I celebrated my sixty-sixth birthday on Monday. I spent fifty years attending and pastoring Evangelical churches. While I began life as a hardcore Independent Fundamentalist Baptist — a sect that positions itself on the extreme right of the Evangelical tent — over the years I drifted slowly leftward, always Evangelical, but more and more liberal socially and politically. I am a perfect example of Evangelical evolution.
One constant during my time in the Evangelical bubble was the war against American culture. While some Evangelicals are counter-cultural, most are anti-cultural. Their goal is to burn the house to the ground and build a brand-spanking new one from scratch. The goal is nothing short of Christian theocracy — the establishment of Jesus as ruler and king and the Bible (as interpreted by Evangelicals) as the law of the land.
Evangelicals have spent the past five decades building what they perceive to be God’s kingdom on earth. Initially, they abandoned secular/cultural institutions and built Christian versions of these things, walling themselves off from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines at the gate. Over time, Evangelicals became restless within the walls of their metaphorical celestial city. Tired of cheap Christian replacements for everything, Evangelicals flung open the gate, left their walled city, and, en masse, stormed the public square. Realizing waiting on the second coming of Jesus was a wasted effort, Evangelicals decided to use political power and sheer force to build Christ’s kingdom on earth. Abandoning piety, Evangelicals sold their souls to the Republican Party and a plethora of churches, pastors, and parachurch organizations that are determined to reclaim the United States for their peculiar version of God — by force, if necessary.
Today, Evangelical culture warriors are fighting battles on numerous fronts, everything from banning books, boycotting woke corporations, criminalizing abortion, violently pushing LGBTQ people back into the closet, to rolling back one hundred years of social progress. We are now seeing an alarming uptick in Evangelicals taking over school boards and other government institutions. And once they do, they make their agenda clear: establishing a theocracy.
Evangelicals played a big part in the January 6, 2021 attempt to overthrow the U.S. government. They continue to support Donald Trump, and many QAnon and militia members are Evangelical theologically. While Evangelical churches are in numeric decline, as a political and social force they are more powerful today than they ever have been. Most of the most extreme right-wing members of the U.S. House and Senate are Evangelical Christians (or conservative Catholics). The same can be said at the state level too. While progressives and liberals were busy fiddling while Rome burned, Evangelicals have orchestrated a takeover of government at every level. I think I can safely say that if Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, or Mike Pence is elected president in 2024, we could see the collapse of our liberal democracy.
I follow and read scores of Evangelical blogs and websites. I also listen to Evangelical podcasts and sermons. Here’s what I have noticed: an uptick in violent, extremist talk. Sermons and articles about the coming collapse of Western Civilization are common. Church members are encouraged and challenged to do everything they can to rip American culture away from the wicked hands of liberals, progressives, atheists, abortionists, evolutionists, and any other demographic deemed an affront to the thrice holy God of Evangelical Christianity.
One phrase I’ve seen increasingly used in Evangelical blog posts, “news” articles, and sermons is this: a canary in the coal mine.
An allusion to caged canaries (birds) that miners would carry down into the mine tunnels with them. If dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide collected in the mine, the gases would kill the canary before killing the miners, thus providing a warning to exit the tunnels immediately.
Something whose sensitivity to adverse conditions makes it a useful early indicator of such conditions; something which warns of the coming of greater danger or trouble by a deterioration in its health or welfare.
Evangelicals see American culture, government institutions, corporations, and Christian sects as coal mines, each with a canary monitoring the health of these underground mines. Everywhere Evangelicals look they see canaries struggling to breathe as the air of secularism, communism, socialism, humanism, and atheism choke the canaries to death. Never asked by Evangelicals is whether it is Evangelicalism, Trumpism, political extremism, or open warfare against public institutions that is the culprit. Lacking awareness, Evangelicals look for socialists, communists, secularists, and ho-mo-sex-u-als under every bed, sure that once these evil Satanic forces are eliminated, the kingdom of God will be established on earth. (Ironically, these beliefs diametrically oppose their eschatological beliefs around the rapture, the great tribulation, the millennial reign of Christ, and the eternal Kingdom of God.)
What are the canaries Evangelicals see in the proverbial coal mine?
- Socialist government programs
- Open southern border
- Abortion (especially morning after drugs)
- Certain forms of birth control
- Euthanasia (physician-assisted suicide)
- Marijuana legalization
- LGBTQ-friendly books in libraries
- Corporate friendliness toward LGBTQ people
- The very existence of LBGTQ people
- Hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery
- Pride month
- Pride parades
- Drag queens
- Drag shows
- Gun control laws
- Separation of church and state
- Women serving as pastors
I have heard Evangelical preachers and talking heads mention every one of these canaries in recent months, using their sermons, blog posts, and podcasts as effective tools to whip up mass hysteria. And it’s working. Evangelicals think the United States is on a slippery slope, and if they don’t stop the slide, Christianity will be outlawed and its adherents hunted down and imprisoned. Evangelicals believe they are currently being persecuted for their beliefs. None of this, of course, is true. The slippery slope is actually a horizontal road called progress. What Evangelicals want to do is turn our culture around and push it back to the 1950s — a time when women were barefoot and pregnant and keepers of the home; a time when Blacks knew their place and LGBTQ people were buried deep in the closet; a time when abortion and birth control were illegal and homosexuality was a criminal offense; a time when Mexicans picked our tomatoes and then went home and drag was only seen on Disney cartoons; a time when people went to church and school children prayed and read the Bible in public school classrooms.
Evangelicals are a large minority, but they do not have the numbers necessary to advance their pernicious agenda IF people with progressive values register and vote. The “nones” are now a similar-sized demographic to Evangelicals. Sadly, many “nones” don’t vote. If and when millennials, gen-x, and gen-z realize the power they hold in their hands, the Evangelical reign of terror will end. Like it or not, the only way to affect change in the United States is to vote. Posting social media memes and writing blog posts have their place, but the only way to push back is by voting. The canary in the coal mine of American democracy is voter registration and turnout. Republican politicians, who are largely conservative Christians, know this, and that’s why they are doing their damnedest to keep people — especially people of color — from voting. The only way to turn back these anti-democratic attempts is for people of every political persuasion to vote.
Do we need better candidates? Absolutely. I am sick of voting for the lesser of two evils. I am no longer a Democrat. I vote Democrat, but I no longer support many of the policies of the party. I didn’t vote for Hilliary Clinton or Joe Biden in the Democratic primaries. But when it came time to vote in the general election — knowing the threat many Republican candidates are to American democracy — I held my nose and voted for Clinton and Biden. I am a pragmatist. I must never let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
The canary in the coal mine of our republic is wheezing and gasping for breath. Another Trump (or DeSantis) presidency will draw the last bit of oxygen out of the air and kill off our grand democratic experiment.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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