Twitter Cranks and Evangelical Identity

So I’ve been doing something new and exciting—for me anyway. I’ve started buying some Twitter ads for this blog (it’s going well, thanks for asking). As you can imagine, exposing my tweets to a large number of strangers has done some . . . interesting things to my mentions. Random rude people just come with the territory, but there’s one particular type of comment that I’ve been getting that has gotten my attention:

Lots of people think I’m a Trump supporter.

Obviously, the people making these comments have spent no time on my site. Even a quick glance will show a half dozen posts criticizing Trump.

Which means the comments were prompted solely by the tweet. And what does the tweet say? Absolutely nothing about Trump, or even politics. After thinking about it, I’ve concluded that people assume I’m a Trump supporter because my tweet was not explicitly anti-evangelical.

And that’s got me worried.

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Good News: Our Great-Grandchildren Won’t Care About Trump

I want to share a comforting thought. For this thought, I want to take you to to the year 2068.

I’m sitting on my front porch, scratching my wrinkled head with a finger from my robot body.1 Two of my grandchildren, Xenon and Zorpo, play in the surf2 with my new thylacine3 puppy.

I’m reading my antique iPhone 20 while another grandson, Nikolajokic,4 reads his high school textbook on his iLens.5

“This new dinosaur theme park is a bad idea–mark my words.” I mutter. “Life finds a way–not that young people today know anything about that.”

“Hey grandpa.” Nikolajokic cuts in. “We’re studying the early 21st century in my history class. Is that Don Trump guy for real?”

I get a far away look as a shudder surges through my circuits. “Donald Trump. Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long, long time.”

“How did a guy like him become president?” When Nikolajokic sees the gleam in my eye, he instantly regrets the question.

Over the next fifteen minutes, I tell him the whole story–how we all thought it was a joke at first, how he kept winning no matter what we did, and how most evangelicals eventually followed him. I then made some thoughtful remarks about how evangelicals learned from their mistake and tried to make amends to later generations, but Nikolajokic has stopped listening. As soon as I started talking about some ancient technology called “Twitter,” he secretly played a Seinfeld6 episode on his iLens.

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Let’s Quit with the “Toxic” Talk

There’s a term that gets thrown around a lot that drives me crazy, both for rational and irrational reasons. That term is “toxic.”

It seems especially popular with Christians on the Left1 for describing things they dislike on the Right. Traditional sexuality is toxic. The concept of hell is toxic. Complementarianism is toxic. Missions culture is toxic. Etc., etc., etc.

I don’t want to get into the substance of those controversies. In fact, I agree with some of those critiques. Instead, I’m just giving reasons why we should stop labelling any beliefs we don’t like as toxic.

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Why I Don’t Think Much About Atheism Anymore

So I’ve been on this YA kick because I’m researching a writing project.1 As such, I started on Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.2 The prologue did a great job of setting up an enticing premise. Then in the first chapter, the protagonist–a teenager from a dystopian future trailer park–gives his personal philosophical manifesto. For some reason.3

The speil was predictable new atheist talking points: how evolution is true, and how that somehow disproves the supernatural. How humanity is on its own and we should just deal with it. How all religion is just fairytales used to manipulate the non-enlightened.

At age twenty, this sort of thing would have sent me into a cocoon. I would have journaled my inner thoughts and doubts, constructed arguments and counter-arguments examining the issue from all sides, and stared in horror at the unblinking stars as I contemplated being alone in the universe.

But that didn’t happen this time. I shrugged it off and continued on. My main emotion was irritation that such a silly argument could have such widespread acceptance.4

Is it bad that Matt of 305 doesn’t spend as much time with this stuff as Matt of 20? Have I become intellectually lazy or stubborn? At the risk of being self-serving, I don’t think so. Here’s why:

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5 Christian TV Characters Who Are Actually Likeable

Like any Christian who enjoys complaining, I often criticize Christian characters on tv. It seems like they’re all judgmental, narrow-minded hypocrites whose faith is an easy punchline. Watching those characters makes me wonder if the script writers have ever even met a Christian.

But happily, not every show is like this. In fact, several do a great job portraying Christian characters. I thought I’d list my five favorites.

These characters are either currently on air, or have been in the recent(ish) past. While far from perfect, these are fully-fleshed characters who are openly Christian, and who are portrayed sympathetically.

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Stop Calling Yourself an “Exvangelical”

So the term “exvangelical” is a thing now. It’s an earnest hashtag on Twitter. It’s also the name of a podcast1 with over seventy episodes. The Guardian even used the term for evangelicals who dropped the label after the 2016 election.

You can guess who exvangelicals are: folks who were raised in conservative evangelical homes, have now become progressives, and who keep enumerating the ways their childhood injured them. You can also guess that I reeeeaaaaaally don’t like the term. And yes, I have bullet-pointed reasons for it.

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Evangelicals Have a Trolley Problem

Evangelical support for Donald Trump has made me think about the Trolley Problem. You haven’t heard of the trolley problem? No worries–you were just too busy with your social life to pay attention to your Philosophy 101 course in college. The Trolley Problem is a popular ethics hypothetical. It’s ridiculously easy to find background info about it. Here it is in brief:

A runaway trolley is careening down a track toward five innocent workers. You’re standing to the side and unable to warn the workers. But you’re next to a switch that will divert the trolley onto another track. But this track has one innocent worker on it. Is it more ethical to (1) pull the switch and divert the trolley, thereby killing the one worker, or (2) do nothing, and allow the trolley to kill the five workers?

The Trolley Problem is interesting because your answer reveals your deeper assumptions. Is your driving consideration the consequence of your choice? Then you likely said you’d kill the one person to save the five. But if your driving consideration is the process of your choice, you’d likely refuse to kill a person by pulling the switch.

Things get even more interesting when we tinker with the factors.1 Let’s say you said you would pull the switch to divert the trolley:

What if the one person on the other track was a close family member? Would you change your answer? Why?

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Why Yes I Do Have Thoughts on Miss America

I’m about to say something that might surprise you: Whenever I go camping, I do a special call to attract Bigfoot. Oh, that didn’t surprise you? Then how about this:

I know a lot about the Miss America pageant.

Let me explain. My wife’s family is filled with people who’ve been involved in Miss America pageants through the years. Her family still has connections with state organizations, and knows several winners each year.

Therefore, I am duty-bound to watch the pageant every year with this family of experts.

Each year, we make official lists of who we predict will go to the next round throughout the night. I don’t mean to brag, but I may be the best in the family. My sister-in-law will say it’s her, but she’s lying.

Miss America, of course, has caused a recent internet stir. The pageant announced it was abandoning its swimsuit competition, and probably the evening gown competition too.

As an accidental pageant expert, I have lots of thoughts.

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Evangelical: Uppercase or Lowercase?

As a proud recipient of a bachelor’s degree in English *cough*, there are certain grammar opinions that I hold to strongly. I’m an Oxford comma partisan.1 I think the rule against ending a sentence with a preposition should be done away with.2

And I believe that evangelical should be lowercase.

I deal with this surprisingly often. When I was preparing my book proposal and writing the sample chapters,3 I went back and forth with friends and readers about whether I should capitalize evangelical. I changed it a couple of times, but ended up firmly in the lowercase camp.

Why? Well, it’s a combination of reasons: both serious and trivial.

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“Evangelical Apocalypse:” Rejecting Both Naivete and Cynicism

This week, Ross Douthat had an article that hit close to home. In fact, he pretty much summed the purpose of this blog. You should read the whole thing: here it is.

For those of you who didn’t follow the link (for shame!) the article is about how Trump’s presidency has been an apocalypse for American evangelicalism. An “apocalypse” in the original Greek meaning is “an unveiling, an uncovering, an exposure of truths that had heretofore been hidden.”

Unless you’ve spent the past three years dwelling in the wilderness and surviving off honey and locusts, you know it’s been a particular apocalypse for evangelicals. It’s easy to assume that this apocalypse will reveal two sides–the good side and the bad side–and that the good side will win. As Douthat explains:

I’d like to tell a simple story that describes the Patterson scandal [link added by me] as an inflection point — after which Moore’s kind of Baptist will inevitably increase while Jeffress’s kind diminishes, as the “judgment” that Mohler describes leads to a general reckoning with the pull of sexism and racism within conservative-leaning churches.

But to assume that’s necessarily going to happen is to fall into the same inevitablist trap that ensnares both arc-of-history progressives and providentialist Trump supporters. Instead it’s wiser to regard an era of exposure like this one as a test, which can be passed but also failed.

I agree. We shouldn’t sit back in a triumphalist assumption that “those evangelicals” will inevitably lose and history will vindicate us.

But the opposite is also true. It’s easy to look at the struggles in the current apocalypse and get discouraged. It can even lead us to apathy and (wait for it) cynicism. But that shouldn’t be our response. As Douthat explained when he accidentally wrote the tagline for this blog:

So the question posed by this age of revelation is simple: Now that you know something new and troubling and even terrible about your leaders or your institutions, what will you do with this knowledge?

That’s what this blog is (hopefully) about. Finding a way to move forward from the disappointment and frustration. But doing so in a way that isn’t naive or cynical. Instead, it’s a way that is clear-eyed and gospel-centered.

The apocalypse should be a call to self-reflection and to prayer. And hopefully, it can lead to renewal.

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