January 6, 2021. The day the Capitol was sacked by fundamentalist Christians, cops, young guys who lived at home, some ex-military, and a vegan. It seemed humorous at first! I saw the mention on Facebook and just imagined a few supporters of 45 shouting a lot, but I was not prepared for the images of the mob invading the chamber of congress. Nor was I prepared for the marine who stood where the Speaker usually stands offering a word of prayer, and ratting out his conspirators, all at the same time by thanking God for the Capitol Police who let them in!
“Is this some kind of a religious activity?” I sarcastically thought.
Investigations proved that is exactly what it was. A loose association between evangelical churches and fans of right wing radio hosts and podcasters, with a little help from social media, became responsible for the moment of mass lunacy that we are still dealing with.
Where did they come from? Who was behind it?
All obvious questions considering there wasn’t an invisible elephant to hide anymore. It was a very visible elephant in front of us. The elephant party has traded the Messiah on a White Horse landing on the Mount of Olives for the Boss Hogg Messiah on the Motorcycle! Yeah, that’s the guy who will drive out all the democrats and destroy the satanic elite pedophiles.
Evangelicals once scorned political involvement.
Rick Perlstein, in his book, Reaganland, talks about Jerry Falwell’s crusade to get fundamentalist Christians involved in politics. Reaganland begins with Jimmy Carter winning the election and the Republicans lost without a center. It’s matter of fact style reminds me of Joe Friday on Dragnet. Perlstein leads us through the seventies with illustrations sure to score high with nostalgia buffs. Everyone from Jim Jones to Anita Bryant to the girl who didn’t like Mondays so she shot up her school makes an appearance.
Carter was President and Republicans were losing face with the public. It was Jerry Falwell and a loose association between fundamentalists and evangelical churches and Christian schools, who decided it was time for Christians to get involved in government. This came after years of believing it was wrong for religious leaders to involve themselves in politics.
Jerry Falwell once preached against ministers taking political stands. That sermon was directed toward Martin Luther King, Jr. Falwell changed his mind and called that moment a ‘false prophecy’. Christian fundamentalists shrugged it off.
Moral Majority, and other Christian conservative groups, began documenting abuses in the public school system. They frightened parents into sending their children to Christian Schools. Their goal appeared to be: defund the public schools until the only institutions left standing were Christian schools.
Christian schools had classes in Americanism Vs Communism, designed to keep the cold war going. ‘None Dare Call It Treason’ was assigned reading in more than one Christian school.
Falwell put together a dog and pony show called ‘America, You’re To Young To Die’. It began with a slideshow of a girl saying the pledge of allegiance. It shifted to gay men kissing. A few seconds of aborted fetuses assaulted the senses before the Jerry Falwell dancers took the stage and did their number.
Okay, they weren’t ‘dancing’. We called them ‘stage movements’. We were taught how to rename and rationalize everything!
Perlstein writes about the time Falwell came to Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Florida . After the big show, one of the teachers remarked that in his day they would have done something about the homosexuals. Or, as he called them, ‘faggots’. He revealed, in a classroom, that he and his friends beat up gays at Friendship Fountain, and, as Perlstein describes it:
“We knocked a guy’s head into the side of the fountain! He was bleeding like a squashed tomato.” When a student complained to another teacher about this un-Christlike behavior, the concern turned on him, not the teacher: “Are you thinking of turning gay, Dwayne? A gay person cannot be saved.” (Reaganland, p.722)
That student was me.
It was the first time the fundamental truth dawned on me: it’s okay to be hypocritical on some issues. Fundamentalists knew the theological loopholes. And I learned if you asked the wrong question, they can and will use that question against you.
Bob Gray, the founder of Trinity Christian Academy, would be arrested for multiple counts of child molestation in 2006. He apologized to the victims in private, but did that stop him from pleading ‘not guilty’ in a court of law? Not at all! We learned there are there are exceptions to the rule of law. It’s okay to disrespect the truth in public, or in a court of law, yet claim virtue in private.
We were raised to cut our leaders slack for the worst crimes! Is it any wonder many who grew up in evangelical households became supporters of an abusive, insurrectionist ex-president? We were trained to ignore the crimes of our spiritual leaders for years! Ignoring scandals of earthly leaders who are giving you the country is a piece of cake.
It isn’t such stretch to think of the education I received at Trinity Christian Academy as ‘radicalization’. I remember a few preachers who stomped and shouted, “I want you to be a radical for Jesus!”
They appear to have succeeded. We were steered away from praising democracy. America is not a democracy, we were taught. It is a constitutional republic. God led our founding fathers to establish this nation. They wanted white male property owners to vote. We can amend the constitution, but let’s not.
History was seen through a supernatural prism. Someone asked, “Why did Hitler kill all those people?”
I remember the teacher replying, “He was demon possessed. That’s the only explanation.”
Nothing about stereotypes, or bigotry, or scapegoats. That was their favorite tool after all! Nobody gave it up then. Nobody’s giving it up now.
We pledged allegiance to the American flag. Other Christian schools pledged allegiance to the Christian flag. Some pledged allegiance to the bible. I heard Al Jennings preach at a Trinity bible conference, “When our forefathers talked about freedom of religion, they meant freedom of the Christian religion! Not Hindus or Muslims. Christian!“
Many who engaged in the January 6 insurrection had ties to fundamentalist churches and schools. I now understand that Christian schools, intentionally or not, helped ignite and fan the flames that brought our nation to this moment. Perhaps we should investigate them with the same intensity they demonstrated when investigating and ‘exposing’ public schools?
Few call it radicalization, but none dare call it treason.
Dwayne Walker is the author of ‘Our Pastor Molested Me, Now What?‘