It’s hard to believe that a mere seven-and-a-half pages of Before You Lose Your Faith could provoke this much commentary. But here we are. This chapter just contains such densely-packed emotional manipulation and baldfaced logical fallacies masquerading as PROOF YES PROOF of the author’s claims. It’s easy to see why that author, Thaddeus Williams, was invited to contribute to this book. These hardline culture-warrior evangelicals are pulling out the stops to silence the growing doubts of their flocks.
Last time we met up, I showed you the first half of Chapter 9. Now, let’s explore its second half. This time around, we will be told that we’re not allowed to entertain doubts or form opinions without hearing all the testimonies that Thaddeus Williams thinks demonstrate the validity of his tribe’s culture wars. Unfortunately for him, they’re nowhere near as persuasive as he thinks they are.
Set your sails for Confirmation Bias Island, friends, because this might be one strange voyage.
(This post originally appeared on Patreon on 12/8/2022. If you’d like early access, please consider becoming a patron! <3)
First, Before You Lose Your Faith just completely redefines what deconversion means
I have to admit, Thaddeus Williams’ third question mightily confused me at first. Here it is (p. 81):
Question 3: As I seek social justice, am I taking the deconversion stories of other Christians seriously?
It’s common to hear stories of people who walk away from the faith because they find biblical Christianity too stifling and judgmental, lacking in true justice. But there are beautiful stories that move the opposite direction.
You can probably see why I was confused. Normally, hardline evangelical leaders don’t like the flocks reading ex-timonies, which are what ex-Christians call their deconversion testimonies. They’ve built a whole library’s worth of conspiracy theories around ex-timonies, especially around why so many of them are popping up on social media these days.
But Williams isn’t defining “deconversion stories” the same way the rest of us do. He’s redefined it to suit his argument. In essence, he is telling doubters that they must also listen to the stories of Christians who rejected his tribe, but then later decided that hardline evangelicals were right after all.
If something’s real meaning is too tough to defeat, just make up a new one!
In the real world, that makes such stories reconversions, not deconversions. Deconversion means rejecting Christianity entirely. But Williams means something much different: deconverting from the kind of social justice he doesn’t like, which he calls Social Justice B, then reconverting back again to the kind that supports evangelicals’ very worst behavior, which he calls Social Justice A.
Yes, that means he’s turned that ickie, off-limits social justice into a religion. Yes, indeed. The Law of Conservation of Worship strikes again! And he seeks, in his chapter of Before You Lose Your Faith, to inspire readers’ doubt in his strawman version of social justice. He continues the above quoted paragraph in a way that makes his meaning clear:
Some find deep liberation when they deconstruct today’s trending Social Justice B ideologies and discover the justice-inspiring truths of the historic Christian faith.
Uh oh! People want “liberation,” right? Right? So maybe they need to deconstruct the “ideologies” that led them to crave social justice, so they can see that hardline culture-warry evangelicalism was the right path all along!
Except that isn’t true at all.
Also, did you notice how Williams describes his tribe’s newfangled doctrinal stances as “the historic Christian faith”? LOL, as if. He wishes he could actually make that kind of claim stick. In truth, there’s no such thing as “the historic Christian faith,” unless one means something like 4th- or 5th-century Catholicism. Until then, nothing about Christianity was even standardized. And I seriously doubt that 21st-century evangelical culture warriors consider themselves like Catholics 1600ish years ago.
We are not required to do homework for salespeople
Williams really wants doubters to feel obligated to read these reconversion stories. He thinks that’ll influence doubters and maybe bring them back in line again.
It shouldn’t, though. A few Christians who criticize real social justice aren’t going to invalidate the concerns of social justice. Nor will it invalidate doubters’ existing observations about evangelicals’ hypocrisy, mean-spiritedness, and control-lust. As we said last time, someone’s religious beliefs do not translate into better behavior. People are how they are regardless of what they believe.
At most, they filter themselves into religions that allow them to behave the way they want to behave. Evangelicalism, especially the kind that the writers of Before You Lose Your Faith practice, allows for a lot of authoritarianism, tribalism, deception, bigotry, control grabs, selfishness, and self-important narcissism. Its practices function as substitutes for qualities like kindness, compassion, and generosity. So the real surprise is that any evangelicals aren’t nasty jerks, not that so many are.
In short, nobody owes Thaddeus Williams a moment of time spent in homework reading. He’s got a product to sell, and I get that. But whatever he wants doubters to read, it doesn’t change what they’ve already seen for themselves in evangelicalism.
But let’s swing back to this whole idea of social justice being an “ideology.”
Before You Lose Your Faith gets justice bass-ackward yet again
For a start, the “ideologies” that lead people to real social justice are not really ideologies, but rather a deep respect for and recognition of all people’s inalienable human rights and dignity. Everything flows from those wells.
Without robust protection and defense of both human rights and dignity, there can be no justice. There’s just one strongman fighting another, with the have-nots guaranteed to suffer no matter who wins.
That’s why evangelicals and Catholics both face serious and unending sex abuse scandals. They both keep putting people in power who are good at pretending to take their rules seriously but have no intention of doing so. And then the other leaders protect these abusers from discovery and consequences to keep their own power intact. It’s a sickening pattern that erupts again and again in authoritarian flavors of Christianity.
The only reason that evangelicals don’t have quite the depth of depravity in their abuse scandals that the Catholics do is that Catholicism is just centuries older and way more centralized and hierarchical.
But these Christians can’t possibly center human rights or dignity in their conceptualization of justice. They’re authoritarians to the bone. As a result, they see the world only in terms of power: grabbing for it, coveting it, holding it close, defending it, and growing it.
They know that human rights and dignity represent impediments to their ambitions.
Subtly warping quotes in Before You Lose Your Faith
None of the testimonies we’re going to hear in this part of the chapter actually inspire the emotions that Thaddeus Williams wants us to feel. They’ll be resonant only to other narcissistic hardline culture warriors, who are used to centering themselves in every single situation. Here’s his first one (p. 82):
In the words of Monique Duson, founder and director of the Center for Biblical Unity, “With [my] constant focus on evil systems, I had become oblivious to the evil in my own heart. . . . According to historic Christianity, salvation is the good news of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection so sinners of all colors can be saved by a free act of divine grace. [My ideology] had pulled me away from that good news into a social justice gospel in which the finished work of Jesus wasn’t enough.”
That quote comes from a book Williams wrote attacking real social justice. Are you curious about what those square brackets and ellipses once held? I sure was, so I looked it up. Here’s the actual quote from that book:
With CRT’s constant focus on evil systems, I had become oblivious to the evil in my own heart. I couldn’t see aspects of my own privilege. I had become blind to my own prejudices. CRT encouraged my tribal favoritism that kept me from taking white voices seriously in conversations about justice. I wasn’t a victim of America’s racist systems; I also perpetuated the racism I claimed to hate.
According to historic Christianity, salvation is the good news of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection so sinners of all colors can be saved by a free act of divine grace. CRT had pulled me away from that good news into a social justice gospel in which the finished work of Jesus wasn’t enough.
Duson, a Black woman, refers specifically to CRT, or critical race theory, not social justice as a whole. Hardline culture-warrior evangelicals are fighting a vicious war over CRT lately because it reveals a whole lot of problems in their social systems and culture. It also points to the need for serious reforms within those systems. None of these culture warriors want to do what would be required to stamp out racism in evangelical groups at last.
So CRT doesn’t focus on “evil systems” so much as it seeks to understand how systemic injustice occurs. All of this makes me curious about what privilege and prejudices Duson overlooked while studying CRT.
Of course, that’s not the worst problem with this anecdote, and we’ll get to it shortly. I just wanted to show you what the quote actually was, so you could see how Williams manipulated it to suit his purposes. It’s strange that he didn’t want us to know that Duson was talking about CRT specifically.
Evangelical culture warriors prefer focusing on themselves and their need to SELL SELL SELL WITHOUT MERCY
The anecdote Williams has offered us specifically points out that the person telling it had somehow forgotten to focus on herself and her imaginary thoughtcrimes against Jesus while she studied CRT.
If you check out the book link I gave earlier, you’ll see that she’s had a tough time pulling away from CRT. I can see why. CRT bases its conclusions on reality, not on imaginary wizards who will torture our ghosts forever after we die if we don’t obey the demands of his self-proclaimed representatives. Once someone detects reality through their Jesus goggles, it’s difficult to ignore it from then on.
The beautiful thing about social justice, the real kind I mean, is that it inspires endless concern for other people. We want others to be treated fairly and with dignity. We want governments to prioritize their citizens, especially the ones who need extra help to get by and thrive. When someone’s knee-deep in that kind of charity, then yes, they’re not really thinking about themselves as much. That’s why volunteer work can be such a balm for those who might feel isolated or depressed.
But somehow, someone yanked Monique Duson’s leash hard enough that she was jolted back to centering sales and recruitment as her foremost priority again.
Somehow, she’d forgotten to worry about her imaginary thoughtcrimes against Jesus. Worse still, she’d forgotten to worry about other people’s imaginary thoughtcrimes against Jesus!
CRT focuses on the here-and-now instead of imaginary pie-in-the-sky later. To evangelical culture warriors, there could be no harsher indictment of it. They’re horrified at the idea of making sure everyone has enough to eat but not making sure to convert them.
CRT seeks real-world ways to alleviate oppression and injustice. To evangelical culture warriors, there could be no worse solution than that. They’ve always insisted that Jesus-ing harder is all anyone needs to do to fix racism—as well as every other social ill that exists.
(Not counting the quote, we are now precisely one paragraph into the second half of the chapter 9.)
Reverse racism claims in Before You Lose Your Faith
Also in that link for Monique Duson’s original statement (relink), she mentions reverse racism. She doesn’t use the words, but that’s what she’s talking about. To save you a click, here’s what I mean:
The book of James is clear: we should not show favoritism or speak evil over each other. But with my black Christian friends, speaking of whites in derogatory ways was perfectly acceptable. I spoke words over whites that Christ would never speak over me. CRT made it nearly impossible to see white people as beloved image-bearers whom Christ died to redeem. This hampered my ability to treat people with the love and compassion that Christ has for me.
This lady’s testimony makes my heart hurt. She’s feeding into a profoundly racist system and telling the people defending it the hardest exactly what they want to hear: They don’t need to examine their broken system. They don’t need to fix anything. Everyone just needs to Jesus harder! That’s the only way to fix racism in evangelicalism, in America, and even throughout the world!
This is why evangelical culture warriors push so hard on reverse racism. They’ve been at it since I was Pentecostal in the 1980s and 1990s, at the very least. It’s a way to minimize their own racism by claiming that the people they oppress are also racist against white people. In addition, if they can get someone to claim that Jesus-ing led to less racism for themselves, then they’re happy to broadcast that supposed success story.
It’s like they’re shouting: SO THERE! CHECKMATE! EVERYONE’S RACIST, DIDJA EVER THINK OF THAT? HUH? HUH? I THOUGHT NOT!
Before You Lose Your Faith doesn’t realize that religious ecstasy is very easy to provoke in evangelicals
That sentiment continues in the next anecdote, which is another quote from the same book that contained Monique Duson’s story. This time, we meet a Hispanic man who sees an elderly white woman worshiping in the throes of religious ecstasy. The man, Edwin Ramirez, had previously felt much “resentment” toward white people. But seeing her worshiping with such apparent joy, he realized he needed to stop feeling that way (p. 82):
Then it hit me: “that older white lady is my sister in Christ.” . . . I had been so blinded by an ideology that divided people by skin color that I missed the blessing of seeing the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the full page containing this quote. All I found was him dropping buzzwords to describe his reconversion to hardline, culture-warrior evangelicalism:
Though I considered myself woke, my bitterness toward white people had closed my eyes to …
I’m pretty sure that if someone says “woke” to one of these evangelicals, they draw back, hiss and spit like feral cats, and start to shrivel. And “bitterness” is just Christianese for anger that a judgy Christian thinks has lasted too long, has an inappropriate target, is stronger than the judge thinks is necessary, or fails to resolve the way the judge thinks best.
Once someone cottons to just how much systemic injustice exists in America, I can’t blame them at all for feeling really angry about it, nor for that anger to extend to white people themselves—especially white people who have no interest at all in addressing and meaningfully engaging with that injustice. You know, like hardline culture-warring evangelicals.
Mistaking righteous anger for rotten fruit is easy if rotten fruit is all someone’s ever had
Thaddeus Williams’ fourth question may represent the yank of the leash we saw Monique Duson describe (p. 82):
Question 4: As I seek social justice, am I replacing the fruit of the spirit with resentment, self-righteousness, and rage?
Evangelicals in general like to discuss the fruit of the Spirit. The capital S in “Spirit” means they think these qualities are manifestations of their god’s spirit, which lives inside them. This idea comes from Galatians 5:22-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Galatians’ writer contrasts these fruit with “acts of the flesh,” which are:
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and sorcery; hatred, discord, jealousy, and rage; rivalries, divisions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. [Galatians 5:19-21]
So when Thaddeus Williams refers to “righteous fruit” in his chapter of Before You Lose Your Faith, he’d be right in assuming it’d function as a powerful control mechanism for him.
Yet another strawman in Before You Lose Your Faith
Unfortunately for Williams, his tribe much more often displays acts of the flesh than fruits of the Spirit. That doesn’t stop him from obliquely accusing doubters who care about social justice of suffering from “suspicion, anxiety, and bitterness.” Remember what “bitterness” really means? That’s exactly how he’s using it here. And it’s a projection, just like everything else we’ve seen in this book as a whole.
When someone’s acutely aware of systemic injustice, and that person knows that a particular group of people are doing everything they can to keep that system right where it is, I’d certainly expect anxiety, suspicion, and anger to be natural feelings to have right then.
People do feel anxious and suspicious around evangelicals. They’ve proven again and again that they’ll do anything to avoid following their god’s commands about charity and compassion. Many folks do feel angry at evangelicals. After all, evangelicals keep dragging humanity back as we try to make progress! We have to drag them every step of the way while they’re kicking and screaming bloody murder at every half-inch forward we manage to get.
And evangelicals’ increasing violence and cruelty are turning into security issues for nothing less than our entire country at its uppermost levels of power. It’s infuriating that America’s topmost leaders are so scared of naming the problem that these fanatics pose to innocent citizens, even as they issue strident terrorism warnings to LGBTQ+ people and “racial and religious minorities.” It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out what major segment of Americans wants to commit violence against those exact groups.
But I suppose none of those Bad Christians™ count. After all, Williams—along with everyone else in Before You Lose Your Faith—has been doing his best to convince doubters not to consider them real Christians at all, and thus not to consider them when evaluating Christianity’s validity or goodness.
It’s much easier to try to police doubters’ reasons for rejecting this flavor of evangelicalism than it is to make any changes to how evangelicals, as a whole, behave.
Finally, some “grandfatherly wisdom” that fails to have any real-world relevance
To close out his chapter, Thaddeus Williams offers one last Just Asking Questions question:
Question 5: As I seek social justice, am I heeding the grandfatherly wisdom of John Perkins?
John Perkins is a very well-respected Black civil rights activist, writer, war veteran, and minister. The “grandfatherly wisdom” in question comes from the forward that Perkins wrote for that book Williams did attacking social justice. He’s 92 years old, and doesn’t seem to have slowed down much at all with age.
I’m sure Perkins has an approach that he thinks works. But it doesn’t tether to reality at all, and it also makes the dire mistake of assuming that Jesus-ing really hard will fix racism. Here’s what he advises evangelicals to do (p. 84):
- “Start with God!. . . If we don’t start with him first, whatever we’re seeking, it ain’t justice.” That’ll come as a surprise to non-Christian societies that manage to be pretty justice-oriented but aren’t “starting with God” at all, like Japan. Meanwhile, the most Jesus-centered societies on Earth manage to be complete hellholes of dysfunction and racism, like the Deep South of America.
- “Be one in Christ! . . . If we give a foothold to any kind of tribalism that could tear down that unity, then we aren’t bringing God’s justice.” Almost every single evangelical church in America is busily tearing itself apart with factions and cliques all seeking power over their little fiefdoms. Authoritarians easily fall into tribalism. For evangelicals, that ship sailed many decades ago. (By the way, “foothold” is Christianese. It implies demonic activity. Demons get a foothold in human minds, and the humans then start sinning more intensely.)
- “Preach the gospel! . . . If we replace the gospel with this or that man-made political agenda, then we ain’t doing biblical justice.” That’s kind of the idea, actually. Biblical justice isn’t really justice. It’s just oppression that forces everyone to smile and say thank-you for their own subjugation. Real justice isn’t a political agenda.
- “Teach truth! . . . Without truth, there can be no justice. . . God’s Word is the standard of truth.” I’d expect an evangelical to say this. But there are thousands of different, competing flavors of his religion that claim to be the truth, and they have Bible verses to back up their claims just like he has. And many of those flavors have a whole lot less scandals erupting out of their churches and are doing a lot more to make this world a better place. That fruit (seewhutIdidthere?) tells me they’re Jesus-ing better than evangelicals are. And again, it seems strange that the countries and states that are less dominated by evangelicals seem to be much more harmonious, functional, and law-abiding than those which are more heavily dominated.
These are boilerplate demands, really. Most of them have no relation whatsoever to reality. They’re just talking points and catchphrases. They’ll make the congregation shout and wave their hands, but what do they even look like in lived reality?
The hard truth about evangelicals that Before You Lose Your Faith can’t face
Evangelicals already think they’re doing all four things that John Perkins advises. And yet their culture is rife with injustice, especially with racism and sexism.
If their claims about their god’s spirit inhabiting them were correct, I would expect evangelicals to be the least racist and sexist people on the planet. And yet here we are, with evangelicals routinely displaying horrifying levels of both.
That little old lady that Edwin Ramirez saw worshiping might well have been in the throes of religious ecstasy at that moment. I’ve seen the same thing in Pentecostal churches. And then those old ladies finished worshiping, left their church, and acted with such shocking racism and cruelty that it humiliated me just to be in their company.
I’ve seen lifelong Christians who could simper and mince words with any preacher you please. They knew thousands of Bible verses by heart, could quote chapter and verse of any subject you pleased, and worshiped and were always at the altar call every Sunday night to rededicate themselves to Jesus, and yet they were stone-cold bigots or assholes or otherwise showed many more “acts of the flesh” than “fruit of the Spirit.”
The ultimate dealbreaker in Chapter 9 of Before You Lose Your Faith
We’ve sure covered a lot of ground with Chapter 9. I hope you’ll agree that I couldn’t make this section of commentary any shorter than it is. There’s just so much wrong with it. So many dogwhistles. So much blatant manipulation.
To summarize, Chapter 9 of Before You Lose Your Faith redefines deconversion completely so that its author can demand that doubters read his side’s deconversion stories. Then, he presents us with a number of Black and Hispanic evangelicals who talk about reverse racism and a strange, strawman version of CRT and social justice. And finally, he shows us a template for pursuing justice that makes no sense whatsoever, one that we already know doesn’t work because evangelicals have been trying to make it happen for decades now, without success.
This blahblah might fool fervent evangelicals. It’s got all the right buzzwords, plays on all the right indignations and huffy protestations. And his targets are unlikely to recognize the manipulation going on behind the scenes.
But I’ll tell you who isn’t fooled at all:
Anybody who’s starting to develop critical thinking skills, and anybody already outside of the tribe’s control.
I can easily see this chapter backfiring hard on those folks.
In fact, the more evangelicals focus on Jesus-ing harder than on addressing the systemic racism within their social systems, the more they’ll alienate people who understand that real-world problems require real-world solutions.
So that’s good, I guess!
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One last word: If you wanna see a hypocritical evangelical culture warrior spit bricks, tell them they have rotten fruit. Seriously. I love doing that to hypocrites. The real trick is quoting Galatians 5 to specifically point out which “acts of the flesh” they’re committing. Sometimes, you really get lucky and they try to forbid you to use the Bible to point out their hypocrisy. It’s the finestkind, friends, the finestkind.