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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Opinion | Evangelical America Is More Divided Than You Think

BusinessOpinion | Evangelical America Is More Divided Than You Think

When I lived in Manhattan, my wife and I attended Times Square Church, a Pentecostal congregation in the heart of the city, and every Sunday felt like a scene from the book of Revelation, with people “from every nation, tribe, people and language” gathered together to worship with great joy.

Pentecostalism is arguably the most promising and the most perilous religious movement in America. At its best, the sheer exuberance and radical love of a good Pentecostal church is transformative. At its worst, the quest for miraculous experience can lead to a kind of frenzied superstition, where carnival barker pastors and faux apostles con their congregations with false prophecies and fake miracles, milking them for donations and then wielding their abundant wealth as proof of God’s favor.

The Pentecostal church, for example, is the primary home of one of the most toxic and dangerous Christian nationalist ideas in America — the Seven Mountain Mandate, which holds that God has ordained Christians to dominate the seven “mountains” of cultural influence: the family, the church, education, media, arts, the economy and government. This is an extreme form of Christian supremacy, one that would relegate all other Americans to second-class status.

Pentecostalism is also the primary source for the surge in prophecies about Trump that I’ve described before. It’s mostly Pentecostal pastors and leaders who have told their flocks that God has ordained Trump to rule — and to rule again. Combine the Seven Mountain Mandate with Trump prophecies, and you can see the potential for a kind of fervent radicalism that is immune to rational argument. After all, how can you argue a person out of the idea that God told him to vote for Trump? Or that God told him that Christians are destined to reign over the United States?

When I look at the divisions in American evangelicalism, I’m reminded of the Homer Simpson toast: “To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” The American church has been the cause of much heartache and division. It is also the source of tremendous healing and love. We saw both the love and the division most vividly in the civil rights movement, when Black Christians and their allies faced the dogs and hoses all too often unleashed by members of the white Southern church. We saw this on Jan. 6, when violent Christians attacked the Capitol, only to see their plans foiled by an evangelical vice president who broke with Trump at long last to uphold his constitutional oath and spare the nation a far worse catastrophe.

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