I’m pleased to publish this guest post from new Mere O contributor Brian Mesimer.
I was recently at a church conference where one of the plenary addresses focused on the role of the Christian in the public square. The speaker, a Christian philosophy professor, said all the right things a Christian professor should say in that kind of lecture. And yet nothing he said made me feel remotely comfortable about the place of evangelicals in the public sphere. I suppose that part of that feeling came from my concern about the coming collapse of evangelical politics after Trump’s inevitable loss. My therapist’s imagination, however, wouldn’t let me stop there. I couldn’t help but think that our strategic planning for 2020 or our concern over whether or not the Benedict Option is viable is a bit premature.
As I sat in that plenary session, I began to wonder if maybe what we need to do as an evangelical voting bloc before anything else is to grieve the loss of what we once had before Trump: considerable power, influence, and integrity. Grieving, a journey all too common in life, is defined as the act of detaching from a lost object, whether big or small. One can hardly talk about grief these days without mentioning Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). Although seemingly disconnected from politics, these stages appear to provide a useful taxonomy of evangelical voters in their encounter with Trumpismo. Presented for your consideration are the five stages of evangelical grief.
We all know what this looks like in Christian politics. It often presents itself as a rally to put God back in government or a church conference emphasizing America’s Christian heritage. Or perhaps your friend’s intractable conviction that Ted Cruz was a nationally viable candidate. These kinds of things are not bad in and of themselves, but they share in common the tendency to recreate a reality that no longer exists. Denial works like this. It tells us that things aren’t really the way they are. Breaking through denial is a necessary step in the grieving process, one on which many get stilted. Our first step as Christians should be to name and acknowledge our loss. We are no longer what we once were in the public square.
SEEN IN: Ted Cruz’s 2020 campaign
In this way it is often the case that the truth gives way to anger. We are already angry because we are forced to come to terms with an unpleasant reality. This anger is multiplied because we want so badly to find a culprit for our loss. I think many people were disturbed by the terribly irate tone of the Republican convention. The whole event had an intensity about it which caught many off guard. Viewed in terms of the grieving process, however, it makes perfect sense. Evangelicals have lost their place in society, and the vast left wing conspiracy is to blame.
This kind of thinking can get whipped into a frenzy in large events, which explains every Trump rally ever. But this kind of anger can also be quiet. I’ve noticed in my own heart a tendency towards undirected rage and frustration at the powers that be and an unexplainable urge to plaster the imprecatory Psalms all over my bathroom mirror. Perhaps this has more to do with political displacement than with grief, but then again that’s precisely the point.
SEEN IN: 2016 GOP Convention, Trump bumper stickers, and my bathroom mirror
There have been many attempts to explain the bewildering evangelical support of Trump by most evangelicals. There’s the protectorate theory in which Trump is the strongman protecting the weak religious right. There’s also the sociological theory in which Trump is the defender of the disenfranchised middle class. What if the explanation is simpler: What if we’re simply bargaining?
It’s obvious that Christians have lost ground in the public square. Demographics and cultural trends indicate that more ground will soon be lost. If Europe is any indication, Christianity could have little influence in America in 50 years. Our own movements and our own politicians have failed to hold the line and in many cases have been the cause of our decline. Trump is not the ideal candidate for Christians by a long shot, and this should be blindingly obvious to anyone. But many of us appear willing to make a bargain with Trump to ensure our continued political survival. This is the point that most people miss when trying to understand this phenomenon. This is not about Trump. This is about survival. Does such a bargain entail a loss of integrity? Certainly. But we have to understand such a deal in its context: It is a natural part of letting go of what we once had.
SEEN IN: Baby Boomer evangelical leaders’ unwavering support of Trump, which spawns a separate grief reaction in millennial evangelicals at the loss of the integrity of vaunted heroes
Except when something is really gone, nothing can bring it back. Trump will inevitably flop in November. Christian reactions will vary, but a corporate sense of political depression will likely pervade our circles on November 9th. The coronation of Hillary Clinton will be a tough pill for many evangelicals to swallow.
The current treatment of choice for depression is a type of therapy called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. This is a type of intervention that emphasizes how changed thoughts and behaviors can lead to changed feelings and actions. While problematic in some ways, changing the way we think can often be helpful in dealing with depression. It is no different for the Christian in the public square. The speaker at my conference made this point well. We often think that history is beyond repair in our own times. But history certainly shows that it is not. Roman Christians under the Diocletian persecution would have never expected the Edict of Milan given their current situation. Nor would the Cluniacs have ever expected the Reformation. Nor John Cleese the Spanish Inquisition. The point is simple: Times may be bad now, but God holds time. We should lament our situation, but a lot can happen in 50 (or 1,000) years.
SEEN IN: Jeb Bush voters, millennial evangelicals, Paul Ryan’s PR team
Acceptance is the final stage of the grieving process. It is a coming to terms with the reality of the situation. And it is not easy to achieve. What it looks like generally varies from person to person, but its application to the Christian political situation is a bit clearer: we’ve lost cultural ground, and that’s OK. It’s OK because the Christian hopes not in solely political process but in the active working of God. It’s OK because, to quote a famous poem, we are not the masters of our own fate, nor is Donald Trump the captain of our souls.
Acceptance of the new political landscape post-Trump will not be easy for many evangelicals to achieve. The reason for this will likely be our continued denial of our lost ground and power. Other more theologically inclined evangelicals may despair of the state of the whole mess we are in. But hope is not to be lost. If Trump represents the bargaining stage, then it’s very possible that we are actually progressing through the stages like we should. Further work on our part may lead to greater progress. After all, the night is darkest just before the dawn.
Brian Mesimer is a graduate of the University of South Carolina, Columbia International University, and currently studies theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. His interests include practical theology, current events, and the relationship between psychology and theology. He and his wife live in Columbia, SC, where he works as a counselor.
For Your Files: “[Yet] what’s most notable in the survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution is that white evangelical Protestants have shifted their views more dramatically than any other group…”
Finally an issue where white Evangelical Protestants are keeping up with the times even faster than the culture at large! #RightSideofHistory.
I’m perplexed by the notion that evangelicals ever occupied anything resembling a place of power in the public square. Sure, evangelicals were great at stoking populist resentment and exploiting ignorance to force GOP politicians to take uncomfortable stands on symbolic issues that were supposed to reflect these politicians’ loyalty to evangelical causes.
One thinks of Tom DeLay ordering Congress back into session in 2005 to pass a blatantly unconstitutional law concerning the Terri Schiavo–action that was later discovered to have been motivated by an effort to force Florida’s Democratic Senator Bill Nelson to take a position on an issue that would be unpopular with Florida’s evangelicals. One also thinks of the storm of misinformation that evangelical groups spread about gay and lesbian people, such as the false accusation that gay men are more likely to be pedophiles (which the Family Research Council is still promoting). And the mind-bogglingly stupid arguments that groups opposing same-sex marriage made in federal court. Or North Carolina Republicans’ efforts to exploit misunderstanding of transgender people to pass HB2–an effort that was largely motivated by efforts to create a controversy that would bring in donations to help save Pat McCrory’s floundering re-election bid.
But what did these things achieve? Very little! In most cases, they resulted in creating a more entrenched opposition that would eventually reveal the hyperbole as hyperbole, and leave evangelicals walking away with their tails between their legs. Tom DeLay’s Schiavo legislation was DOA in federal court, evoking a blistering opinion from one of the most conservative jurists in the country. Most people have now become comfortably convinced that Anderson Cooper is not a closet pedophile, and have come to view opposition to same-sex marriage to be as ridiculous as opposition to the allegedly “gay Teletubby.” And the political “stuntsmanship” surrounding North Carolina’s HB2 has made it much harder to craft common-sense legislation that protects legitimate privacy interests.
Yes, evangelicals have lost much of the political power they once enjoyed. But, given their penchant for spending their political capital on stunts and gimmicks, it’s hard to see what material effect that loss of power is likely to have. And let’s be clear! This loss of power didn’t occur because of some nefarious conspiracy planned and implemented by dark forces on the far Left. No. It occurred because evangelicals frittered their political capital away on stunts and gimmicks that generated short-term benefits (at best). And, then those stunts and gimmicks were revealed for what they were, the public rightfully came to take evangelicals less and less seriously. Eventually, people just came to see evangelicals as something akin to that alcoholic uncle who shows up at Thanksgiving and drinks a bottle of wine by himself, makes offensive comments to the young women, and then passes out in the recliner while drooling on himself. Then, he wakes up and blames the host and hostess for allowing him to make a fool of himself again this year.
Marriage being the unique union that can only exist between a man and woman is just plain common sense, so is allowing women and girls to have private spaces to use the restroom and change clothes where men cannot go. Have you considered what role the side that has argued against these things, that has used underhanded tactics and demonized those that hold the common sense views in how things have turned out?
“it’s hard to see what material effect that loss of power is likely to have.”
I suggest we look to Massachusetts to answer that question. That state has recently passed and begun to enforce a law that makes “discrimination” based on “gender identity” illegal and also mandates restrooms and changing rooms be separated based on “gender identity” instead of biological sex in places of public accommodation. In addition, that states Civil Rights Commission and also their Attorney General have declared that houses of worship (aka churches) are or can be places of public accommodation (http://www.mass.gov/ago/consumer-resources/your-rights/civil-rights/public-accomodation.html). The penalties for violating this new law are pretty severe, both hefty fines and jail time. Which means, in that state, it is possible a Pastor could go to jail for referring to a “trans woman” as a he or not allowing that “trans woman” to use the women’s restroom in his church. Sure, this is probably not likely to happen in the near future. It will probably be business as usual for most churches despite this law. The point here is that the effect of the loss of political power is that evangelical and other orthodox Christian institutions do not have the power or influence to hold back government from asserting authority over their institutions. Even authority that could be used to regulate the speech and policies of those institutions. Which is precisely the authority that the Attorney General and Civil Rights Commissions are asserting they have over churches.
Most of what you’ve written is patently incorrect. You need to stop feeding yourself on an endless diet of “outrage porn” from the right-wing evangelical noise machine.
Besides, I’m not suggesting that there weren’t common-sense solutions available on some of these questions. There were. But evangelicals routinely passed over common-sense solutions and common-sense arguments in favor of hyperbole and hysteria. Over and over again, evangelicals have played right into the hands of their opponents, and have often made it more difficult for common-sense conservatives to articulate and defend center-right positions. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that evangelicals were secretly allied with the leftists.
What have I said that is patently incorrect? With respect the new “anti-discrimination” law in Massachusetts, one need only look at what the people in charge with enforcing the law have to say about it. I provided the link from the Attorney General in which “houses of worship” are listed as places of public accommodation. That is pretty definitive given that places of public accommodation are where that law applies.
I also acknowledged that it is more probable that nothing much obvious will change with this law now in effect, that it will be business as usual for the most part. The point I was making that a loss of political power is showing in the loss of institutional authority. In Massachusetts, the Civil Rights Commission and Attorney General have higher authority over houses of worship than the congregants and their leaders do. So long as this law stands and it exists, that is a legal fact. It is much as if a small company was swallowed by a larger, distant company. That larger company may allow their new acquisition to continue to operate as if nothing changed, but the new company would still be master, they would still be the higher authority.
Churches have always been subject to laws of general applicability, such as noise ordinances and the like. Nothing has changed here, except that evangelical activist groups need to concoct a controversy as a pretext for raising money. And you’ve fallen for the trick.
Are you going to be equally dismissive when future law is clarified that houses of worship are places of public accommodations and subject to all generally applicable sexual orientation and gender identity “anti-discrimination” law full stop, no exceptions? When, if ever, does this sort of thing become a legitimate controversy in your eyes?
The space between “houses of worship are sometimes places of public accommodation at the discretion of the Civil Rights commission” and “houses are always places of public accommodation” is very small. I would say it is all but nonexistent. If the courts allow the “sometimes” to stand, they will also allow the “all times” to stand. This is even more likely in light of the recent report from the federal civil rights commission that basically calls religious freedom a great evil that must be restricted as much as possible.
What are you talking about? This is illustrative of the kind of crazy-talk that’s all too common in evangelical circles.
Moreover, it is well established–and has been for decades–that churches may qualify as places of public accommodation in circumstances where they’re carrying out activities akin to those generally provided by places of public accommodation. For example, if a church opens a coffee shop on its premises, the church would qualify as a place of public accommodation in matters concerning the operation of the coffee shop. The same goes if the church serves as a polling place for an election, rents out its venue for concerts, or hosts a public art exhibition. To the extent that a church engages in non-sectarian activities similar to those engaged in by places of public accommodation, then churches, to the extent that they engage in such activities, will be treated as places of public accommodation. This is not a new legal principle. This has been the case for more than 50 years. You’re worrying about nothing!
Besides, no one cares what Christians do in their churches concerning sectarian religious activities. If you think differently, you live in a fantasy world. As long as you’re not seeking to claim “religious liberty” in ways that harm others in their efforts to do business with places of public accommodation, no one will care what you do in your church building with your co-religionists. Really, that’s the honest truth. You’ve got yourself worked up into a tizzy over nothing.
Speaking of your coffee shop example, I have attended a church that had operated a retail book store on premises. This store operated during worship service hours in a building that was open to the public. This particular church is surrounded by retail businesses, is in a large building that was formerly used as a retail store, and has multiple bathrooms throughout the building. The store is just off a large main entrance/lobby directly across from the auditorium space. It cannot be accessed from outside the building.
Just for clarification here, do you think that because of this retail operation that anyone in that church that objected to following the rules of places of accommodation that include bathrooms separated on “gender identity”, and restrictions on any speech that someone who identifies as LGBT may find distressing or unwelcoming would just be making a tizzy over nothing? Keep in mind here that in Massachusetts, that even a congregant who “misgenders” someone is seen as acting on behalf of the whole church and a person who goes to that bookstore would likely pass by many congregants.
Of course, what you have glossed over is that in Massachusetts it is not only an on premise retail operation, nor usage as a polling place, nor a church rented out as an event space that makes it a place of public accommodation. The standard instead is a “spaghetti supper” which is just an ordinary church event open to the public. So, I ask again, in your view how far is too far?
I am genuinely curious and not intending to be antagonistic here. What is no big deal to you looks to me like yet another path that if it goes to its logical end that churches existing as they have existed will be legally impossible.
Again, what are you rambling about? This is utter nonsense.
There is no principle under Massachusetts law that would impute the actions of a congregant to the non-profit business entity that owns or rents the church space. None! I read the guidelines published by the Massachusetts AG’s office, and see nothing that would convince me otherwise. Business entities can only be liable vicariously for the actions of those who have authority or apparent authority to act on behalf of the entity. The mere addition of “gender identity” as a protected class to the Massachusetts antidiscrimination laws does nothing to disturb well-settled principles of agency law. You’re getting your information from spurious sources.
Yes, the spaghetti supper example is rather vague. Bear in mind, however, that this is New England. It is quite common in New England for churches, especially Catholic or Orthodox churches in heavily Catholic or Orthodox neighborhoods, to hold fundraisers that involve selling certain foods. I lived in a heavily Greek neighborhood when I was a college student. The Orthodox church down the block held several meal-related events every year to raise money for the church. I grew up in a heavily Polish neighborhood, and the local Catholic church held similar such events every year. The church also held a Polish festival once a year in the parking lot. I live a block down the street from one of the first German Catholic churches in Chicago. Guess what? The church is hosting an Oktoberfest celebration today. For $25, I can get a German-style brat, hot potato salad, sauerkraut, and up to two beers. In fact, the word “supper” is not ordinarily used by New Englanders to refer to a typical evening meal; the word is generally used in a context of a fundraising event or something of that nature. So, yes, when churches hold fundraisers that are open to the public, such as one whose polka music I can hear from my balcony, the church is a place of public accommodation with respect to the hosting of such events.
Yes, the brochure could have been worded more clearly. But your ignorant choreographed overreaction to this issue makes you (and other Christians) look like more of a fool than the careless person who put together the guidelines. And you’re not alone. When I was searching for a copy of the guidelines online, I had to sift through two dozen articles from right-wing “Christian” groups. None of these two dozen sites provided a link to the document. And nearly all of the articles’ quoted sources were representatives of groups that tend to engage in fundraising off of these kinds of controversies, and who stand to profit from misleading people about what is otherwise a fairly benign change to Massachusetts law.
Here’s the reality: A careless intern put together some non-binding guidance concerning the addition of “gender identity” as a protected class under Massachusetts law. But instead of engaging the AG’s office in a respectful way in a good-faith effort to get clarification, certain evangelicals in Massachusetts saw an opportunity to stir up a controversy and instigate an all-out food fight over this issue. Lost in wild conspiracy theories about an alleged plot within the Massachusetts AG’s office to persecute Christians, you are simply proving out many of the negative stereotypes that people have about Christians. Trafficking in such lies should have no place among Christ’s people. Never mind that your henny-penny worrying is utterly incongruent with an abiding faith in the Christ of the Gospels. You need to grow up and repent of this kind of sin.
Let’s say there is a restaurant in which it is common for white patrons to act hostile towards and even use slurs (n-word even) to any black person who walks in. In addition, the management does nothing. What is going to happen if a black person sues that restaurant?
It is all but settled now in many quarters that “misgendering” is hostile and basically the equivalent of using the n-word.
It is reasonable to presume the state will expect church leaders to enforce “preferred pronoun” usage and take action against members that do not comply. Otherwise, they will be seen as fostering a hostile environment. Just like a restaurant owner will be expected to give a patron the boot or at least tell them to shut up who uses the n-word.
Otherwise, I take it you are at least agreeing that a loss of power does come at the cost of a church holding fund raising type events while still holding true the beliefs of the church. So that is at least one answer to your original question. Just fund raising events is not nothing.
I didn’t realize that sex-segregated bathrooms had any nexus to Christian truth. Sex-segregated bathrooms have only been common for the past 100 years or so. A few weeks ago, I visited a spa in Zurich and changed clothes in a unisex changing room. I changed right next to two Canadian women who were in the same business meeting that I was attending. Guess what? NOTHING HAPPENED! I’ve had a similar experience in spas in various places throughout the world. Heck, in Germany, you’re required to parade around naked in the spa facility itself. At least the Swiss and Hungarians permit you wear a swim brief. Even so, if unisex changing rooms have passed muster for centuries with German Lutherans, Hungarian Catholics, and Swiss Calvinists, then I see no reason why this question has any bearing on Christian ethics.
Sure, I understand that certain people may prefer sex-segregated changing rooms. Fine. But don’t make your personal preferences into a question of religion. It’s not.
That said, a church hosting a secular fundraising event can easily comply with Massachusetts law by simply letting people use whichever sex-segregated bathroom they freakin’ want to use. After all, that’s what transgender people have done for ages, and with no apparent issue. This whole kerfuffle around bathroom use is a solution in search of a problem. This is a stupid battle that’s bound to end poorly for social conservatives. Just take a chill pill and walk away, dude. Fight for things that actually matter, and actually have some nexus to Christian belief and practice. Picking on people with gender dysphoria comes off as pretty classless.
If churches can be to allow anyone to use whichever bathroom, with no regard to biological sex, what else are you ok with churches being made to do?
I don’t think I need to dig too deep in Christian truth to say I am not ok with another male being anywhere near my wife when she is in a state of undress. You can dismiss me or call me a bigot, but that’s where I stand.
That may be your preference. But that’s more of a subcultural taboo than anything necessitated by Christianity. As I noted above, if German Lutherans, Hungarian Catholics (and Calvinists), and Swiss Calvinists can do unisex changing rooms without feeling that their faith is under attack, then I’m unpersuaded that this is a religious question.
The issue is not whether or not Christianity demands this. The issue is really the possibility of the state making it illegal for even churches to have bathrooms separated by biological sex. Which is a tangible example of an area where loss of political power has come with a price. That price being the state assuming more authority over the policies and practices of even churches/houses of worship.
The state has no business determining what Christianity or any other faith necessitates.
Also, no one is suggesting that multi person unisex bathrooms and changing rooms be made illegal. Whereas multi person biological sex separated bathrooms and changing rooms are increasingly being made unlawful in businesses such as gyms, at places like public schools, and in at least one state also churches. In some places, operating biological sex separated multi user bathrooms may even be criminal.
I’m unaware of any law anywhere that requires an organization to get rid of separate men’s and women’s restrooms. You desperately need to find a new source for your news. Your current source is filling your head with error.
Marriage being the unique union that can only exist between a man and woman is just plain common sense
Appealing to common sense is a logical fallacy for a reason, namely that common sense has no well-defined logical or objective basis. What you see as common sense and what I see as common sense are clearly very different.
I do understand and appreciate your concerns over government stepping in to exert control over your religious institutions. Despite the fact – and you know this – that I think your religion is ridiculous, I would like it to be clear that I support your right to believe what you like and have a place to discuss, share, and celebrate those beliefs, and I would gladly stand up for that right if it were threatened. I just don’t currently see it being realistically threatened. The waters get muddied when business and religion mix, of course.
“””the notion that evangelicals ever occupied anything resembling a place of power in the public square”””
The did, in enclaves. In the mid-west they were very powerful – and where are Evangelicals the largest share of the population? So they felt especially powerful. As the power of those places/regions has declined so fell the Evangelical power; as Evangelical numbers themselves have slipped even within those enclaves.
When you meet someone who feels that Evangelicals were once ascendent – ask them where they are from? They never really were so powerful on the great stage, but on some smaller stages they reigned almost unchallenged.
I agree. They had power, but used it so ineffectively, it was almost as though they lacked it.
This article is primarily for politically conservative evangelicals. There are evangelicals who are not politically conservative. and they are in grief as well. But not because the nominee of their particular political party is Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. After all not all evangelicals are either Republicans or Democrats. But the grief is because of the overall quality of all the candidates indicates that there is something deeply wrong with our nation. For either the candidates have experience but the candidates are in favor of the wrong political and economic direction or vice-versa.
> . There are evangelicals who are not politically conservative
I disagree; these terms are mutually exclusive. Such a notion of duality is clinging to a lost definition of “evangelical”. Only the in-bubble people are using “Evangelical” in its – not very old – theological meaning. The purpose of language is communication so the meaning of language is determined by how it is used, not by a history book [and in this case a history book which almost nobody out-of-bubble has even read].
> …the overall quality of all the candidates indicates…
I am in my 40s. I have never had a presidential candidate I was enthusiastic to vote for. Such an expectation is unreasonable. As a single person representing ~320M people that person must be an amalgamation of innumerable compromises. Which is OK, the intent of that person is to be an executive. Americans need to remember to look down-ticket; to those who represent them far more specifically. Besides, day-to-day your country clerk and drain commissioner have more impact on your life than the president. Americans, IMNSHO, have forgotten how their own system works.
I agree. I’ve long since stopped using the term “evangelical.” Most “evangelicals” I know–many of whom graduated from Wheaton, Calvin, Dordt, Grove City, etc.–have stopped using the term too. Today, the term simply refers to a class of people who conflate the Culture Wars with the Gospel. Now if we can just get Baptists like Mark Driscoll and Collin Hanson to stop using the word “Reformed” to describe themselves.
What term do you use now?
Not sure of your statement here. Are you saying that evangelicals must be political conservatives?
As for the second point, I should have specified that it referred to the presidential candidates. However, I see a decrease in the quality of candidates for other offices. BTW, I’m in my 60s.
>Are you saying that evangelicals must be political conservatives?
I am saying Evangelicals are Culture Warriors [you decide if that is or is not “conservative” really].
If you are not a Culture Warrior you are not an Evangelical.
> I see a decrease in the quality of candidates for other offices
That might be regional. Here we have many down-ticket people I support without hesitation; there are some excellent people on the ballot, as well as some unmitigated thugs.
The definition of evangelical revolves around one’s belief in Jesus. Those who believe that Jesus, as God the son, has died for their sins and rose again from the dead are Evangelicals. There is nothing implicit in that definition about being a cultural warrior.
In fact, I find the name “cultural warrior” to be problematic because it strongly suggests, if it doesn’t imply, an approach to culture which involves conquest. I find that when the definition of evangelical revolves around one’s faith in Jesus, there is no implication of one becoming a cultural warrior.
In addition, the idea that we are cultural warriors rules out the prospect of sharing society with others as equals.
That is not what people outside the bubble mean by “Evangelical.”. Evangelicalism is a reference to a combative purity culture.
In one sense, I don’t care how people outside the bubble define us, we should be able to define ourselves.