Evangelicals, How Did We Get Here?

Jeff Roper
5 min readJan 19, 2021

DISCLAIMER: You may think this about politics, but it is not. It is about something far deeper. It is not about being a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Socialist, or member of the Bull Moose Party. It is not about specific policies or personalities. It is about returning to the God who is above, outside, and Wholly Other than us, and his radical call to come, drink deeply of the waters of life and there find healing for your soul. OK, now carry on.

“How did we get here? I don’t want to have anything to do with any of the Christians I know. How did we come to this?” It was not the first time someone said that to me. It was just the most recent. It happened while Debbie and I were talking with some friends. The subject comes up a lot these days. I’ve even had pastors ask me to start support groups for pastors and leaders who look at the Christian community and say, “How did we come to this? I don’t know if I can pastor people like this any longer.”

How did we come to this?

I tried to answer my friend’s question. After a long jeremiad about the cultural, ideological, and theological movements of the last fifty years of evangelicalism, my wife looked at me with a puzzled expression and said, “You are not making any sense…” She was right. I had launched into a lengthy stream-of-consciousness screed about how we arrived here, none of which could be explained in a tweet or an Instagram photo.

My incoherent mixture of theological, social, and cultural issues, laced with historical references and pivotal events, became an avalanche of information burying the essence of the truth: We are here because we have forsaken the fountain of living water and have hewed out cisterns for ourselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13).

Once we replaced the fountain of living water with our broken water holes power became our religion and identity politics became our creed. We invented new beliefs; re-wrote history to add legitimacy to our claims; and created new models and stories to give meaning and purpose to justify and explain our initial turning away.

Forsaking the fountain of living water is now justified and defended by a thousand moving pieces that include theological and doctrinal arguments; histories both true and fabricated; and role-models with talking-points who have become our new pantheon of unseen witnesses.

This pantheon of witnesses include historical figures who have become mythologized. Dietrich Bonhoeffer comes to mind. Bonhoeffer was a faithful witness who has become a folk hero to many who would reject him were he to walk among us today.

Hollywood was kind enough to add a few witnesses to our new pantheon: John Wayne, William Wallace (Braveheart), and Rambo are among those who became examples of what masculine Christianity ought to be, what “real Christians” should look like. Promise Keepers, Wild at Heart, and more than a few of my sermons included clips and quotes too many to mention. I, after all, wanted to die in the saddle with my boots on while I fought for freedom, even if it meant being the lone, misunderstood, and violent hero for Jesus.

The evangelical models of “real Christians” were supposed to represent for us strong, rugged, tough men who take action to defend freedom and use violence against injustice. No one bothered to notice these models were an actor pretending to be a tough guy, a fictionalized story of a man we know almost nothing about, and a movie character who resorts to violence. No one noticed we substituted pursuing being pure-in-heart peacemakers who love our enemies with being warriors pursuing glory and power to crush the enemies of God. No one noticed our leaking water hole.

Evangelicals were looking for a hero, a defender who would rescue us like a damsel in distress. Someone, anyone, who could play the role of a rugged, tough, principled but misunderstood successful businessman fighting for truth and justice and the American way. We would say of this person, “Surely, here stands before us the Lord’s anointed.”

It makes perfect sense for those whose models are actors pretending to be heroes using violence to avenge themselves to support someone like this. It would be a dream come true. It would not be an aberration; it would be the culmination of a long ideological transformation.

We evangelicals can no longer tell fact from fiction. Our models are illusions, and our justifying stories are lies. Consequently, we are now suckers for outlandish lies and conspiracy theories like QANON, plandemic, stolen elections, utopian promises, political salvation, and false prophecies spoken in the name of Jesus. Left-winged, right-winged, or middle of the bird, we are all guilty. The lies we have held to have become the idols of our destruction.

Once untethered from the fountain of living water, it was only a matter of time before evangelicals started believing QANON is real and the news is fake. We love the lies that comfort us and hate the truth that confronts us.

The models we uphold and the stories we tell shape who we become. Evangelical Christianity, if it is to survive, needs to reject its false images and real lies and return again to the fountain of living water. Let us turn again with our whole hearts to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Let us return again and again to the fountain of living water and drink deeply, that our souls may be healed and our minds renewed.

We have defamed Jesus Christ long enough. We are sorry. I am sorry. May these days be the end of our error. May today be a new day to look unto him, the author and finisher of our faith.

*** Interested to learn more? I highly recommend, “Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Broke a Nation,” by Kristin Kobes Du Mez.