Belief  /  Book Review

Spreading the Bad News

Right-wing evangelicalism’s moral and religious descent into Trumpism has been near-total. Is there a way out?

Several years ago, I answered a phone call from a national newspaper reporter working on a story about evangelical churches in the United States. One of the more intriguing aspects of our conversation was discovering that although the reporter’s primary beat was American evangelical Christianity, she did not identify as a Christian. She had never studied religion, much less American Christianity. Her academic background was in political science, and her knowledge of politics was instrumental in her appointment as a beat reporter covering U.S. evangelicalism. In other words, her editors made the determination that evangelicalism was more identifiable as a political expression than as an ecclesial or religious movement. That identity has been cemented over decades with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, Pat Robertson’s presidential aspirations, the religious right’s unwavering support of the Republican Party, and now the rise of Trumpian evangelicalism.

In The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism, journalist and Atlantic staff writer Tim Alberta provides important and fascinating insights into the emergence and establishment of Trumpian evangelicalism over the past several years. Alberta offers snapshots of this world through his eyes as both a participant and an observer—a Christian who has firsthand experience and knowledge of this community, but also a reporter trying to offer objective analysis. Toward that goal, Alberta provides a necessary focus on a particular strain of evangelicalism, namely white American evangelical Christianity, and its complicity in Trumpism. Alberta’s account resonates: Over the last several years, many of us in the evangelical world have encountered “these types” of evangelicals.

If there is an evangelical card, mine is laminated. It was earned after many years of schooling in evangelical educational institutions, ministering in evangelical churches and parachurch organizations, serving on evangelical boards, and now teaching at an evangelical seminary while writing books for evangelicals. My credentials are rock solid to the point that my ministry and career are sequestered in the evangelical world. But I am also an immigrant. I went to Ivy League schools in addition to evangelical ones. I hold more progressive social and political views. Until recently, I had managed to find a home in the larger U.S. evangelical world. But Trumpian evangelicalism changed the equation. The lines of orthodoxy I had learned and embraced had changed—not over actual theological issues, but over politics. My utility and relevance to the current iteration of evangelicalism are under scrutiny, as evidenced by cancellations of speaking engagements and vitriolic e-mails and social media posts. Alberta narrates the change I have experienced on a small scale in the context of the larger U.S. evangelical world, and in the process he demonstrates just how similarly U.S. evangelicalism has been redefined.