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In my previous post, I said that I would talk about next steps to restore a Christ-centered orthodoxy to Evangelical Christianity and rid us of the scourge of Christian nationalism. This is the first step – we must confront the loss of truth.
In Ephesians, Paul admonishes us to speak the truth in love. This has two parts: 1) a commitment to truth, and 2) a commitment to love. Following this guide, I want to say that I love Evangelicals. They are my brothers and sisters, and I greatly desire that the truth of the Gospel is lived out in their lives and in their witness to the world. In believe, in fact, that the vast majority of Evangelicals are loving people. They care deeply about the people in their lives and will go out of their way to both minister to needs and share the message of Christ.
However, no matter how loving they are in their personal relationships, when it comes to their witness to the world, love dies. Not for all, but for many. Instead, paranoia and a victim mentality gives them permission to become very hateful in their witness. This paranoia comes not from the Bible or a spirit-filled life, but from sociological conditions of which they are often unaware.
A friend shared a quote from Bible scholar Earl F. Palmer. It was written many years ago, but it bears repeating because it fits so well with today’s situation:
“Persons who most often are entrapped by cultic movements are individuals who were programmed for the entrapment in pre-cultic homes. Perhaps they grew up in a family where the mood at every meal was pessimistic and cynical. The result for such an individual and for the family was the gradual development of low-grade paranoia, adriftness, a feeling of helplessness, a conviction that all people are basically hypocritical, all systems bad or hopeless. Such a person grows up starved for warm relationships and a sense of hope because a human being cannot live on cynicism and pessimism. If such a person does not find true food, then false foods will find a welcome in his or her life.”
Low grade paranoia describes well this situation in so many Evangelical households. Distrust of government, of social systems, a feeling that everything is corrupt: these all leave the believer in a state of helplessness. Our family and our community are alone on an island surrounded by enemies who are out to get us. The cult movement gives comforting answers in the form a powerful individual who both validates the fears and offers solutions that require unquestioning loyalty on the part of the follower.
The clearest proof that Evangelicals have fallen into this cult-like state is the Lie. By every objective measure, Donald Trump lost both the popular vote and the electoral college. Republican officials in Georgia and Arizona confirmed this even though their interest lay in the opposite result. William Barr, the attorney general who was so eager to turn the Justice Department into the president’s personal attorneys, never the less was not able to find any objective evidence of election fraud. The President’s own White House Counsel spent weeks tracking down each and every claim. They all hit a dead end. Everything, from midnight camera recordings to ballots in a dumpster, was seriously looked into. Nothing. Not a cover up by the President’s enemies, but an earnest effort by his allies.
The power of a cult leader is that he can demand that his followers confirm their loyalty by denying reality. This is what is happening now. It is the surest proof that the disease infecting so many Evangelicals is serious. The Lie and the willingness to engage in either active violence or passive support of efforts to undermine democracy are the result.
There is a way out. It requires a step of faith and a willingness to allow God to be in charge of our fears. And most of all, it involves letting go of the Lie. If we are willing to let go of the Lie, we have broken one of the powerful strongholds that the cult strongman has over us – namely the subservience of truth to loyalty. When we let go of it, we can look back and see the ugliness that the Lie with its demand for unquestioning loyalty has left behind. Then, we can truly say that the truth has set us free.