Daily Bread for 5.12.22: The Populists’ Politics Devours Their Ostensible Faith

Good morning.

Thursday in Whitewater will be mostly sunny with a high of 90.  Sunrise is 5:34 AM and sunset 8:08 PM for 14h 34m 11s of daytime.  The moon is a waxing gibbous with 83.4% of its visible disk illuminated.

On this day in 1949, the Soviet Union lifts its blockade of Berlin.

Tim Alberta, an evangelical Christian, writes How Politics Poisoned the Evangelical Church (‘The movement spent 40 years at war with secular America. Now it’s at war with itself):

“Before I turn to the Word,” the preacher announces, “I’m gonna do another diatribe.”

“Go on!” one man yells. “Amen!” shouts a woman several pews in front of me.

Between 40 minutes of praise music and 40 minutes of preaching is the strangest ritual I’ve ever witnessed inside a house of worship. Pastor Bill Bolin calls it his “diatribe.” The congregants at FloodGate Church, in Brighton, Michigan, call it something else: “Headline News.”

Bolin, in his mid-60s, is a gregarious man with thick jowls and a thinning wave of dyed hair. His floral shirt is untucked over dark-blue jeans. “On the vaccines …” he begins.

For the next 15 minutes, Bolin does not mention the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, or the life everlasting. Instead, he spouts misinformation and conspiratorial nonsense, much of it related to the “radically dangerous” COVID-19 vaccines. “A local nurse who attends FloodGate, who is anonymous at this time—she reported to my wife the other day that at her hospital, they have two COVID patients that are hospitalized. Two.” Bolin pauses dramatically. “They have 103 vaccine-complication patients.” The crowd gasps.

“How about this one?” Bolin says. He tells of a doctor who claims to know that “between 100 and 200 United States Congress members, plus many of their staffers and family members with COVID, were treated by a colleague of his over the past 15 months … with …” Bolin stops and puts a hand to his ear. A chorus of people responds: “Ivermectin.” Bolin pretends not to hear. “What was that?” he says, leaning over the lectern. This time, they shout: “Ivermectin!” Bolin nods.

This isn’t my first time at FloodGate, so none of what Bolin says shocks me. Yet I’m still struggling to make sense of the place.

Having grown up just down the road, the son of the senior pastor at another church in town, I’ve spent my life watching evangelicalism morph from a spiritual disposition into a political identity. It’s heartbreaking. So many people who love the Lord, who give their time and money to the poor and the mourning and the persecuted, have been reduced to a caricature. But I understand why. Evangelicals—including my own father—became compulsively political, allowing specific ethical arguments to snowball into full-blown partisan advocacy, often in ways that distracted from their mission of evangelizing for Christ. To his credit, even when my dad would lean hard into a political debate, he was careful to remind his church of the appropriate Christian perspective. “God doesn’t bite his fingernails over any of this,” he would say around election time. “Neither should you.”

Now, I am a mainline Protestant (with Catholic relatives), and not a conservative evangelical. Alberta’s account, however, is unfortunately commonplace. Too many conservative populists are quick to declare that they’re for GOD, GUNS, and TRUMP, without seeing how close to a traditional heresy that is.

While these populists often insist that others are soft, or weak, or insufficiently devoted, in the case Alberta recounts it is these congregants who are left without a sound moral formation, and perhaps an adequate general formation.

They are quick to exercise their right to criticize other religious or political views, but even quicker to take umbrage (what, what? what!) when someone suggests they might read more, or think more, before speaking or writing. (A perpetual embarrassment to America: the native born who defend in their nativism while revealing their inability to speak, read, and write in standard English. I don’t believe in adopting a national language — America is beautiful in any tongue — but those born here might take a bit more time to express their views with proper grammar and usage.)

Saying as much as infuriates the populists, and they owe a good part of their success to fits, tantrums, and threats that intimidate others. In small towns that are meant to be congenial and comfortable places, the populists advance by crude intimidation. See (Local) Fear of a Red Hat.

One can’t answer for others, except to note that if someone is a true believer in religion, politics, art, philosophy, etc., then one grasps that the principles from those beliefs should, if believed, govern one’s actions. Those who believe in free will can nonetheless acknowledge without contradiction that principle determines — indeed, compels — action even in the face of opposition or risk.

Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe Portrait Sells for Millions:

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