At the dawn of 2022, forget the culture wars; this is a postmodern crusade, and the Christian soldiers are on the march. Evangelical Christians are medieval crusaders at heart.
In the 11th and 12th centuries, Christian Crusaders went to war to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslim hordes. Pope Urban II told Christian soldiers if they died during the Crusades, they would have their sins forgiven.
Behold now the crusade of the 21st century. Almost a millennium has expired since the last Christian Crusade, but now it’s returned in all its gory violence. This is no longer about the forgiveness of sins or salvation; it’s about power, control, authority.
Ironically, the evangelicals are singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic — the same republic their crusade intends to demolish.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.
He has loosed the fateful lightening of his terrible swift sword.
His truth is marching on.
A Crusader mentality
The medieval Crusades were attempts by Christians to save other Christian nations from the sword and dominance of Islam. The original intent of the Crusades was to take back what Islam had taken from Christianity.
After a thousand years, evangelicals still count Muslims as enemies. Evangelical television personality Robert Jeffress has nothing but disdain for Muslims. “Islam is a false religion, and it is inspired by Satan himself,” Jeffress said. He has stated that political leaders should be Christian and that Islam supports pedophilia — a charge he levels against the LGBTQ community, among other homophobic things.
Jeffress trots out all the evangelical tropes to induce fear of Muslims. He will throw out an olive leaf suggesting a majority of Muslims are peace-loving, but that doesn’t absolve him of his virulent Islamophobia. In his book Countdown to the Apocalypse, Jeffress has no mercy on Muslims. He connects ISIS to all Islamic jihadists “who take their inspiration from their Muslim faith.” Jeffress quotes Sura 9:5, the “famous sword verse” that justifies violence in the name of Islam. He ignores that the same verse also promotes forgiveness and mercy.
The first Crusaders were attempting to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims; these evangelical Christians are attempting to reclaim the United States for … well, for evangelicals.
The modern evangelical crusade set the stage for several other movements, including the Reconstructionists, the Dominionists, and an array of hate groups and white supremacist movements not remotely connected to Christianity. These groups claim to defend right-wing groups from Antifa and Black Lives Matter groups. Evangelicals are up to their steeples in crusader mentality.
An alternative universe
For the past six decades, evangelicals have been busy constructing an alternative universe of churches, schools, private colleges, Bible schools and seminaries. They have produced an amazing number of private colleges that home-schooled evangelical children can attend. An evangelical child can grow into adulthood with almost no contact with the outside world.
This is not a criticism of evangelical insularity or desire for purity. Call it a retreat from the world. Call it an attempt to reproduce the Garden of Eden. Call it a separatist movement. I am not suggesting that this is wrong. Evangelicals have every right to build and maintain such institutions.
On the surface, the evangelicals seem harmless enough. Even though they are always pushing “creationism” as the only true reality of science, the majority of Americans are at best amused by Ken Ham’s museum.
Even when we are aware that evangelicals are convinced that the worldview of “creationism” is the final truth about reality, we are not that worried.
Even though Ken Ham is convinced that scientific naturalism is completely false and that the conflict between science and religion will be resolved if, and only if, the scientific community returns to a supernaturalistic framework, we are not really losing sleep.
When evangelicals push their “rapture” theory in sermons, books, movies and lectures, mainline Christians roll their eyes at what sounds like something out of science fiction.
When evangelicals attack Critical Race Theory, again the response is muted. There seems to be a lot of smoke, but not much fire.
A battle cry
My perspective suggests that the evangelical language of excess around creationism, rapture and American history relies on significant erasures of truth. I am convinced that evangelical political motives cannot be overlooked, underestimated or ignored. Hidden in what appears to be the biblical minutia of evangelical preaching is a battle cry, a gathering of the faithful for a crusade against all the evil in the nation.
There is an itch in the evangelical mind that suggests they are not content with the alternative universe they have built. Evangelicals still have the crusader mentality. Like the Christian troops attacking Muslims during the Crusades, evangelicals long to be in charge. They have been amassing troops at the border of the secular culture and preparing for war.
The irony is that the evangelicals, starting out as Christians, shifted to being good Americans, and founded schools to train students to have the highest security levels, work at the State Department, the Defense Department, and join the FBI and the CIA.
“America” has conquered evangelicalism, according to Stanley Hauerwas. The primary function of evangelical colleges has become the churning out of students who will “legitimate and sustain the presumption that America represents what all people would want if they had the benefit of American education and money.” Evangelicals have equated the nation with the church.
Since they already control the label of “Christian” in our culture, they believe it is God’s will for them also to control the nation. America has become the church for evangelicals. Watch the video of one Fourth of July service at First Baptist Church of Dallas and when you recover from the idolatrous display of patriotism that includes fireworks in the sanctuary, there can be little doubt of the allegiance of the evangelicals to the country they are determined to control and reshape in their own image.
The Bush-era White House had about as many interns from Patrick Henry College as Georgetown, the journalist Hanna Rosin wrote in her 2007 book, God’s Harvard. Students in the small evangelical school’s strategic intelligence program can graduate with security clearances from their summer internships, making Patrick Henry College a feeder school for the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency, various branches of the military, and intelligence contractors. Many students go there with dreams of becoming a senator or the Supreme Court justice who helps overturn Roe v. Wade.
Evangelical students come to a school like Patrick Henry to become good Americans. Yet their graduates would be hard-pressed to say whether their loyalty is to the American flag or the Cross. Allegiance to the flag is as natural as breathing to students trained in America as the Church. It comes with the territory.
The primary vision of these schools is that their graduates can be the invading troops that take America for the evangelical cause. Why would good evangelical students, most of whom knew better than to think about becoming preachers, need to know about politics? Because politics, not theology, would prepare them to rule the nation.
A desire to control church and state
Evangelicals believe that until they are in charge, the nation is on a straight path to hell. Therefore, abortion must be outlawed. No exceptions. Gay marriage must be declared unconstitutional. Religious liberty for evangelicals must be complete and total, including the right to condemn gays, minorities, immigrants and any group deemed unacceptable.
Dominionists, with their view that Christians are biblically mandated to occupy all positions of power and authority, and Reconstructionists, with their view of a theonomic government, may be written off as fringe groups, but they map the evangelical dream of what a Christian nation should be. Patrick Henry, Cedarville University, Liberty University, Moody Bible Institute, Regent University, and a plethora of evangelical schools have established Christian Officer Training Corps to prepare for the coming war on secular culture.
The evangelicals will not rest until they control church and state. They are a restless people, and they are not content with having a piece of the action. Like a rich man who always needs “more,” evangelicals lust for total control.
When evangelicals sing Onward Christian Soldiers, they are not being metaphorical. They mean those words. They are prepared to do whatever is necessary to be in charge. Having secured a base in their own churches and schools, they now intend to take over the country. They will keep pounding on the doors of public school boards insisting on the teaching of intelligent design and raising hell against Critical Race Theory. They will keep promoting the fiction that America was born as a Christian nation, and they will keep fighting to make America a “Christian” nation in the image of evangelical understandings of the word “Christian.”
Evangelical rhetoric is deceptive about change. When they tout “religious liberty,” they don’t mean for that liberty to extend to everyone.
Evangelical deception lies in their insincere promise of a national salvation. They promise to redeem America from a host of mythological, made-to-order enemies, but it is a promise of redemption made on a hidden rhetoric of demolition.
The archetypal trope that unmasks the true crusader spirit of the evangelicals lies in the deceptive claim that evangelicals love Israel. Even a cursory reading of the evangelical commitment to the rapture theory shows that the constant avowals of love are muted by the evangelical belief that “soon and very soon” Jesus will rapture the true believers, and the unbelieving Jews will be exterminated.
Evangelical love comes wrapped in a bright red, white and blue package with an American flag, but when opened there’s condemnation, conflagration and destruction. The package is a seductive spectacle promising to restore lost glory by at last demolishing all the ancient and modern enemies of the evangelicals.
Postmodernist evangelicals marching to war
There is, however, cognitive dissonance in the evangelical crusade. Ironically, evangelicals have become postmodernists, post-truthers and postmillennial.
The postmodern turn in philosophy sacrifices objective truth for point of view. Everyone has an opinion. Postmodernism dismantles knowledge and truth.
N.T. Wright says, “Where modernism thought it could know things objectively about the world, postmodernism has reminded us that there is no such thing as neutral knowledge. There is no such thing as objective truth. Likewise, there are no such things as objective values, only preferences. That statement trembles on the brink between modernity and postmodernity. Everyone creates their own private world.”
The evangelical commitment to truth has been watered down to “point of view,” opinion, and claims of authority. Evangelicals make truth a casualty in the crusade to control the nation. Postmoderns indeed! Truth is not marching on; it has been nailed to a cross of postmodern making.
Post-truth evangelicals marching to war
Evangelicals are strangely at home in what is now defined as the “post-truth” era. Evangelicals share an attitude of individualism with the post-truth of secular philosophy. Philosopher Rupert Read argues that we are in a time where there is in public a kind of active despising of truth — “of the habit of truth-seeking and truth-telling.”
Evangelicals join Fox News and an array of politicians in this despising of truth, in science and history in particular. Evangelicalism’s relationship to the truth has turned them into spiritualized libertarians.
Evangelicals present themselves as a theology or ideology that is rigorously objective. They claim to be wedded to the truth and to the rationality of the Bible. Yet real truth would unravel evangelical claims of science-denial and history denial and a glorification of a past that wasn’t so glorious.
How odd, that a religious movement dedicated to the pursuit of truth is now sidelined by a commitment to post-truth and truth is seen as a worthy sacrifice for the goal of ruling the nation.
Postmillennial evangelicals marching to war
In a mind-boggling double irony, evangelicals were postmillennial before they were premillennial. Postmillennialism is a belief that the world will keep getting better and better until progress ushers in the kingdom of God. Premillennialism teaches that the world will keep getting worse until a time of Great Tribulation after the true believers have been raptured from the earth.
Randall Balmer points out that the evangelicalism of the 19th century grappled with some of the great social issues of its day. Earlier evangelicals were on the forefront of the battle to outlaw slavery, clean up the effects of alcohol, create public education opportunities for poor children, and secure the right for women to vote. Great institutions were founded to care for the sick, educate the illiterate, feed the hungry, care for the homeless, rehabilitate the fallen.
This desire to reform society lies at the heart of the postmillennial movement. However, evangelicals despaired of postmillennial ideals after the horrors of World War I and embraced instead premillennialism.
From the early writings of Hal Lindsay to the current rapture musings of Robert Jeffress, evangelicals became committed premillennialists. They teach that the end is near. Jesus is coming “in their lifetime,” they herald.
Yet in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, evangelicals saw a sliver of light that changed their eschatology again. They saw an opportunity to stop having sand kicked in their collective faces, a chance to win and be in charge.
Balmer claims that evangelicals have put premillennial dreams and hopes on hold and instead of saying, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus,” they are now saying: “Wait, Lord. Please postpone your return. We have a real chance to grasp the power and run the country. We would prefer that you not come just yet.”
In other words, the premillennialists have become postmillennialists again. Instead of waiting around for the pipe dream, the jouissance of watching Jesus destroy the world, evangelicals are now grasping at the handles of history in hopes that they can be the ones doing the demolishing, the destroying and gain the emotionally satisfying experience of getting even with all their enemies.
The old fantasy of Jesus destroying the unbelievers now seems too passive, too hands-off. Evangelicals are prepared to saddle up the horses, strap on their guns, and round up all the bad people. Evangelicals would be at home singing with Toby Keith: “It’s time the long arm of the law put a few more in the ground. Send ’em all to their maker and he’ll settle ’em down.”
The postmodern, post-truth, postmillennial evangelical deception needs unmasking. Their crusade mentality is an unknowing prophecy of imperial decline, a warning sign of increasing violence in our nation, a mirror image of imperial militancy, a powerful force of incessant destruction and aspiring dominance.
Whatever is to be the fate of democracy, the worst outcome of all would be a new dark age where evangelicals control church, culture and government. This mythic illusory narrative of godly exceptionalism will only produce a fearsome domination that no freedom-lover can stomach.
Pursuing a more diverse, equalitarian discourse of dissent in response to our immense problems seems to be a more constructive approach to a war mentality, a destructive discourse of authoritarian control. A resistance to the evangelical crusade is in order — a nonviolent, pro-active rhetoric of compassion, understanding, openness and diversity.
Rodney W. Kennedy currently serves as interim pastor of Emmanuel Freiden Federated Church in Schenectady, N.Y., and as preaching instructor Palmer Theological Seminary. He is the author of nine books, including the newly released The Immaculate Mistake, about how evangelical Christians gave birth to Donald Trump.
The Trump Card: How white evangelicals are being played | Opinion by Joel Bowman
Who wants the crown Jesus refused in the wilderness? | Opinion by Stephen Shoemaker
Global study finds when religion seeks political dominance, the faith suffers