Why Some Evangelical Leaders Have Sacrificed Their Morals


All of these events speak to the increasing interconnectedness of religion and politics — particularly among American conservatives. 

Three years later, things have settled — they’ve just settled on extremely unsteady ground. Churches that can have pulled themselves to something resembling normalcy; some have even begun to thrive again. Churches who can’t have shut down or continue to struggle. Political polarization is perhaps stronger than ever. 

Three years later, I’ve wondered: What exactly happened? What does it all mean? What’s coming next? Which is why the new book, “The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelics in an Age of Extremism,” by journalist Tim Alberta is a particular delight and a must read for anyone wondering the same. 

Alberta’s book begins in 2019 and covers events to the present day — with some poignant looks into the past — focusing specifically on American evangelicals. 

“To the present day there remains no real consensus around what it means to be an ‘evangelical,’” Alberta writes, though he cites several theological standpoints that come close to creating a full picture.

That isn’t the true focus, of course, considering the book’s political focus.

“By the 1980s, with the rise of the Moral Majority, a religious marker was transforming into a partisan movement,” Alberta adds. “‘Evangelical’ soon became synonymous with ‘conservative Christian,’ and eventually with ‘white conservative Republican.’”

Alberta describes it as “the tradition that is the most polarizing and the least understood; the tradition that is more politically relevant and domestically disruptive than all the others combined.”

He summarizes events that I and my religion journalist peers have reported on in recent years. In many cases, he expands on their narratives, featuring a litany of wise insights from former Southern Baptist Russell Moore and stories of people from inside Liberty University rife with complexity.

These stories will largely be familiar to those who were keeping up with religion news during this time, but to have them woven together expertly as they are is a great benefit both to solidify the narrative look toward the future. (Besides that, it’s unlikely that most readers kept up with all religion news since 2019 and even I learned plenty of new things, so there’s absolutely value to be gained).

The book also benefits from Alberta’s personal perspective. Apart from vivid stories told from his experience reporting, he shares his background as the son of an evangelical pastor who died in 2019. His home church was already in the midst of difficult transitions with new leadership that political and cultural events exacerbated greatly. 

In the book, Alberta shares conversations he had with old friends of his family turning against the values his dad preached because of rhetoric they’d been taught outside the church, a reactionary church that posed competition by highlighting conservative politics during Sunday sermons and a pastor — his dad’s successor — who was struggling and nearly prepared to throw in the towel. 

Both anecdotal and accurate, the book paints a complicated and bleak picture of the world — but not one entirely without hope. It’s split into three parts — The Kingdom, The Power and The Glory respectively — and chapters mark different locations of major events or stops on Alberta’s reporting journey. 

The Kingdom details with the reality facing churches today: Challenges stemming from the pandemic, division over politics, congregations’ distrust of pastors who don’t preach open support of conservative politics and declining attendance and giving, to name just a few. This section illustrates just how deeply religion and politics have become intertwined for many evangelicals and how the events of the past few years sped the process up from an already inevitable end. 

The Power focuses on the rise of Christian nationalism and how political power is now seen as a way to enact Christian influence over the nation. As a result, evangelical leaders have proven they’ll stop at nothing to achieve that power even if it means sacrificing their own morals. This section largely features the story of Liberty University, beginning with Jerry Falwell Sr. and the Moral Majority and continuing on to the rise, then ultimate fall, of Jerry Falwell Jr., and the school’s largely unchanged and problematic present

Trump is also a large point of discussion here — his questionable faith background and oftentimes objectively bad behavior (coupled with a refusal to repent) have regularly been overlooked or excused by evangelicals. Often, his lackluster presentation of faith is even praised, with many speculating he practices a deep and spiritual Christianity in private. 

In Trump’s wake are several figures who fit the same profile, appealing to the Religious Right without being bonafide religious figures themselves. They including people such as Mike Lindell and Eric Metaxas. These figures are accompanied by capitalist ventures ranging from conservative slogans on T-shirts (or perhaps just a MyPillow) to nationwide speaking tours.  

The Glory looks slightly toward the future, telling the stories of evangelicals on the fringes who have either changed their way of living to thrive without supporting far-right politics or those who continue in stalwart support of far-right politics despite its faded vocal majority. Any hope for the future is found in this segment, as Christians committed to faith without politics share what they’ve done to rebuild trust and community. 

Moore shares his effort and success in building a private support group for what he calls “Christian refugees” who are concerned with extreme political polarization within the church. By providing structure and communication within various religious service groups, Albertas writes that the goal is to build trust and community. 

There is still reason for this concern as “The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory” proves. There are also Christians across the country who see their identity beyond that of “white conservative Republican” and who have a vested interest in preserving the heart of American Christianity. 

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