White Evangelicalism Eloped with Unhealthy Nationalism: An Analysis and Call to Action

White Evangelicalism Eloped with Unhealthy Nationalism: An Analysis and Call to Action

QUICK NOTE BEFORE I EVEN START: In this article, as with this previous one and this previous one, I refer to “White Evangelicals” as a cultural and religio-political group. I refer to their presumed race mostly to separate this group from POC Evangelicals, most of which hold VERY different beliefs on the ways religion ties to questions of social justice and what we should be doing in the political realm. When you read the rest of this post and respond to it, do keep that in mind.

That said, as you will see, I believe out of my experiences and expertise that this same group has increasingly been mirroring and wittingly or unwittingly endorsing and defending the language and policies associated with (white) authoritarian nationalism, and that is highly disturbing to me. I think it should also be deeply disturbing to you. May those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

A Quick Further Summary of How I’m Using the Term “White”

In this latter way, the term “white” in this piece should absolutely be taken to be associated with disturbing and yet disturbingly still common and systemic ideas and ideologies such as “white supremacy.” After all, the rhetoric I’m about to describe that has been used by white Evangelical leaders doesn’t exactly promote equal treatment of all equally.

As was stated thoroughly by a Christian immigration lawyer in the US recently, this recent rhetoric from white Evangelical leaders such as James Dobson doesn’t even promote following existing laws about immigration much less following basic biblical principles as long commonly held by the church. (For the record, it doesn’t promote the standard American values of freedoms to protest and dissent either.)

NOTE: I’m not talking here about those who identify as white Evangelicals and yet are standing up against this rhetoric. Sojourners Magazine is a great example of some often-self identified white Evangelicals who are fighting this. Here is an important piece they just published about why James Dobson’s piece was so dangerously white supremacist.

TL;dr: This (white) nationalist rhetoric is highly unhealthy, and the way white Evangelicals have, in the words of many white Evangelicals, “jumped into bed” with it deeply disturbs me. I find it deeply wrong and harmful to so many. I’m going to keep speaking up against it!

Please Hang in There for the Longer Analysis, Though!

I actually hope you won’t TL;dr this article, though, but will stick around for a round of unwrapping unhealthy rhetoric. If you identify as a conservative Christian, please note that I’m not really trying to mince my words here. I find your use and defense of this rhetoric and its associated policies poisonous.

Why I Am Speaking So Passionately Here.

See, people sometimes laugh when I use the term doctor for myself, because I’m *only* a doctor of communication. But as someone who has studied poisonous rhetorics, I’m absolutely telling you and anyone else who will listen that this rhetoric you’ve ingested and are currently spitting out at everyone you perceive to be your enemy is deathly poisonous.

I’m deeply—and because I study stress and trauma, also literally—concerned about both your health and the health of those you’re spitting this rhetoric back out at if this continues. So please please, hold your nose and read and take this seriously, please. This is seriously life and death stuff.

Okay, Back to the Title—Let’s Talk about that Yoking Clobber Verse!

So anyway, let’s start with that, shall we? That verse that always gets invoked when anyone in white Evangelicalism may suggest dating someone from another religion or creed. It pops to all their lips super-quickly. “Do not be yoked to unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14).

If we are at all familiar with the American White Evangelical interpretation of this popular “clobber verse,” we don’t even have to look at the context to understand further. It’s all about “family values,” right? About not getting married to someone outside the church? Not so much, in my read.

Really About Unsavory Partnerships with Corrupt People

However, if you look more closely at the context of this verse in the original text and look at some commentaries, you’ll see this verse likely has nothing to do with romantic relationships or partnerships at all. Instead it seems to deal much more with unsavory religious and business partnerships that link people in the church to corruption and oppression.

In other words, when I read this verse more closely, I’m seeing the broader theme joining up with many others in the Bible that call out corruption and oppression and asking readers to speak up for justice and mercy over and above unjust laws.

As I’ve described before, I see this huge theme in the Bible as wayyy more prominent than concerns about heterosexual procreation. So I interpret this verse as concerned about unhealthy religio-political allegiances, especially by those with power and influence, than it would be concerned about ordinary people dating someone who has a different creed.

In Which I Remind You I’m a Communication Scholar Rather than a Theologian

I’m not a theologian, nor pretending to be, so this article isn’t about unwrapping this verse—you can look all that up and/or do your own study if you really want. Instead, I’m a communication scholar continuing a series about what we can do in the case of the unhealthy immigration practices in the US, and so this article will continue that work.

What I’ll Be Doing Today to Extend Previous Work

Last week I unwrapped some of the unhealthy immigration rhetoric in Dr. James Dobson’s July Newsletter. Since then this piece came out helpfully supplementing that work to show from the perspective of a Christian immigration lawyer just how unhealthy that rhetoric is.

This week I plan to as briefly as possible overview the way conservative Christians have been drawn into supporting unhealthy nationalisms, especially focusing on the way unhealthy nationalistic rhetoric tries to discredit alternative views.

As I’ve discussed in a long series starting here and culminating here, I see this as having taken place through long exposure to politically motivated weavings of god terms and devil terms and halo effects and horns effects (all of which I’ll redefine very shortly).

I believe the use of this rhetoric has led Christian conservatives to see even their religio-political progressive Christian brethren as enemies whose points of views are to be dismissed and/or beaten down or ranted against rather than heard and assimilated and collaborated with toward the common good.

If you haven’t already figured that out, I don’t exactly think that’s great (deep sarcasm alert!!!!).

The Work I’ll Be Doing in This Article

As you’ll see, I’ll be arguing that these conservatives have so come to see their religious and political positions as so fused that their conservative tribe of religious interpretations has become subservient to their conservative beliefs.

As I’ve explained before, I was raised among the more politically conservative side of a moderate denomination, and I believe that gives me a helpful vantage point together with my PhD in Communication.

Unhealthy Conservative Demonization of Expertise

The very fact that those last three words—PhD in Communication—would already put me among the category to be mistrusted for many if not most of my conservative Christian kin is one of the first points I need to raise here. See, the fact that only “theological knowledge”—and, in fact, often only a specific interpretation of Scripture—is seen as “GOD’S TRUTH” among many conservative Christians makes them VERY vulnerable to unhealthy rhetoric coming from or endorsed by seemingly reliable faith leaders they trust.

Why It’s Biblically Weird for Conservative Christians to Demonize My Communication Expertise

As a scholar of communication, this idea that conservative people reject my expertise about words both makes sense to me and is rather bizarre. On one hand, the Bible is made up of words communicated to and by people. Furthermore, Jesus was famously “the Word” from God made flesh.

Most people coming from an outside perspective, and even many from my educated moderate denomination, would, you would think (and many I know do!) happily marry these two things together and veritably welcome me as a communication scholar to try to explain what might be going on both in Scripture and in the conflicts between communication communities.

And yet, at least in part because of the unhealthy propaganda they’ve been consuming, even some of those from my moderate denomination have been showing strong distrust of my expertise. They have been trained anew not to trust it. As I discussed here and here, watching this has been deeply disturbing.

How My Expertise Helps Me Understand, But in No Way Endorse, This Demonization Phenomena

But I understand why this demonization of my PhD in Communication occurs. See, as a scholar of communication, I know there are a ton of reasons for those who are exhausted, burned out, or just have been told they aren’t very smart may feel “less than,” and reach out toward rhetoric that knocks down other forms of expertise as a sort of comfort food.

So I get it. I have huge problems with it, as any reasonable person might expect. But I get it.

So yeah, I understand. I understand why it is that people in this conservative Christian camp read the messages that tell them that all universities are brainwashing all students, and find it easy to buy in. Sure, it seems counterproductive to me to distrust those who train the doctors who heal us and the engineers who develop the computer software we type on. I also think it’s generally a bad thing to encourage sexual assault, so I’m all for hiring a few Title IX administrators here and there.

I Get Why It’s Hard for Conservatives to Trust Me

But I understand. After all, I have that PhD in Communication (and the vocabulary that comes with it can be a little intimidating at times, I’ll admit. I’m often in a hurry, and I understand that makes my stuff a little more challenging to interpret, as well).

But I’m really just here–and in my classroom–to communicate the few things I know, and the limits of that, to others. I don’t pretend to know everything–in fact, higher education is designed to show us we don’t.

But we do insist on a few things we’ve learned. And we often do so in ways that ask people to constantly think in nuance and consider differing points of view. And THAT is something my study of authoritarian rhetoric shows me is something that consistently been demonized by those seeking to take full control of societal narratives for their own unhealthy purposes.

Understanding Why Unscrupulous White Evangelical Leaders Would Encourage This Sh*t

Given my understanding of unhealthy authoritarian nationalism from my research, I can also see how those unscrupulous religious leaders who encourage such unholy unions as that between white Evangelicalism and unhealthy conservatism would encourage this kind of thing.

After all, if audiences are told that thinking critically about both religious and political information is unwise, then those leaders can completely change their messaging and thereby drag their trusted followers down really really unhealthy paths if that is somehow expedient for them.

This kind of unhealthy complicity, or yoking, as it were, with unhealthy messaging encourages people to see the religio-political leaders on the conservative side through the lens of “halo effects.” At the same time, everyone on the opposing side is easily painted through the lens of a “horns effect.”

Going Back to Some Definitions of Halo/Horns Effects and God and Devil Terms

As I’ve described before, halo effects are those phenomena in which people or groups are seen to be all good–or at least to have a lot of good things about them–because of seeing something good about them. Horns effects are the opposite.

In this case, those who have been trained to defend those on “their side” as “god terms” (the term is used non-religiously to describe things to be defended at all costs) and the little initials PhD with “devil terms” (things to be fought at all costs) are trained to see me, someone who works hard to work at this puzzle of understanding and teaching communication–and communicating my conclusions, even if that goes against other understandings people may well hold dear–as part of the enemy to be fought.

Demonizing Other Sources of Critical Thinking and Fact-Checking/Alternative Thought as Well!

It’s not just academics who get lumped into this category—as can be easily figured out from a glance at Dr. Dobson’s newsletter, similar dynamics surround “the (liberal/mainstream) media” and “Democrat politicians” and even those citizens who protest human rights violations in the current immigration situations. As the Christian immigration lawyer has pointed out, most of these assertions are both untrue and unkind, both.

Long-term Demonization of Disagreement and Alternative Views

I could go on for awhile, but whatever the reason for this union, what has happened in the few years (centuries, many would rightfully argue!) is that conservative Christians have increasingly yoked themselves with this kind of dehumanizing demonizing propaganda that encourages them to dismiss any message from most of those in opposing groups, especially when it comes to challenging the status quo regarding white supremacy, patriarchy, xenophobia, and so on.

However much I laugh at the person who told me last year—I’m roughly paraphrasing here—that I’m a “false prophet of Satan,” that’s exactly what many are told to feel. And it’s not really a joking matter.

In fact, this kind of loaded devil term language and its related horns effect encourages conservative Christians to presuppose that anyone who disagrees with what they’ve been told by their “trusted sources” will automatically be attacking them.

The Creation of Conservative Confirmation Bias

At the same time, this knee-jerk fear-based messaging is convenient, because it itself uses so many devil terms combined with horns effects to convince its readers and listeners to create a confirmation bias in favor of the “conservative side” over and against the “liberal side.”

And by pre-loading the presumption that the other side is simultaneously made up of people who use exactly the same methods and rhetoric, these audiences are drawn into thinking that the other side’s expertise is automatically to be dismissed. And in fact is seen to be more devil than human.

Before You Know It, Theology and Biblical Interpretation Shifts Dramatically!

And before you know it, the words of the Word made flesh (that’s Jesus, if you forgot!) like “love your enemies” are seen to have wayyy less “Scriptural authority” than obscure verses pulled from the Bible that weren’t seen to be central years ago—verses especially about how important it is to kowtow to authority and to build walls, etc. etc. etc.

And even the kindest of souls who feels all sorts of compassion for those children at the border may become convinced through rhetoric like Dobson’s newsletter that it’s somehow important to only choose a charity that will help those children “if they also turn in illegals” (shudder–hate that inaccurate demonizing devil term!). And those with the kindest hearts who do a ton of volunteer work suddenly, with the seeming flip of a switch, can snap into arguing that closed borders are a veritable gift from God.

The Examples I’ve Seen Confirm the Poison Has Been Getting Through

Both those conservative Christians I know in person and those who have popped up on the AS site have increasingly been yoking themselves to such unhealthy propaganda.

Having studied white nationalist rhetoric from the past and present, including Nazi propaganda, it frankly disturbs me intensely deeply to see how such Christians have been drawn into professing and actually supporting and defending such racist, xenophobic, and frankly hateful language and policies.

I’ve seen it everywhere in white Evangelical circles in the last few weeks particularly, but the seeds of it were planted many years ago.

Acknowledging that Writing This Isn’t Fun

As I’ve said before, even knowing the ways all of this works doesn’t actually make it better for me to hear my fellow Christians, many of which I grew up with, increasingly talking like, yes, Nazis.

To say so doesn’t make me feel like I’ve “owned the Repubs.”

On the contrary, it makes me want to lay down and weep, as the Psalmists did. I do, at times.

The Urgency of Continuing to Raise Our Voices to Warn of the Poison

But I also make sure to stand up to use my gifts to keep speaking up. After all, I know the truth is this: these words and ideas that are being peddled to my conservative Christian brethren are poison. They are not just ingesting this poison, but are in turn spitting it out toward the marginalized and vulnerable.

And not trusting those religio-political leaders on the conservative side, I haven’t forgotten the many many Bible passages about that.

So my Christian study of Scriptures, together with my scholarship and my study of founding documents of my country such as the Declaration of Independence lead me to conclude that my responsibility as a Christian, as a communication scholar, and as an American—all three—leads me to stand up against this unhealthy union between conservative Christians and unhealthy nationalism.

Time to Sum Up Using that Elopement Metaphor from that Verse about Yoking

I fully realize I may have already missed that part in the wedding ceremony between white Evangelicalism and unhealthy nationalism.

You know, that part when they say “speak now or forever hold your peace.”

I realize that ceremony happened when I was definitely not present. (In fact, history seems to show us it first happened here–though there would have had to be many further moments of decision since then to continue the path.)

Why I Refuse to “Hold My Peace”

But for God’s sake, that whole “speak now or forever hold your peace” part of even marriage ceremonies is a matter of cultural tradition. It is not in Scripture.

No communication theory tells me that there’s a time past which one shouldn’t speak up for better solutions.

And my reading of American history, including the Revolutionary War that we just celebrated two days ago on the 4th of July, tells me that rebellion against unhealthy authoritarian unions between the church and authoritarian states was what this country was literally founded on.

So yes, in case it isn’t clear: I believe I have every warrant and right to speak now and forever against this union between white Evangelicalism and unhealthy authoritarian nationalism.

Please Join Me in Speaking Up Against This Unholy Union, Friends!

I hope you will join me in speaking up. Please don’t hold such an unhealthy, poisonous peace, friends. For God’s sake. For the sake of the vulnerable. For the sake of human decency. For your own sake, as needed. For the sake of expertise, or science, or true freedom of religion. Or any other number of grounds.

I frankly don’t care which ground you choose to join me from. You do you, as long as you are willing to join with me to speak up for a healthier environment for us all, especially for the marginalized and vulnerable.

More Resources We’re Offering!

Need more resources to understand how to speak up with fierce kindness and deal with the conflict that inevitably comes? Whether you’re uncomfortable speaking up and need help with dealing with conflict you’re not used to standing up against, or perhaps a little too virulent and need help pulling back toward solving the problem rather than attacking the people, the “Assertive Spirituality Guide to Online Trolls” ought to help you understand and deal with your own and other’s conflict styles better.

To get the Guide to Trolls, sign up for our email newsletter, either in the top bar of this site or by commenting on this article. Once you’ve confirmed your email address, the link to the guide will be sent to you in the final welcome email. It will help you with conflict both online and off. You can unsubscribe at any time, but I hope you’ll stick around and continue to learn.

A Final Encouragement

Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s #resist and persist at it. #DontLookAway, friends! Instead let’s continue to work against unhealthy nationalisms and and unscrupulous leaders and insist on healthier ways for the dignity and human rights of all to be upheld. Let’s keep standing up for what’s right and for the common good. We can do this thing!

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8 thoughts on “White Evangelicalism Eloped with Unhealthy Nationalism: An Analysis and Call to Action

  1. Unfortunately, that was quite a harangue, as a few people in a group do not represent the whole group, which is not monolithic. Evangelicals are no more monolithic in their political leanings or allegiances than other groups of people, such as Catholics, Orthodox, Coptic, you name it Christians. It is so easy currently also to attack people based on their race of being white.

    Most of the news received is slanted left by the media and quite biased in so many areas, political, racial, and sexuality.

    You say that, as a Christian, you are not a theologian. How about just being biblical, and being biblical is seeking for all facts, seeking for truth, and treating even those we disagree with with respect. Be careful of exaggerated facts in the news. And try to be sensitive racially, whether to blacks, whites, Asians, Arabs, Hispanics–to all.

    1. Thank you for your comment–the first part of the first paragraph helped remind me I’d meant to draw attention to the white Evangelicals currently fighting this rhetoric, and to link to an important recent piece over at Sojourners Magazine by a scholar of religious rhetoric in the Nazi era who expresses similar concerns to mine. I’ve added that in toward the beginning.

      Unfortunately, your second paragraph–and your concerns about “attacks on white people” coming BEFORE that last part about diversity–shows me that you are sadly one of those that is at least in part mirroring the rhetoric I just described, and it feels like has some work to do in that era. You are definitely not alone in that, and I trust you are able to grow from your current position should you desire to.

      I believe I’m already doing exactly what you recommended in the last paragraph, thanks! I very much hope you’re following your own advice as well, and that you work harder to not dismiss the points offered by those parties you mentioned in the center paragraph. It is unjust and unkind to them. I do wish you all the best, and especially that you would be looking out for the least of these as we are commanded to.

  2. Wow. This article was long, but so packed with good information…I’ll be reading it again and again. Thank you for your tireless efforts to speak out on behalf of the oppressed and vulnerable.
    Thank you for sharing your expertise in both communication and trauma.
    I am committed in joining you in speaking out for the least of these.
    I will also join you in weeping.
    Someday perhaps we will be able to rejoice together when some of these wrongs are made right.

  3. People need to be aware that a group of Young Republican activists took over the Southern Baptist Convention. These people literally are White/European Supremacist politicians posing as Evangelicals.
    It isn’t all that different than the Roman Empire taking over an early anti-politics reform Judaism movement and creating “official” Christianity. Evangelical Christianity was originally an anti-politics reform movement as was Islam. Everybody is supposed to be teaching the very same principles once the politics get stripped out.

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White Evangelicalism…

by DS Leiter Time to read: 14 min