Millennialism, Evangelicals, and Being Lost in the Wilderness

They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in. Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses.

—Psalm 107:4-6

White evangelicals believe they see truths that you and I cannot. This is one of the most dangerous aspects of evangelicalism. As law enforcement tracks down and identifies the insurrectionist terrorists of January 6, it has become more clear who they are and what they wanted. Amid the QAnon adherents, anti-Semites, neo-Confederates, and revolutionary cosplayers were the evangelical faithful: those who see themselves as the vanguard of God’s end-times army. Their proud participation in the riot represented some of the most extreme political actions that any group of evangelicals has taken in recent history. These evangelical participants in that mob believed they were part of a holy war. Insurgents carried signs that read “Jesus Saves,” “In God We Trust,” “Jesus 2020,” and “Jesus Is My Savior, Trump Is My President.” One man marched through the halls of Congress carrying a Christian flag, another a Bible. They chanted, “The blood of Jesus covering this place.”

These “Christians” apparently believe that they had no choice but to try to overthrow Congress. For months, various evangelicals have claimed in sermons, on social media, and during protests that malicious forces stole the election, conspired to suppress Christian liberties, and aimed to suppress on their freedom to worship and spread the Christian gospel. This message is not something new. It has been a message of the Trump era to the Christian faithful warning them that only Trump could save Christianity. Evangelical leader Franklin Graham threw his support behind Donald Trump throughout his 2016 campaign and continued to do so during Trump’s presidency. Most of the evangelical community followed suit. Now, Graham is still firmly behind Trump, even though the president incited an insurrection and repeated baseless lies that the election was stolen from him. In fact, Graham championed those conspiracy theories, and now, he’s comparing the Republicans who voted in favor of impeachment with the Christian disciple Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus for thrity pieces of silver. Like many in the far-right Christian conservative movement, Graham believes that Donald Trump is Christianity’s new savior.

Liberty University’s think tank, the Falkirk Center for Faith and Liberty, which was launched in 2019 and named after its co-founders: Jerry Falwell Jr., the now disgraced and former Liberty University president and Charlie Kirk, the political activist and founder of Turning Point USA, has gone so far as to try to take Christ out of Christianity because they perceive Him as too weak. The Falkirk website states: “Bemoaning the rise of leftism is no longer enough. Although we do, as Jesus taught, turn the other cheek in our personal relationships, we cannot abdicate our responsibilities on the cultural battlefield. There is too much at stake in the clash for the soul of our nation. Bold, unapologetic engagement and initiative is needed on the part of every conservative American.” Falkirk churns out a steady stream of propaganda to convince Christian conservatives they are oppressed victims in society, church, politics, culture, child-rearing, and every other dimension of life. Commentators at the center do not believe “a real Christian can vote Democratic” because of the “blasphemous accouterments” of the party. People who disagree with Falkirk’s politics are treated as part of the shadowy, undefined cabal of “they” and “them” that persecutes and hates conservative Christians. The Falkirk Center doesn’t like it when other groups—racial minorities, for example—describe reality in terms of oppression and power, because this is a central part of Falkirk’s propaganda. They believe that if Christian patriots have power, they must use it to reshape culture and push out the leftists. If Christians have lost power, they must regain it before they are crushed by the elites. On January 6, the day of the storming of the U.S. Capitol and the certification of Joe Biden’s election, Falkirk perfunctorily denounced the violence at the Capitol. But just one day later, the center was still peddling fears of massive voter fraud, saying that the fraud “debate” will be an open question for years to come. The Falkirk team seems utterly oblivious to the fact that it was precisely their brand of rhetoric—besieged, terrified, Christian nationalist, and masculinity-obsessed—that stirred up the anti-democratic rioters of last week.

The photograph above is from a 2017 Oval Office meeting of religious right leaders "laying hands" on and praying for Trump. The picture has been featured in advertising by the Falkirk Center. The ad features text above the picture that reads, "Pray for Our President."
The photograph above is from a 2017 Oval Office meeting of religious right leaders “laying hands” on and praying for Trump. The picture has been featured in advertising by the Falkirk Center. The ad features text above the picture that reads, “Pray for Our President.”

The “Christian” insurrectionists believed that the final days of history were at hand and that the Capitol was the site of a battle so important and significant it would have the power to usher in a new era of Christian dominance. As one evangelical from Texas told The New York Times, “We are fighting good versus evil, dark versus light.” This belief comes from a movement in Christianity (and a few other religions) called Millennialism. Christianity and Judaism have both produced messianic movements that featured millennialist teachings—a belief that an earthly kingdom of God is at hand. These millennialist movements often led to considerable social unrest. Many if not most millennialist groups claim that the current society and its rulers are corrupt, unjust, or otherwise wrong and will soon be destroyed by a powerful force. The harmful nature of the status quo is considered intractable without the anticipated dramatic change. The French sociologist and Dominican priest Henri Desroche observed that millennialist movements often envisioned three periods in which change might occur. First, the movement’s elected members will be increasingly oppressed, leading to the second period in which the movement resists the oppression. The third period brings about a new utopian age, liberating the members of the movement. The current millennialist movement believes that Donald Trump is their messiah and will deliver them from the oppressive nature of liberals, i.e., the Democratic Party and especially its progressive wing. Trump and his followers love to invoke the word “socialism” as the greatest evil that exists. I have heard many times, “I don’t want to live in a socialist country.”

Much has been made about the evangelical community’s relationship with Donald Trump. Typically, observers tend to view this alliance as purely transactional, with evangelicals holding their noses and pledging their support to the least Christian of men to get something in return—most notably, a trio of religiously conservative Supreme Court justices. The misguided and short-sighted belief that evangelicals are overlooking the unchristian behavior of Trump is dangerous. I have talked to some of these people, and they honestly believe that Trump is the most Christian president in history, though they can never articulate why they think this other than the misguided belief that he is pro-life. If you think that evangelicals are just overlooking his behavior, they are not. They are blinded to it, and they are so caught up in a religious fervor that they cannot see what is staring them in the face. They have lost their way, and they are not just wandering in the wilderness. They don’t even realize that they are lost or even in the wilderness. The Capitol attack revealed in all its gruesome detail the extent to which Trump channels the apocalyptic fervor that has long animated many white evangelical Christians in this country. They believe the end times are near and their flawed but “King David-like” leader Donald Trump will save them.

From the moment that Christian separatists landed on North America’s shores, they have espoused end-times conspiracies. Their messages have been relatively innocuous most of the time, part of the broader millennialist outlook shared among most major religious traditions. But these conspiracies can have dangerous consequences—and sometimes they lead to violence. Take, for example, the results of Jonestown. On November 18, 1978, 909 individuals died in Jonestown, from apparent cyanide poisoning, in an event termed “revolutionary suicide” by the cult leader Jim Jones. Jones led a left-wing oriented cult, but current evangelical millennialists have taken up the same religious zeal. Throughout American history, every evangelical generation has seen some of its believers driven to extreme conspiracies that blend with other strains of militant political faith. In the Trump era, with the destabilizing impact of a global pandemic and a devastated economy, white evangelical Christianity has become entangled with a broader revolution against the government to keep Donald Trump in office, culminating (so far) in an insurrection in the name of Jesus Christ breaking out in tandem with the Trump voter fraud coup. What might be the most fighting aspect of this is that the violence of January 6 is, in all likelihood, a foretelling of where this group might go once Trump is finally out of office and their desperation reaches a fever pitch.

Evangelical apocalypticism is grounded in a complicated and convoluted reading of the biblical books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation, some of the most violent books in the Bible. Because of a confluence of factors such as the death and destruction caused by the Civil War, massive immigration, growing religious diversity in the United States that threatened Protestant power, and new secularizing forces, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution, a small group of evangelical preachers, businessmen, college professors, publishers, and laypeople began reading their Bibles with new eyes. This group became increasingly influential and took hold as a reaction to the Roaring Twenties and later to the spread of communism in the 1950s. Factor in the civil rights movements of minorities and evangelicals are downright apoplectic. Four years ago, this apocalyptic zeal has found a national leader in the most unlikely of men, Donald Trump.

According to evangelicals, the current age will climax with the restoration of Jews to Palestine and the emergence of powerful empires in Rome, Russia, and Asia. Seeking to unite the world’s nations and end chaos and war, a new leader will appear promising peace and security. Unwilling or unable to recognize that he is the prophesied Antichrist, most political and religious leaders worldwide will cede their sovereignty and independence to him through an international agency. Just before the Antichrist is revealed for the threat that he is, all true Christians will vanish from the earth in “the rapture,” joining the resurrected Jesus in heaven. Shortly after that, the imposter will lead the world through seven years of tribulation, at the end of which Jesus and the saints will return to earth and battle the forces of evil at Armageddon (a literal place they believe is in Israel). Christ will defeat the Antichrist and establish a millennial kingdom of peace and prosperity on earth. Such convictions made evangelicals astute students of world events, and it is probably also the reason they are so accepting of Trump’s lies. They are dangerously gullible. They were and are continually lining up global changes with their reading of their apocalyptic prophecy. I remember the syndicated program Jack Van Impe Presentshosted by the late Jack Van Impe and his wife, Rexella. Week after week, Van Impe predicted a date for the end-times becoming more desperate as the day drew near until it eventually passed, after which he chose a new date. His program consisted of a commentary on the news of the week through an interpretation of the Bible. Many evangelicals hung on his and the words of other “prophets.”

Most of these evangelical millennialists do not believe that the U.S. is described in the Bible’s end-times history. They hope through their perseverance that the U.S. might be one of the few faithful nations, an end-times stronghold where true Christianity is practiced, the gospel is preached, and the power of the Antichrist is challenged continuously and subverted until Christ returns to save them. While evangelicals hope for this, they fear that, unless they act decisively, the U.S. might relinquish its independence and align with the Antichrist. They have merged Christian universalism with American nationalism, remaking evangelicalism as a Christian nationalist movement through this belief. This apocalyptic thinking has defined the evangelical movement for the last century and a half. It was central to the ministry of almost every prominent American evangelical megachurch pastor, radio preacher, or television pioneer, from Aimee Semple McPherson to Billy Graham to Jerry Falwell. Evangelist Billy Sunday said, “Christianity and Patriotism are synonymous terms, and hell and traitors are synonymous.”

Evangelicals’ apocalyptic beliefs foster a sense of urgency and certainty and a vision of the world defined in absolute terms. Many evangelicals believe that they are engaged in the ultimate game of good versus evil. They have no time or regard for incremental change or for reasoning with those who disagree with them. They call for drastic and immediate solutions to the problems they see around them. For evangelicals, apocalypticism fills the in blanks, rationalizes their choices, and connects the dots, culminating in their unceasing devotion to Donald Trump, while making their actions more urgent and compromise unlikely.

Evangelicals have eagerly embraced Trump’s conspiratorial lies. They believe that Barack Obama was born in Africa and is a Muslim. They partner with QAnon activists in accusing Democrats and Hollywood stars of secretly committing atrocious immoral acts that include cannibalism and pedophilia. They argue that George Soros is using his vast wealth to build a one-world government. They see lies as truth and truth as lies. In their world, Joe Biden stole the 2020 presidential election from Donald Trump. A fake election pushing Trump out of the way means Satan can bring his plans for globalization and world domination, through the Antichrist, to fruition.

The apocalypse that evangelicals have been predicting for generations seems for some to have finally begun. A Biden administration, they are confident, is not only illegitimate but will also align with the forces of evil, from the U.N. to a cabal of international Jews, to persecute all true Christians. This white evangelical segment sees itself as a besieged minority, surrounded on all sides by the forces of darkness, sin, and secularism. This makes them just as dangerous as a wild animal that is cornered and scared. They believe that, in the last days, governments will turn against them, and their religious liberty will be suppressed. From COVID-19 shutdowns to alleged election fraud, their reading of current events tells them that the end times have begun. They believe that the Bible demands that they go to war against the Antichrist and all of his minions. Suppose Joe Biden and the other leaders of the U.S. government—now including even staunch Christian conservatives like Mike Pence—represent the forces of the Antichrist. In that case, the faithful have no choice but to organize against them. They need to stop the Antichrist by any means necessary. God demands no less than insurrection.

Evangelicals do not understand that they are following evil and excusing it by claiming to follow God. They misinterpret the false prophets and teachers described in 2 Peter to mean that those opposed to their beliefs are these false prophets. Second Peter 2:1-3 says,

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.

They continually pervert the Bible to be interpreted to fit their apocalyptic and fanatical beliefs. They use to oppress others and impose their brand of government that would allow no dissent to their beliefs.

Matthew 4:1 says, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” The devil has tempted evangelicals, but instead of resisting temptation, they have allowed Satan to control them. The Devil thrives on lies, sedition, and hubris. I won’t go so far as to say that Donald Trump is doing the Devil’s bidding, but I will say that Donald Trump is not following the will of God. Evangelicals in America have gotten lost because they chose the temptation of power over the command of brotherhood and faith. Paul’s teaching on the Christian’s relationship to civil government is outlined in Romans 13. Romans 13:1-2 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” 

At the heart of Christianity is selflessness and love. The heart of American conservatism is personal freedom and individualism at the expense of oppressing those who do not fall under their white evangelical personification. Sadly, far-right Christians such as Liberty University have chosen the latter while calling it the former. Brad Littlejohn, a fellow at the conservative think-tank the Edmund Burke Foundation, championed selfishness and wrote in 2019 that in an unselfish world, “parents couldn’t really give each of their children a Christmas gift—something perfectly chosen for that child’s interests and developmental needs. As soon as they gave the gift, the child would look for another sibling to give it to. Pretty soon, the children would be passing all of their gifts around in a confusion of constant sharing, rather than going off to their rooms to practice for an hour on their new ukulele. By the next day, they would probably have given all their gifts away to the neighbor kids. Indeed, in this world, parents wouldn’t have given their kids gifts in the first place—come Christmas, they would’ve scanned the world for the neediest person they could find and given everything they could to that person instead. Or rather, they would have long since given away all their earthly possessions in a frenzy of selflessness (even as other equally selfless people tried to load them with new possessions).” This statement, though hyperbolic, is a clear rejection of the selfless teachings of Christ and one that attempt to portray selfishness and greed as a Christian virtue.

For years we have seen people try to convince themselves that America is a “Christian” nation. But when their ideals of America collide with their ideals of Christianity, such as selflessness and charity, evangelicals believe that we must remake Christianity into their perverted capitalist, white supremacist beliefs. Sadly, evangelical conservatives in the Republican Party have chosen their brand of American patriotism over Jesus. They have lost their way, and we must pray that they can find truth and repentance before they destroy us all by continuing to back power-hungry, egomaniacal politicians like Donald Trump. Politicians of this ilk will continue to use apocalyptic fear to have influence over and support from delusional evangelicals. Trump may be losing his grip as many turn against him after he incited a terrorist attack against Congress, but another will replace him. Already, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are jockeying for that position. We have to be diligent and stop their brand of apocalyptic extremism.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

One response to “Millennialism, Evangelicals, and Being Lost in the Wilderness

Thank you for commenting. I always want to know what you have to say. However, I have a few rules: 1. Always be kind and considerate to others. 2. Do not degrade other people's way of thinking. 3. I have the right to refuse or remove any comment I deem inappropriate. 4. If you comment on a post that was published over 14 days ago, it will not post immediately. Those comments are set for moderation. If it doesn't break the above rules, it will post.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: