No, seriously. The question in the title of this blog post is not rhetorical. I would really like to understand not only why outside observers of Evangelical subculture, such as Emma Green, seem surprised at the extent to which Evangelical institutions discipline their members to keep them on message, but also why some people who come from white Evangelical subculture ever thought they could get away with, if not privately holding some liberal-ish views, then at least expressing them publicly while working for a conservative Evangelical employer.
I come to this quandary via Green’s recent Atlantic article, “These Conservative Christians are Opposed to Trump–and Suffering the Consequences.” I encourage you all to go give it a read. And let me take a moment to admire the bravery of those Evangelicals who gave up their jobs in order to continue taking compassionate public stands on political and social issues in disagreement with a subculture that has many mechanisms in place to discipline those who do not conform. As an ex-Evangelical, I am intimately familiar with those mechanisms; I grew up knowing where the lines were, and while I questioned and pushed the envelope because I couldn’t help it, I eventually realized I had no business trying to identify as an Evangelical (and lost the ability to affirm any metaphysical proposition with any sustained conviction).
I have never understood the roughly 15-20% of genuinely moderate to liberal Evangelicals, and I have even less comprehension of why some of them would assume they would be able to express their dissenting views while working for institutions like Focus on the Family, for which a hardline anti-LGBTQ stance and an alliance with the Republican Party are an article of faith, as they are for the vast majority of whiteEvangelicals. I’m not trying to be mean here. I just really don’t get it. (Don’t believe me about that “vast majority” thing? The numbers back me up; there is no “sea change”–the only way to make it appear that Evangelicals as a whole are diverse is to lump white Evangelicals in with Evangelicals of color, which is sleight of hand, because the two groups vote very differently. If you want to argue this point with me, I strongly suggest reading this, this, and this first.)
Purges are a factor in Evangelical Protestant institutional life. They always have been; Satan will install central air conditioning in hell before that changes. It’s true that these purges are also contextual, ebbing and flowing in relation to both local community concerns and national concerns. It used to be, for example, possible to have authentically open debate about same-sex marriage at Evangelical colleges, until anti-Obama and anti-Obergefell backlash fed into a substantial recent purge at many Evangelical schools, some aspects of which I documented in an investigative piece done for Religion Dispatches. But in a time when that backlash is continuing in the form of Trumpism–remember that 81% of white Evangelicals who voted supported Trump; they make up his single strongest demographic–we can certainly admire the bravery of Evangelicals who speak out against Trump. But can we be surprised that they are being ousted from roles representing Evangelical institutions for it?
Again, this genuinely perplexes me. But my experience of Evangelical subculture is, of course, my owe–while it corresponds to that of many ex-Evangelicals I’ve spoken with, it is not universal. With that in mind, I’d actually like to invite responses to my question. If you are an Evangelical or ex-Evangelical in particular who is surprised at the purges of anti-Trump Evangelicals within major conservative Evangelical institutions, please use this form to send me a response and let me know why. Or send me a response if this post has stimulated some other, related line of thinking. I would be happy to publish thoughtful responses here (and if you prefer your response be published anonymously, I can of course accommodate that–just let me know). Of course, you’re also welcome to respond in the comments below.