In a recent article titled “Some Will Apostatize,” Tom Ascol breathes fire and brimstone over those he is certain will desert the Christian faith as he defines it.
1 Timothy 4:1 seems to be the text of his sermonic outburst: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.”
The problem here is Ascol’s assumption that he has the authority to define apostasy in terms that exonerate him and condemn his political and theological opponents.
He sounds more like Rep. Lauren Boebert than St. Paul. Boebert has infamously uttered the nonsense, “It’s time for us to position ourselves and rise up and take our place in Christ and influence this nation as we were called to do. We know that we are in the last of the last days. … You get to have a role in ushering in the Second Coming of Jesus.”
The real intent of Ascol’s article is to smoke out those he believes are guilty of apostasy. The leading suspects, according to the biblical text, are those devoted to the deceitful spirits and demons. These deceitful spirits and demons do their dirty work “through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron.”
To Ascol and his disciples, the deceitful spirits and demons are identified with Democrats, liberals and the media.
He explains: “Apostates are people who have been deceived. They have been duped into believing lies rather than the truth and, as a result, are not standing firm but are falling away.”
“Ascol and his fellow preachers are the actual apostates.”
This is rich! The Christians believing lies are evangelicals. Ascol and his fellow preachers are the actual apostates.
Ascol, for one, has fully embraced a new political savior: Gov. DeSantis of Florida. Ascol prayed at DeSantis political rally and has touted the would-be presidential candidate on Twitter.
The entire evangelical movement that departed the Christian faith to become MAGA has been outed by one of their own. DeSantis is MAGA2 and somehow gets the reputation of being Trump with brains.
Yet the true apostates live in MAGA Land. They are the Christian nationalists.
As Tim Alberta puts it, “Politics has poisoned the evangelical church.”
A large segment of our country has been imbibing lies, listening to lies, believing lies and reveling in lies since 2016. Supporters of Trump and DeSantis do not care about either of them being caught lying, because they like it. The truth has no bearing or importance here. All that matters is winning.
We should not be worrying about apostasy; we should be worrying about a new form of fascism. That is actively despising of the truth.
“We should not be worrying about apostasy; we should be worrying about a new form of fascism.”
I want a deep dive into the ideological underpinnings that make Ascol and his fellow “brothers” tick. And it starts with the Bible. Historically, the Bible has been deeply influenced by cultures that were xenophobic, patriarchal, classist, racist and homophobic. Thus the Bible has been used to authorize the abuse of women (rape and murder), the enslavement of African Americans, the near genocide of Native Americans, the colonization of conquered peoples, and the repression of homosexuals.
Ascol stands in this tradition, but he is much more subtle. He manages to couch his deeply prejudiced views of women in more palatable tones. He is seen as the other side of the argument as if there really are two sides.
But injustice in any age, no matter its degree, is injustice in every age.
There are deeper, more dangerous lies being told by Christian nationalists like David Barton, Robert Jeffress, Gov. DeSantis, Sen. Tom Cotton and an entire army of angry white males committed to a “Christian” America.
Perhaps the darkest lie this movement tells is that white males are persecuted and are being destroyed by a feminized society. Casey Ryan Kelly in his book Apocalyptic Man explains: “When one lives a life of entitlement, even the most modest demands for equality can be perceived as an assault.” Privileged white males, afraid of gains by women, minorities and gays, feel a loss of power, prestige and identity. They long for a mythical time when they were in charge and were the undisputed “lords of the manor.”
Ascol the preacher and DeSantis the politician want to bring back the good old days for white males. They want the return of that mythical, fantastical time “when men were men.”
Convinced there is only a small pie, they are afraid to share it with others.
This attitude of scarcity is a form of apostasy because it refuses to trust the amazing generosity of God. Theirs is a world where there is never enough, yet a world shaped by scarcity is a world that cannot trust God. To turn away and to remove people not considered pure enough is an affront to what Sam Wells calls “God’s inexhaustible creation, limitless grace, relentless mercy, enduring purpose, fathomless love.”
Ascol’s attempt to ferret out the apostates from the faith is an attempt at using the Bible to cover the age-old insecurities of males. The apocalyptic man is no different from man in any age. Men are always struggling with identity, insecurity and the secret need to please while hiding it with bluster, braggadocio and defensive principles insisting on superior status.
“Ascol’s version of apostasy has little to do with Christianity.”
“There is a battle going on in the minds of all those who know the Lord,” he warns. “It is a battle between truth and falsehood — between the teaching of God’s word and the teachings of demons. What you believe will inevitability determine how you live.”
This from the pastor who has brazenly supported Donald Trump.
Ascol fits the description of those inquisitors who hunted down and killed the early Anabaptists and the grand inquisitor of the Catholic Spanish Inquisition. If he has his way, he would rid the Southern Baptist Convention of all its alleged liberals. The fundamentalism that is the oxygen of his movement moves in only one direction — inward — making the circle smaller and smaller.
Ascol’s version of apostasy has little to do with Christianity. It is a weak defense of a male-dominated hegemony. It is a subtle attempt to entice people to believe that gender — especially a radical feminism — is the true apostasy destroying America.
This is not a viable “other side” argument. It is not an alternative truth; it is no truth at all. That is the real apostasy.
Rodney W. Kennedy is a pastor in New York state and serves as a preaching instructor at Palmer Theological Seminary. He is the author of nine books, including The Immaculate Mistake, about how evangelical Christians gave birth to Donald Trump.
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