What Sort of Reckoning?

Evangelical missiologist, radio host, and Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton college, Ed Stetzer, is calling for an evangelical reckoning in the aftermath of the siege at the US Capitol. Or perhaps it would be better to say that he is announcing that such a reckoning is already happening, whether or not white evangelicals are ready to face it.

This is not a departure for Stetzer: he has been an early and consistent critic of Donald Trump and of white US evangelicals’ embrace of Trumpism, and has lamented how that embrace has undermined evangelical Christianity’s credibility.

His commentary has an air of morose expectancy: surely this will force the issue? Surely this will lay bare to sincere evangelical Christians how grossly they have violated the gospel they claim to serve? How can they not see it now?

Stetzer does not address the QAnon movement in this particular column, although he has done so  previously, likening the movement to “the ancient heresy of Gnosticism.” (Doubtless many of my Westar colleagues who have participated in the Christianity and Jesus seminars would take issue with that description, but it does correctly locate QAnon as a variant within US American Christianity.)But those of us not caught in QAnon’s delusional undertow might well share the same exasperated expectancy, now that so many QAnon prophecies have failed to materialize.

  • Where are the mass arrests you said would be happening any minute now, QAnon believers?
  • Why was January 6 not your triumph?
  • Why didn’t Comet Ping Pong turn out to have a basement?
  • When is JFK Jr. announcing that he faked his death and that he’s going to be serving as Vice President in Trump’s second term?
  • When exactly is your storm coming?

Predictably, the QAnon adherents have offered up ready answers (or at least they did up until they got booted off of Twitter, and I wasn’t willing to follow them to Parler). This is all part of the plan, they proclaim. Trump knows what he’s doing.

Trust him.

I don’t mean to pick on Stetzer, who has shown real courage and integrity in calling his fellow evangelicals to account. I think he is correct that a reckoning is at hand. But I wonder if it starts and stops where Stetzer imagines it starting and stopping: with Christians having to contend with the fact that they violated the sacred tenets of their faith and did harm to their neighbors—all for the sake of promoting the interests of a monomaniacal, proudly ignorant, morally degenerate, white supremacist authoritarian and his lackeys?

That’s bad enough, to be sure. But I wonder if an even more fundamental reckoning must take place, not just for QAnon Christians, but for all who call themselves Christians?

Here are but a few examples of what Christians have overlooked:

  • when Jesus didn’t return to set everything right in the matter of a few months,
  • when God was unable to defend God’s own Temple from destruction in 70 CE,
  • when Christianity became a religion of empire rather than a religion resisting empire,
  • when Christians killed other Christians over doctrinal disputes,
  • when Christians committed atrocities and genocide in the name of Jesus,
  • when Christ’s supposed representative on Earth had cardinals tortured and put to death,
  • when German Christians embraced Nazism.

Sincere Christians have faced similar “reckonings” and have come up with explanations that excuse both Christianity and God. This is all part of the plan. The Lord knows what he’s doing. You don’t have to understand it. Trust him.

Leaving aside the question of whether those excuses are individually persuasive, let us consider the habit itself. What does it do to a person to keep coming up with after-the-fact explanations like these? What sort of a knower does it make one into? And if those habits are systematically fostered and reinforced by Christianity, then is it even possible to be Christian in ways that are just?

Put differently: the fact that QAnon Christianity will gladly retroactively redescribe anything and everything to keep itself intact and unaccountable—no matter the quality of evidence proffered by others, including those most harmed by the movement itself—is an offense against both truth and justice.

But that tendency is hardly a novum created by the QAnon movement itself.

Would Christianity, in any form, exist if similar just-so-stories had not been crafted, countless times, after divine promises failed to materialize? To what extent have dominant expressions of Christian theology defined key notions—providence and faith, to name two biggies—in ways that cannot help but foster habits of willful self-delusion that we’ve seen displayed so ostentatiously by QAnon adherents?

And if one tries to correct those notions, is anything recognizably Christian left?

Sarah Morice Brubaker is Associate Professor of Christian Systematic Theology at Phillips Theological Seminary and the author of The Place of the Spirit (Wipf and Stock). Her writing has appeared in Doing Theology in the Age of Trump (Cascade), Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception (DeGruyter), The Faith Reader (This Land Press), Feasting on the Gospels (Westminster John Knox), Religion, Ethics, and Nature: An Essential Convergence (Ashgate), Reading Theologically (Fortress), Syndicate Theology, This Land, The Christian Century, Geez Magazine, and Religion Dispatches.

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