want things to be safe. This virus has upended those and made them diametrically opposed. Nobody can attend church the same as always and be safe.

Once people find a new way of coping, it will be difficult for them to go back to the old sect.

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Instrumental Music: An imagined conversation between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

The Churches of Christ (acapella) have a tradition of singing only, with no instrumental accompaniment. The hard line Churches of Christ believe it is a matter of salvation: anyone who worships with instrumental music is not saved. What if we could have been in the room when the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were discussing outlawing instrumental music in the New Testament church? [click on the link to see the video]

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Instrumental Music in the Churches of Christ acappella

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Trump and the Evangelical Family

The role of Patriarchy in the Election

Recently Mark Galli, the editor in chief of Christianity Today Magazine wrote an editorial endorsing the impeachment of President Trump.

In an interview with NPR when asked why it had taken so long for the editor to speak up against President Trump, the editor said it was like a woman who has an abusive husband. He’s been a good provider and a good father, but now he has started to hit her.

Rabbi Amitai Adler pointed out (and bemoaned) how patriarchal that remark is.

But that’s just the point: Evangelicals voted for President Trump because he supported  patriarchy. 

When you confront evangelicals with the fact that Trump is not a good role model as a family man: he is an unrepentant adulterer, twice divorced; evangelicals see a man who made huge mistakes, but always aimed for one ideal: a nuclear family where the man is the head of the family, the breadwinner and Provider, and the woman is the homemaker and child rearer.

The most popular evangelical para church ministry of the 1980s and 1990s was Focus on the Family. And Family was defined as a husband who is the head of the family (the patriarch) and the woman who supports him emotionally and as the homemaker, with 2 to 6 children, preferable homeschooled (by the mother) so the children would not be contaminated by anti-patriarchy espoused by the education system. They don’t want gay teachers, trans teachers, atheist teachers, and teachers who approve and enforce tolerating those practices, teaching their children.

Evangelicals have not so much found patriarchy in the Bible (it’s there, not hard to find) as much as they have insisted that their Christian faith incorporate an idealized nostalgic version of the Patriarchal Family.

And President Trump has delivered in that regard: He has nominated a supreme court judge who will carry patriarchal values into the highest court in the land. And carlo-allegri-donald-trump-lgbt-flag-2016-presidential-electionTrump has made it okay to trash talk anyone who threatens patriarchal values.

Obama was a pariah to evangelicals, not because he was black, but because he tore down the patriarchal view of the family, actively encouraging gay and trans Americans to stand up and be heard, and pushing the women’s movement forward.

The editor of Christianity Today is saying: Yes, we like President Trump supporting our patriarchal values, but he has gone too far with his behavior this time.

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Echoes of Past Sins at Liberty U

I remember doing some reading about the Pearlygates scandal when I was doing research in graduate school. During the mid-1980s four prominent televangelists were embroiled in lurid scandals:

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Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker on the PTL Club in 1986

  • Jim Bakker and to a lesser extent, his wife, Tammy Faye Bakker, who together had hosted the PTL Club, were exposed by the press and then by Jerry Falwell, Sr. (a Baptist mega-church preacher and founder of Liberty University). The Bakkers were accused of greed, illegal sales of time shares, drug addiction and sexual misconduct with employees.

Recently the late Jerry Falwell Sr’s son, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and his daughter-in-law, Becki Falwell, and grandson, Trey Falwell have been reported to have engaged in greedy practices at Liberty University, favoring friends and relatives instead of putting jobs out for bids, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. They have also been reported to have been engaged in helping one of their employees, John Gauger, Chief Information Officer of Liberty U, to start an IT business, Redfinch, LLC, by giving them $120,000 per year of business to recruit students, in addition to Gauger’s salary as the CIO of Liberty. Gauger’s Redfinch company was hired by Michael Cohen to rig a CNBC online poll to encourage Trump to enter the presidential race. Gauger programmed a computer to vote repeatedly for Trump in the online poll. Cohen testified that he hired Redfinch to rig the poll at the instruction of Trump.

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Falwell’s family in the oval office.

Jerry Falwell, Jr and his son, Trey, have also been reported to be engaged in covering up relatively innocent photos from a nightclub. The coverup became necessary because students at Liberty U can be expelled for drinking alcohol or visiting a nightclub or a dance.

I remember Jerry Falwell, Sr. in the 1980s on television reading aloud the requests of the Bakkers for their retirement severance package after the scandals broke. Fallwell, with a smile, pronounced their requests “unmitigated greed”. The Bakkers responded in a televised interview that they had been responsible for bringing in a million dollars a day in donations to the PTL Club, and their severance requests were in line with that kind of fund raising history. Bakker went on to spend time in prison, sentenced to 45 years for the illegal and impossible promises he made to purchasers of  time shares in his Christian retreat center.

Now coming almost full circle, the late Jerry Falwell Sr. has his own son being accused of similar greed at Liberty U. Jerry Falwell, Jr’s wife, Becki, was instrumental in having an employee fired within a few hours after she posted a comment on a social media site that the University did not have enough parking.

The Liberty University Board members complain that they are not consulted when huge money favors are extended to friends of Jerry Falwell, Jr., or to Trey, his son. They are simply told in emails what the decision already is.

Some Christians have lamented that these are not typical of evangelical Christianity, just anomalies. But my theory is that these kinds of abuses are part of evangelical Christianity, inseparable from the way evangelicals construct their world view:

James Fowler built his theory of Stages of Faith onto Kohlberg’s stages of Moral Development.

  1. Stage One: Literal and direct agency of God. Elders in the religion are the carriers of the faith. I project onto God what is in my head.
  2. Stage Two: Pre-Conventional Faith: The stories of the religious tradition are of utmost importance and they are taken literally. A feeling that God will scratch my back if I scratch his back. The elders of the tradition hold the faith.
  3. Stage Three: Conventional Faith: Of utmost concern is that I look reputable to those above me and to my peers. Obedience to those in authority, and loyalty to my religion. My church holds my faith. I am not concerned about figuring it out for myself, I want my church to do that for me. I am fiercely loyal to my in-group and fiercely hostile to any out-groups.
  4. Stage Four: Unconventional Faith: I want my faith to make sense to me. Inconsistency will make me argue and argue with those in authority. I cannot let go of my church, but I cannot let them stay inconsistent and hypocritical. I confront the community like a teenager.
  5. Stage Five: Post-conventional Faith: I want everyone to be treated equally regardless of whether they are in my group or not. I have my own faith that lives inside me. I do not need others to agree with me. I follow my own conscience. I love the old symbols of my faith: Baptism, hymns, ceremonies. I am curious about others’ faith. I have less and less answers and more and more questions.
  6. Stage Six: I think only of those in need. I have no thoughts about my own needs, only those who are downtrodden.

Most people are in Stage 3, regardless of whether they are religious or not, and regardless of what religion they belong to. This is why when you get into a political debate with someone they don’t listen to logic. They are in Stage 3, they are fiercely loyal to their in-group, and fiercely hostile to their out-group. This is necessary for the psychological stage of development they have reached. They do not have a clear identity inside themselves, so they latch onto a particular group to hold their identity secure. They are equivalent to a 10 year old, who is loyal to his friends and his school and his scout troop.

So of course any leader in this group that is the least bit narcissistic is going to slip into abusive practices that favor him- or herself. This is endemic to evangelical Christianity, with its hierarchical view of authority. Evangelical Christianity attracts Stage 3 believers, and ejects Stage 4 believers. So these scandals are destined to repeat themselves ad nauseum.

 

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Scandals that Change our World View

Why Fundamentalist churches cannot survive Postmodernism

House of cardsPostmodern movies are dystopian: they show a negative outcome for the world. The Wire is a postmodern TV show, showing the corruption of the Baltimore narcotics, police and mayoral office. After watching that show we can no longer approach politics and government institutions expecting Truth, Justice and the American Way, as the Superman TV shows announced each week in the 1950s.

Postmodernism grew out of the abundance of information. Just as the Enlightenment grew out of the invention of the European printing press. Postmodernism grew out of the invention of the radio, the TV, the computer and finally the internet. Suddenly information was abundant like never before.

WW2 was the good guys against the bad guys, the opposite of postmodernism, and we could not see much corruption, because we were far away, and there wasn’t enough alternate information, just lots of confirmation that we were the good guys.

In Germany, however, postmodernism took root among artists and musicians. They had lost the war in 1945 after killing 6 million Jews, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses and developmentally delayed. They could clearly see the contrast between the propaganda they had received from the government and the truth they could see out their windows. However mainstream German society was caught up in moralistic strictures to keep Nazism from coming back, and focused on good vs evil.

Japan, after experiencing Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, jumped both feet into postmodernism.

water cannonIn America the Civil Rights struggle was televised in the 1950s and 60s. We saw water cannon knocking over black people wearing their Sunday clothes and marching and singing peacefully, just because they wanted to register to vote.

But it was not until the Viet Nam war in the 1960s that postmodernism took root in America. We were able to see on TV every night the awful carnage going on. We weren’t freeing concentration camps and defeating Nazis in Viet Nam.

Young people welcomed the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the early 1960s, eager to tear down the old and build new.

Then Nixon’s corruption was exposed in newspapers and on TV in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Finally sexual abuse began to be exposed. Women’s rights were rising. Sexual abuse by priests hit the newspapers in Boston in the 1980s.

The explosion of the computer and the internet has created a WaterWorld effect in our society. Now nobody gets a newspaper delivered to their door, and very few people watch TV with ads anymore. Most of our information and news comes through social media.

TV shows like House of Cards revealed what Americans think of their presidency. And then the Me-Too Movement toppled the star of House of Cards.

Currently the death of Epstein, connected to two presidents in his sex trade of underage girls, has further exposed corruption. It could never have happened until we, the American public, were ready to hear it.

So how can fundamentalist churches survive? The attitude of postmodernism is everywhere in all media:

  • Question the viewpoint of any writer or speaker. What is their motivation?
  • Question the facts. How much evidence do they have?
  • Who benefits from these facts?
  • Who suffers from these facts?

So now when a 25 year old faithful fundamentalist church member, also steeped in postmodern internet culture, listens to a sermon at his church, he asks more questions than his parents or grandparents. He is more skeptical.

When he reads the Bible he is more skeptical as well. He wants to know the political and social background of the people talking and the people being affected.

Ten years ago a speaker was talking to our church plant about the 200 Philistine foreskins that David paid King Saul for his daughter. The Philistines were a tribe that had not been conquered by Joshua and the Israelites when they conquered Canaan 200 years earlier. The Israelites hated the Philistines, who were not circumcised like the Israelites. She said, “Imagine how Saul felt when David, whom he hated, arrived with the 200 Philistine foreskins he had demanded.” I said, “Imagine how the Philistines felt.” Everyone laughed. I wasn’t laughing.

That question wouldn’t have been asked if I hadn’t actually talked to a Palestinian at a liberal Mennonite church I had attended for 6 months. He said, “We are the direct descendants of the Philistines. The word Palestinian is the same as the word Philistine. Just take out the H.” Information is dangerous to fundamentalism.

So who benefits from that story? Who loses from that story? These are postmodern questions that unravel fundamentalism and traditional evangelicalism.

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