by John Ellis
On the way home after dropping the kids off at school, my eyes were drawn to a large bumper sticker on the car in front of me. Shouting “Let’s Go Brandon!” the sticker was at odds with the “In God We Trust” stamped on the vehicle’s license plate. Almost immediately, a pithy Facebook status popped into my head – “Let’s go Brandon” on vehicle’s sporting “In God We Trust” is like claiming to be a vegan while eating a steak.
The subtext, which I believe would be unmistakable for many of my Facebook friends, is that the Republican slogan is a direct violation of Romans 13 as well as other Biblical ethics involving our expected response to authority (not to mention our “neighbors,” in general) and how we are to use our speech. Claiming to be in submission to God while flatly disobeying Him is an obvious contradiction.
Since I was stuck in my car for another ten minutes, that Facebook status set the wheels in my brain turning. Thinking through possible ways to further expound my thoughts without writing an entire article in a Facebook status or comment, it didn’t take me long to conclude that it was better to leave the status short and sweet. Except, as evidenced by this article you are reading, my thoughts continued. Before turning into my driveway, I concluded that the “Let’s Go Brandon!” cultural phenomenon explains why I consider myself a post-evangelical.
This past June, Mere Orthodoxy published an article written in tandem by one of my pastors and a man who was our church’s youth pastor at the time (he’s now a pastor at a church in Mississippi). The article created quite a stir after being tweeted out by David French and other conservative luminaries. Many of you have probably already read it; if not, you can read it by clicking here. Titled “The Six Way Fracturing of Evangelicalism,” the authors provided a taxonomy of evangelicalism, made some predictions, and offered some advice. For my current purposes, I’m going to quote in full Michael Graham and Skyler Flowers’ definition of post-evangelical”
“People who have fully left evangelicalism from a self-identification standpoint and reject the ‘evangelical’ label yet are still churched and likely still agree with the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed. They are more deconstructed than neo-evangelicals and they are more vocal in their critiques of 1s and 2s than 3s would be. Some remain firmly in Protestant circles and others have crossed over to mainline, catholic, or orthodox traditions while still holding to the basic creeds. Concerning threats within the church, they are focused on abuse, corruption, hypocrisy, Christian nationalism, and the secular right. Outside the church, they are primarily concerned with the matters of injustice, inequity, the secular right, and to a lesser extent the radical secular left. Many 4s are 4s also because their experiences with predominantly white evangelicalism have been so difficult and strained that physical distance seemed to be the only conclusion.”
I’ve had several conversations with Graham about the article and have told him this: While I would nuance some things differently in regards to myself, I’m largely in agreement with the above definition and recognize its overall applicability to myself. Realizing that not every reader may be familiar with the term, I mention all this as a way to provide a definition for my claim above to be a post-evangelical.
Transitioning back to the “Let’s Go Brandon!” phenomenon, my thoughts this morning almost immediately went back to the Presidential Election of 1992. I was a junior in high school when Bill Clinton was elected to his first term in office. The posture and language towards our newly elected president led me to conclude (rightfully so, I believe) that my authority figures applied certain Biblical commands how and when they saw fit, consistency be damned.
Not realizing it at the time, I was receiving my first “lecture” in post-structuralism. While I didn’t have the categories or terms at the time, I was being taught that everything is a language game and that the locus of authority is in the self. Nearly thirty years later, having studied Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault, et al., I know that when people within evangelicalism criticize and/or condemn postmodernism, they mean the other’s postmodernism. Everything is a language game. Can I get an amen?
In 1996, during my first lesson in post-structuralism, my heart was in full rebellion against my Creator. Serpent-Satan used my authority figure’s hypocrisy to build on the lies I was already willfully embracing. After my rebellion had blossomed into a full-throated atheism, I would frequently scoff about my authority figure’s hypocrisy. The anecdote about the Presidential Election of 1992 was a helpful takedown of Christianity while in conversation with others.
After the Holy Spirit broke my heart of stone and gifted me a heart of flesh, I had several struggles. As the Spirit conforms God’s people into the image of the Son, we all struggle with different things and in different ways. Truly, creation groans for the redemption of God’s people, and our heart’s longing (should) evidence this. One of the things creating a specific friction in my heart was the seeming conflation of God’s Kingdom with the United States of America. This was/is worked out in a variety of ways, but from 2005-2016 it was difficult for me to pin down, much less articulate, my concern. My social circles and communities (including churches) often said and did the right things – American flags weren’t displayed in the church’s building, our solidarity with Believers from other cultures was trumpeted, the claim that our hope isn’t found in earthly governments was frequently taught, loving our neighbors who don’t look like us was encouraged, etc. As I’ve already stated, though, there was a tension in my own heart, especially as I tried to fit myself within the epistemological beats of the subculture called evangelicalism. But I pressed on, even to the point of knowingly compromising my beliefs and ethics (you can read more about that here, here, and here). I forced myself to believe the lie that the Republican Party better represents and protects the interests of Christians and Biblical ethics than the Democrat Party (two things can be true at once: for example, while it was true that my communities stressed with some of their words that Christianity isn’t the Republican Party, with other words and actions, they revealed that they believed that the Republican Party is the only legitimate political party for Christians).
Note: After this article began to take shape in my mind while driving, I promised myself to keep it under one thousand words. I’ve already broken that promise (not by much), so I’m going to try and bring this home.
Accepting that lie – about the Republican Party – reflected that for me, too, everything is a language game. One of the ironies of our collective belief (often un-reflected/unknowingly) that the locus of authority is the “I”, is that it’s extremely difficult to see that we are cultural products not cultural producers. Power is the producer.
2016 began to wake me up to this. 2020 brought to a completion a part of my journey and growth (for the record, both 2016 and 2020 are abstracts that are much more than just descriptors for a specific period of calendar time). In short, I am a post-evangelical because I now realize that evangelicalism’s worldview is secularism with religious iconography and language as decorations. The ease with which evangelicalism can countenance “Let’s Go Brandon!” in tandem with “In God We Trust” is one more piece of evidence that validates my belief that evangelicalism is contra-Biblical and rebellion against God’s total sovereignty over all Creation. To put it another way, displaying both “Let’s Go Brandon!” and “In God We Trust” on your vehicle is like claiming to be a vegan while eating a steak.
Soli Deo Gloria