Last fall, Jen Hatmaker, a popular evangelical author and speaker, started getting death threats. Readers mailed back her books to her home address, but not before some burned the pages or tore them into shreds. LifeWay Christian Stores, the behemoth retailer of the Southern Baptist Convention, pulled her titles off the shelves. Hatmaker was devastated. Up until that point, she had been a wildly influential and welcome presence in the evangelical world…. During the campaign, as other white evangelicals coalesced around the Republican nominee, Hatmaker effectively joined the coterie of “Never Trump” evangelicals, telling her more than half a million Facebook followers that Donald Trump made her “sad and horrified and despondent.” After the “Access Hollywood” tape leaked and prominent evangelical men came to Trump’s defense, she tweeted: “We will not forget. Nor will we forget the Christian leaders that betrayed their sisters in Christ for power.” Then, in an interview with Religion News Service columnist Jonathan Merritt, she made what was a stunning admission for her evangelical community: She said she supported same-sex relationships.
Should you begin to wonder why I reject Christianity, try reading this story. By the time you’re halfway through it, you’ll understand that Evangelical Christianity is about the teachings of Jesus Christ in the same way I’m a Hall of Fame quarterback.
No, I’m not down with Christianity, but I do have profound respect for those who seriously endeavor to live their beliefs. Those who strive to live Christ-like lives and work to make the world a better place should be applauded, because they show through their example what faith is meant to be. It shouldn’t be difficult for someone to live their beliefs, and yet….
Evangelicals over the past year and a half have repeatedly demonstrated a collective inability/unwillingness to live by the teachings of their Lord and Savior. The Alabama special election campaign to fill Jeff Session’s Senate seat is a perfect (but not isolated) example. What happened to Jen Hatmaker is that she dared to publicly live and proclaim her beliefs. Because of that conviction, she was subjected to the scorn and opprobrium of hypocrites and haters who call themselves “Evangelical Christians.” It serves as a shining example of the corruption and hypocrisy which characterizes the evangelical movement. It’s as much about the gospel as Kellyanne Conway is about reasoned, rational discourse.
There were soon angry commenters and finger-wagging bloggers. She says people in her little town of Buda, Texas, just south of Austin, pulled her children aside and said terrible things about her and her husband. She was afraid to be in public, and she wasn’t sleeping or eating well. “The way people spoke about us, it was as if I had never loved Jesus a day in my life,” Hatmaker recently told an audience in Dallas. The gilded auditorium was quiet, its 2,300 seats filled to capacity with nearly all women. “And I was just an ally,” she said. “Think about how our gay brothers and sisters feel.”
There was more. Two weeks after her bombshell interview, Trump won. And Hatmaker’s community—at least 80 percent of the white evangelicals in America—had helped put him in office. “What’s been really painful and disorienting for me is to realize how far away from my evangelical family I am,” she told me in an interview before her Dallas event. “I thought we had a lot more common ground.” The fissures within Christianity became trenches, with men and women like Hatmaker, as well as Christians of color, left on the losing side. Hatmaker’s career was on the line, but so was her very sense of self, and the essence of her life and work—most importantly, her faith.
Hatmaker was forced to come to grips with the reality that the faith tradition she called home was no longer about love, tolerance, acceptance, and forgiveness. Evangelicalism has been corrupted by hatred, bigotry, homophobia, racism, and all manner of ugly, unChristian exclusiveness. An overwhelming majority of self-identified evangelicals had eagerly embraced a presidential candidate marinated in the politics of fear, prejudice, intolerance, and blind rage.
Hatmaker looked around and realized she no longer recognized the landscape. She still clung to the teachings of the Gospel, while a majority of those around her fell away. She was reviled because she declined to run with the herd who’d bought into Donald Trump’s angry, apocalyptic, fear-centric worldview. The vast majority of the Evangelical movement had literally gone over to the Dark Side. This despite the fact that they refused to acknowledge the truth and still believed themselves to be Christians.
“This year I became painfully aware of the machine, the Christian Machine,” she wrote in April on her blog. It was Good Friday, a somber day for Christians to observe the crucifixion of Jesus. Hatmaker wrote that she understood now the machine’s “systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection,” not as the insider she had long been, but “from the outside where I was no longer welcome.” During the election season, she added, the “Christian Machine malfunctioned.” It laid bare the civil war within her Christian community.
Turns out the Evangelical movement isn’t a community of like-minded souls committed to living the teachings of Jesus Christ…and the truth is that it hasn’t been for a good long time. It’s devolved into “the Christian Machine,” a malevolent entity which chews up and spits out those who dare to deviate from the dominant narrative. It’s no longer about love, acceptance, tolerance, and inclusion- things Jesus taught and are prominently featured in the Gospel bearing His name.
Hatmaker realized that she no longer belonged…but not because she’d changed. She came to understand that evangelicals had lost touch with the reason(s) why they’d come together as a community in the first place.
Indeed, the white conservative Christian electorate—and its overlap with the old-guard religious right—has supported a thrice-married adulterer who bragged about sexual assault. It has excused leadership blunders and nativism and white supremacy. It has rallied around Senate candidate Roy Moore in the face of multiple allegations of sexual abuse of minors. It has also brought low many of those evangelicals who dared to question its judgment. A recent survey found that white evangelicals are now more likely than the average American, or any other religious group polled, to excuse politicians’ immoral behavior. Even the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore, who leads that denomination’s public policy arm and was perhaps the most famous Never Trump evangelical, was forced to go on a kind of apology tour after the election in order to keep his job. He said he was sorry if his criticisms had been too broad; he didn’t mean to criticize everyone who voted for Trump.
Consider that for a moment: “white evangelicals are now more likely than the average American, or any other religious group polled, to excuse politicians’ immoral behavior.” In what world could that be explained as anything but corrupt, self-interested, and distressingly unChristian? How could anyone claiming to be a Bible-believing follower of Jesus Christ “excuse” the “immoral behavior” of politicians claiming the imprimatur of Almighty God?
A Christian community (which my Sunday School days left me believing to be centered around positive values) had morphed into a coalition of older, White, Conservative, reactionary, and intolerant religious zealots- the American Taliban. Even worse, they weren’t about to brook any dissent or deviation from rigid, angry, and hateful groupthink.
To Hatmaker’s credit she hasn’t backed down.
She has kept talking to her followers, many of them white and generally conservative Christian women, about supporting gun control, Black Lives Matter and refugees. At a time when the white evangelical share of the American electorate is on the decline, Hatmaker is out with a best-selling book, a top-rated podcast and a speaking tour that’s selling out.
I’ve always admired people of courage and conviction, people who are serious about living their beliefs and doing what they can to help those in need. It’s the sort of thing their Jesus- the one prominently featured in the Bible- expected His followers to do. It’s too bad so many good, God-fearing Christian patriots have fallen in line behind despotic personalities for whom Christianity is merely a means to the end of securing and maintaining political power.
If more Evangelicals could shed their blinders and lose the hatred and bigotry which has consumed so many, Christians could be a force for kindness, compassion, honesty, and integrity. This country needs more Jen Hatmakers. Then again, people of conviction pose a clear and present danger to the White power structure. For that heresy, many believe Hatmaker and those who believe as she does are heretics worthy only of destruction.
It’s what Jesus would do, don’tchaknow?