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The Fundamentalist Pro-Life Solution: Execute the (bad) Women

by William Trollinger

Photograph of the inside of an execution chamber. Image via Reason.com

On January 25 the Creation Museum hosted a political event designed to fire up support for anti-abortion legislation in Kentucky. The event featured Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis (AiG) and Jeff Durbin of Apologia Church, Mesa, Arizona.

Durbin sees abortion as analogous to the Nazi slaughter of the Jews, although he thinks such a comparison “is a bit of an insult to Hitler,” given that, “if you take a body count of Hitler’s Germany to what we’ve had since Roe v. Wade, we beat him by the metric ton.” In response, Durbin argues that women who have abortions – and this includes instances of incest or rape – must be punished: 

Whether it’s a mother who kills her child in the womb or a mother who kills her five-year-old twins by drowning them in the bathtub, we would want it to be treated as a murder charge, and for that to be applied consistently under the law. I believe that a just answer to murder is the death penalty. Historically that’s the standard we held to for a long time, and ultimately when God has spoken to the issue of justice for murder, he says it’s a life for a life.

In short, Durbin is Ken Ham’s kind of guy.

Our friend Dan Phelps wrote an op-ed for the Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader regarding the political rally at the Creation Museum. While Phelps provides a link to the views of “extremist Jeff Durbin,” the focus of Phelps’ op-ed is that such politicking is problematic, given that AiG’s status as a 501(c)(3) religious non-profit “preclude[s] such activities.” However, as Phelps acknowledges, “the IRS has generally been lax in its enforcement.”

AiG’s CCO, Mark Looy, wrote a response to Phelps’ op-ed (check out the comments section). To say that the response is flimsy is, well, to understate the case. For one thing, Looy never addresses the main point of Phelps’ op-ed, which suggests that Ham and company knew very well that this rally was a violation of AiG’s religious non-profit status.

So what does Looy have to say? For one thing, he points out that 

While we teach that abortion is taking the life of a human being and according to the Bible is murder, it is the government’s ordained role to maintain law and order, not the church’s (which the guest columnist omitted).

What? Looy actually thinks that this is a point that needs to be made? He thinks he needs to make clear to Phelps and others that Ham and Durbin are not in charge of determining the state’s specific punishments? While I am confident that Ham and Durbin fantasize about having that kind of power, it is ludicrous that Looy finds it necessary to tell the good people of Lexington that it is “the government that is responsible for determining punishment.”

But there’s more. From Looy:

It is also worth pointing out that our striking “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made”exhibit in our museum stresses God’s mercy and forgiveness for those who have had an abortion.

Let me see if I have this right. As Looy, Ham, and AiG see it, women who have an abortion should be executed. But God will forgive them for their abortion, presumably if they repent while sitting in their cell on Death Row, or strapped onto the gurney in the execution chamber. So is the idea that they will be executed, but they will still have a chance to go to heaven? Is that the mercy and forgiveness that the Creation Museum is referring to?

(Just a note to put this into context. If you visit AiG’s Ark Encounter you will learn that God killed up to 20 billion people in the Genesis Flood. Ok, but he did show mercy and forgiveness to eight individuals who – mercifully – did not hear the screams of the billions of people drowning outside the Ark. The billions who included children, toddlers, infants, and, of course, the unborn.)    

Execute the bad women. Lots of them. All of them.

It’s the final pro-life solution.

Not Even Close to What Was Projected: A Few Facts about Ark Encounter Attendance

by William Trollinger 

The “Rainbow Entrance” at Ark Encounter. Image via BruceGerenscer.net

Last week a reader sent a snarky note in response to a 2017 post I  wrote about the failure of the newly-opened Ark Encounter to live up to its first-year attendance projections:

Wonder how you’re feeling about the fact [that] about 10 million people have visited the Ark Encounter and [that] there are new hotels being built to meet the demand of the ever expanding attraction.

Here’s the first part of my response:

I am guessing you are getting these numbers from Ken Ham. I am afraid the facts do not come close to supporting his claims . . . More than this, the Ark has not come close to matching the attendance projections they used to convince Williamstown to issue junk bonds to aid the project.

Facts. It’s wonderful to work with facts. And as regards Ark Encounter attendance, we have facts, and thus don’t have to depend on the “creative” statements put forth by the folks at Answers in Genesis (AiG).

One of the facts we have is the 2013 Ark Encounter, LLC Feasibility Report that was presented to the town of Williamstown, and is included as Appendix A in Williamstown’s official statement regarding the issuance of $62 million worth of “Taxable Industrial Building Revenue Bonds, Series 2013.”

On the first page of the “Visitation Projections” section, right there in black and white, the feasibility report confidently claims that “the Ark Encounter is expected to attract between 1.2 million and 2.0 million visitors (or an estimated average of 1.6 million visitors) during the first year of operation.” Then, in the “Financial Projections” section, there is a very clear “10-year Operating Income Projections” chart, which includes the projection that there will be (in the first ten years of the Ark’s existence) “Annual Attendance Growth,” with a 4% annual increase as the norm, but with a few years (thanks to new exhibits and the like) that will see a 10% growth rate.

Using the “estimated average of 1.6 million visitors” in the first year – and I should note that Ham actually predicted that first year attendance would be closer to 2.2 million – here’s the projected attendance numbers included in the feasibility study:

  • Year 1: 1,600,000 
  • Year 2: 1,664,000 (4% increase)
  • Year 3: 1,730,560 (4% increase)
  • Year 4: 1,903,616 (10% increase) 
  • Year 5: 1,979,761 (4% increase)
  • Year 6: 2,177,737 (10% increase)

And here come some more facts. We can actually know how many folks visit Ark Encounter, thanks to the fact that – as of July 2017 — a 50 cent “safety fee” has been added to each Ark ticket. Every month the remarkable Dan Phelps – founder and president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society – asks Williamstown officials for the total amount collected that month from the safety fee. And from those facts we have a very clear picture of Ark attendance.

So here is the actual Ark Encounter attendance, compared to the projected attendance numbers: 

  • Year 1 (JY 2016-JE 2017): est. 800,000 (50% of projected attendance)
  • Year 2 (JY 2017-JE 2018): 862,491(52% of projected attendance)
  • Year 3 (JY 2018-JE 2019): 875,882 (51% of projected attendance)
  • Year 4 (JY 2019-JE 2021): 841,772 (44% of projected attendance)
    • NOTE: I left out March 2020-February 2021, given the impact of COVID on Ark attendance.
  • Year 5 (JY 2021-JE 2022): 775,731(39% of projected attendance)
  • Year 6 (JY 2022-JE 2023): 724,311(33% of projected attendance)
    • NOTE: the January-June 2023 numbers are estimates based on the fact that Ark attendance the first six months of the year has historically been around ¾ of attendance in the last six months.

Ark Encounter has never reached the 1.2 million which was estimated as the absolute lowest possible attendance in the first year, much less reached the median estimate of 1.6 million. And with every year the Ark sinks further and further behind the numbers included in the feasibility report. Numbers that convinced little Williamstown to issue $62m of junk bonds to get the Ark project started, and to agree that 75% of what Ark Encounter would have paid in property taxes would instead go to paying off the loan. 

What a sweet deal for the Ark. What a government subsidy

And Williamstown is left holding the bag. I concluded my response to the correspondent mentioned at the beginning by noting that

to add insult to injury, Williamstown is clearly not seeing great benefits from the building of the Ark. It would be lovely if Ham and Answers in Genesis would come clean about all this, but I am not holding my breath.

Right.

MAGA Evangelicals, or, Believing “Crazy” Leads to Following “Crazy”

by Rodney Kennedy

Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. He pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton (OH) – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years, after which he served as interim pastor of ABC USA churches in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Kansas. He is currently interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, NY. His sixth book – The Immaculate Mistake: How Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump – has recently been published by Wipf and Stock (Cascades). And his newest book, Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy, will come out very soon. 

Photo of Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert sitting in front of a shelf  that has 2 Assault Rifles crossed with each other and a Glock pistol next to it.
Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert. Image via The New Civil Rights Movement.

There’s grumbling about the disturbing currents that drive MAGA-land. New Hampshire Governor Sununu said, “I got a great policy for the Republican Party. Let’s stop supporting crazy, unelectable candidates in our primaries and start getting behind winners that can close the deal in November.” 

Others have joined in the growing number of voices suggesting that the Republican Party, like an overloaded stagecoach, has been weaving from side to side for years and now has finally fallen into the ditch. “Crazy” aptly describes the MAGA movement. 

Evangelicals have spent more than a century believing “crazy” notions. I contend that believing “crazy” has led to following “crazy.” There are evangelical beliefs that have led directly to the idolatry of Christian Nationalism. From many examples, I have selected two for consideration. 

The Crazy Notion that America Was Founded as a Christian Nation

The evangelicals believe, against all historical evidence, against the conclusion of the entire fraternity of American historians, that America was founded as a Christian nation. This “crazy” notion has all the earmarks of a conspiracy theory. This notion has been concocted and developed in excruciating detail by the late Peter Marshall, the late Christian television and Presbyterian pastor D. James Kennedy, the historical “hobbyist” David Barton, and the Fox News pundit and FBC Dallas senior pastor Robert Jeffress. Marshall was an amateur historian. Kennedy a preacher. Barton has a degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University and reads history as a hobby. Jeffress, a Southern Baptist pastor, is a rapture-believer, trained at the epicenter of dispensationalism, Dallas Theological Seminary.  

Rather than deal with the diminishing power of Christianity in a secular culture, many evangelicals hide behind a litany of falsehoods about the founding of the nation. These apologists for the “Christian America” movement have created primal scenes in which the notion of America being founded as a Christian nation are authorized and legitimized. A number of tableaus are staged to imagine American beginnings as an evangelical haven of born-again believers. These dioramas, much like what can be found at the Creation Museum, reinforce Christian identity with meaning and a sense of belonging. 

The revised notion of our nation’s founding as Christian may be labeled a primal fantasy. “Primal fantasies are also collective and national insofar as communities continually restage their origin stories to define what it means to be part of an imagined community.” Primal fantasies of the Christian origins of the nation are irrevocably linked to a fearful sense that evangelicals are losing the nation and this scene repetitively plays out in public life. 

The fear of Christianity being forced from the center of cultural power to the fringes resonate with the large fears of white displacement. The fear is the same fear that energized white segregationist efforts in the 1960’s. 

America as a Christian nation is a trope that hides a monster trope: white supremacy and America as a white nation. 

And believing that America was born as a Christian nation has led directly to the rise of “Christian Nationalism.” One of the flag-bearers of “Christian nationalism” has been Lauren Boebert of Colorado. “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,” she said.

“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 congresswoman added. Boebert combines nationalism with apocalyptic craziness. 

Evangelicals are all in with such craziness. Believing crazy has led to following crazy. 

The Crazy Notion of Creationism

For at least a century, evangelicals have, against all scientific evidence, against the conclusion of virtually the entire fraternity of credentialed scientists, promoted the conspiracy theory that God created the world in six literal days. Against mountains of evidence from geology, physics, biology, astronomy, and other sciences, creationists insist confidently that their estimate is correct. The current chief leader of this movement is Ken Ham, a protégé of Henry Morris, who started the movement a half-century ago, at a time when far fewer evangelicals rejected the scientifically determined age of Earth. 

The Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter are bookend visual metaphors for Christian Nationalism. Idolatry requires idols, and these high-tech Disney-like models provide pilgrim destinations for people determined to live in the pre-historical era depicted in
Genesis 1 – 11. Both the museum and the ark have become pilgrimage destinations. 

Christian pilgrimages have existed since the disciples first ran to see the empty tomb. By the beginning of the Middle Ages, pilgrimages were a basic part of the Christian life. Pilgrimage destinations were most often to the shrine of a saint, especially if the shrine contained a relic of the saint. These were held in great veneration as a potentially active source of spiritual energy. The Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter offer visual reinforcement to believers that what they believe about creation and the great flood really is true. The exhibits act as magical relics giving the places a medieval Catholic vibe. This is ironic considering that Protestants unleashed withering criticism of Catholics for their believing in miracles that occurred at the shrines of saints and by touching the relics of saints. 

The pilgrimage reinforces belief in a literal creation and flood, offers the pilgrim a sense of belonging to a community of faith, and shows commitment to belief in a “naïve” and enchanted view of the world prior to the advent of western science. The relics are now visual – high tech images, dioramas, plaques, and Scripture quotations – but they have the same impact at those relics of saints from the middle ages. As Susan and William Trollinger point out, 

The Creation Museum’s adaptation of the diorama makes it all seem even more real. The fact that the museum’s life-size dioramas are not enclosed in glass, as the modern museum’s dioramas typically were, affords the visitor the feeling not just of viewing biblical scenes but of walking among them. The absence of the glass, the flow of one scene into another, and the accompanying sound effects all strongly encourage visitors to feel as though they are witnessing these stories as they unfold. (Righting America at the Creation Museum, 41). 

The museum gives a visual, concrete, physical place of meeting for Christian Nationalists. Down the road, the Ark Encounter plays the same role. Here visitors are treated to an attempt to replicate Noah’s ark according to the design of Genesis. The developers took liberties with the biblical design by giving Noah and his wife living quarters that are not to be found in the biblical account. The Ark Encounter offers people something material, physical, and actual. It’s a visual metaphor of reassurance. Here, see the ark. This is the real deal. There’s the sense that people are caught up in a fantasy that this is the original ark brought to Kentucky from Mt. Ararat. A pilgrim can return home to her local Baptist Church, and say, “I believe the Ark is real. I have seen it.” This displacement of fantasy for reality speaks to the deep craziness involved. 

Again, crazy follows crazy. There is a line of succession from the anti-evolutionary passion of Ham to the COVID-19 conspiracy rhetoric of evangelical preachers. COVID-19 conspiracy rhetoric is the current craziest of the crazy movement. Conspiracy theories are no respecter of political parties as they erupt from either end of the political spectrum. The right’s attachment to conspiracy theories that prophesize human enslavement are alarming because they resonate with a paranoid conservative panic over diversification of the body politic. 

The craziness of the COVID-19 conspiracy theories is that they became growth strategies for some evangelical preachers. For example, Rev. Bill Bolin, refusing to close his FloodGate Church (Brighton MI) during the pandemic, also added a 15-minute “diatribe” to his worship service. During this political rant, he spouts misinformation and conspiratorial nonsense, much of it related to the “radically dangerous” COVID-19 vaccines. “’A local nurse who attends FloodGate, who is anonymous at this time—she reported to my wife the other day that at her hospital, they have two COVID patients that are hospitalized. Two.’ Bolin pauses dramatically. ‘They have 103 vaccine-complication patients.’ The crowd gasps” (Tim Alberta, “How Politics Poisoned the Evangelical Church, The Atlantic, June 2022.)  Prior to COVID, Bolin’s church attendance averaged about 100 people. After he added his political rant, primarily against COVID, attendance increased in one year to 1500 person per Sunday. Crazy. 

Casey Ryan Kelly, in his prescient article, “COVID-19 conspiracy rhetoric and other primal fantasies,” demonstrates the development of the COVID-19 conspiracy. He analyzes Planet Lockdown, a documentary film which claims that the COVID-19 pandemic was manufactured by finance capitalists, Silicon Valley, and the pharmaceutical industry to microchip the population, consolidate global wealth, and enslave the population. Kelly argues “that COVID-19 enslavement fantasies consummate white conservative fears of racial displacement, brought on by an impending demographic shift and greater visibility of antiracist activism throughout the early stages of the pandemic.” 

This is an example of where the yellow brick road of “crazy” leads. Behind the curtain there’s a collection of con artists marketing conspiracy theories disguised as Christian doctrines. The notion of “modern slavery” restages an attempt by evangelicals to resecure white power. In short, when evangelicals say that it is about history, creation, the future, our freedom, our free speech, our children, they are really saying what they have always said: “It’s the racism.” 

Whenever an evangelical tells you, “It’s not about race,” it’s about race.

And at the bottom of the crazy barrel, encrusted from 150 years before we became a nation, lies the ugly specter of slavery, segregation, racism. All the “crazy” beliefs – America as a Christian nation, evolution as a doctrine of the devil, and the rapture flock together as one overriding evangelical attempt to deal with the current disruption of their worldview. Having non-historians teaching American history, non-scientists teaching biology and disease prevention, and a bunch of preachers and politicians spouting conspiracy theories produces “crazy” nonstop.

God told me to tell you that we need to stop believing and following crazy.

The Nature of the Religious Right:  An Interview with Neall Pogue

by William Trollinger

Picture of the book cover for "The Nature of the Religious Right" by Neall Pogue.
Image of Neall W. Pogue’s book cover for The Nature of the Religious Right: The Struggle Between Conservative Evangelicals and the Environmental Movement (Cornell University Press, 2022)

Neall Pogue is an assistant professor of instruction at The University of Texas at Dallas.  In April his research was published as a monograph by Cornell University Press titled  The Nature of the Religious Right:  The Struggle Between Conservative Evangelicals and the Environmental Movement.  This book is an intellectual history that offers the first historical account delineating how politically motivated white conservative evangelicals who make up the religious right ultimately learned to oppose environmental protection efforts including climate change over the last fifty years.  Here is a link to his post on how fundamentalist textbooks deal with environmental issues

We at rightingamerica are very pleased that Pogue was willing to be interviewed about  The Nature of the Religious Right.

  1. What factors – academic, personal, whatever — drew you into this topic? And how did you come up with such a clever title for the book?

As an older teenager in the 1990s, I recognized from the media and personal experiences that white conservative evangelicals who supported religious right ideals opposed environmental protection initiatives, including efforts to curb climate change, while progressives strongly supported the opposite.  

Years later, as an environmental history graduate student looking for a thesis topic, I became interested in the relationship between the environment and the religious right movement.  While it seemed to be expected that progressives and conservatives would disagree on issues, but how did conservative evangelicals, who pride themselves on using theology to understand the world, decide to reject environmental protection?  

The first chapter of Genesis in the Christian Bible, for example, explains that God created the earth and the cosmos, all of which is described seven different times as “good.”  Consequently, why would it be acceptable to oppose efforts to preserve what God created?  To answer this question, I set out to write the first history on the subject.

The title for the book was something I decided on late in the writing process.  My Ph.D. dissertation that eventually became the book is titled “The Lost Environmentalists:  The Struggle Between Conservative Protestants and the Environmental movement 1970-2010.” During the peer-review process, it was correctly pointed out that the book never portrayed white conservative evangelicals of the religious right as environmentalists.  Beyond that problem, the title would have lacked the name of the community that the entire book centered on – the Religious Right.   I soon came up with The Nature of the Religious Right, which satisfied everyone and did a better job representing the subject matter.  

  1. Perhaps your most significant and surprising argument in The Nature of the Religious Right is that from the late 1960s to the early 1990s “conservative evangelicals did not support secular environmentalism, but at the same time they did not ignore or oppose environmental protection,” instead “develop[ing] an eco-friendly theologically based philosophy, termed here as Christian environmental stewardship” (2). Could you elaborate on the components of this evangelical eco-friendly philosophy? 

Often times the first image we think about when picturing environmental protection is two opposing sides; those who want to preserve it and those who want to sacrifice nature for human development.  

But how humanity understands itself in connection with other living things and the earth can be much more complicated than just preservation or destruction.  Likewise, as I studied the white conservative evangelical response to historical events such as the birth of the environmental movement in 1970, it became apparent they were not simply on one side or the other. 

As the 1960s came to a close, and popular concern about the health of the environment grew, people within the conservative evangelical community looked toward the Bible for answers.  Respected Christian writers such as Francis Schaeffer used the Bible to easily demonstrate that God valued creation.  Humanity, Schaffer argued, might indeed be God’s greatest achievement, but humanity was nonetheless a creation like everything else, including whales, insects, trees and the soil.  Therefore, he reasoned, humans must respect all creation as we do ourselves.  Such an idea was furthered to add that humanity did not actually own the earth; it was God’s and humans are only caretakers, custodians or, in other words, stewards.  This theologically based perspective could be called Christian environmental stewardship.  

Christian environmental stewardship is similar to how secular conservationists understand the human relationship to nature.  Humanity can use the earth’s natural resources, but must go about it wisely and sparingly.  Logging companies, for example, can cut timber for houses, but must leave a portion of trees to grow and continue to support the ecosystem.  Christian environmental stewardship is very closely related to this perspective, undergirded by Christian theology.   

  1. Related, how robust was the evangelical notion of environmental stewardship? Was there a willingness to support state-imposed limits on capitalism?

This is a great question.  When trying to get access to one pastor’s sermons, I spoke to a secretary who, upon learning my topic, laughed and said that the pastor had never talked about the environment and she attended every Sunday sermon he delivered.  Indeed, the environment was never a “hot button” issue that was spoken about frequently.  Thus, during the research process finding positions on the subject was a little like finding needles in a haystack.  Nevertheless, the more I looked the needles did exist and revealed that the evangelical community supported an established eco-friendly position of Christian environmental stewardship, which lasted from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. 

As stated in the book, the eco-friendly views existed largely as philosophies and in the background behind the traditional “hot button” issues like abortion and gay marriage.  

Religious right supporters did discuss state-imposed limits on capitalism in preference for Christian environmental stewardship, particularly in response to the first Earth Day in 1970 and its twentieth anniversary in 1990.  In both cases, however, it never evolved into a plank of the religious right’s political agenda for a variety of reasons.

  1. The Nature of the Religious Right takes a turn in chapter 5, where you assert that, in beginning in the 1990s, “anti-environmentalist positions from political conservatives eventually crushed calls for environmental action” (109). In reading your book I was struck by how quickly many/most evangelical leaders and many/most evangelical institutions abandoned concerns for the environment. How do you explain this remarkable turnaround?

Like the wider American public in the early 1990s, conservative evangelicals of the religious right had to decide what to believe regarding important environmental issues, particularly anthropogenic climate change. 

On one hand they were told by conservative think tanks and special advocacy groups that environmental protection initiatives involving climate change were fake and harmful.  On the other hand, scientists warned that anthropogenic climate change was real and threated all life on earth.  Even mainstream media sources offered both viewpoints.   

A variety of reasons allowed or encouraged some white conservative evangelicals to immediately believe the arguments coming from the think tanks and advocacy groups.  As stated in the book’s conclusion, sociologist Arlie Russel Hochschild points out in her book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, many conservative evangelicals live in industrial-heavy states where jobs in that sector are really the only option for employment.  To further this point, Hochschild quotes one person who states, “Pollution is the sacrifice we make for capitalism” (179).  In this perspective, it’s not hard to understand why a religious right supporter would choose to believe the arguments from conservative think tanks stating that climate change isn’t happening, and that any action to combat it would ruin the economy.  It might be easy to condemn this group for making a greedy choice, but as is also pointed out in my book’s conclusion, the economy usually is the top issue at elections among both Republican and Democrats. 

With the above information in mind, it is important to highlight that the religious right community did not turn against their eco-friendly views at the same time.  There were those who indeed immediately embraced the conservative think tank and special advocacy campaign material, but they had to work hard to convince others to agree with them.  Robert Dugan of the National Association of Evangelicals is a great example of this.  As discussed in the later chapters, he was a strong religious right advocate, but initially found nothing wrong with wanting to save the environment.  As the calls to condemn the environmental movement grew in his community during the early 1990s, he became confused about what to believe and just dropped the issue.  Such calls were loud and saturated with ridicule aimed at anyone who held eco-friendly views.  With this scenario in mind, it is not unreasonable to posit that there are many in the community who, even in the present, still support Christian environmental stewardship, but simply remain silent. 

  1. I love how this book takes historical contingency into account, best represented by the title to your final chapter, “It Could Have Taken a Very Different Path.” How might that have happened in the 1990s and early 2000s? Today, what would be required for evangelicals to address climate change, given the fusion of conservative evangelicalism and conservative politics in the Christian Right, and given that prominent fundamentalists such as Ken Ham refer to those who are concerned about global warming as being part of a “climate cult”?

When considering theory, this question is easy to answer, but how it could be implemented in practice seems an insurmountable problem.   

The religious right already has the solid theologically defensible concept of Christian environmental stewardship.  As Francis Schaeffer argued (chapter one), humanity may be God’s crowning achievement, but people must care for creation as they care for themselves.  People are allowed some profit within capitalism, but not if it destroys God’s creation.  

Overall, Christian environmental stewardship is rational and reasonable.  It is basically a version of the respected and proven practice of nature conservation, but with a religious bent.  Again, the concept is there, it just needs to be followed.  If it were followed, they would support efforts to curb climate change in a way that is balanced and allows for people to use, but not abuse/destroy “God’s world.”  

Of course, such a decision would require conservative evangelicals to take a step back from popular narratives that categorize environmental initiatives with nature worship and other conspiracies.  Calling citizens who want to stop global warming a “climate cult” is an easy way to dismiss and ignore the problem by demonizing it and weaving it into larger political narratives that fuel the ongoing culture wars.  

In this vein, The Nature of the Religious Right is not only a history book, but could be used as a way for readers to look beyond today’s political polarization and realize that environmentalists and religious right supporters, at least for a period, held similar views towards the environment.  Perhaps this information offers ways for a conversation to develop between the two groups. 

  1. What research project(s) are you working on now? Are you staying with evangelicals and the environment, or are you moving on?

In connection to my last answer, my next project is not so much based in new research but an attempt to address polarization and promote solutions. 

One of the fundamental problems regarding environmental issues amongst the general public is simply trying to decide what is true or not, all of which is connected to the informational sources we consume as a society.  

To explore this situation, I would like to start a new book intended specifically for the general public, which would take the reader through examples reflecting the sources that conservative evangelicals used, which led to an evolving understanding of climate change.  Like the general public, this community began the 1990s with the view that anthropogenic climate change was real.  The information offered by conservative think tanks and special advocacy groups, however, allowed evangelicals the option to choose what they wanted to believe.  

This book would encourage readers to think more deeply about the sources of information they use to understand the world by employing the historical example of climate change and conservative evangelicals.  While achieving this goal, the book would help answer questions such as what makes sources credible?  How does science evolve from unsettled to settled?  What are the obstacles of information communication in our society?  

I have a few other, more scholarly, research ideas floating around, but for the moment I am excited about this new book project intended for general readers.  

The Best of rightingamerica in 2022

by William Trollinger

People walking in front of the Ark Encounter outside in jackets.
Exterior of Ark Encounter. Image by Susan L. Trollinger (March 15, 2022).

It was another good year for rightingamerica, both in the variety of authors’ voices and topics, and in the number and variety of visitors/viewers. Regarding the latter, folks from over 140 countries read the blog in 2022, including folks from Azerbaijan, Burundi, Chad, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nepal, Oman, and Paraguay.

Below are the top ten read posts in 2022, which include two that were written in 2020 and 2021. Enjoy reading (or re-reading!)

10. Two Peas in a Pod: QAnon Conspiratorialism and Young Earth Creationism, by William Trollinger (March 16, 2022)

“Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis (AiG) sit quite comfortably within the QAnon-loving camp. Not only have they established that to hold a ‘secular worldview’ is to be a pedophile, but they opened Ark Encounter to right-wing conspiratorialist Trey Smith for the filming of The Coming Storm: A Donald J. Trump Documentary. The title of this nearly unwatchable video – the production values are non-existent, and the unwatchability is exacerbated by Smith’s determination to stick his face as close to the camera as possible – gives away the QAnon connection.”

9.  Hijacking History: An Interview with Kathleen Wellman, by William Trollinger (August 04, 2022)

“’Created to serve the so-called ‘segregation academies’ of the 1970s, which were created in response to desegregation and Supreme Court rulings against Bible reading and prayers in school, these [fundamentalist] textbooks subsequently appealed to parents who wanted to protect their children from the counterculture of the 1960s and more recently from multiculturalism. . . . [The narrative in these texts] rejects religious toleration and pluralism and the separation of church and state. . . . It even rejoices in natural disasters as eagerly awaited signs of the apocalypse.’”

8. A Flood of Angry (and Grateful) Responses to American Pope: Scott Hahn and the Rise of Catholic Fundamentalism, by Sean Martin (Feburary 10, 2022)

“My tweet announcing the book [was] viewed over 120,000 times and interacted with (retweeted, liked, or commented on) more than 35,000 times . . . Among the many comments . . . was one that I found quite unsettling. Surprisingly, it was not the private message that I received informing me that the writer was praying for my death so that I may soon experience the judgment of God. It also was not the comment that suggested that I was possessed . . . Instead, it was the comment to a supportive retweet, ‘I hope this author knows what he’s in for. This is going to get bad for him.’”

7. The Appallingly Bad History Taught at Fundamentalist Schools, by William Trollinger (July 14, 2022)

“The [Bob Jones University] textbook uncritically describes slavery as integral to Southern culture. While noting the obvious disjuncture between slavery and ‘all men are created equal,’ it points out that, on the eve of the Civil War, ‘some even insisted the Southern slave culture cultivated the virtues of honor, courage, duty, and dignity.’ It also comments, ‘Slavery also provided educated Southerners the time to better themselves intellectually.’. .  . [As regards the civil rights movement], the Abeka US history textbook notes that . . . ‘segregation had become a way of life, and both white and black Southerners had a difficult time changing their ways.’”

6. Stay With Your Abusive Husband: John MacArthur and Evangelical Patriarchy, by William Trollinger (May 24, 2022)

“John Street, chair of the graduate program in biblical counseling at [John MacArthur’s Master’s University and Seminary], has taught his students [that]: a Christian wife should endure abuse by a non-Christian husband in the same way that missionaries endure persecution; by enduring abuse a wife may win her husband to Christ; when both spouses are Christian, the wife should rely on church processes, as government authorities must be the absolute last resort; domestic violence shelters are terrible places, as they teach women to be assertive; [and] the only grounds for divorce are unrepentant adultery and abandonment.”

5. Why I Wrote American Pope: Scott Hahn and the Rise of Catholic Fundamentalism, by Sean Martin (February 04, 2022)

“The central concern for me in writing American Pope was that, as arguably the most influential voice in American Catholicism, we should understand the vision that Scott Hahn offers in his works read by millions of Catholics throughout the world . . . and yet, until now, I have been unable to find a single systematic engagement with his thought and work . . . What I actually argue in the book is that the Catholic vision that Hahn claims to be providing his audience is, in fact, quite different than the one he actually presents. What he coins as Catholic faithfulness is instead a straight-forward and damning Catholic fundamentalism.”

4. Educational Malpractice: A Review of an Abeka Creationist 8th Grade Science Textbook, by Dan Phelps (March 23, 2022)

“Chapter 5: ‘Interpreting the Fossil Record’ . . . is devoted to attacking historical geology paleontology, physics, biology, and paleoanthropology. It also attacks Christians who accept theistic evolution as accepting ideas that are not ‘compatible with either the biblical record or established principles of science’ (emphases in the original). What makes this chapter so difficult to review is that almost everything in the chapter is wrong or bizarre. Just take, for example, the very first photo in the chapter, which shows Adam riding on the back of a lion in the Garden of Eden.”

3. The Scandal Deepens at Cedarville University, by William Trollinger (May 05, 2020)

“Let me see if I have this right. The school knowingly hired a man [Anthony Moore] who – in his previous position as campus pastor of The Village Church (TVC) in Fort Worth, Texas – had secretly videotaped a male youth pastor showering in Moore’s home on multiple occasions. More than this, they failed to inform students, parents, staff, and faculty as to what Moore had done, and they failed to institute a rigorous protocol to ensure that students, staff, and faculty were protected from a predator they did not know about. And now, after Moore is gone, Cedarville is investigating to ‘ensure’ that nothing inappropriate happened.”

2. “Let’s take the hill!”: Moving Past Confession and Repentance, The Main Dudes at Willow Creek Rehabilitate Bill Hybels, by Susan Trollinger (June 08, 2021)

The Willow Creek pastors are using “a rhetoric of preparation. The inner circle is being prepared for a shift in the very recently repentant rhetoric of Willow. Years of coverup. Years of attacking victims who were telling the truth. Years of enabling Hybel’s abuse. And then a little window in which a new elder board said, yes, it’s true. And we’re sorry. But enough of that! The new leaders have a vision! Enough of shame and lament and pain and confession and repentance. It’s time to get the Willow brand on the move again! All that confession and repentance is not uplifting. It does not fill the seats or the coffers. Instead: it’s time to ‘take the hill!’”

1. Ark Encounter: Not Sinking, but Not Close to Living Up to Projections, by William Trollinger (April 07, 2022)

“Between 4 and 5 million tourists have visited the Ark since 2016 . . . The Ark is not sinking. That said, Ark Encounter has never come close to reaching the numbers projected in the feasibility report given to Williamstown in 2013. It has never reached even the minimum number of visitors [projected] for its first year of operation. And with every passing year the tourist site falls farther short of what [Answers in Genesis] promised . . . And as documented by the wonderful film, We Believe in Dinosaurs, Ark Encounter has had little noticeable economic impact on the small town that provided the tourist site with such gifts.”

The Christian Right, Dispensational Premillennialism, and Antisemitism

by William Trollinger 

Chart of antisemitism over the course of the past ten years.
Bar Graph showing the rise in anti-semitic incidents in the United States: 2012 – 2021. Via the Anti-Defamation League.

A few years ago I was interviewed by a reporter for a national Jewish publication who wanted my take on the fact that white evangelicals – more than any other group of Americans (including Jews) – wholeheartedly support the state of Israel. I noted that one big reason for this is dispensational premillennialism, the prophetic schema developed by John Nelson Darby in the 19th century and used by many evangelicals to understand the books of Revelation and Daniel. According to Darby’s formula, the return of Jews to the Holy Land would be one indicator that we are living in the “last days,” just before the “rapture” (when Jesus will “return in the air” to retrieve true Christians from the Earth while leaving the rest to the mercies of the Antichrist.)

As I told him, the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 is proof positive for many evangelicals and fundamentalists that Jesus’ return to Earth is imminent. To go against Israel is to go against God’s divine plan – and those who do, will pay.

But it turns out that the reporter already had some knowledge of this, and he expressed pleasure over the fact that evangelicals’ wacky ideas about biblical prophecy translated into political support for Israel. I responded by pointing out that – according to dispensational premillennialism – the Antichrist’s seven year reign (the “tribulation”) will end with the return of Jesus and the saints, who will slaughter all those who have not accepted Jesus as savior. Jews included.

He laughed:  “Until I see Jesus coming over the hill, I won’t worry about it.” 

It is a clever phrase. Unbeknownst to me, it was not coined by my journalistic interlocutor. As I learned from Eric Alterman’s recent Nation article on American Jewish leaders and the Christian Right, it was invented by an American Israel Public Affairs Committee researcher in the late 20th century. In this excellent article (marred only by the erroneous claim that William Blackstone was the creator of dispensational premillennialism), the author documents how over the past few decades Christian Right leaders have – for all their support of Israel – repeatedly voiced antisemitic sentiments. From Alterman’s article:

  • John Hagee: Hitler was a “hunter” who God sent to convince “the Jewish people . . . to come back to Israel.”
  • Tim LaHaye: The Jews will be “destroyed by the anti-Christ in the time of the seven years of tribulation; a potential dictator [is] waiting in the wings somewhere in Europe who will make Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin look like choirboys.”
  • Jerry Falwell: “The Jews are returning to their land of unbelief. They are spiritually and desperately in need of their Messiah and Savior.” According to biblical prophecy, there will soon be an Israel-inspired “nuclear holocaust,” a holocaust that will coincide with Christ’s return to Earth: “WHAT A DAY THAT WILL BE!”

Antisemitism has been present in American fundamentalism from the movement’s beginnings in 1919. For example, and as I document in God’s Empire,  William Bell Riley – in many ways the father of the American fundamentalist movement – was a passionate promoter of dispensational premillennialism and (related) a tireless purveyor of the worst sort of anti-Semitic conspiratorialism. Convinced that there was a global Jewish conspiracy seeking to oppress the Gentile masses, in the 1930s Riley – who repeatedly claimed he was not an antisemite – was a fan of Adolf Hitler, whom he praised for rescuing Germany from the Jewish-Communist menace. As Riley saw it, 

If Hitler’s anticommunism involved oppression of the Jews, so be it. . . . The fact was, as Hitler correctly recognized, the Jews had earned their opprobrium: “Jewry, from the day that she crucified Jesus Christ until the present time, has given many occasions for her own rejection and for that opposition which she has politically pronounced persecution. Hear Hitler, who speaks from first-hand knowledge: ‘The Jew is the cause and beneficiary of our slavery. The Jew has caused our misery, and today he lives on our troubles. . . . He has ruined our race, rotted our morals, corrupted our traditions, and broken our power.’” (God’s Empire, 71-72)

Of course, such antisemitism did and does make its way down to (some) dispensational premillennialists at the local level. Take, for example, Mike Elliott. A graduate of Pensacola Bible Institute, Elliott started the Anchor Baptist Church here in Dayton, which he has pastored for the past 18 years. According to their statement of beliefs, Elliott preaches a classic dispensational premillennialism (rapture, tribulation, and the violent end of history). 

As reported by The Dayton Jewish Observerin his November 27 sermon Elliott asserted that

The Jews hate us. You do know that, right? They hate Christians. You are against everything they have, since they think we’re against their God when we’re actually for it . . . Israel is what it is today because the United States got involved in helping them get there, but they just hate us for some reason.

In a follow-up interview with the Observer, Elliott expressed frustration that his comments could be understood as antisemitic: “I just don’t understand that. That’s insane. I do not hate Jews. I love the Jewish nation.”

In his brilliant Nation article, Eric Alterman laments the fact that ”American Jewish leaders have spent so long genuflecting before the Christian right that even the most blatant anti-Semitism finds them unable to stand up or speak out.” Right. And this is frightening. Contra Mike Elliott, one can “love the Jewish nation” AND be an antisemite.  

As the past and present suggest, such a possibility is baked into dispensational premillennialism.

The Pain that Fundamentalism Produces

by William Trollinger

Picture of Anti-LGBTQ+ Protestors.
Anti-LGBTQ+ Protestors. Image courtesy of Getty Images.

I was not prepared for the level of pain, hurt, anguish. I should not have been surprised, but I was.

It was the winter of 2004. I had been asked to lead the “Winter Weekend Intensive” at Cross Creek Community Church (now Harmony Creek Church) here in Dayton. This involved giving an address on Saturday evening, and then giving a second address on Sunday morning. And my topic was: “Understanding Fundamentalism: Community & Certainty In a (Post)Modern World.”

Cross Creek Church was (and is) “An Open and Affirming Church of the United Church of Christ.” From their “Distinctive Values” statement: 

  • “We affirm that the church is a community where all people are welcomed and recognized as God’s good creation. It is a place where acceptance moves beyond mere toleration of difference and diversity to complete acceptance of all people, affirming that to be the way of Jesus.”
  • “We do not exclude or hinder people’s participation in the full life of the church based on, but not limited to, gender, race, age, sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, socio-economic status, marital circumstance, ethnic origin, theological perspective, or physical/mental challenges.”
  • “We affirm that we find grace more in the search for Christian meaning than in absolute certainty and more in the questions than in the answers.”

In my two presentations I talked about fundamentalist theology (including biblical inerrancy and dispensational premillennialism), the origins of the fundamentalist movement in the early twentieth century, and its contemporary manifestations (particularly, the Christian Right). More particularly, I noted that fundamentalists are Christian believers who: 

  • profess certainty that their truth is the Truth, 
  • ground their religious authority in a literal reading of the Bible (eliding the fact that all texts must be interpreted),
  • establish clear boundaries between themselves and others, and
  • are aggressively opposed to any blurring of the male/female binary.

Throughout my presentations I repeatedly noted that this fundamentalist understanding of Christianity was dramatically different from Cross Creek’s vision of a humble and radically inclusive church. I knew the congregants did not need to be told this, but I had no idea how well many of them understood fundamentalism.

This became obvious in the concluding question and answer session. Actually, there were few questions and even fewer answers, as individual congregants stood up to tell their stories of how their fundamentalist family and/or church had treated them after they had come out as LGBTQ+. There were stories of condemnation and shunning. There was a lot of emotion, on their part, yes, but also on my part; as a father, I struggled not to cry while listening to folks recount how their family had completely rejected them because of their sexual orientation. 

As the session wrapped up, I got myself together enough to say that it was absolutely remarkable that they had not given up on church, that they had not given up on Christianity.

In the end, fundamentalism is about the “Truth,” not about human beings. 

In the end, fundamentalism is inhumane. 

Rejecting Religious Fascism, and Loving LGBTQ Youth and Their Families

by Julie Nichols

Julie Nichols is a practicing Catholic, a Native Texan, and a wife of nearly 30 years.  She is a pediatric Academic Language Therapist who serves children with developmental, learning, and cognitive disabilities, and is a part-time advocate for disabled and LBGTQ youth and their families. She holds specialties in Autism, Dyslexia, Cognition, and Inclusion in LGBTQIA+ Healthcare. She is also a part-time lay minister in LGBTQ Religious Trauma Recovery, an early-onset Parkinson’s Disease patient, and the first recipient of Advanced Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery in South Texas. She is currently completing a lay ministry certification with an emphasis in Social Justice. Her publications have appeared in Catholic sites such as New Ways Ministry, Outreach, Fortunate Families, and Catholic New Zealand. 

Picture of Donald Trump mocking and making faces of New York Times Reporter Serge Kovaleski.
Donald Trump mocking New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski (pictured right) in 2015. Image via Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.

Christian Nationalism – better labeled as Religious Fascism – has taken over a good part of the Republican Party. This Religious Fascism is antithetical to authentic Christianity, Catholic Social Teaching, the heart of the Gospel message, and everything Jesus Christ said and did.   

Having witnessed how badly minority groups outside the womb were/are treated and discarded during the Trump era (and even before), I – a life-long moderate Texan Republican – became a Democrat in order to stand with the marginalized outside the womb. Even though shifting, growing, and changing to a more progressive Gospel-centric worldview was very difficult for me, the results have enriched my spiritual walk, helped me develop relationships with a richer and wider diversity of people, and more tightly bonded my relationship to our Creator who is the Lover of all humankind, not just some of humankind.    

In many ways my political conversion began the day in 2015 when Trump mocked the disabled reporter. Given my profession as a pediatric specialty therapist, my eyes started opening to a broad spectrum of social injustices, especially in the areas of racism, legislative attacks on transgender children in Texas, and a dangerous relaxation of gun restrictions in Texas.  I also became painfully aware of how white religious leaders in the Republican Right have weaponized 15 to 20 Bible verses which speak about the subjugation of women and sexuality, in the process coercing other Christians to vote Republican out of “Christian Duty.” 

In the process they have ignored 2,000 Bible verses and Catholic Social Teaching in order to wage war on the poor and the marginalized. Over the past few decades they have gutted life-giving services and safety for millions of vulnerable Americans in the areas of: disability, healthcare, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, WIC, food stamps, gun control, and environmental safety. They refer to our social safety net and safety precautions as “Socialism” or even “Communism,” even though America can well-afford to care for the most vulnerable in our society, and we can well afford to keep our citizens safe. 

They defend themselves by claiming that care for the vulnerable is the responsibility of the Church and the non-profit world. But church and non-profits cannot and do not, on their own, sufficiently provide for the Common Good. I know this very well from serving disabled children in my profession, raising a disabled son for 20 years, and battling Parkinson’s Disease myself.

Essentially, for the past four decades Religious Fascists – including large numbers of white Protestant and Catholic fundamentalists – have demonized women, people of other faiths and races, LGBTQIA+ people, and others whom they see as “less than fully human.” 

Two years ago, I discovered something I did not know: many Christian families have been forced to leave their churches because their children came out as gay or transgender. Through my work with FreedHearts, an LGBTQ-affirming nonprofit that aims to spread a “message of love, inclusion [and] belonging” between LGBTQ people and Christian churches, I have met many families who left their churches because they had to choose between upholding their LGBTQ child’s right-to-life and remaining in their parish.

According to a 2019 Trevor Project research study, when one parent fully supports their LGBTQ child, the rate of suicide attempts drop dramatically, by 40 percent. Any efforts to coerce or change an LBGTQ child’s identity, such as through gay “conversion,” “reparative therapy” or threats of eternal damnation, cause lasting psychological damage.

Fully accepting the LBGTQ identity of children can be difficult for some Christians parents, because they have to reconcile their religious faith with unconditionally loving and supporting LBGTQ youth and adults. That is why, even though there is a theological conflict with parts of the Catholic tradition, my religious faith helps me place the sanctity of life, the dignity of the human person and unconditional love above any doctrinal struggles I have. The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health states that every word and action of love, affirmation or acceptance can be the difference between life and death for LGBTQ people. This is why I place life and human dignity first.

When we look at the consequences of rejecting LBGTQ children, we find depression, anxiety, self-hatred, shame, self-harm, substance abuse, and separation from God, church, and family. But when we teach that God and the church accept these people unconditionally, LGBTQ people can find peace, joy, self-acceptance, reconciliation, and wholeness.

LGBTQ youth need unconditional love and support, especially from other Christians and faith leaders. Love and support from other Christians is seen as love and acceptance from God, while Christians rejecting, trying to change or coerce LGBTQ people is seen as rejection and abuse from God. Jesus taught us to defend all those who were in any way marginalized.

If we claim to act in Christ’s name, we need to follow his command to love our neighbor as ourselves. This would mean loving transgender/gender dysphoric youth unconditionally, including using their preferred pronouns. These affirmations help reduce suicide statistics dramatically.

The church must move to reconcile with the LGBTQ community and provide safe and affirming pastoral ministry that aligns with mainstream science.  Anything else will continue to endanger and disrupt the lives of LGBTQ people and their families.  

It amazes me that even when I share the life and death consequences of not reconciling with these vulnerable populations and their families, ministers will still not listen, and even become hostile. Some on the Right think that other peoples’ lives are up for debate rather than a non-negotiable matter of life, death, and human dignity. 

As the Civil Rights Activist James Baldwin said, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and my right to exist.”

For those in the Catholic Right who use doctrine re: sexuality as a weapon to destroy LBGTQIA+ people and their families – ripping families apart and sometimes resulting in suicide – here’s some good Catholic teaching for you.  By advocating for LBGTQIA + inclusion, we are following Catholic Social Teaching which honors the Sanctity of life and Dignity of the Human Person, The Call to Family, Community, and Participation, and Solidarity by keeping the family intact.  I am following Pope Francis’s directive in his Encyclical Amoris Laetitia and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to give appropriate pastoral care to the LBGTQIA person by including him/her because it’s a matter of life and death. This grows out of loving God with all our heart, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

On these two Commandments hang all of the law and the prophets.

Fundamentalists, Tracts, and Operation London

by William Trollinger

Picture of King Charles III on one million British pound notes.
“Operation London” tracts. Photo via LivingWaters.

What is it about fundamentalists and tracts? Is handing out little booklets to unsuspecting recipients really the best evangelistic strategy? What is the attraction?

Most infamous are Chick tracts. Originally produced by Jack Chick in the 1960s, Chick Publications continues to publish “cartoon gospel stories people love to read!,” most of which end with a call to accept Jesus as Savior. Chick tracts are notorious for their virulent anti-Catholicism, extreme Islamophobia, absurd arguments v. evolution, and – of course – frenzied homophobia

In a different vein — less focused on the hatred of others – are the Four Spiritual Laws tracts. Created by Campus Crusade’s Bill Bright in 1952, these tracts elaborate on these four “laws”:

  1. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
  2. Man is sinful and separated from God. Therefore, he cannot know God and experience God’s love and plan for his life.
  3. Jesus Christ is God’s ONLY provision for man’s sin. Through Him you can know and experience God’s love and plan for your life.
  4. We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Then we can know and experience God’s love and plan for our lives.

I grew up in an evangelical church in Denver (which is now a megachurch in the city’s southern exurbs). Leaders in the church  – particularly, my father – had concerns that the youth pastor (Rick) was not properly inculcating the youth in conservative theology and politics. (Actually, he wasn’t, which is why he and I – as youth group president – were so close). So the powers-that-be pressured Rick to take the youth group to Washington Park on a weekend afternoon, the purpose being to give Four Spiritual Laws tracts to the heathens walking the tree-lined paths or playing Frisbee or lounging in the grass. 

Off the church bus, my first (and, as it turned out, only) “target” turned out to be three Denver University students who were sitting under a tree, enjoying the lovely spring weather while studying for exams. I walked up to them and gave each of them a tract. Much to my surprise, they wanted to talk with this high school student about the little booklet I had just given them.  So I ended up sitting in the grass with them. They pressed me on how I made sense of the fact that there were many other religions on the planet besides my version of Christianity – I don’t recall what exactly I said, but I do remember that it was anything but compelling — and it did not take long for me or them to figure out that I knew absolutely nothing about philosophy. It was an invigorating conversation, one which ended by the four of us agreeing on the impossibility of certainty. 

Thus ended my one and only experience of handing out tracts.

In contemporary fundamentalism it is hard to beat Ray Comfort – he of the infamous banana video – when it comes to enthusiasm for passing out tracts. For example, he and his Living Waters organization have proclaimed October 31 to be “National Evangelism Day,” as Halloween gives fundamentalists the perfect opportunity to drop tracts into the bags of unsuspecting trick-or-treaters. It could be a homophobic Chick tract, it could be the Four Spiritual Laws, or it could be Answers in Genesis (AiG) booklets such as “Noah’s Ark Gospel,” “The Atheist Test,” or “Satan & the Serpent.”

Trick, or Treat?

But now Living Waters and AiG have now outdone themselves. As explained by the folks at Living Waters

On May 6, 2023, millions are going to converge on the city of London for the coronation of King Charles, and many millions more from around the world will be watching the coronation live. How incredible would it be if we were able to reach this unprecedented audience with the gospel?

This is where Operation London comes in: we want to give away millions of free gospel tracts to spread all throughout London on Coronation Day! We want to make these exclusive gospel tracts freely available to every Christian who is able to make it to London.

On one side the tracts appear as if they are 1,000,000 pound notes (replete with a picture of King Charles), and on the other side an evangelistic message. They have printed three million tracts, and they are calling on Christians from all over the globe to come to London on Coronation Day – a day which Comfort describes as “celebrity on steroids” – to distribute them into the hands of unwary celebrants.

What a plan.

In order to secure the thousands of volunteers needed to hand out three million tracts, Comfort and company have produced a 28 minute infomercial which they claim will air in 190 countries. In this video one of the Living Waters spokespersons makes the case for tract distribution, asserting that

A Gospel tract will not receive your arguments. There’s no going back-and-forth. When a Gospel tract speaks, the person listens.

Got it. That’s why fundamentalists love handing out tracts. They have the Truth, they hand a stranger the Truth, and they walk away to find their next Truth target.

No need to listen to – much less learn from – the other.

Holiday Gift Guide for the Christian Nationalist on Your List

by Brian Kaylor

Brian Kaylor is a Baptist minister with a Ph.D. in political communication. He is also president and editor-in-chief of Word and Way. This article is reposted with permission from A Public Witness, Word and Way’s e-newletter. For the complete article, see here.

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On the left is a picture of Donald Trump standing with Kash Patel holding children books. On the right is a picture of a mug with the American flag with a red cross in the middle.
Image via A Public Witness.

In the classic holiday film A Christmas Story, actor Darren McGavin delights audiences as Mr. Parker (or “The Old Man”). In between fighting the furnace and complaining about the neighbors’ smelly hound dogs, The Old Man wins “a major award” in a contest. 

But what arrives in a box labeled with what he reads as “fra-ge-lay” (“it must be Italian”) is a tacky lamp that features a stand designed to look like a woman’s leg. It’s ugly and hardly a prize to covet. Yet, The Old Man is too proud of his win to see the obvious ridiculousness of lighting up the leg for everyone on the block to see. It remains a battle in the family until his wife “accidentally” destroys it while cleaning, leading him to bury it in the backyard.

Even though The Old Man didn’t see it, the “major award” was so tacky it should have illuminated the fraud of the contest. Similarly, there are many products today that should help us see the absurdity of our own religious-political moment. Gifts intended to excite those espousing Christian Nationalism are often so silly and even sacrilegious that they should undermine the very ideology that created them. Alas, people sell them because others are willing to part with their money. ‘Tis the season for crass commercialization.

In this issue of A Public Witness, I introduce you to 10 gifts the proud “Christian Nationalist” on your list will love. But please don’t buy these unless you want to end up on the naughty list (and make the baby Jesus cry). Instead, these gift suggestions show us what it can look like to merge Christian and American identities in problematic ways. And then I offer some better suggestions that can help us put Christ back in Christianity this Christmas.

10 Christian Nationalist Gifts

1. Best Word of God. Every adherent of a faith needs a copy of their sacred texts. And what better way to do that than with a Bible that includes the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag? The description for the “We the People Bible” doesn’t note if those texts are in red letters. But the leather cover “features a vertical reversed American flag design that represents a country in distress.” 

Not convinced? This Bible even comes with an endorsement from Donald Trump Jr.: “Faith is being targeted and our country’s founding beliefs are being targeted. The ‘We The People Bible’ is restoring what there is an attempt to remove. Preservation of Faith, preservation of America.” This is big stuff because Trump the younger is a well-known biblical scholar.

You can get this “Bible” for just $69.99, or save by buying in bulk. Other options include gift packs — “Patriot Bundle,” “Liberty Bundle,” and “Save America Bundle” – that include extras like a bookmark, flag lapel pin, and a fake patriotic coin.

Left photo: Bible cover in black leather with an American Flag engraved with "We the people" sketched in the center.
Right Photo: cardboard cutout of a mustached man in a blue shirt and black pants holding a pillow.

2. Most Unique Celebrity Memorabilia. It’s likely the person you have in mind already has their own MyPillow. After all, the election-denying pillow hugger has been everywhere hawking his products while spreading false claims about the 2020 presidential election and now the 2022 Arizona gubernatorial outcome.

But if you really want to give a surprise that will own any liberal guest, try a life-sized cardboard cutout of the man himself — complete with a pillow being hugged. At just $39.99, it measures 6-feet tall and 2.5-feet wide (and, just like his election claims, less than an inch deep). 

3. Best Children’s Book. Looking for a gift the whole family will enjoy? Well, the propaganda artists of Christian Nationalism aren’t just banning children’s books, they’re also publishing them. Kash Patel, a former Trump administration figure, has a message for kids across the country in his book The Plot Against the King. “King Donald” was a great ruler who overcame horrible enemies like “Hillary Queenton” and “Keeper Komey.” The second book in the series tells about the “Choosing Day” scandal when some people stole an election to replace “King Donald” with “Sleepy Joe.” What the books lack in subtlety they make up for with disinformation. 

You can pick up both books signed by Patel for $109.99. And you can add shirts and other items, including mugs that unironically declare “Make the Kingdom Great Again” (which at Christmas time is pretty close to cheering for the reign of Herod the Great). 

On the left is a picture of Donald Trump standing with Kash Patel holding children books. On the right is a picture of a mug with the American flag with a red cross in the middle.

4. For the Coffee Lover. If someone believes the best part of waking up is mixing sacred Christian symbols with Americana, look no further for a perfect gift than a gaudy mug. Nothing stimulates the yearning for a mythic “Christian nation” better than a cross embedded into an American flag. This mug is just $19.95 — or add $3 to jump from 11 oz. to 15 oz. (and thus a larger cross and flag, so definitely holier).

As an added bonus, this mug includes a motto popularized by COVID-denying preachers: “faith over fear.” This message probably is even more appropriate to remind users not to fear what’s in the mug if you also give them a bag of MyCoffee from the pillow guy (which is probably a softer blend than I prefer). 

5. Best Christmas Ornament. It’s time to decorate the tree, so why not try a red hat ornament that says “Trump Save America”? Now that the favorite president of Christian Nationalists is running again, they can show their love for the one who thinks he’s the reason for every season. After all, he even thinks people say “Merry Christmas” now because of him (bah humbug).

At just $25, this red hat Christmas ornament not only predicts Trump will save America with his second coming, but it literally helps fund his campaign. That means it can ruin more than just a Christmas tree!

On the left is a picture of a Trump hat as   a Christmas Ornament. On the right is a picture of rocks signed by Roger Stone.

6. Most Unique Office Gift. Here’s another gift that gives your loved one something tacky while also enriching a problematic political figure. For the low price of $15, Roger Stone will sign a rock that can be used as a paperweight. And the proceeds will help his legal defense fund, which has been more active than Santa’s workshop. But this isn’t just any stone signed by the most crooked Stone. 

“This stone is an exact historical replica of the very stone little David used to take down Goliath,” the site promises. “Own a piece of history. Order yours today.”

I don’t recall any biblical archeologists actually finding the stone inside a large skull cut off from a giant body, so the “exact replica” part seems a bit fishy. More puzzling is why each of the rocks look different in the picture if they’re supposed to be exact replicas. But don’t worry, it’s probably still true. I mean, would Roger Stone lie to you?

7. For the Puzzle Master. After the pile of wrapping paper has been picked up and the dishes from dinner washed, it’s great to huddle with the family around a table to defeat a big puzzle. And what could be more inspiring than piecing together a turducken of Christian Nationalism like a cross on top of a Bible on top of an American flag?

Available for $19.86, take on the challenge of constructing your cross daily. Forget the puzzling sections of the Book of Revelation and instead show your patriotism by buying this product made in China.

On the left is a picture of a jigsaw puzzle of a cross and Bible on top of the American flag. On the right is a gold coin pictured with Donald Trump and King Cyrus of the Bible.

8. Coolest Collectible Coin. Golden stars and ornaments are nice, but how about something that mixes a biblical story with the golden president? Corporate marketer-turned-prophet Lance Wallanu is willing to help you (and his bank account). For $45, he’ll send you a gold-looking coin featuring the 45th president and the words from Isaiah 45:1. Wallnau used that verse about King Cyrus to popularize the idea that Trump would be a similarly God-ordained leader. 

The “prophet” seeking golden profits hasn’t yet made his Isaiah 46 coin honoring President Biden, likely because Wallnau refuses to accept the election results since he prophesied Trump would win (which might be why he hasn’t minted a Deuteronomy 18:20 coin yet). Wallnau encourages people to hold the coin and pray for Trump. Just don’t accidentally drop this coin into the red kettle because then the prayers apparently won’t work.

9. Most Stylish Shirt. There’s perhaps no pageant that better represents Christian Nationalism than the traveling variety show of conspiracy theories known as the ReAwaken America Tour (or RAT for short). So help your loved one signal their beliefs with an official RAT shirt. You could even get matching shirts for the whole family to wear for a Christmas photo!

The shirt costs a whopping $40 because the whole tour is quite a grift. After all, many of the people with products on this list have spoken at RAT events, including Donald Trump Jr., Mike Lindell, Roger Stone, Kash Patel, and Lance Wallnau. It’s like the opposite of the wise men!

On the left is a picture of a shirt that says Clay Clark's Reawaken America Tour. On the right is a picture of a bucket filled with 60 meals.

10. Best Gift Basket. If the person on your list would love any of the previous items I’ve noted, then this product will be a sure hit since they probably suspect a coming apocalypse. So it’s best to be prepared. And televangelist-turned-prisoner-turned-televangelist Jim Bakker is here to help. In addition to selling prophecy books and a drug he falsely claimed cured COVID, he’s got a big bucket of food ready to assist people in surviving a disaster.

For $225, he’ll send you a five-gallon container with 60 meals crammed in it (but this product also needs water to revive the “food” before consumption). Some of the items sound good, but the advertised shelf life of 30 years makes me doubt taste was the focus of the “chef.” Of course, a new civil war or persecution from the Antichrist might last longer than 20 days, so people either need more buckets or plan to eat fewer meals per day. Also, the site says it’ll take 6-10 weeks for delivery, so you’ll have to pray everything remains calm at least through the year’s end.

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