Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The war inside the evangelical Church

By Saahil Desai, The Atlantic

The evangelical Church is winning on the national political stage, but at what cost to the community? Then: How to quit intensive parenting.

Bully pulpit

An illustration of a cross with balancing scales
(Shutterstock / Katie Martin / The Atlantic)

No religious group has been more closely tied to the rise of Donald Trump—and Trumpism—than evangelicals. More than 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016, banking (successfully, it seems) on the hope that he would appoint pro-life justices that would bring about the end of Roe v. Wade. But although evangelicalism’s entry into politics greatly increased the Church’s influence, it has also splintered adherents, staff writer Tim Alberta argues.

“To many evangelicals today, the enemy is no longer secular America,” Tim writes, “but their fellow Christians, people who hold the same faith but different beliefs.”

Over the past year, Tim visited evangelical churches across the country and observed the rampant spread of misinformation and congregants fleeing their churches for ones that are more explicitly right-wing. His feature, which appears in our June issue, is a touching and powerful look inside of evangelicalism’s identity crisis through the lens of its dueling pastors—those at the vanguard of the movement’s rightward lurch and the renegades trying to claw it back. Here are viewpoints from four pastors in the story, which you can read in full here.

Embracing battle

Bill Bolin became a local celebrity after he held indoor Easter services at his Brighton, Michigan, church during the state’s pandemic shutdown in 2020. During his weekly sermons, he has shared conspiracy theories about the pandemic, calling the COVID-19 vaccines “radically dangerous.” Bolin didn’t shy away from the divisions within evangelicalism. “The battle lines have been drawn,” Bolin said. “If you’re not taking a side, you’re on the wrong side.”

Resisting Trumpism

Ken Brown, who is based in the Detroit suburbs, is doing all he can to keep his members tethered to reality. When COVID hit, he launched a podcast to combat misinformation from right-wing politicians and media figures. “The crisis for the Church is a crisis of discernment,” he told Tim over lunch last spring. “Discernment”—one’s basic ability to separate truth from untruth—“is a core biblical discipline. And many Christians are not practicing it.”

Catering to the fringes

In Wilson County, Tennessee, Greg Locke has grown a big following at his Global Vision church with his extremist, conspiracy-laden approach. When Tim visited, he stood next to an armed man wearing an Alex Jones shirt. “Ten years ago, Global Vision would have been dismissed as a blip on Christianity’s radar,” he writes. “These days, Locke preaches to 2.2 million Facebook followers and has posed for photos with Franklin Graham at the White House.”

Keeping quiet

Michael Bingham has watched political disputes erupt inside of his Greenville, South Carolina, church with increasing frequency, but he’s maintained a posture of unflinching neutrality from the pulpit. “What’s coming is going to be brutal. There’s no way around that,” Bingham told Tim. “Churches are breaking apart everywhere. My only hope is that, when the time comes, our people can separate without shattering.”

Further reading: The pro-life movement was once centered in New England—then it was captured by southern evangelicals, writes the historian Daniel K. Williams. Evangelicals made a bad bargain with Trump, our contributing writer Peter Wehner argued in 2020.

News in three:

  1. Elon Musk said today that if his Twitter deal goes through, he would reinstate Donald Trump’s account. Charlie Warzel, in his newsletter Galaxy Brain, laid out last month the worst-case scenario for Musk’s purchase of the platform.
  2. More than 45,000 Americans died from gun violence in 2020, the highest number ever recorded in the United States, the CDC reported today.
  3. Tom Brady signed a massive, $375 million deal with Fox Sports to be the network’s lead analyst after he retires from football for good.

Latest dispatches: What does the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization draft decision mean for both red and blue America? Our podcast producer talked about it with Molly Jong-Fast, who writes the newsletter Wait, What?; the law professor Mary Ziegler; and David French, who writes the newsletter The Third Rail.

Tonight’s Atlantic-approved activity: Watch an episode of Succession Season 3. The only real relationship in it is a marriage entirely corrupted by the family business, Sophie Gilbert writes. Yesterday, Gilbert was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

A break from the news: Instead of intensive parenting, how about “good-enough” parenting?

Leave a Reply