Who would have thought that banning books, defunding libraries, and closing them would be front-page news in 2023? Yet, here we are. Library books are under assault, primarily by Evangelical Christians. Once again, the media refuses to “see” that religion is what is motivating the war on books, particularly Evangelical Christianity; the same religion behind Trumpism, the January 6 insurrection, the reversal of Roe v. Wade, and the frontal assault on LGBTQ people. I am not suggesting that Evangelicals are the ONLY religious people behind the present culture war — conservative Catholics. Mormons, and a smattering of people from other groups play a part too — but without the support of Evangelicals, the culture wars die overnight.
I am sixty-six years old. I was part of the Evangelical church for fifty years, both as a member and a pastor. In 2008, I left Christianity, but I have continued to follow closely the machinations of Evangelicalism. For all of my adult life, Evangelicals have been waging a war against secularism, people who are different from them, and violators of their peculiar interpretations of the Bible’s moral code.
Evangelicalism is a fear-based religion. Taught to fear God, Evangelicals also fear anyone who is different from them socially or politically. Not known for their support of tolerance and diversity, Evangelicals want to live in a monoculture; one where everyone is a Christian who thinks and believes as they do. In recent years, some Evangelicals have been very clear about their objective: the establishment of a Christian theocracy; one where Jesus and the Bible (as interpreted by them) rule supreme.
Here in the United States, there was a time when Evangelicalism was a dominant force, both politically and socially. Those days are gone. Evangelical church attendance is in decline, and younger adults are exiting stage left in droves. Paranoia and fear are in the air, and instead of taking a hard look at themselves, Evangelicals blame American culture; especially mass media, public schools, secularism, atheism, humanism, liberals, progressives, Democrats, LGBTQ people, and anyone and anything else that doesn’t comport with their worldview. Of course, this behavior is not unusual for Evangelicals. Known for blaming the Devil for all sorts of things, Evangelicals are experts at pointing fingers and judging people they disagree with. That’s why many of the readers of this blog who have Evangelical backgrounds are estranged from their Evangelical parents and families. Their loved ones refuse to accept them as they are; refuse to play nice with anyone who doesn’t believe exactly as they do.
American culture is changing. Secularism, humanism, atheism, and indifference toward organized religion are on the rise. Evangelicals feel threatened by the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. In their minds, the Huns are at the gate. Never mind the fact that the Philistines and Huns just want to be left alone. They want the freedom to fuck whomever they want as long as it is a consenting adult relationship. They want the freedom to read what they want, watch what they want, and buy what they want. They want the freedom to marry whomever they want and seek out reproductive care. Simply put, they want Evangelicals to fuck off and leave them alone.
Of course, Evangelicals cannot and will not do that, and that is why they are trying to ban library books they consider “inappropriate” — mainly books which are LGBTQ-friendly, critical of Christianity, or which portray Whites in a less than flattering light. Evangelicals don’t want people to have the freedom to read ANY book that offends their sensibilities. We see similar behavior from Evangelicals when it comes to television programming. Evangelicals are determined to become the arbiters of what all of us can read and see. Instead of not checking out certain books or changing the channel, Evangelicals expect all of us to obey their interpretations of the Bible — even though they don’t do so themselves.
I am sure some of my critics will say, “Bruce, you were an IFB preacher. You homeschooled your six children. I bet you controlled what books they could read!” Welp, I hate to disappoint you, but Polly and I allowed our children to read whatever they wanted. Five of our children learned to read at an early age, and by the time they were in sixth grade, they were getting books from the adult part of the library. I remember one librarian quizzing me about our children perusing the adult sections of the library. She thought they should be reading “age-appropriate” books. I explained to her that our children were advanced readers, and they had our permission to check out whatever they wanted. It was not uncommon to see our children coming home with 12-15 library books at a time. Remember, we didn’t have a TV for twenty years. Did we look at the books they brought home? Sure. Were there a couple of occasions when we said one of them couldn’t read a certain book? Sure. Outside of that, our children were free to read to their heart’s content. (I am delighted to see these same reading habits in most of my grandchildren today.)
Books are not the problem; fear and closedmindedness are. Religious Fundamentalists fear the “world.” They are afraid if their children are exposed to the real world, that they might start to have questions and doubts about Mom and Dad’s Christian worldview. That’s why so many Evangelical parents either homeschool their children or send them to private Christian schools. Most Evangelicals aren’t countercultural, as Jesus was, they are anti-culture. That’s why they are waging war against American culture, one book and one movie at a time. Their goal is to return the United States to the “good” old days of the 1950s; a time when heterosexual married women were barefoot and pregnant, keepers of the home, and on-demand sex machines; a time when LGBTQ people were closeted; a time when Blacks knew their place; a time when most families went to church on Sundays and showed, at least, outward respect for the Christian God and the Bible; a time when abortion and birth control were illegal; a time when stores were closed on Sundays and Wednesday nights; a time when public school teachers read the Bible to students and led them in prayer; a time when churches, preachers, and the Bible were respected by even unbelievers.
Evangelicals are free to party as if it’s 1953. Have at it. People are free to live any way they want, as long as doing so is legal and doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. Most Americans want to party as if it is 2023. Evangelicals are free to retreat to their houses of faith and the privacy of their homes; free to live their lives according to the dictates of the Bible. However, the rest of us demand the same freedoms to do otherwise. And when you try to turn the United States into a theocratic state, we will push back. When you try to institutionalize hate, bigotry, misogyny, and homophobia, we will use the ballot box to fight back.
I don’t know how many years I have left; probably not many. My body tells me every day that time is running out. While some of the present Evangelical assaults on freedom and democracy seem overwhelming — looking at you Ohio, Texas, and Florida — we must not give in or give up. Evangelicalism has a demographic problem. Their core is aging, and as they die off, these Evangelical culture warriors are not being replaced. We must continue to fight and push back, even when it seems there is no hope. We must have the future of our children and grandchildren in front of us. They deserve a better tomorrow, one not dominated and controlled by religious Fundamentalism.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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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