Evangelexit Interview

TW/CW: Discussion of Donald Trump and violence.

To My Muslim Friends

To my Muslim friends, I am so, so sorry. I see that 81 percent of white evangelicals, both from the working and professional classes, from the old Rust Belt to the deepest parts of the old Confederacy, voted for Donald Trump. I see that 15 percent (according to a pre-election survey) of non-white evangelicals were likely to do the same, helping to make him the most powerful person on the planet. He demonized you, turned people’s fears against you, and incited radical Christian terrorists to harass, beat, and even kill your friends and family members.

The Muslim Community Miraj Center in Bayonne, New Jersey, on Oct. 14, 2016. Spray painted on the wall are the words “Donald Trump,” “Fuck Allah,” and “Fuck Arabs.” Photo: Huffington Post. Click the photo to read more.

And many people from my faith community, the evangelical community, barely mumbled a word of protest, much less acknowledged that they even noticed what was happening.

Though numerous Muslims around the world have risked their own safety, and have even given their lives to protect Christians from terrorists who pervert Islam, few, it seems, have been the evangelicals who have stood with you against terrorists who pervert Christianity.
You would be completely justified in asking, “Where are the moderate Christians?”
And what an irony that the faux-Islamic terrorists, those whom you would not even consider Muslims, are celebrating this Trump victory. His rhetoric plays right into their hands for recruiting more fighters to carry out attacks in Mosul and on Main Street.
And in the meantime, you live in greater fear than ever, some of you not even leaving your homes for days last week, because of those he has inspired to harass, terrorize, and assault you.

120 Somali immigrants in Kansas were the target of an anti-Muslim terrorist plot by a group calling itself the Crusaders. The three men involved were arrested after an eight-month investigation by the FBI. The men planned to bomb the apartment complex in which the Somalis live and worship on Nov. 9, 2016, the day after Election Day. Photo: Reuters. Click the photo to read more.

You would be completely justified in feeling like a bullied child, who looked to a friend for protection from the bully’s threats, only to find that the friend gave the bully the exact thing he needed to carry out his threats.

I stand with you against all forms of hatred and Islamophobia, including the latest audacious and infuriating proposals from Trump’s team and allies: a national registry for Muslim immigrants and a bill to ban traditional Muslim veils.

To My LGBTQ Friends

To my LGBTQ friends, I am also truly, deeply sorry. I was so wrong. I really thought older, hard-nosed evangelicals like Pat Robertson were waning in influence. I thought you wouldn’t need to fear that their rhetoric would continue to threaten your families or inspire violence against you. After all, as I said to some of you, there were many of us younger evangelicals calling out Robertson and those like him that have demonized you, using their large Christian media platforms.
Yet here we sit, a week after the election. And Robertson, Ralph Reed, James Dobson, and the old Religious Right have again become kingmakers. Exhibit A: during the campaign, Trump appeared on Robertson’s network nine times.
For all the important discussions about the votes of struggling white families in rural America, he still would not have won were it not for evangelical leaders pushing their flocks to vote for him.

North Carolina’s law wasn’t just about bathrooms; it also eliminated discrimination protections for LGBT persons. Photo: New York Times. Click the photo to read more.

I am but one person, but I will stand with you to protect your families from being broken up and your children from being taken from you. I will decry attempts to punt matters back to the states, where your dignity, and even where you go to pee, will become subject to political debates again. I will continue to speak up to ensure that businesses do not discriminate against you. And I will fight to protect you from harassment and violence by those who see this election as being an affirmation of their hate.

To My Friends Who Have Survived Gender-Based Violence

To my many friends who are survivors of abuse, rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, and other forms of gender-based violence, please know that even though I no longer work for an anti-violence organization, I still think of you every day. I am sick that I and other allies did not keep Trump from winning. I know that many of you have hardly slept in these days since he won, and that when you do sleep, your attackers appear, or even Trump appears, in your nightmares.

Just 10 of the nearly 20 women who have come forward to talk about how Donald Trump harassed or assaulted them. Evidence for some of these incidents was recorded by Access Hollywood and The Howard Stern Show. Collage: Yahoo.com. Click the photo for an article by New York Magazine.

He re-traumatizes you and re-triggers your PTSD by so many of the things he does. And so do prominent evangelicals like Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Jerry Falwell, Jr., when they support him and label as liars the nearly 20 women who have come forward, saying he violated them in some way.

These prominent evangelicals have said that issues like the Iran trade deal and the national debt are of greater importance than how he, the president-elect of the United States, views and treats women.
You would be completely justified in saying that evangelicals have helped a man who loves to take power from women, whether by calling them “pig” or by “grab(bing) them by the pussy,” to attain more power than any other person on Earth.

Almost. Yet the fight goes on. Artwork: unknown.

I will not cease to advocate for you and for justice. I will not stop educating others about the devastating effects of rape, sexual assault, abuse, and harassment in its many evil forms. I will work all my days with you and with other allies to change our culture and society so that a generation from now, behavior like his will become unthinkable for any man, much less someone running for the highest office in our land.

To My Evangelical Brothers and Sisters

To be clear, dear evangelicals, I am not labeling as racists or misogynists any of the evangelicals I know who supported Trump. There are certainly racists and misogynists among his supporters, but I highly doubt that is true of any evangelicals that I know.
For so many of these evangelicals, the election was an agonizing choice. They prayed and even fasted as they sought God’s wisdom. In the end, they felt like there were no good choices at all, only one that was “bad” (Trump) and another that was “worse” (Secretary Clinton). Further, they hated a lot of the things that he said and did; their vote for him was not a vote to condone those things. They felt like they were trying to make the best of a sucky situation.
Also to be clear, those of us evangelicals who voted for Secretary Clinton are not baby killers. We are not okay with conflicts of interest, or even the appearance thereof, in government. We also grieve when police officers lose their lives. And we hate it when protests turn violent.
All in all, I think the time for calling ourselves “evangelicals” is done. I, for one, feel like I have reached the breaking point of identifying myself as an evangelical. It’s a moniker that has grown in negative connotations over the last twenty years or so, especially because of its political associations. Now, because of this recently concluded campaign and election, “evangelical” has become strongly linked for many non-evangelicals with:

  • The enabling of racist harassment and violence
  • The emboldening of anti-Muslim terrorists in the U.S.
  • Discrimination against the LGBTQ community
  • The abuse of women and the reinforcement of rape culture
  • The permission to blatantly lie in civic discourse
  • Bullying
The term “evangelical” can’t be found in the Bible. Then why does it feel so sad to leave it behind?

Ironically, “evangelical” comes from the Greek euangelion, meaning “good message.”

Of course, I know “evangelical” is just a label, and it’s not even in the Bible. So maybe I shouldn’t feel so sad about laying it down. After all, early Christians in the biblical book of Acts were called followers of The Way, and later, simply Christians.
And leaving behind “evangelical” doesn’t mean I’ve changed what I believe, or that I will abandon my relationships.
But still, for a long time, it really meant something to me to be an evangelical Christian. Evangelicals were the Christians who decided in the middle of the last century that they were going to be different from fundamentalist Christians, who seemed to freak out over science, social justice, movies, and pop music. Evangelicals were supposed to be more thoughtful and less judgmental, more neighborly than suspicious of their neighbors. They would be in the world, but not taken in by the world’s temptations – power, wealth, and indulgence.
Yet IMO, the evangelical movement has become much like the fundamentalism of old, with many denying climate science, for instance. And as evangelicalism has morphed into a new fundamentalism, our reputation has suffered accordingly.
Two years ago, when I attended a breakout session at a conference on bringing peace to zones of violent conflict, evangelical Christianity was brought up in a discussion about religious extremism. That was an eye-opener for me about what “evangelical” has come to mean for many people.

I’m leaving the label behind, but not my church or relationships.

But you know that we evangelicals truly have a bad reputation when pro sports coaches call us out by name.

Just days ago, Stan Van Gundy, the head coachof the National Basketball Association’s Detroit Pistons, said: “And then you read how [Trump] was embraced by conservative Christians. Evangelical Christians. I’m not a religious guy, but what the hell Bible are they reading? I’m dead serious. What Bible are you reading? And you’re supposed to be — it’s different. There are a lot of different groups we can be upset at. But you’re Christians. You’re supposed to be — at least you pride yourself on being the moral compass of our society. And you said, ‘Yeah, the guy can talk about women like that. I’m fine with that.’ He can disparage every ethnic group, and I’m fine with that. It’s embarrassing. I have been ashamed of a lot of things that have happened in this country, but I can’t say I’ve ever been ashamed of our country until today.”

Gregg Popovich, the legendary head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, deep in the heart of Texas and the Bible Belt, had this to say: “We live in a country that ignored all those values that we would hold our kids accountable for. They’d be grounded for years if they acted and said the things that have been said in that campaign by Donald Trump. I look at the evangelicals and I wonder, ‘Those values don’t mean anything to them?’”
Couple their reactions with the following disturbing ones, from Trump supporters that are current or former clergymen. There was Rev. Franklin Graham, two mornings after the election. He seemed to be in quite a judgmental mood:

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, early on election night, went for a racially hurtful stereotype:

Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, talked with Fox News after two evenings of protests outside his church. (The protests have since then continued unabated.) He threw some Mount Everest-sized self-righteous shade: “Look, these people, these protesters, aren’t opposing me or our church. When I see these protesters, it kind of reminds me of a flea striking its hind leg against Mount Everest, saying I’m going to topple you over. Ultimately, they’re protesting the eternal Word of God, and guess what, they’re not going to be successful in toppling the Word of God.”
There’s also this from Ralph Reed, who wasn’t ever a minister but who founded the old Christian Coalition. The day before the election, he said:

Talk about pushing the boundaries of IRS rules for churches on political endorsements!
I really don’t recognize this evangelical movement any more.
To think that there was a time, about twenty years ago, that evangelical churches seemed to be making strides in one of the great struggles in American (and human) history: race relations. The Southern Baptist Convention declared in 1995 that its historic support of slavery (one of the reasons the SBC was formed in the 1840s) was wrong; it asked forgiveness for its grievous sins in that regard.

For all the things I would later find problematic with Promise Keepers, one of the good things it did was to prioritize racial reconciliation. This photo shows the Promise Keepers rally on the National Mall in Oct. 1997. At least 600,000 men attended. Photo: unknown. Click the photo for a CNN story from that day.

In the late 1990s, the evangelical men’s organization Promise Keepers brought thousands of men of all different races to American football stadiums. It stunned many observers when it put racial reconciliation front and center as one of its highest priorities. Yes, Promise Keepers had its problems and shortcomings, particularly regarding gender roles. But the programming at these conferences was always led by multi-ethnic music teams, and the slates of speakers were always intentionally multiracial. Confession of even the hidden prejudices (what we might now call “implicit biases”) within the heart was modeled by speakers and encouraged among the attendees.
Ironically, one year the Promise Keepers theme was “Break Down the Walls.”
But that feels like ancient history now.
Kyrie eleison.