The Bogus Historians Who Teach Evangelicals They Live in a Theocracy newsbhunt


As Barton began his presentation, I slipped away to a parlor room at the back of the sanctuary. Connelly wanted me to meet three local pastors who stood for truth. Seated around a large, rectangular folding table were Connelly; Donald Eason, the pastor of Metro Church of Christ in Sterling Heights; Jeffrey Hall, the pastor of Community Faith Church in Holt; and Dominic Burkhard, who described himself as “a full-time missionary to the legislature in Lansing.”

Connelly opened by summarizing for his friends the conversations we’d been having about political activism tearing churches apart. Clearly expecting that they would back him up, Connelly announced that he’d seen no such thing in his tour of hundreds of churches around the country, and asked the pastors to weigh in.

“There’s definitely some political divisions here in Michigan churches,” said Hall.

Eason nodded. “Lots of political division.”

“Covid definitely drew some lines,” Hall continued. “I had people calling and emailing our church asking if we were open. They had come from churches that closed, and they wanted to know if we were taking a hard stance against the government. I never wanted to make a war with the government. We closed for about a month. I just wanted to honor God. But some people weren’t looking for that.”

I reminded Connelly of the story of FloodGate Church, which had made war with the government and increased its membership tenfold. The church’s expansive new campus was miles away from where we were sitting. Connelly gave me a far-off look that had become familiar by this point.

“He’s talking about Bill Bolin,” Eason chimed in.

I asked Eason how he knew about FloodGate’s pastor.

“Oh, I know about Bolin,” Eason said with an uneasy smile. “We all know about Bolin.”

Connelly claimed not to know about Bolin. So the others filled him in — the refusal to comply during Covid, the cries of martyrdom, the alliances with far-right politicians and activists, the Nazi salute he’d given from the pulpit to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

“Well, he’d be a unicorn in our crowd,” Connelly said. “I don’t know any other pastors like that.”

But Connelly had just been in San Diego with Charlie Kirk and a small army of pastors exactly like that. It was true that much of the turmoil in churches was coming from the bottom up, with radicalized members rebelling against the insufficient political efforts of their pastors. But it was also true that a growing number of conservative pastors were doing just what Bolin had done at FloodGate. Meanwhile, it was the pastors who refused — the pastors who didn’t want to host the American Restoration Tour in their sanctuaries — whom Connelly had deemed “squishes.”

We had come full circle from our conversation at the Ohio capitol. Connelly told me then that pastors “failed us” by not getting their churches involved with politics. Now he was doubling down.

“Do you know what the research tells us is the biggest reason people leave church? They say it’s not relevant. Why would they come when the pastor isn’t teaching me how to think through the issues?” Connelly said. “Christianity should permeate the culture, not be separated from it.”

The way for Christianity to permeate the culture, he insisted, was by tackling these great debates of our time: abortion, homosexuality, transgenderism. I didn’t bother questioning why Connelly always listed the same narrow set of topics; the answer was apparent. Talking about other clear-cut biblical issues — such as caring for the poor, welcoming the refugee, refusing the temptation of wealth — did not animate the conservative base ahead of an election.

There were more pressing questions on my mind. Connelly’s organization was called “Faith Wins,” but what did that even mean? Could faith really win or lose something? It all just felt so trivial. If we believe that Jesus has defeated death, why are we consumed with winning a political campaign? Why should we care that we’re losing power on this earth when God has the power to forgive sins and save souls? And why should we obsess over America when Jesus has gifted us citizenship in heaven?

Burkhard, the lobbyist-slash-missionary in Lansing, jumped in.

“People need to be saved and America needs to be saved. It’s perfectly good to want both,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with trying to save America. Somebody needs to try to do it. Somebody needs to try to save America.”

Eason, seated to Burkhard’s right, shook his head in disagreement. The more we’d been talking about this, he confessed, the more uneasy he felt. He believed, like Connelly did, that Christianity was in the crosshairs of the American left. But he had just preached a sermon that was weighing on him. It was about the uniqueness of the early Christian Church. He had described for his congregation how Christians had gained influence — and won converts — by being countercultural, by rejecting the trends that preoccupied so much of the world around them. American evangelicals, Eason said, would do well to study that tradition.

“Our goal should be to save souls, not to save America. The reality is, we can’t save America anyway, unless we’re saving those souls first,” he said to Burkhard. “We can fight for America all day long, but if we don’t save the people here, it won’t matter.”

The great obstacle to saving souls, I suggested, wasn’t drag queen performances or critical race theory. It was the perception among the unbelieving masses — the very people these evangelicals were called to evangelize — that Christians care more about reclaiming lost social status than we do about loving our neighbor as ourselves. I relayed what one local church leader had told me about evangelicals: “Too many of them worship America.”

Connelly looked incredulous. He turned to his pastor friends. “I don’t see that happening,” he told them. “You see any of that?”

“Oh, I see it,” Hall said. “I know of a pastor who just recently stood up in his pulpit and told people that they’re insane if they vote Democrat this fall.”

Eason had similar stories to tell. I pointed out that Al Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of America’s most prominent Christian conservatives, had recently said something similar. This was not an anomaly. Pastors and church officials and evangelical leaders were feeling the pressure to classify Jesus as a registered Republican — and they were feeling it from people like Chad Connelly.

Thoroughly flustered now, Connelly argued that if pastors didn’t address current events head-on, the Christians in their care would resort to “secular sources” to form their political viewpoints. The way to ensure that Christians vote biblical values, he said, was for pastors to preach politics.

This struck me as completely backward. If pastors were doing their job — going deep in the word, discipling their flocks, stressing scripture and prayer above social media and talk radio — their people wouldn’t need to be infantilized with explicit partisan endorsements. Those Christians would know how to vote biblically, because they would know their Bible.

Connelly whipped his head back and forth. “I’d love to meet a pastor who thinks he’s doing a good enough job discipling to where he doesn’t need to engage with this stuff, because that pastor is deceived. He’s badly deceived,” he said. “I’ve told my Sunday School class: Don’t tell anybody you’re doing a good job telling people about Jesus, because we’re losing the culture. If we were doing a good job telling people about Jesus, we wouldn’t be losing the culture.”

This fixation on winning and losing was revealing. In the sanctuary behind us, a body of Christians had just sat through an hourlong lecture that was designed to make them more powerful citizens. They were supposed to take the information Barton had given them, Connelly instructed, then charge into the trenches of America’s political battlefield.

And yet, there was no instruction on how to fight. There was no perspective on the appropriate way to win. There was no lesson on what John Dickson, an Australian theologian I’d met at Wheaton College, described as “losing well.” This was very much by design. Because losing, in the eyes of men like Connelly and Barton, was no longer an option. “The stakes are too high,” Connelly told me at one point, to cede any ground to the opposition.

Unsavory alliances would need to be forged. Sordid tactics would need to be embraced. The first step toward preserving Christian values, it seemed, was to do away with Christian values.

From the forthcoming book THE KINGDOM, THE POWER, AND THE GLORY: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism by Tim Alberta. Copyright © 2023 by Timothy Alberta. To be published on December 5, 2023 by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Excerpted by permission.


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