In late July, the Pew Research Center released a study on what Americans know about religion. Pew’s findings contained an anecdote that should give evangelical Christians pause–the more people know about religion, the less they like evangelicals. Well, it took a month, but a leading evangelical seminary president suggests it’s time to wonder why he and his compatriots have such a dicey reputation.
Some of the questions were used to measure respondents’ attitudes toward religious groups on a “thermometer” scale from 0 to 100. Generally, those who knew more about a particular religion would have a “warmer” view of it. However, evangelicals were a distinct outlier. Those who answered at least 25 religious knowledge questions correctly rated evangelicals at a rather cool 43 degrees, compared to a slightly balmier 53 degrees for those who got eight or fewer right.
That set off alarm bells for Richard Land, a four-decade veteran of the culture wars who is currently president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, North Carolina. Land said that with this study, one question is obvious–“Why?”
Land ticked off a number of possibilities. For instance, he suggested one factor was the tendency, particularly among evangelicals of his generation, to take strongly conservative stances on social issues. Ironically, that led him to wonder if people felt evangelicalism and politics had become “intertwined.” He also speculated that there is considerable division among evangelicals–again, presumably along general lines–on how to respond to a number of issues.
Well, Dr. Land, as a left-leaning charismatic Christian, let me simplify it for you. For a long time, people have believed evangelicals are sanctimonious, in-your-face bullies.
It would be tempting to sum up this mentality with just five letters–T-R-U-M-P. But believe it or not, this trend was probably most exemplified in recent times by John Allen Chau, the young missionary who embarked on a spectacularly misguided and spectacularly illegal trip to India in hopes of converting the Sentinelese, one of the world’s last uncontacted peoples. For those who don’t remember, here’s a refresher from KOIN in Portland.
Chau set off for India knowing full well that the Sentinelese lack genetic immunity to ordinary disease due to being isolated from civilization for over 60,000 years. In other words, he knew that he could potentially wipe out the entire tribe just by being there.
But such details didn’t matter to Chau. He only saw the Sentinelese as potential notches in his Bible. In so doing, he became the very definition of fundamentalism in its most unacceptable form.
While Chau is easily the worst offender in recent memory, there are other examples that should prove why evangelicals have such a bad reputation. What are people supposed to wonder when they see the invocation Pennsylvania state representative Stephanie Borowicz gave this past spring?
Despite knowing full well that she was serving alongside Jews and Muslims as well as Christians, Borowicz chose to give an invocation that was better suited to a religious right convention than a legislative chamber. She declared, “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that you, Jesus, are Lord.” When called on it, she harrumphed that those evil libruls were just upset because they knew “there’s power in the name of Jesus.”
That’s not to say, however, that the religious right’s otherworldly loyalty to Trump hasn’t played a role. What are people supposed to wonder when they hear something like Mark Burns’ invocation at the 2016 GOP convention, in which he repeatedly slammed Democrats as the enemy?
And what are they supposed to wonder when they hear, time and again, that God hacked the election for Trump, and therefore any opposition to him is demonically driven?
Then again, an argument can be made that the religious right’s continued support for Trump is a natural outgrowth of the larger stereotype of fundies as sanctimonious bullies. After all, for the better part of four decades, fundie preachers have told their flocks that voting for a Democrat could cost you your salvation. And for the last four years, in the face of almost daily outrages from this White House, we’ve been told that God chose this president–and everything else be hanged.
All things considered, this poll from Pew confirms what a lot of people who have watched the religious right have known for some time. It’s pretty clear that people who know something about religion agree with Ruth Carter Stapleton, Jimmy Carter’s sister–they want nothing to do with people who are “the most religious people I know–and the least Christlike!”
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