This post is a reflection on Christian nationalism from 1999 until 2018. How it evolved over the years before surging in 2016 and catching me flat footed. Christian nationalism is deeply divisive and causes unnecessary conflict. After coming back to the church it became one of the issues to drive me away from it. Why did Christian nationalism flare up to such an extreme version in 2016? This post attempts to answer that question toward the end.
“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”
“Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.“
Charles De Gaulle
God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend. For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour.
Job 37:5-6 ESV
Wooded Hills Church in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area. Note that absence of face masks indoors during a pandemic.
When I started in evangelicalism it was at Fresno Evangelical Free in 1999 and 2000. At the time Bill Clinton was president and while many disliked him I did not see a great politicization of the EFCA church I was a part of at one time in my life. I really didn’t hear comments, nor did it come up in Bible study. The same was true for Campus Crusade for Christ at Fresno State. I heard comments about Catholics and Mormons being a cult. Or how mainstream Protestants were spiritual liberals and in heresy at the time but not politics. Today as I reflect back on that I wonder why that was the case.
George W Bush and Elmbrook Church and Wooded Hills From 2000 Until 2005
I first began to notice Christian nationalism in the Bush Presidency in Wisconsin. The mantra among Republicans at the time is that he is “one of us.” I remember when the wife of my senior pastor at Wooded Hills explained to me that Bush was to be commended for his character and integrity. I heard a couple of people commend Bush on overcoming his alcohol problems through faith in God. Bush was spoken highly of and respected. Elmbrook Church is the largest mega church in Wisconsin and is in the most conservative county in the state called Waukesha. You can read more about Waukesha here. At Elmbrook people loved George W. Bush. When I was at Wooded Hills it was also a third wave charismatic church. This led to a unique situation where some in the church supported Iraqi Freedom in 2003 because they desired and wanted war in the Middle East to help usher in the End Times. I wrote about this awhile back in, “Iraqi Freedom and Wooded Hills Bible. When You Blindly Lust For War in the Middle East Hoping to Usher In the End Times.” I thought it was normal to see so many people excited about war. Today in reflecting back on this topic it breaks my heart that I was brainwashed. At this time there was an uptick of Christian nationalism but it was no where what I would see in about a decade. In Campus Crusade I saw Christian nationalism from my Milwaukee Metro Crusade director Steve Papez and I blindly went along with it.
Evangelicals at McLean Bible and National Community Church From 2005 Until 2008
When I arrived in the Washington, D.C. area I found a city that was very political. Politicians were a part of the make up and you would see them at different churches. For example Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe you could find at McLean Bible. At Mark Batterson’s National Community Church you could regularly see Attorney General John Ashcroft in attendance. I remember the time I was standing in the back and I turned around and Ashcroft was right behind me. In addition I also know a person who worked in the sound booth who accidentally cut the mike when Ashcroft was preaching. He was not happy about that occurring. There was politics in the church but it was also Washington, D.C. or the surrounding area. At McLean Bible you did have Joel Rosenburg teach about the End Times and he spoke about the Middle East and Iran. He also sold books like, “The Ezekiel Option” as well. The rapture and End Times theology was pushed at McLean Bible. In all the churches I attended there was a deep respect for Bush during this time.
A Faith Crisis and the Obama Years of 2008 Until 2016
I descended into a long faith crisis from 2009 until 2013 largely driven by the problem of evil which I wrote in other areas of this blog. I avoided evangelicals and proclaimed myself at atheist at this time. I was away from the church so I did not know how it was changing i n the Obama era. It was during this time that I was unsuccessfully recruited to a former Sovereign Grace church and dealt with a false accusation which was psychologically traumatic. But after 2013 when I tried church again I noticed something that was weird. There was an increased Christian nationalism which I had a hard time putting my finger on. I heard more about religious freedom during this time. I also heard a few evangelicals say that Obama was Kenyan and I remember scratching my head and thinking to myself, “No he was born in Hawaii…” On social media I saw some evangelicals talk about how Obama was going to outlaw Christianity. This messaging came hard from charismatic churches like Wooded Hills in Milwaukee which I once called home. I saw members from the church post weird and disturbing stuff on Facebook. It just baffled me. And I did my thing and just avoided it thinking it would die down.
The Trump Era and my Final Evangelical Church and Realizing I Don’t Belong in Evangelicalism
When 2016 came around and the presidential race began I was involved in an evangelical church in the Northern Virginia suburbs. I attended Bible study each week and worship service frequently. I saw some evangelicals exhibit almost a paranoid psychosis about Obama and them being drawn to Trump. It was during this time that I saw issues that I never saw before becoming center stage. Faith was linked to taxes and the right to own guns. I just scratched my head watching all this and being bewildered. At the time I didn’t think evangelicals would go all the way with Trump. After all over the years I was always told by evangelicals “character, character, and character.” Donald Trump didn’t have the character of someone like George W Bush. I was appalled by the racism and then the affairs with porn stars like Stormy Daniels. I thought in my mind that would be it. I could not vote for Trump because of character and I didn’t view the election as normal. I viewed it as democracy vs. autocracy on the ballot and I voted for Hillary because I was concerned with democracy. But at this time the issue of Christian nationalism surged to an unprecedented levels. And then I was caught flat footed by its resurgence. I was not prepared for it at all. I never saw it coming.
Then what began to happen as someone who was part of the 18% of evangelicals who rejected Trump is that there started to be incredible conflict. Support of Trump it seemed became the mark of being born again or being saved. People I knew for years started to say that I was a libtard and Obama liberal even though I was a Rubio voter in the 2016 primary. It was cult like. Evangelicals I knew started rejecting me, questioning my faith and saying I was not a Christian and withdrawing. A lot of the bridges I rebuilt after a faith crisis were torn apart again. It was painful. Some of the behavior was unlike anything I saw. I saw evangelicals yelling profanity screaming that they were so persecuted that Trump now represented them and was their warrior representing Christ. I thought to myself what about the character issue that I heard from the beginning of evangelicalism of 2000 until 2015? And then I saw so many people I know who downplayed it. Character suddenly didn’t matter. To this I wondered was I lied to? Many evangelicals even defended Trump’s racism to my shock. What also stunned me is that I was hearing some evangelicals say that George W Bush was not a Christian and that he did nothing for the church whereas Trump delivered to the church. I didn’t see any of this coming. Not one bit and I felt like I was hit by a truck on a highway. Christian nationalism started to crawl into my church and also a Bible study. I heard more positive things about Trump. I had a Bible study leader who graduated from Liberty showering the school with praise and I would think to myself, “Did you see what Jerry Falwell Jr said on Twitter this afternoon?” But I became nervous over what was happening. I felt uncomfortable having lost so much. It was like being torn apart spiritually. The other factor is that I saw Trump’s behavior and I began to feel sick at church. I would sit there on Sunday mornings and think “81% of the people around me supported Trump…” In evangelicalism it seemed like I saw a de-emphasis on missionary work and helping others. Faith now was about the culture wars and capturing the Supreme Court at any and all costs. I walked out of a Christmas eve service thinking I was going to vomit. I couldn’t listen to the Gospel story about Joseph and Mary and Bethlehem and think of what I was hearing about how refugees and those who fled persecution as refugees were facing. I sat alone in a restaurant thinking about everything until it closed and I was kicked at. That was how I spent a Christmas Eve. I wrote about that in, “When Evangelicals Rejected Bethlehem and How I Walked out of a Christmas Eve Service. Plus is Christian Nationalism Derailing Southern Baptist Missionary Work?” In the fall of 2018 I sat down and wrote a long email to my small group saying I was leaving and broke from the church and walked away from it.
I left the church and evangelicalism for the second and what I believe is the final time. I realized that I could not be an evangelical. The Trump era was a defining time for me. It turned faith on its head. I didn’t believe faith should be political. Many people did. By not being a Trump supporter, people I once knew turned and questioned my faith. And yes this happened after seeking forgiveness from a faith crisis and approaching about 140 people in 2013 and 2014 to make amends. I thought I knew what faith was, and now I did not. I was isolated, alone and felt like I had much more in common with atheists. When I finally decided to walk away I chronicled the reasons in time as to why I left evangelicalism in the following post, “Reflecting on My Decision to Reject Evangelical Christianity. Its Too Corrupt, Political and Intellectually Shallow.”
What Happened in My View?
Reflecting on my time in and around evangelicalism between 2000 and 2018 this is what I think happened.
- Fox News for a lot of evangelicals has supplemented the pastor and the Bible. For a lot of evangelicals the Gospel comes from Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingram, or Sean Hannity. The Bible I would contend for many evangelicals is no longer relevant.
- The rise of Fox News happened during this period and I think that had a perverse effect on many pastors, churches and evangelical ministries.
- The rise of social media helped feed evangelical’s problems with conspiracy theories. Facebook and Twitter became platforms for those evangelicals who rejected vaccinations or who thought Obama was born in Kenya. After all many evangelicals have rejected science and are still stuck in Dayton, Tennessee because of the Scopes Monkey Trial. Too many evangelicals can’t process faith from fear or separate conspiracy theory from fact. Facebook became a good breeding ground for alterative facts and to fan the flames from echo chambers.
- Many evangelicals are spiritually lost and don’t know what Christianity is about. If you were to ask Christians what is missionary work, or what is the book of 1 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 John, or Esther about they could not tell you. Many are consumed by prosperity theology and spiritually lost. Many evangelicals are Biblically illiterate. And their ignorance is going to continue as evangelicalism is permanently broken.
- Evangelicalism is sicker than I thought. The Southern Baptists were formed over the right to own slaves. Afterall slavery was viewed as Biblical. This is why the Baptists from the South split from the Baptists of the north before the Civil War. Many evangelicals deeply struggle with race and many Baptists haven’t moved beyond 1845. That is why they like Trump, Trump allowed many evangelicals to be openly racist and reject missionary work in places like Africa, South Asia, the Caribbean or Central America.
This blog doesn’t believe evangelicalism can be reformed. Today for me the bigger questions are what do I believe about God and why? Some days I feel like an atheist. Other days I feel like I am hanging on by a thread.
One last point in the near future I am going to use a blog post to get a lot off my chest about fractured and lost relationships and faith. I need to sit down when the time is right and put together a very blunt post.