The Day U.S. Evangelicalism Died

-1As reported in Religion Dispatches, on December 16th, 2012, U.S. evangelicalism uttered its last breath.

On this day, Fox News pundit Mike Huckabee (a.k.a. Mr. “More Conversation, Less Confrontation”) joined forces with Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, and American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer to proclaim that the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, should be blamed on the gays.

Following this news, Jesus of Nazareth left the building.

Prior to their Lord and Savior’s departure over their abject failure to put the beatitudes into practice, the monolithic institution of evangelicism once dominated the U.S. landscape from sea to shining sea. Inspired in 1630 by Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop’s “City on the Hill” Puritanical metaphor, those who sought to drape the cross with the cross, and later the American flag, fought gallantly to enforce their interpretation of God’s divine law. Even though the Founding Fathers separated church and state, this form of the faith prayed and preyed itself into the annals of American history in various incarnations.

In the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, evangelicals maintained a Scarlett O’Hara-like confidence that they would rise again. After setting down the law in Niagara, and monkeying around one time too many in Tennessee, fundamentalists retreated to their biblical bunkers. During the “I like Ike” era, Billy Graham led the faithful to battle against godless Communism; the National Prayer Breakfast began, Family style; “In God We Trust” got added to paper money; and God became part of the Pledge of Allegiance. But fundamentalists and evangelicals stayed out of populist politics until the time came for them to defend their God-given right to whitewash their schools.

Following almost two decades of Falwellian trickle-down-dominionist dogma, the evangelicals’ star waned once again when they got bushwacked by slick Willie. But evangelicals re-emerged, Christian Coalition-like, from a pool of fossil-fuel funding, only to prove that they were largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command. Instead of putting the Beatitudes into action, they Lewinskied themselves during the Clinton administration, and then directed their missional muscle into the post-9/11 era.

Furthermore, the surprise success of the bestselling book God’s Politics led to a split between the traditional Republican alliance and those evangelicals who believed Jesus rode a democratic donkey—which helped elect the first Muslim not birthed on U.S. soil to occupy the White House. For a brief moment, a new kind of evangelical Christian emerged, one who promised an insurrection where love wins. But their tattooed theology fell flat when these punks under God flashed their Foucault, did the Derrida dance and went ziggy for Žižek. Edgy imprints like W Publishing and Zondervan’s cutting-edge “Christian” line-up faded away as evangelicalism veered increasingly to the right.

Even The Wittenburg Door, the nation’s oldest and largest religious satire magazine, disappeared into a cloud of its own hubris—those remaining in the U.S. evangelical fold had lost not only their edge but their sense of humor as well.

Some remnants of the Fox faithful continue to party like it’s 1949. Others don their Red Letter Christian hoodies and twiddle with their WWJC? (What Would Jesus Cut?) bracelets as they await word for their invite to the National Prayer Breakfast. But most set forth on a road not yet traveled in search of a faith that’s less Elvis and more egalitarian.

Upon last reports, Jesus continues to ride with the Nuns on the Bus, as he seeks to  connect with the “nones.” In lieu of donations to assist Christ with his journey, the Messiah suggests you search for our own salvation here at Killing the Buddha.

Becky Garrison is a satirist/storyteller whose most recent book is Roger Williams’s Little Book of Virtues (Wipf & Stock, March 2020). Also, she edited Love, Always: Partners of Trans People on Intimacy, Challenge and Resilience (Transgress Press, 2015). Her six books include 2006’s Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church (PW, starred review).