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Notes on the Evangelical Dark Web

September 4th, 2019 | 3 min read

By Brian Auten

Preface from Jake: The “evangelical dark web” is a designation adopted by a group of evangelical social media personalities and bloggers centered around a few various web sites such as For the Christian Intellectual, Pulpit and Pen, Sovereign Nations, and Enemies Within the Church. The movement is a self-proclaimed insurgency meant to combat perceived liberalism in other evangelical organizations and denominations. While it’s own positions are broadly in keeping with the political beliefs of the old guard Religious Right, it’s rhetorical positioning is more in keeping with a neo-fundamentalist stream of evangelicalism.

One could assert that the self-proclaimed “evangelical dark web” is insurgent in character. Its overall aim is institutional takeover. Its intermediate aim is intellectual capture of the “target population” (e.g. 18-30 year old conservative evangelicals, particularly males).

Its strategy is multi-form and typical for insurgencies:

  • embarrass the regime in power
  • make it [the regime] appear weak and corrupt
  • create (online) zones of counter-control
  • tempt the regime in power to over-respond in a heavy-handed and/or inept manner
  • through expansion of its captured target population over time, overwhelm the regime.

Its primary tactic: the rhetorical hammer.

Granting that characterization, an obvious question for those orthodox Protestant Christians who reject the evangelical dark web is how to run an effective counterinsurgency against the “evangelical dark web?” These are some embryonic thoughts:

Counterinsurgency has three traditional components: isolate and degrade insurgent activity, build target audience resiliency (e.g. strengthen, defend, and counter-radicalize), and lastly, if and where needed, reform the at-risk regime.

For countering the evangelical dark web particularly, these steps will need to be taken.

[1] Demand citations and evidence for every assertion. Demand context for every pull quote. Fact check every infographic. Force them back to original sources (books, dissertations, etc.) at every possible juncture.

[2] Question all characterizations every time (e.g. if they say someone is a “socialist” or “cultural Marxist,” always make them define the term and support the assertion with evidence).

[3] Interrogate the interrogator: research, write and post accurate stories about the individuals and groups in the “evangelical dark web” (e.g. what things have they been involved with in the past; previous attempts at this type of activity; how do they get their funding?)

[4] Host college and young career fellowship content analysis viewing parties. Get some food, a copy of the upcoming “social justice infiltration” video, a local speaker familiar with 20th century US evangelical history, political theology, and/or the history of ideas, and slowly walk the audience through the video itself. Discuss framing, the quality of evidence and argumentation, and the backgrounds of the documentary’s backers, hosts, and talking heads.

[5] Fight the temptation to get certain outlets or personalities to do battle on your behalf. A critique of the “evangelical dark web” by the Gospel Coalition, ERLC, the New York Times, Washington Post, or the Southern Poverty Law Center, or a byline by Emma Green, Peter Wehner, John Fea, Warren Throckmorton, et. al. will backfire and easily become ammunition for the next round of attacks.

[6] Get solid material on intellectual and social history into the hands of your 18-30 year olds. Someone’s less likely to accept conspiratorial assertions about the undue influence of the Frankfurt School if they’ve actually read some Richard Wolin. If you host a book club, offer the recent-published biography of Stokely Carmichael or Lillian Calles Barger’s just-published history of liberation theology. Help your young adults understand the context of ideas.

[7] Be over-transparent about outside funding. It shouldn’t take downloading and reviewing multiple pdfs from an online 990 tracker to figure out the amount of outside funding an evangelical school, university, or ministry has received. If you get a grant, talk about it (unless there are certain restrictions from doing so — and if there are restrictions, determine if those are worth the benefit)

[8] Be very open about normal organizational behavior — networking, business, and shared messaging. The “Big Eva” critique is often validated by people pointing to an ostensible set of related Gospel Coalition posts highlighting upcoming conference talks on newly-published Crossway books. Being up-front about the business end of stuff goes a long way towards demythologization. Be clear about how important agents like Wolgemuth and Associates are for professional evangelical publishing. And to be sure, it should be highlighted that the “evangelical dark web” isn’t immune from this critique either. The same individual’s media company does communications for Pulpit and Pen and the web design for the upcoming video’s conference page. Note the strategic cross-posting and sharing between Sovereign Nations, Pulpit and Pen, Thirty Pieces of Silver, For the New Christian Intellectual, and Capstone Report.