In Christians Against Christianity (Beacon, July 6.), Hendricks, a professor of religion at Columbia University, examines recent changes within right-wing evangelicalism.
What made you want to write this book now?
I wrote it out of a real sense of outrage and sadness for what Christianity in America has become. I was just horrified and outraged that a crooked, dishonest Trump had become an icon to right-wing evangelicals. He is the antithesis in every way to what they claim to believe, yet they fawned over him and called him a messiah. Many folks don’t realize how anti-Christian that whole movement is, in the fullest sense of that description.
Do you believe the right-wing evangelical movement has become more monolithic?
Evangelicalism has never been monolithic. There was always a strain of racism, but the overwhelming sensibility of evangelicalism seemed to have been one of good will, of concern for the humanity of others—even if imperfectly. But there was a shift around the time of the New Deal, when the American Liberty League, started by the du Pont brothers and other rich capitalists, co-opted a segment of evangelicalism by enlisting evangelical ministers to support big business against the New Deal. Then in the 1970s they decided to use abortion and homosexuality as wedge issues to further their quest for social and political control. Today there’s very little questioning of what evangelicals are told by their leaders, whom they believe are speaking in the name of God.
How does your academic background inform your analysis of contemporary topics?
Though my study is on the intertestamental period—second-century BC to 100 AD—I focus on the Gospels and the Jesus movement. I’m also informed by the Hebrew Bible and its most foundational ethics: mishpat, justice, and tsedeqah, righteousness or doing right by others. Together they signify “social justice.” Add “love your neighbor as yourself” and you have egalitarian social justice. So I look at contemporary events largely through the collective prism those biblical ethics.
You write that you have little hope for evangelical leadership. Is reconciliation possible?
I don’t see the leadership reversing or admitting they were wrong. But my hope is in the followship, that people will start to see the ultimate harm that this movement has done. Many of those who follow are well-meaning. They’re wrong, but they’re sincerely wrong. I pray that eventually they will start seeing the evil undercurrent of the movement.
You mentioned followship. Can you elaborate on that?
I mean the rank and file, right-wing evangelicals. The average folk in the pew. People who trust that their leaders have been telling them the truth. And little by little I hope that—I have to believe that—they’re going to see that it’s not been the truth.