When I was 8 years old, I happily sang “I’m in the Lord’s Army” along with the other Sunday school children. We marched, pantomimed shooting in unison and riding horses for the infantry, and saluted God with our praise. It was one of our favorite songs and to this day, 40 years later, I remember every word.
I lived in many different evangelical communities growing up in North Carolina, Texas and then Colorado — from pentecostal to mainstream — and the one defining marker among them was the joy of Christian battle. If this seems odd to you, look at the Psalms and see how many verses combine military victories alongside giving praise.
No evangelicals see themselves as fake or hypocritical, and if the left continues to label them as such, it only distracts us, not them.
So often people outside of the evangelical world believe that Christians who support President Donald Trump are driven by fear and sadness, when really, it’s this joy in warfare that binds them together. If those of us who oppose Trump are to effectively counter his evangelical base, we cannot ridicule them and assume that they are out to destroy the world. They believe they are out to save it.
No evangelicals see themselves as fake or hypocritical, and if the left continues to label them as such, it only distracts us, not them. Intead, the left needs to create a bigger, more radical vision for the American public to step into in order to combat the radical joy of the evangelicals. We must focus on how to communicate with less cynicism and approach the world from a perspective of passion and inspiration.
When spiritual adviser Paula White prays against demonic forces out to attack President Donald Trump, as she did recently, progressives in their mocking fail to see that she does not speak from a place of fear but joyous authority. After her latest video aired, progressives only focused on the sentence where she commanded all “satanic pregnancies to miscarry,” not realizing she was speaking in metaphor and ignoring her call to “arrest affliction, fatigue, weariness, weakness, fear [and] sickness.”
Indeed, evangelicals regard worry and fear as things to be cast out, as sin, as doubting the power of God. In contrast, their experience of collective joy creates an unbreakable army. This is why Trump can launch an airstrike against Iran or the North Pole and evangelicals will not waver in their support. It doesn’t matter if the war is against a country, spiritual entity or group of people. It’s the promise of victory that motivates their support.
I remember this kind of emotional electricity when visiting the broadcast studios of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker in the 1970s. No one drank alcohol and yet there was a palpable energy in the air that I have rarely seen replicated in any other social gathering. To the outside world, it looked like gibberish. Experiencing it from the inside, I felt an unspeakable peace that I was not alone, and never would be alone in this army. Victory over Satan was just an added bonus to this sense of belonging.
In my 30s, I attended a church in Denver where the pastor showed clips from “Braveheart,” “Gladiator”and“Last of the Mohicans”during his sermon to demonstrate the steadfast strength given to those with a “warrior’s heart.” Being a part of this mythical army meant you were the hero even if you lost a battle or your marriage or a job because, according to the Bible, the war was already won.
All of this is evidence that those who are outside the religion need to stop thinking of evangelicals as coming straight from a dystopian society like that in “The Handmaid’s Tale”when “Lord of the Rings” is a better comparison: a place where one gets an automatic family of fellow soldiers to help save the world.
This is not to excuse evangelicals’ actions but to explain them, and to underscore that the left needs to have an equally compelling story that taps into social and political history even as it critiques issues within its own ranks. Good storytelling goes beyond election results and politics; it’s a vision that can galvanize people into taking sustained collective action.
We must focus on how to communicate with less cynicism and approach the world from a perspective of passion and inspiration.
Right now, the divisiveness that surrounds Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders takes up too much space in the current political landscape, and the hate we progressives express toward Trump often overrides our hope for humanity.
It takes a good deal of joy to hope. Joy is not soft or civil, nor is it necessarily comforting. It is fierce and protective, and on its foundation you can build anything. Renowned gospel singer Mahalia Jackson knew this when she called out to Martin Luther King Jr. and reminded him to “Tell them about the dream!” King then launched into the famous visionary rhetoric which married radical justice with epic storytelling.
It’s time we revisit and reawaken that language as we move into election season, each one of us adding to a story of radical hope.