Why would an evangelist leave a radical, post-Jan. 6 America behind

ABERDEEN, Scotland – Jared Stacy has decided to leave his job as a young pastor at Spotswood Baptist Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia, just a week before the January 6 riots at the US Capitol in Washington.

Disillusioned with his church and increasingly conservative and nationalist Given the nature of the broader evangelical Christian community to which he has dedicated his life, he prepared to move with his wife and three children 3,500 miles to the inclement northeast of Scotland. to start a new beginning.

With their luggage packed, Stacy watched the riot unfold, spotting some The Language and Image of Christianity and Protestantism used by some protesters. He said he took it as further proof that then-President Donald Trump had a holy status among some missionaries.

“When your God loses, you have to find a way to bring him back to the top,” he said. “The whole idea is that his man is supposed to be in the White House. What do you do when your Lord dies? “

Stacy, 31, is one of the few younger evangelical Christians who have left what they see as a religious community led astray from their faith by a heat stress. into politics based on Trump. He and other former Protestants warned of that after January. 6 worlds, the movement faces a challenge in attracting and keeping young, progressive Christians shunned by its ties to conservative politics.

Jared Stacey at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
Jared Stacey at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.Duncan McGlynn for NBC News

A 2020 study of religion in the United States According to a 2018 study, 14% of people identified as white as Protestant, down sharply from 23% in 2006. Only 8% of white millennials identify as white. Protestants, according to a 2018 study, compared with 26% of whites over the age of 65.

As theologian Russell Moore, a key figure in modern evangelism, written in October: “Anecdotally, many of us have observed the emergence of younger missionaries from churches and educational institutions in recent years.”

The problem, he said, is that “many people have come to believe that religion itself is a vehicle for political and cultural grievances, not the other way around.”

While not every white Protestant Christian supports Trump or a conservative agenda, the movement has long been related with Republicanism and conservative values ​​- especially through its general emphasis on the family and opposition to abortion rights. About three-quarters of white missionaries Support Trump in the 2020 election.

“There are people who say that evangelical support for Trump is inevitable based on who we have been in our history,” said Stacy, sitting in her small one-story apartment in Aberdeen. , a Scottish port city closer to Norway than London. “The question in my shoe is ‘Is it really inevitable?'”

That may be inevitable, but those who have studied missionary communities say the prospect of a church detached from politics is diminishing.

Kristin Du Mez, professor of history at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and author of “Jesus and John Wayne: The White Preacher Who Broiled the Faith and Broke a Nation Like That no,” says that while the churches themselves may claim to be simply evangelizing, what many do is deeply political.

“I have been told many times to people who attend highly politicized churches that there is no politics going on inside those spaces,” she said. “They say, ‘We come, we worship.’ But then I attended and I heard prayers against the evils of big government. ”

Stacy, a native of Florida’s Tampa Bay area, spent four years as a youth pastor at Spotswood. The church, in keeping with the broader evangelistic movement, believes that the Bible is the word of God.

Pro-Trump protests over electoral college certification
Protesters stormed the Capitol and stopped a joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021.Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

He joined Spotswood as its interim communications director in 2012, then spent three years studying for a master’s degree in theology and serving as a campus pastor in New Orleans. He returned to Spotswood as a youth pastor in 2016.

He said he knows the politics of the area and the church well, saying he has chatted with church members who endorse the views and views that are not uncommon among conservatives, for example. like the Civil War was about the rights of the states.

But in the years that followed, he said, he became more uncomfortable with what he saw as a conspiratorial, politicized mindset. Church members began to promote QAnon-style conspiracy theories or claim that events like the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a 90-minute drive from Fredericksburg, were the fault of the left.

“Someone would say, ‘You know antifa was in the protest, right?’ or ‘Why are we having this conversation about racial justice when sex trafficking is all around us?’ ‘ Stacy recounted. “What worries me is that QAnon might go away, it might be out of style, but the apocalypse paranoia has taken over – that’s not going anywhere.

“What pressed me was that if I had to go into the politicization and conspiracies to follow this farmer from Nazareth, I wanted nothing to do with it,” Stacy said.

Chris Sosa, 32 years old, grew up in Virginia and attended Spotswood five times a week until he transferred to college. He said the church is not afraid to mix politics and religion, even though their website, in one its belief outlinesaid, “Church and state should be separate.”

“I was taught that anyone who says they are separate just hates America,” he said.

Trump Supporters Keep
Trump supporters near the Capitol, on January 6, 2021.Shay Horse / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Spotswood declined to specifically address Stacy and Sosa’s criticisms. Instead, Drew Landry, a senior pastor, mentioned in an emailed response to the church’s mission: “We exist to be a community of light by creating loving disciples. God and love their neighbor through vertical worship, transformative teaching, biblical community, and missionary lifestyle. . ”

“For our church doctrine and practice, we affirm the 2000 Baptist Beliefs and Messages,” he added, referring to a statement of faith that summarizes the main thought of Southern Baptists.

Stacy, who is studying for a doctorate in theology, said he considers the January 6 riots a turning point. More than 100 famous Protestants attacked”corruption“Of the rioters” using Christianity to justify the violence occurred on January 6 in an open letter published six weeks later.

But Du Mez said she worries that much of the evangelical community is not willing to listen to criticism from the outside.

Many evangelists, she said, take their news and form opinions based on a handful of narrow media outlets, including Christian talk radio and Fox News — because of a longstanding distrust of with the mainstream media.

“So their reality is too different, and the conclusions they draw are also very different. That’s where we see the prevalence of ‘Stop the Steal’ in evangelical spaces, the idea that Biden isn’t a legitimate president – that’s a pretty common view,” Du Mez said.

As for the future, Stacy warns that the forces that pushed him out of the church and out of America are still strong.

“Just because everyone is being jailed and there is a [congressional Jan. 6] The committee does not mean anyone who is monitoring the ripple effects in the church. This will not go away. “

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