Profound Concerns About Evangelicalism In 2022

Feb 5th, 2022 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

The two major political parties in the US have always exhibited partisanship; that is the nature of politics.  But, the political culture of America in early 2022 is meaner and more dysfunctional than at any other point in American history, save the last few years of the 1850s right before the Civil War.  For example, The Economist’s John Prideaux writes that “Partisans really loathe each other: 40% reckon the other side are ‘downright evil,’ 60% that they are ‘a threat to the United States.’ Lilliana Mason of Johns Hopkins has written persuasively about the rise of what she calls ‘lethal partisanship’ in the electorate. Yet those views are often based on a caricature of what the other side is really like. Some enthusiastic Republicans think that Democrats are a bunch of socialist snowflakes who hate America. Some committed Democrats believe that Republicans are crypto-fascist racists who hate science. The vast majority of Democrats and Republicans are neither America-hating socialists nor crypto-fascist bigots. So why are such views, which feed the worst kind of partisanship, so widespread? One of the best books for understanding how partisans think is Jonathan Haidt’s, The Righteous Mind, which was published a decade ago but has not been bettered since. Mr. Haidt writes persuasively about the lengths people will go in order to avoid being wrong or having to change their minds. Our own views are far more secure if we can caricature the views of our opponents. It is less exhausting to write them off than to consider they might have something to teach us. And thanks to innovations in technology and the loss of influence of media gatekeepers, it has become very easy for us to find the worst that each side has to offer. For example, in October a Republican legislator, Brenda Landwehr, compared vaccine mandates to the Holocaust. If you are inclined to write-off Republicans as dangerous crazies this is pretty good evidence. But before Twitter came along the views of a Kansas state representative would not have been broadcast to every political junkie in America.”


In this Perspective, I am not giving critical focus to either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party.  My interest is where Protestant evangelical Christians land in this partisan battle.  I loathe much of what the Democratic party stands for when it comes to life issues, such as abortion.  I rarely support legislation that deepens the US government’s commitment to the welfare state.  But what I am interested in probing is the willingness of evangelical Christians to be a part of the meanness, the ugliness and character assassination, which is now the new normal within the American political culture.  Such participation damages the gospel and harms our witness as citizens of Christ’s kingdom.  Let me offer two areas of concern.


  • First is the often typical evangelical  response to vaccinations for the COVID virus.  As columnist Michael Gerson, who is himself an evangelical, has shown, “White evangelical Christians have resisted getting vaccinated against the coronavirus at higher rates than other religious groups in the United States.”  This is perplexing because the default ethical stance of Christianity is the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” In the New Testament, the Golden Rule is the moral culmination of the Sermon on the Mount. And it is clear from the text that Jesus is not encouraging a calculating ethic of reciprocity. His goal is to inspire a kind of aggressive, preemptive generosity. “If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”  Gerson on evangelical resistance to the vaccine: “Some initial resistance came in the context of a familiar ethical debate: Did the creation of coronavirus vaccines involve cell lines produced from aborted fetuses?  The short answer is: no. A slightly longer answer is that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is grown in fetal cell line PER.C6, which was derived from an elective abortion in 1985. ‘But contrary to social media claims,’ Francis Collins, former director of the National Institutes of Health, told me, ‘there are no fetal cells or fetal DNA in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.’ The Vatican has indicated that Catholics can take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.  ‘The Pfizer and Moderna mRNA are synthesized without the need for a cell line,’ Collins said. ‘The only possible objection against those is that their effectiveness was tested in certain lab experiments that used fetal cell lines. But if that is sufficient reason to decline them, that would also need to apply to a very long list of current medicines, including aspirin and statins.’”


“The main resistance of evangelicals to public health measures does not concern abortion. Having embraced religious liberty as a defining cause, they are now deploying the language of that cause in opposition to jab and mask mandates. Arguments crafted to defend institutional religious liberty have been adapted to oppose public coercion on covid. But they do not fit.  More than that, the sanctification of anti-government populism is displacing or dethroning one of the most basic Christian distinctions. Most evangelical posturing on covid mandates is really syncretism, a merging of unrelated beliefs—in this case, the substitution of libertarianism for Christian ethics. In this distorted form of faith, evangelical Christians are generally known as people who loudly defend their own rights. They show not radical generosity but discreditable selfishness. There is no version of the Golden Rule that would recommend Christian resistance to basic public health measures during a pandemic. This is heresy compounded by lunacy. And when Christians are asserting a right to resist basic public health measures, what is the actual content of their religious-liberty claim? The right to risk the lives of their neighbors in order to assert their autonomy? The right to endanger the community in the performative demonstration of their personal rights?  This is a vivid display of the cultural and ideological trends of a warped and wasted year. It just has nothing to do with real Christianity.”  Robert P. Jones, who leads the Public Religion Research Institute, writes that “in the upside-down world white evangelicalism has become, the willingness to act in self-sacrificial ways for the sake of vulnerable others — even amid a global pandemic — has become rare, even antithetical, to an aggressive, rights-asserting white Christian culture. The result is reckless self-indulgence that places some evangelicals’ own aversion to being told what to do’ ahead of the health and lives of vulnerable populations.”

  • Second, is the ongoing uncritical, nearly fanatical allegiance to former president Donald Trump. Such an allegiance is profoundly damaging to our faith as Christians.  Peter Wehner, an evangelical Christian and former adviser to President George W. Bush, explains in a column for The Atlantic how a recent speech from Donald Trump Jr. reflects the inversion of religious faith. “The former president’s son,” Wehner writes, “has a message for the tens of millions of evangelicals who form the energized base of the GOP: the scriptures are essentially a manual for suckers. The teachings of Jesus have ‘gotten us nothing.’”  Wehner continues: “It’s worse than that, really; the ethic of Jesus has gotten in the way of successfully prosecuting the culture wars against the left. If the ethic of Jesus encourages sensibilities that might cause people in politics to act a little less brutally, a bit more civilly, with a touch more grace? Then it needs to go. Decency is for suckers.”  Trump spoke at a Turning Point USA gathering on December 19.  He displayed seething, “nearly pathological resentments” but also led the crowd in “Let’s Go, Brandon” chants.   Wehner observes that “there was one short section of Trump’s speech that I thought was particularly revealing. Relatively early in the speech, he said, ‘If we get together, they cannot cancel us all. Okay? They won’t. And this will be contrary to a lot of our beliefs because—I’d love not to have to participate in cancel culture. I’d love that it didn’t exist. But as long as it does, folks, we better be playing the same game. Okay? We’ve been playing T-ball for half a century while they’re playing hardball and cheating. Right? We’ve turned the other cheek, and I understand, sort of, the biblical reference—I understand the mentality—but it’s gotten us nothing. Okay? It’s gotten us nothing while we’ve ceded ground in every major institution in our country.’  Throughout his speech, Don Jr. painted a scenario in which Trump supporters—Americans living in red America—are under relentless attack from a wicked and brutal enemy. He portrayed it as an existential battle between good and evil. One side must prevail; the other must be crushed. This in turn justifies any necessary means to win. And the former president’s son has a message for the tens of millions of evangelicals who form the energized base of the GOP: the scriptures are essentially a manual for suckers. The teachings of Jesus have ‘gotten us nothing.’ It’s worse than that, really; the ethic of Jesus has gotten in the way of successfully prosecuting the culture wars against the left. If the ethic of Jesus encourages sensibilities that might cause people in politics to act a little less brutally, a bit more civilly, with a touch more grace? Then it needs to go.”  Donald Trump Jr. believes, as his father does, “that politics should be practiced ruthlessly, mercilessly, and vengefully. The ends justify the means. Norms and guardrails need to be smashed. Morality and lawfulness must always be subordinated to the pursuit of power and self-interest. That is the Trumpian ethic.”  Is this the genuine conviction of followers of Jesus?  Is this the posture of those who represent Jesus in this dark world?  Is this the solution to the devastation that sin has wrought on the human race.?  Are we as Christians seriously communicating that this is our priority for 2022?  I sincerely pray that we as evangelicals will critically, prayerfully and seriously draw the line here:  This is not our priority and this is not our passion.

See John Prideaux in The Economist, “Checks and Balance,” (31 December 2021); Michael Gerson, “Most evangelical objections to vaccines have nothing to do with Christianity” in the Washington Post (31 December 2021); Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post ( 28 December 2021 ); and Peter Wehner, “The Gospel of Donald Trump Jr.” in The Atlantic (26 December 2021).

Comments Closed