You might see a congregation that believes itself to be in constant contact with God Himself during the ear-rattling song-and-dance routines meant to summon Him up. You might see a congregation being manipulated by some of the oldest cult-adjacent bits of stagecraft around. You might have empathy for a group that considers itself God’s chosen soldiers tasked with cleaning up the wickedness of the city around them; you might chafe at yet another American group declaring that wickedness consists of tolerating anything they personally don’t like. For the current moment, wickedness means gay people get to live out their lives. When some of those in the building were in their younger days, wickedness meant mixed-race marriages or desegregated public schools. God works in mysterious ways, and is especially mysterious in the ex-slave states.
Getting upset at anyone else’s taste in religion is a fool’s errand. If someone finds spiritual fulfillment shouting the names of apple varieties after rousing sessions of Mario Kart, that is between them and their fruit bowls. The pertinent part is that the particular sort of white evangelicalism that has encircled Trump is filled with people who very much do not want all the rest of us to mull our own spirituality-or-not on our own terms. They want the United States to bring the hammer down on the folks they believe need to be hammered, pass new laws according to the things God personally told them on the pastor’s “giant video screen,” and if you don’t like it you’re evil and need to be pushed out of the way.
Not new! Again, a certain segment of America’s most ostentatiously Christian folks latched onto Donald Trump’s message of America is being ruined by immigrants and by government telling you who you can’t be bigoted against and found it so enthralling that whether the man was a sponge brained, feces-throwing monument to worldly corruption became utterly irrelevant. Those people didn’t just appear in America’s apple cart by magic, the day Trump first word-burped his way through a speech. This is the same big-on-conspiracy, hurricanes-are-God’s-wrath folks who have inflicted us with their presence for all of our lifetimes.
In the Post‘s telling, the Mercy Culture Church is “part of a growing Christian movement that is nondenominational, openly political and has become an engine of former president Donald Trump’s Republican Party.” To wit: They have their own candidates for office. They are robustly political, and are robustly political for the explicit purpose of ensuring their personal religious beliefs are written into the government rules that the rest of us must abide by. It is the world of “religious leaders who prophesied that Trump would win the election and helped organize nationwide prayer rallies in the days before the Jan. 6 insurrection.”
“What is new is the degree to which Trump elevated a fresh network of [leaders] who in turn elevated him as God’s chosen president, a fusion that has secured the movement as a grass-roots force within the GOP just as the old Christian right is waning.”
The televangelists. The “prosperity” grifters. The evangelical case for Trump is the same as the Republican case for Trump: The only measure of character within Trump’s orbit is whether you praise him as a near-holy Dear Leader; you can be as brazenly crooked as you like and he will prop you up if you prop him up. It is a simple case of the conservative movement’s most crooked people all finding each other, boosting each other, and gaining enough power to toss anyone with more than two neurons out of the party for noncompliance.
It is … an intriguing read. The Post treats it as an academic exercise, a non-judgmental look at a particular sect of American life that is growing in influence and which believes America is so evil a place that their own personal God will soon be coming down to deliver the rest of you from the democracy that caused it. Because we are jerks, and are the direct targets of the people currently demanding dominion over what the rest of us believe and do, we don’t need to be so academic about it.
We’ve got a movement with its own television channels, its own churches, its own party, its own means of purging disloyalists, a paramilitary wing clamoring for violence, and a Dear Leader figure who can say literally the stupidest thing you can possibly think of and still command the undying loyalty of a large segment of the population.
Eeesh. Yeah, still seems kinda bad.