Righting America

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The Evangelical Mind: Going, Going, Gone | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Screenshot from Trey Smith’s The Coming Storm: A Donald J. Trump Documentary. Image via Youtube

“Many, many soldiers . . . died for the freedom of many people of other shades and colors, some of whom were sold out by their own kinsmen and brought here on boats, as if God brought them here so they could have and taste freedom that they didn’t have back in lands like Africa, brought them here where others would lay down their lives and pay the highest sacrifice to buy freedom for them.” 

Trey Smith, “The Coming Storm: A Donald J. Trump Documentary”

In his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Mark Noll famously begins by stating, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Noll spoke truth in 1994. But now, 26 years later, with white evangelical worship of Donald Trump, with the varieties of evangelical pandemic and climate change denial, and with the support of many evangelicals for the QAnon conspiracy theory, it is much much worse today. 

Just take Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis (AiG) (and I should note that Noll devotes much of a chapter to “The Damage Done by Creation Science to the Evangelical Mind.”) From AiG, which created two of the greatest monuments to 21st-century evangelical anti-intellectualism (the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter), we learn that

And now comes right-wing conspiracy theorist Trey Smith. Through his God in a Nutshell project Smith has produced videos such as George Washington: Prophecy of America, The Day of Reckoning the Q, BLM: the Truth, and Joe Biden’s NEW Occult Prophecy Candles

Of course, it makes perfect sense that Smith filmed “The Coming Storm: A Donald J. Trump Documentary” at Ark Encounter (in which he lavishly praises Ken Ham and his big boat, repeatedly referring to “300 cubits”). The production values of this little film are, well, less than professional, and Smith’s askew hair and his determination to bring his face close to the camera make this one weird viewing experience. 

(It is made even weirder and more frightening by the fact that, as Smith maneuvers through the Ark, viewers can see that virtually no visitors are wearing masks. There is absolutely no question that the “COVID pandemic is a hoax” has taken deep roots in American evangelicalism.)

It is no accident that the first half of the video’s title is virtually identical to QAnon’s frequently used motto,  “The Storm is Coming,” which refers to Donald Trump’s supposed project of cleaning the swamp of America-hating Democrats, liberals, and tools of the Deep State. But for a film that claims to be a “Donald J. Trump Documentary,” there is virtually nothing specific here on Donald Trump. Instead, what one gets are a lot of rather incoherent prophetic claims:

  • The spirit of the Antichrist has been with us throughout history, as evinced by the Hollywood groups and their “witchy people” lurking in the background. 
  • Two Supreme Court justices will soon step down, in response to soon-to-be-revealed embarrassing and scandalous revelations.
  • The Lord will take a simple stone (Roger Stone?), and people will laugh at him, and then we will hear the sounds of great victory with Trump’s triumph.
  • God has commanded that Donald Trump will have two terms.

Regarding this latter point, which is being made again and again by QAnon social media and conservative evangelicals, there is a very clear corollary, which comes from the Great Leader himself – that if Trump does not win the election, it will have been stolen from him. One can only imagine how this plays out.

Perhaps Smith’s most coherent rant has to do with slavery (see the quote at the beginning). This piece of historical nonsense is the ultimate white evangelical fantasy: not only were white people not responsible for black slavery (if there is any blame, it is to be placed on the Africans’ “kinsmen”), but God used slavery to bring black people to a land of freedom that was so much better than the “land” of Africa, and then white soldiers paid “the highest sacrifice to buy freedom for them.” 

No horrific slave ships with a 25% death rate. No white torture, rape, and murder of black slaves. No 250 years of slavery. No biblical literalist slaveholders using God’s Word to justify this inhumane institution. No black soldiers fighting for the North, and – as regards white soldiers making the “highest sacrifice” – no reference that it was white Southerners fighting to maintain slavery who killed them. And no reference to what comes a few years after the war, when those Bible-believing Southerners imposed a Jim Crow system on African Americans that returned them to a status as close to slavery as possible. 

While Smith engages in the worst sort of historical revisionism, it makes sense he shares his wisdom while walking about Ark Encounter. What Smith says is very much in keeping with Ken Ham’s fantasy about racism, in which he blames it all on Darwin (despite the fact that Origin of Species appeared one year before the start of the Civil War), and in which he claims that if we would just take Genesis literally we would know that we are “one race, one blood” . . . ignoring the millions of biblical literalists who used the Bible to defend slavery and then segregation. 

History, gone. Science, gone. Expertise, gone. 

In re-reading The Scandal of the Evangelical World I confess that I had forgotten that, while Noll again and again points to ways in which an evangelical mind might emerge, there is a certain pessimism that permeates the book. As he notes at the end of the penultimate chapter:

The scandal of the evangelical mind seems to be that no mind arises from evangelicalism. Evangelicals who believe that God desires to be worshiped with thought as well as activity may very well remain evangelicals, but they will find intellectual depth . . . in ideas developed by confessional or mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, or perhaps even the Eastern Orthodox. That conclusion may be the only responsible one to reach after considering the history sketched in this book. Even if it leaves evangelical intellectuals trapped in personal dissonance and the evangelical tradition doomed to intellectual superficiality (or worse), the recent past seems to point in no other direction. (239)

Right. And in 2020, it seems that the project of rehabilitating the evangelical mind, which has always been a longshot, is a bust.