Evangelicals and the January 6 insurrection

New York Times religion reporters Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham just published a piece on evangelicals and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday.

Here is a taste:

Lindsay French, 40, an evangelical Christian from Texas, flew to Washington after she had received what she called a “burning bush” sign from God to participate following her pastor urging congregants to “stop the steal.”

“We are fighting good versus evil, dark versus light,” she said, declaring that she was rising up like Queen Esther, the biblical heroine who saved her people from death.

“We are tired of being made out to be these horrible people,” she said, acknowledging there was some violence but insisting on the falsehood that Antifa was behind it.

And this:

Oren Orr, 31, an arborist from Robbinsville, N.C., where he goes to Santeetlah Baptist Church, rented a car to drive to Washington. He carried his American flag right up below the officers on the bleachers, and his wife had a Christian flag. Mr. Trump could be the last president to believe in Jesus, he said. (Mr. Biden speaks often about his lifelong Catholic faith, and unlike Mr. Trump, attends church services frequently.)

Mr. Orr said he brought a baton and a Taser to Washington but did not get them out. “I know the Lord has my back no matter what happens,” he said.

Are Lindsay French and Oren Orr representative of American evangelicals? No. Most white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020 not because they liked him, but because Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden were pro-choice and posed a threat to religious liberty. Most of them are horrified by what happened at the U.S. Capitol last week, but few of them see any connection between their vote in 2016 and the events of January 6. At the same time, many also believe the Democrats stole the election. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of evangelicals embrace the views of people like Lance Wallnau, Eric Metaxas, Charlie Kirk, and the rest of the Liberty University Falkirk Center and court evangelical crowd.

Here is Dias and Graham again:

In a Facebook video shot in Washington on Monday night, Tennessee pastor Greg Locke referred to himself as part of the “black robe regiment,” a reference to American clergy who were active in the American Revolution. At a rally the next night, Mr. Locke preached to a crowd of Trump supporters in Freedom Plaza, predicting “not just a Great Awakening, but the greatest awakening that we have ever seen.”

There is a lot going on in this excerpt. We have written about Locke’s “black robe regiment” before. This reference to eighteenth-century patriotic clergy got traction during the Tea Party movement that emerged in the early Obama administration. It also draws upon QAnon conspiracy theories that predict a national and religious revival is coming to America.

Most evangelical pastors are not like Lindsay French’s pastor or Greg Locke. They do not preach politics from the pulpit (even though many of them voted Trump in 2016 and 2020), they do not encourage their congregations to “stop the steal,” and they do not invoke the Black Robe Brigade in their sermons. I have communicated with dozens and dozens of evangelical pastors over the last month or so. Most of them never mentioned Trump’s name (or Joe Biden’s name) in official church settings. (Nor did they condemn Trump or Biden). Most of them are striving to steer their divided congregations toward some form of Christian unity as they try to figure out how to respond to the power that Fox News (and now Newsmax and One America) and social media have over their congregations. They wonder if their congregations will come out of the COVID-19 pandemic in tact. Many of them are trying to educate their congregations about race. Whether you are sympathetic or not to the struggles that these pastors are facing, they are an important part of the larger story of evangelicals in the age of Trump.

The best histories of evangelicals in the Trump era will tell a complex and complicated narrative.

Roughly 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump in both elections. History will show that they enabled this president. I stand by every word I wrote in Believe Me.

But history will also show that evangelical support for Trump took on different levels of commitment. Some followed him deeper into the abyss than others. It is important for future historians to capture this nuance and avoid the media’s efforts to paint evangelicals with broad brushes.