The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. It’s the core of a powerful voting bloc that gave electoral (but not popular) victory to Donald Trump. It’s also the location of an attempted takeover by a fascist faction that wants to make Christianity the most oppressive religion in the history of the world (moreso than it has already been). This past week the Convention narrowly avoided this by electing a moderate president for the year. The struggle was real and the consequences very deep. The true cost of Trump’s presidency will continue to emerge for years to come. Permission was given for extremists to be vocal and validated and bad behavior was relabeled as “Christian.”
We, as a society, have a bad habit of ignoring things we don’t believe in. Just because many educated people have come to see the lie behind much of what “Christians” say, they assume they don’t need to pay attention to them. Years of ignoring the insidious actions of many conservative Christian groups has led us to a political precipice where many months after the fact some people who can’t count still believe 232 is greater than 306. While some may wonder how we’ve come to this point the answer is obvious—there are groups of “Christians,” organized and well funded, who’ve been active in politics for many decades. The Southern Baptist Convention wanted, in some sectors, to make that official. They wished to be Trump’s own party. They wanted white supremacy to be the norm, women to be chattels of men, and those whose sexuality differs to be criminals. And they nearly won.
We ignore religion at our peril. A recent study by the British Academy has shown that in the United Kingdom the study of religion is in decline. I know of no similar study this side of the Atlantic, but anecdotal evidence suggests the same, if not worse here. Those who study religion from within other disciplines such as sociology, history, or psychology, don’t really address the question of what religion truly is. People experience religion as extremely urgent. Misguided leaders instruct them that their version of God has endorsed the very tactics the Bible itself excoriates. When the largest Protestant denomination is nearly taken over by political extremists, we should be paying attention. A troubling template was, despite the majority vote, forced upon us in 2016. So much so that it feels like it was a decade ago and we suffered from it for longer than we have. And the kettle is still boiling, only this time those dancing about it claim to be Christian.