White Americanized Christians are easily seduced. They are drawn in large numbers to authoritarian personalities like squirrels to a freshly-filled bird feeder.
Some slick-talking autocrat can stir up fear — and then offer himself as the one to save them from it. And they’ll dutifully join that two-step dance of alarm and allure.
This faith-professing yet emotionally swayed mass is doing in the political realm as they’ve long done in their religious lives. That is, to give uncritical support to a self-appointed human savior whose hostile rhetoric assuages their grievances and insecurities.
Derogative labels help stir escalating wrath at imagined enemies and increase devotion to the authoritarian leader.
Southern Baptists have revealed this strong tendency. While shaped as a theological debate, it was the desire for control that drove (and still drives) the fundamentalist dominance of the denomination. The cost to reputations, livelihoods and the truth was considered to be a fair price.
This social movement was instigated and led by authoritative men who created enemies out of fellow Christians, manufactured alarm and promoted themselves as messianic liberators. In exchange they were given free reign of the denominational machinery and lots of offering plate money to be abused and misused.
Therefore, nothing is less surprising than the current gullibility and culpability of these same professing Christians who so deeply and lastingly embrace political figures with the same characteristics.
Morality — long heralded as a Christian distinction — suddenly matters not. Abuses are excused. King David is resurrected as an example of how an imperfect hero should be granted unlimited power over others deemed the enemy.
The most basic Christian ethics are sacrificed on the altar of myopic, emotional, oversimplified, and hostile ideological commitments sloganized as “Save the Bible” or “Save the babies.”
They avoid dealing with complexities and realities surrounding issues related to poverty, health care, immigration, violence, causes and results of climate change, racism, and other important matters.
Marching orders drown out the cries of those slandered and abused. Retaining or gaining personal and corporate privilege is preferred over “Do unto others.”
They seek messiahs in the same way as those who wanted Jesus to mount up a mighty army rather than reveal the kingdom of God through love, service, and acceptance.
Jesus works fine as a crucified savior who blots out sins — but disappoints as lord. A demagogue is preferred over God made flesh.
White nationalist pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, spoke that out loud: “I want the meanest, toughest SOB I can find to protect America.”
As well-documented by Christian historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez in her book, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, toxic masculinity is highly prevalent in American evangelicalism and feeds this cultish proclivity.
Aggressive responses to her by these same testosterone-driven defenders of white male dominance further prove her deeply researched conclusions that scraped the veneer from this abusive form of Christianity.
Unquestioned, authoritative male leadership has created an environment in which devastating abuse of vulnerable persons has repeatedly occurred in churches and denominations with strategic coverups. Even when finally revealed, some perpetrators have sought quick, cheap redemption that would keep them on top of the authoritarian heap.
Accountability is not something dictatorial leaders — religious and political — expect or are willing to accept for themselves. Excuses abound.
And those who’ve thrown themselves into full alliance with such figures continue their support either through blind allegiance or an unwillingness to admit being snookered.
Basic ethical traits of honesty, equality, fairness, truth-telling, and compassion are dismissed with ease. Jesus’ life and teachings are largely irrelevant to what it means when these persons employ the word “Christian.”
Therefore, nothing is less shocking than the reality that some of our most damaging national, state and local leadership is empowered by those who most strongly (and sometime exclusively) claim to live in God’s favor.
Finding oneself ignoring or excusing repeated attitudes and behaviors — that otherwise would be considered repulsive — is a sure sign of being caught in the web of authoritarianism.
“We’re enmeshed in some sort of emotional, relational and spiritual crisis,” writes David Brooks in The Atlantic, “and it undergirds our political dysfunction and the general crisis of our democracy.” In his piece titled, “How America got mean,” the conservative columnist focuses on the absence of systems that instill and affirm basic tenets of morality.
Even a casual observer has seen how kindness, truthfulness and serving the common good have been shelved in favor of winning at any cost and protecting one’s sense of privilege and security.
The once-expected and widespread Christian encouragement to reflect such basic attributes — identified in scripture as fruit of the Spirit — has faded.
One would think attraction to the schoolyard bully would end somewhere around the eighth grade. Yet an uncritical embrace of authoritarianism is a consistent mark of way too many who claim to follow Jesus but are more quickly drawn to those who reflect so little of his life and teachings.
Therefore, authoritarians know precisely where to turn to find those who’ll so eagerly get in line.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.