Jessica Johnson is a visiting scholar in religious studies at the College of William & Mary and lecturer in anthropology at the University of Washington. Her book, Biblical Porn: Affect, Labor, and Pastor Mark Driscoll's Evangelical Empire, was published by Duke University Press in 2018. Her current research concerns the online networking of conspiracy theories and acts of domestic terrorism by white men.
Demographics in the United States are changing such that white people will no longer be in the majority by around 2045. When I say that the future of U.S. evangelical Christianity is not white, I am not only stating the obvious based on population trends but also wish to call attention to how white male evangelical leaders cry “freedom” while advancing fascism. All white evangelicals are not Christian nationalists, and all Christian nationalists are not white evangelicals. However, dismissing connections between Christian nationalism and doctrinal orthodoxy based on the claim that some Christian nationalists can be quite secular does not help us understand and combat the political violence that relationships between whiteness, Christianity, and nationalism foment.
When I say that the future of U.S. evangelical Christianity is not white, I wish to call attention to how white male evangelical leaders cry 'freedom' while advancing fascism.
White Christian nationalism accrues traction and power outside of U.S. evangelical churches through social media that confounds divisions between the secular and religious. At the same time, white evangelical leaders play a vital role in mainstreaming conspiracy theories such as the “great replacement,” which proclaims that white genocide is imminent as it generates existential and demonic enemies and justifies violence against them. The great replacement, advanced by the French writer Renaud Camus in 2012, argues that white Christian populations are under threat of extinction due to (Muslim, non-white) mass migration and declining birthrates, both promoted by a global elite (often coded as Jewish). Acts of white terrorism directly and indirectly informed by the great replacement include: the nine murders at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015; the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017; and “copycat” mass shootings at a synagogue in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, in 2018; mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019; a synagogue in Poway, California, in 2019; and a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, in 2019.
My introduction to the great replacement conspiracy theory occurred during my ethnographic research at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, although I did not hear it named as such and do not refer to it in my book, Biblical Porn. When Pastor Mark Driscoll preached that Islam was a masculine religion claiming converts in urban centers while Christian churches “died” at an alarming rate in the early to mid-2000s, I situated this anti-Muslim rhetoric in relation to the global war on terror. I examined Mars Hill’s anti-Islamic racism alongside the church’s “military missions,” which distributed Driscoll’s books and sermons to (male) soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as church testimonies by Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans who described how it felt to simultaneously fight on spiritual and worldly battlefields.
The great replacement conspiracy theory is important to my current research on white Christian nationalism and American fascism, particularly as they converge on social media platforms.
After the demise of Mars Hill at the end of 2014, Driscoll founded the Trinity Church in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2016. I recently watched his best rants of 2020 and realized that he was back in preaching form, but it was his appearance on Steven Crowder’s Ash Wednesday that led me to circle back to the anti-Islamic rhetoric that I encountered at Mars Hill. The great replacement conspiracy theory is important to my current research on white Christian nationalism and American fascism, particularly as they converge on social media platforms like the Proud Boys’ Telegram channel, “The Western Chauvinist”; Crowder and Driscoll’s dialogue was like a Proud Boys propaganda video, but on YouTube.
Crowder puffs on a cigar and sips bourbon while asking Driscoll to explain complementarianism. Driscoll launches into a common harangue while lounging in a leather chair, “Sex, gender, marriage, and sexuality used to be sequenced; you’re born male, you do masculine things, you marry a girl, and then you have a family. And now it’s all a spectrum. I was preaching a men’s deal a couple weeks ago, and Facebook kicked me off, cause in a prayer I prayed for more men and less government.” While this masculinist summary of evangelical gender doctrine was nothing new and pretty standard, its punch line was overtly anti-government. I was used to Driscoll’s caustic anti-politically correct sermons on gender and sexuality, but the cancel culture vibe in Crowder’s dimly lit man cave was militantly anti-government in a way Driscoll’s shock jock patter at Mars Hill never was from the pulpit.
While this masculinist summary of evangelical gender doctrine was nothing new and pretty standard, its punch line was overtly anti-government.
As Crowder described Black Lives Matter as a terrorist organization, Driscoll interrupted, “It’s dismantling the nuclear family, which means, we want less fathers.” When Crowder raised a talking point about Christians submitting to the authority of the land, Driscoll chimed in, “Yeah, I’m so sick of hearing Romans 13,” to which Crowder excitedly responded, “Yeah, so where does that cross over into civil disobedience…” This episode aired on November 25, 2020, accruing an audience of over 480,000; watching it in March 2021, all I could think of was the storming of the Capitol on January 6. Crowder and Driscoll hit all of the great replacement high notes: the death of the hetero-patriarchal nuclear family, the death of Christian churches in the face of state-mandated public health closures as abortion clinics remained open, the death of white masculine pastoral authority as female church board members submitted to government over God.
Later, Driscoll noted, “What’s really interesting too, is that a lot of mosques never closed. They never closed. And you have not seen one news story on mosques.” Crowder responded, “Christianity is above politics, it’s about submitting yourself to a higher authority than the government, but Islam does have a set political subscription.” Driscoll agreed, “Oh, there is no clear church state separation. Ultimately Sharia law eradicates any sort of freedoms that we would enjoy, and that’s why countries like France were like oh yeah, come in come in come in, and then were like, oh no wait a minute wait a minute, you need to be French, we’re not gonna be Sharia. I mean, you’re seeing that in places like Detroit now.”
Crowder described a place in Michigan—not Dearborn, he emphasized—that used to have the highest concentration of Polish-Americans but today is “the one place in the United States where you can hear the call to prayer five times a day,” a “hotbed of terrorism” in Michigan. Throughout this chat, Crowder and Driscoll give the great replacement conspiracy theory concrete shape while evoking a sense of existential and spiritual urgency. Many of the 4,300 YouTube comments reveled in spreading and joking about conspiracy theories related to the pandemic and Biden’s election, but one popular comment read, “Me: Haven’t believed in the Bible since I was born. Also me: Watched this and am frantically searching for my Bible. I have a lot of thinking to do.” Nationalist radicalization and evangelical conversion can go hand-in-hand online.
Throughout this chat, Crowder and Driscoll give the great replacement conspiracy theory concrete shape while evoking a sense of existential and spiritual urgency.
The Proud Boys Telegram channel has over 46,000 subscribers, and its themes disturbingly overlap with those discussed during Crowder’s conversation with Driscoll. The decimation of the white nuclear family, white Christianity, and white masculine dominance at the hands of Black Lives Matter activists, the government, and “cultural Marxists” signal white extinction. On February 25, 2021, one message led with the USA Today headline, “Christian nationalism is a threat, and not just from Capitol attackers invoking Jesus.” Underneath, the moderator wrote, “So now not only are they saying nationalism is a crime but Christianity as well? These people want you and I dead so they can inhabit the corpse of our dying nation.” Hearing that language in either Crowder or Driscoll’s voice is no stretch.
Another post stated, “Tolerance for everything unholy has led us where we are today…in a spiritual and physical war for the destruction of the West and her children. STAND UP IN POWER NOW OR GO EXTINCT FOREVER.” The next message continued, “It is time for Native born white Americans to advocate for their own interests...it is not a crime to not want to be a minority in your ancestral homeland…the 3rd position politically is our best hope as nationalists.” This text links to the Telegram channel of an American Nazi party.
The future of U.S. evangelical Christianity is not white but it is fascist, wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross, and mobilized online.
American fascism found homegrown expression in the black codes and white terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan during the Reconstruction era, driven by fears of white supremacist replacement; Hitler was inspired by U.S. race codes. “Trumpism” and its evangelical entanglements are neither aberrations nor fringe, voting restrictions and trends show. Researchers from the Chicago Project on Security Threats analyzed the demographics and home county characteristics of the 377 Americans from 44 states arrested or charged in the Capitol attack on January 6. Unsurprisingly, perpetrators were 95% white and 85% male, but they overwhelmingly lived where non-white populations are growing fastest; they were also professionals active on social media and motivated by fear of the great replacement. The future of U.S. evangelical Christianity is not white but it is fascist, wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross, and mobilized online.