Life has a way of putting things right in front of us—if we’re willing to see them.
Though much has been said in attempt to cast light on the true essence and nature of conservative Evangelicalism, perhaps nothing in all the universe speaks more clearly than when it all gets personified so poignantly in human flesh. Look no further, search no longer—Trump, LifeWay Christian Stores, and Eugene Peterson are conservative Evangelical Christianity in living color. They serve as both a window into the true desires and ethos of right-wing Christianity, and a mirror giving an honest reflection, if only its adherents should dare to look within.
Debate all you want about President Donald Trump, at the end of the day, he bares a strong resemblance not unlike that of many a conservative Evangelical pastor, leading with a male-driven patriarchal sexism and a vision of personal power, imperialism, and greed—all spiritually justified of course, and often at the expense of the “least of these.” As a former Evangelical pastor myself, I know it all too well. It begins with good intention and the best of aspirations, but quickly the tractor-beams of the Evangelical Death Star can’t be overtaken. Slowly, but surely, the erosion overcomes.
There’s no denying, much of conservative pastoral leadership has adopted some of the most cruel, immoral, anti-Jesus, and evil behaviors and attitudes on the planet. Brutally lording over people, insisting on ones own way, demanding allegiance, fear-mongering, childishness, blatant double standards, and putting character and truth aside as long as you’re willing to be a player in the Evangelical game. Keeping it all predominantly white, male, Evangelically conservative, privileged, and culturally dominant are some of its greatest unwritten leadership priorities. Inside handshakes, closed-door meetings, all conspiring on how to quickly demonize, marginalize, and even give exit to nearly any barrier or perceived enemy. Virtually nothing is off the table when it comes to defending and taking territory in the name of conservative Evangelicalism. Bullying, shaming, emotional abuse, spiritual exploitation, and political adultery—no matter how overt or subtle, is all spiritual justified by a militant, vengeful, intolerant, gun-carrying, homophobic, hell-addicted, sexist, racist, and imperialistic distortion of Jesus.
No wonder why so many couldn’t help themselves but to elect him as President, for chances are, he most closely resembles their local conservative Evangelical pastoral leadership. Nearly everything you see in our President Donald Trump is hauntingly intrinsic to much of conservative Evangelicalism—especially its leadership. Want to know what it feels like to be under the mantle of many a conservative Evangelical Church? Ask yourself this simple question, how does it feel to be under the leadership of President Donald Trump?
Feel a bit uncomfortable or believe it’s unfair for me to make this kind of comparison? May I ask you a simple question—then why did you elect him President? If he makes you embarrassed or is lessor in character, maturity, and vision in comparison to your pastor, why do you still vehemently support him? Besides, by your own faith understanding and declaration, wasn’t he sent by God—appointed by the Father, as are all leaders? Not just to merely be your pastor, but to be the President of the only nation you declare is under God—how much more important and requiring is that?
LifeWay Christian Stores is a revealing display and manifestation of the state of many a conservative Evangelical church. With it’s consumer-driven franchising of Jesus and their unique conservative brand, it centers itself around preserving its future, protecting conformity, and paying the bills—sounds a lot like “church” of most any flavor.
One is most certainly welcome to come and buy all you can, they’ll gladly take your cash—no questions asked. They might even let you sweep the floor or take out the trash—if you’ll put on one of their logo-embroidered t-shirts, of course. Yet, try to become a valued contributing part of their community, and you’ll find an endless supply of tests, hoops, and checkpoints you’ll have to pass. For, at the end of the day, Jesus is big business, and there’s a lot of right-wing conservatives to please and lost people with money to spend.
Giving Christians and the spiritually vulnerable more and more to do, consume, become, believe, fear, and achieve is an evil religious concoction not many can resist. In fact, they’ll lay down a lot of dough to keep up with the latest Christian trends and make doubly sure, they’re being faithful enough and becoming successful for Jesus. LifeWay, and many a conservative Evangelical church, have mastered both creating the addiction and seductively pimping the drug that feeds it. In fact, put a worship service in your local LifeWay Christian store, and you’ll hardly know the difference.
Yet, perhaps most telling of all, is how they shoot their wounded and send those they deem to be wayward to the curb. Just ask Jennifer Hatmaker, to be sure. For nothing resembles many a conservative Evangelical church more than big business, demanded conformity, self-preservation, consumerism, and the eating of their own.
Enter Eugene Peterson, a gentle, humble, wise, and good Christian man who has greatly contributed to the evangelical Christian community through his famed leadership, writing, and teaching. As is characteristic of most every member of your typical conservative Evangelical Church, his intentions have always been noble and His pursuit of truth and the growing of His relationship with Jesus undeniably genuine.
Yet, when recently, his spirituality grew to a place it colored outside conservative Christian lines by affirming gay marriage, he experienced the full wrath and weight of the monster that is conservative Evangelicalism. Quickly, he became the fear-driven church member that is imprisoned by the shackles of conservative ideology. Like countless others, his free-thinking theological transition of belief was met with punishment, shaming, excommunication, and threats. No matter his reasoning, biblical revelation. or honesty with it all, he was nailed to the cross and fearfully enticed to surrender and come down—or else.
In fact, LifeWay Christian Stores pledged to remove his books—go figure. Websites were swiftly created to denounce and demonize him—surprise, surprise. The biggest question many conservatives asked wasn’t, “What can we learn?,” “Is he onto something?,” or “How can we find a positive way to agree to disagree?” No, it was, “Can we still read his stuff and be seen as genuine Christians?” God help us all—that this is the kind of atrocious people we have become.
Sadly, instead of standing strong and going the full distance of resistance, Eugene Peterson, like many others, buckled under the pressure in compliance with Evangelical conformity and tradition. In fact, he threw in the towel and retracted it all—a suspiciously sudden change from his recent gay-affirming position. In the end, it seems he must have concluded, the cost is too costly to pay. In Eugene Peterson, we need not look any further, this is the hell, this is what it looks like to be a conservative Evangelical Christian and a prisoner of its machine—with seemingly no way out.
As hard as it may be to hear, it’s even harder to say.
Everything you need to know about the truth of much of conservative Evangelical leadership, church-life, and membership can be tragically found in this sad trifecta—Trump, LifeWay, and Eugene Peterson.
Grace is brave. Be brave.
I’m sure Rev. Peterson is beating himself up for retracting his statements about gay marriage. We’d all like to think we’d take our stand on any given issue when a bully confronts us but in the end we all ask the question, “Is this the hill I want to die on?”
I totally agree with all your sentiments. It is tremendously sad that a good man was bullied into denying his beliefs. But it happens everyday in the evangelical part of the world. I daresay that it has happened to many of us in some way. We were either shown the door or walked out of it ourselves to end the bullying and hostility toward our emerging faith.
Well said, sir. Unfortunately, I have little hope that the evangelical world is paying attention. Power seeks to protect itself, as Peterson found out. After 30 years as a reporter, most of it covering religion, I have found that is true in almost all organized faith groups. It is human nature. It is only by donning a new nature, as you seem to have done, that it can be escaped.
Bless you on your journey.