The year was 2008. America was coming to the end of the George W. Bush presidency of “compassionate conservatism”. While perhaps few remember it, W. Bush was the most outspoken evangelical President in my lifetime. Even Jimmy Carter, allegedly a Southern Baptist, was fairly quiet about his faith. Bush on the other hand wore his evangelicalism on his sleeve, frequently talking about his faith. He framed the “Global War on Terror” in terms of good versus evil, either you are with us or against us.
Conservative evangelicalism was feeling empowered and emboldened. America was on the march abroad making the world safe for democracy via piles of dead brown people. Southern Baptists and most conservative evangelical groups strongly supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and many attendees at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting cheered when it was announced that Saddam Hussein’s sons has been killed in a U.S. attack.
Evangelicalism in America had long been seen as the refuge of ignorant hicks in the South and Midwest that believed just a little too much in the Bibles they toted to church, unlike the genteel Episcopalians and Methodists that lived back East. By 2008 that was quickly changing. Two years earlier in 2006, four pastor/theologian friends decided to hold a conference to expand on their own personal talks. Those four men were Albert Mohler (president of the SBC’s Southern Seminary), Ligon Duncan (Presbyterian minister), Mark Dever (9 Marks Ministries) and C.J. Mahaney (Sovereign Grace Churches). Around 3000 men showed up to the conference titled Together For The Gospel (T4G).
Two years later they held the next T4G in Louisville and I was in attendance. While I am not sure how many men showed up to the 2008 conference, it was way more than 3000 (I have seen figures of over 5000). The audience was youngish, and very White. Each session we got a handful of free books and in-between sessions we would browse the enormous book hall where every major vendor of Christian books, especially those aimed at the Reformed audience, had tables set up. I came back with a ton of books, most still unread on my book shelves. The talks themselves from the four hosts and other Reformed luminaries like R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur were powerful, I took a ton of notes and blogged copiously in response. In retrospect 2008 really marked the launch of an intellectually robust evangelicalism.
It wouldn’t last.
Again in retrospect, the signs were starting to show even in 2008. At the T4G conference, all of the speakers focused on what could be argued is the central theme of evangelicalism, justification by faith alone. All but one that is. The lone black speaker was a man calling himself Thabiti Anyabwile who had been born Ron Burns in a Christian family before converting to Islam before converting back to Christianity. His talk instead focused on race. Of course. While it was in the context of justification, it was markedly different from the other speakers. Thabiti would soon take his mild racialism to new lengths.
It didn’t take long for things to start coming apart. Just a few years after T4G 2008, one of the founders, C.J. Mahaney who always struck me as kind of a kook, was accused to being complicit in Sovereign Grace ministries covering up sexual abuse. Initially the other three stood by him and he appeared once more at T4G but that was it and now the other three have distanced themselves from him. The damage was already done.
By October of 2021, two of the four founders of T4G, Mark Dever and Ligon Duncan, announced that the 2022 Together for the Gospel conference would be the final one. While Mahaney was of course absent, notable by his absence in the announcement video was Albert Mohler. Al has apparently found himself wandering too far afield and is busy burnishing his conservative credentials. In what seems appropriate, the final T4G prides itself on being “more diverse” than ever!
Dever and Duncan said there’s something exciting, or even freeing, about it being their final conference.
They emphasized being able to use the T4G stage to introduce new, lesser-known speakers this year who aren’t on what Duncan called the “celebrity circuit.” Four of 14 plenary speakers in the 2022 lineup are African or African American.
So what happened? A man I have spoken of before, Stephen Wolfe (See: The New Unpardonable Sin), penned perhaps the best post-mortem I have read about this issue to date: The Rise and Fall of the Evangelical Elite. If you are a Christian and interested in these things, I wholeheartedly recommend reading his piece. I am no longer in that camp but I still obviously watch to see what is going on after spending decades of in the Christian church and recognizing that for many of my White brethren, their Christian faith is of critical importance to them.
The two big and obvious issues are Trump and Covid-19. One of the quotes Stephen Wolfe has in his piece that really was profound was this one:
By their own admission, many evangelical elites rarely if ever interact with their mostly white evangelical base. In 2018, the then-editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, Mark Galli, wrote that his “elite evangelical” crowd were shocked to learn that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. “Most evangelical Christians like me exclaimed, ‘Who are these people? I know hardly anyone, let alone any evangelical Christian who voted for Trump,’” he wrote.
Many evangelical academics and public thinkers suffer from the same type of inferiority complex I have observed of sports journalists. They want to be seen as big boy thinkers by the secular elites and many of them are horrified by the very people they pretend to represent, the average White Christian sitting in the pews. When people like Mark Galli condemned Donald Trump and then most evangelicals ignored him and voted for Trump anyway, he was baffled. How could they vote for someone so immoral? It would be remiss of me to not point out that moral high ground holder Mark Galli, hater of immoral Donald Trump, would soon lose his job at Christianity Today…..for immoral behavior:
Ooops! Not only was Mark a little handsy with the ladies, he also ran cover for another employee of Christianity Today with the same problem, advertising director Olatokunbo Olawoye who had been harassing the women of Christianity Today for more than a decade. That was another moral paragon….
An Aurora man was sentenced to three years in prison on Friday after pleading guilty for traveling to meet a minor for sex last year.
On March 10, 2017, Olatokunbo Olawoye, 46, drove to a specified location in Aurora expecting to have a sexual encounter with a minor or minors, according to the Kane County state’s attorney’s office. He was arrested as part of a sting operation conducted by the Homeland Security Investigations and Aurora police.
I am glad we have Christian leaders like Mark Galli to warn us about the immoral tone of Donald Trump!
After the 2016 election, many of the blacks who ran in the reformed circles, cheerfully selling books and rap to an almost exclusively White audience suddenly got pissed and stomped off, including the aforementioned Thabiti Anyabwile/Ron Burns who declared his intent to vote for Hillary Clinton. Rapper “Lecrae” declared he was going to distance himself from White evangelicalism, the very people that financially supported him for years because his “music” wasn’t black enough after a friend told him “the phenotype of your music was not black . . . sonically it wasn’t resonating with our soul”. It wasn’t sonically resonating with the black soul? A different black fella named Anthony Bradley boldly declared “from a black church perspective, evangelicals have never had the gospel.”. I would credit statements like these in 2017 as critical to the formation of this blog a year later in April of 2018, somewhat ironically exactly ten years after I attended Together for the Gospel in 2008.
Some are trying to pull back now but the damage is done. The once proud world of evangelical elites is shattered, and that might be a net positive. Various black evangelicals have demonstrated that racial solidarity trumps their alleged Christian identity, with a few notable exceptions like Voddie Baucham. More than a few elite White evangelical leaders and thinkers have shown their disdain for the regular Christians in the pew, people like Russel Moore, the late Tim Keller and David French. Various secular left-wing groups are prancing about sowing even more division in the rapidly dying movement, taking pleasure in seeing so much of what once the Christian church turned into an anti-White elitist snob fest.
The conservative evangelical churches were the last institutions of White political power in America, and that alone was enough to get them targeted by the Left. Their quest succeeded as tensions over racial politics tore apart denominations as the issue of race came down to one where either you rejected Trump and embraced George Floyd or you were opposed to “justice”.
Standing where I am now and looking back at the ruins of what was evangelicalism, it is clear that it is even more important now than ever that Whites find unity in our blood. While I appreciate the sentiment behind “Christian nationalism”, it is a fantasy. Christians in America have not been able to even hold their denominations together, much less form a nation-state. The percentage of people in America that even bother to show up to church is plummeting and those that do show up are largely not that terribly engaged.
By all means, work to build your local churches but building the Kingdom of God is not at odds with protecting your family and your people. You will never see these evangelical “leaders” that screech about Christian nationalism and “kinism” criticizing black Christians for being on board with bLM. Blending ethnic chauvinism with Christianity isn’t a problem for anyone except White Christians.
I will go a step further. Religious liberty is a uniquely White concept. Do you think you will be able to worship and raise your children in the faith in a hostile alien culture? A nation run by Chinese oligarchs or Jewish elites with a 2000 year hatred of Christianity or mestizo cartels isn’t going to be one welcoming to religious liberty.
Evangelicalism has been shattered as a political force. Now is the time to refocus, not on trying to reform that institution that has been corrupt for decades, but rather on White solidarity. Protestants, Orthodox, Catholics, pagans and agonistics alike can and should believe as they choose but we will all be better off if we embrace our common identity instead of finding ways to do Their work for Them by fighting among ourselves over religion.
We might not spend eternity together depending on who is right but we will all find out who is right a lot sooner than we have to if we don’t band together.