‘I Don’t Think Jesus Himself Would Fit With Today’s Evangelical Base’
Readers respond to a story in our June issue.
How Politics Poisoned the Church
I have been in full-time ministry for more than 20 years in churches around the U.S. Now I am winding down even though I am just 44.
I am due to preach in a couple of weeks, and I have nothing to say. I have wrestled with why and have concluded that I am so disappointed and frustrated with modern Christianity that all I want to do is rail against it. It has taken a toll on my faith for many years and has left me empty. The Church has fallen prey to propaganda and a lack of critical thinking, resulting in an ever-weakening witness and a nearsighted worldview. We contradict the very essence of the teachings of Jesus.
Thank you for your research and article. You give a voice to those who will never be heard by more than a small audience.
I appreciated Tim Alberta’s clarity about what is really at stake with the rise of far-right evangelicals. The unholy alliance between radically conservative Christianity and radically conservative politics doesn’t seek the kingdom of God; instead, it wants to impose a theocracy on the United States of America. Such a theocracy would cheapen the foremost requirement of the Christian faith: humbly carrying one’s cross daily.
Early Christians believed that following Jesus Christ transforms a person into a well of compassion, humility, kindness, and generosity. They put the needs of others before their own.
Theocracy does not require such an inner transformation; the evangelical-right base and its prophets are quick to condemn cherry-picked sins. Jesus, by contrast, said that the important matters of God’s commands are “justice, mercy, and faith.” I don’t think Jesus himself would fit with today’s evangelical base.
Reverend Vanessa J. Falgoust
The fact that Tim Alberta “didn’t see a single person carrying a Bible” at FloodGate is not at all surprising. Just as a disturbing percentage of evangelical Christians find science, democracy, and journalism inconvenient, so too, it seems, do they find the New Testament inconvenient. That’s because its main message is not freedom, but responsibility. How else would we categorize the Golden Rule and the parable of the Good Samaritan?
Red Deer, Alberta, Canada
Tim Alberta laments “How Politics Poisoned the Church.” Unfortunately, the current predicament of American evangelicalism started long ago, when it opened itself up to various poisons by cutting itself off from the deep spiritual, liturgical, and intellectual roots of the Church. Matters worsened when evangelicals hitched themselves to American capitalist culture and its growing pile of social detritus: celebrity, power, success, and narcissism. Having severely limited their theological diet to a single book, the Bible, they forgot that though it is a rich and powerful book, it is also almost infinitely malleable when atomized into single verses. It’s a recipe for captivity to whatever cause or enthusiasm catches fire at the moment. The result is a bizarre caricature of Christianity.
Arland D. Jacobson
Thanks for Tim Alberta’s thoughtful and heartbreaking reporting on politics and American evangelicalism. I grew up attending a small Southern Baptist church in rural Kentucky. I haven’t visited in several years, but I hear it hasn’t escaped the politicization that Alberta writes about. The pastor—a conservative, by any normal standard—has been branded a liberal for bucking right-wing orthodoxy on race, gun violence, and other issues. Relationships have been strained or broken.
Politicizing the Gospel has human consequences. My dad, a Focus on the Family conservative in the great tradition of the ’90s, felt alienated by COVID skepticism on the right. The message he heard from anti-maskers and vaccine skeptics was this: Only healthy people matter. Dad was at high risk for several reasons and feared that he would die if he caught the virus. He was right. I watched COVID stop his heart last October.
As I grieve my dad, I’m also grieving evangelicalism like another loved one. My faith journey is complicated enough already. It’s even harder having to realize that the tradition I come from is committed to political victory at all costs.
Tim Alberta’s analysis of the current evangelical movement’s struggles seems based, at least in part, on the separation of the spiritual and religious from the earthly and human, as he states in his interpretation of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Yet Paul’s encouragement to set one’s sights on the “unseen” does not indicate that his followers should move “away from the fleeting troubles of humanity.” If politics refers to the power dynamics that shape and influence how a society sees and defines itself, claiming that the earliest Church writings, including the Gospels, were apolitical seems a gross misinterpretation of their content and message.
When Christ tells us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, he implies that there’s something inherently wrong with allowing others to starve or freeze to death. Preachers encouraging greater inclusion of the marginalized, generosity to the poor, and welcoming of the outsider are offering messages that have not just spiritual implications, but political and economic ones as well. The churches vilifying those who support science by stressing the importance of wearing masks during a pandemic or those who accept the truth that the 2020 election was not stolen are divisive and toxic, yes, but more important, they’re not preaching the Gospel. Pastors need to be courageous enough to support leaders and government policy that make manifest what it means to live up to Christ’s teaching.
From the Archive
One striking image in this month’s Viewfinder column (“A Man’s World”) shows a group of astronauts posing in microgravity on the Mir Space Station in 1998. Tucked in a scrum of rugby-shirt-wearing men is Bonnie Dunbar, the seventh American woman to go to space, who was then on her fifth and final space-shuttle mission. Dunbar has appeared in The Atlantic before. In March 2019, what would have been the first-ever all-female spacewalk was stymied by a dearth of spacesuits small enough for the women. Dunbar spoke with our space reporter, Marina Koren, about the limitations NASA’s suits had long imposed on astronauts.
As Koren reported, NASA still uses spacesuits designed in the 1970s. These initially came in a range of sizes, but in the ’90s, budget cuts led to sizing cuts: The agency eliminated its smallest spacesuits.
On the International Space Station, astronauts conduct regular spacewalks to maintain the facilities. These walks require well-fitting spacesuits. According to Dunbar, the suits’ shortcomings in recent years have influenced not just who went on missions but who became an astronaut. “Applicants had to be bigger to be selected,” she told Koren.
Having spent years trying to develop new spacesuits in-house, NASA recently contracted with two companies to finish the job; these next-generation suits will accommodate a broader range of body types. Separately, at Texas A&M University, Dunbar and a team are working to develop custom-fitting suits using body-scanning technology.
Stephanie Hayes, Deputy Research Chief
Behind the Art
“ ‘We Need to Take Away Children,’ ” an investigation of the Trump administration’s family-separation policy, is the longest feature The Atlantic has published in a single issue in decades. The art for this article employs the aesthetics of bureaucracy—photocopied documents, torn renderings of court filings, and black-and-white photography—to evoke the trove of evidence that Caitlin Dickerson uncovered in her reporting. We found that presenting the information in stark terms made clear how administrative banality masked the callousness at the heart of the policy.
Oliver Munday, Design Director
This article appears in the September 2022 print edition with the headline “The Commons.”