Oh, I loved this recent opinion piece from Christian Post about the Endtimes (archive). It’s just so very old-school evangelical, and it will no doubt hit its mark with its intended target audience. This time around, our Endtimes fearmonger is Dan Delzell, a frequent contributor to the site. He might even have intended it to be a sort of prelude to his next post, which warns readers that they must be “extremely careful what [they] believe about God” (archive). Evangelical leaders just have to keep their flocks on the edge of fear, don’t they? Today, we’re going to explore that fear.
(This post first went live on Patreon on 2/8/2024. Its audio ‘cast lives there too!)
Everyone, meet Dan Delzell, a pastor who loves to inspire fear about the Endtimes
According to his bio blurb at Christian Post, Dan Delzell pastors Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska. It’s on the far east side of the state. According to the Fount of All Wisdom, about 24k people live there. Like many towns up that way, it’s overwhelmingly white. People there earn a high median income, too, about $100k/year. Only 4% of the town’s people live below the poverty line.
In general, Nebraska residents identify overwhelmingly as Christian (75%), with 25% of those identifying as evangelicals (archive). Possibly narrowing down a bit further, Nebraska Christian College operated in Papillion until 2020. As one of its last news stories put it (archive), fewer than 100 students attended the school at its closure.
Redeemer Lutheran belongs to a denomination called Lutheran Congregations in Mission to Christ (LCMC). LCMC folks peeled away from Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in 2001 over disagreements in doctrine. If you’re wondering, LCMC folks thought ELCA folks were getting way too liberal.
According to La Wiki, LCMC churches vary wildly in nature and character. While some operate in a downright Catholic way, others adopt a more evangelical style. Overall, its culture-war stances sound very similar to those of most evangelical churches: It allows (but doesn’t require) ordination of women, but refuses to accept same-sex marriage. On that note, the mother ship requires its pastors to pass a purity test on the doctrine of bigotry-for-Jesus.
If you check out Redeemer Lutheran’s position on Google Maps, you might notice that they either share their building with other businesses and civic groups, or else they’ve had to move around a lot. The latest Google Maps photo of that address appears to be an American Legion meeting hall. A highly-rated barbecue restaurant might operate out of the building as well. On a charity lookup page, we confirm Redeemer Lutheran’s address—and also see that they claim zero income and zero assets.
Really, it’s hard to say what’s going on with that address. At the very least, though, I feel it’s safe to say that this is a fairly small church, probably fewer than 50-100 members. It competes with dozens of other churches dotting that tiny town.
Rather than maintain an official church website, Redeemer Lutheran’s leaders have gone with a Facebook page. There, we learn that the opinion post we’ll be discussing today is basically Dan Delzell’s sermon from last Sunday.
And as we’re about to see, Delzell has never met an evangelical talking point he didn’t embrace with all his strength, no matter how whackadoodle it is. He’s got no capacity whatsoever for critical thinking.
Luckily, with the crowd he targets, he doesn’t need it.
The Endtimes are coming! The Endtimes are coming!
On February 3rd, Dan Delzell contributed an opinion column for Christian Post, a decidedly right-wing, hardline evangelical site. He titled it “Are you eagerly anticipating Christ’s return?” (archive). Usually, when something begins with a question in its title like that, the answer is “no.” That’s Betteridge’s Law of Headlines in a nutshell!
Delzell does not precisely break Betteridge’s Law, either. He isn’t really asking this question to get a serious answer.
Rather, he’s shaking his finger at evangelicals because he doesn’t think they’re focused enough on the Endtimes. The word Endtimes refers to the end of the world. Evangelicals tend to believe that when Jesus returns to Earth in the so-called “Second Coming,” he will be kickstarting a series of events heralding the end of everything. These events include the arrival of the global supervillain the Antichrist, a long period of nonsensical persecution of TRUE CHRISTIANS™ which they call the Tribulation, and of course one last world war, called Armageddon.
Since Yahweh genocided the Earth with a Great Flood ages ago, he’ll be using fire this time around after the war is done. Ain’t that kind of him? He’ll kick Satan into Hell forever at some point, and there’ll be a vast Judgment Day of all humans who’ve ever lived. It’s an entire dystopian nightmare and hellscape, one that evangelicals spend a lot of time honing and perfecting to sound as monstrous, evil, and scary as possible.
And as the pastor of a little church out in the middle of Nowhere, Nebraska, I guess our OP (Original Poster) Dan Delzell needed to
get more attention spread his simple, universal message of terror and unwarranted self-importance a little further.
Summing up an Endtimes fearmongering post
I’ll sum up his post, since it’s so rote in nature that the first comment to it asserted that it simply had to be AI-written. (It’s not. I ran it through a detector. It’s just that incredibly rote, is all.)
- Any Day Now™, Jesus is totally coming back to wreck Earth’s shit.
- Alas, Christians nowadays seem far more interested in “the American dream” than Jesus’ return Any Day Now™.
- Boy oh boy, won’t they be sorry when it happens!
- If we call our threats about the Endtimes a “ray of hope,” then we no longer need to worry about being called shameless, gutless, fearmongering bullies.
- The only Christians who don’t eagerly “look forward” to the Endtimes are fakey-fake fake Christians. TRUE CHRISTIANS™ are never afraid of this thing we’ve created to be as terrifying as possible.
- If we call our extortion attempt “the free gift of salvation,” nobody will notice that it’s neither free nor a gift, but rather an extremely expensive demand for obedience.
- [Insert an earnest, come-to-Jesus, boilerplate recruitment pitch, as if 99.9999% of his readers aren’t already exactly the same kind of evangelical he is.]
This OP’s author tries very hard to make his nonstop stream of cowardly, sniveling threats sound like a glorious message of hope. But he also accidentally sends some very clear messages about the nature of evangelicalism compared to other flavors of Christianity.
Holding the flocks in place with Endtimes terror
To be a modern evangelical is to be authoritarian. Worse than that, it’s almost always to be a dysfunctional authoritarian. Authoritarians in general need a strong structure of leadership, clearly laid-out rules, and the assurance of safety and security if one follows those rules.
Dysfunctional authoritarian groups completely lack all of those things. They have become avenues of power for their leaders. However, they can still pretend to provide those benefits and contain those elements. In fact, they can pretend these things very well. If a potential recruit isn’t watching carefully for the signs of dysfunction, it’s very easy to assume that the group is a legit functional authoritarian one.
When authoritarians use terror to recruit others and persuade, they instantly mark themselves as dysfunctional ones. A functional authoritarian group doesn’t need to use threats to hold the flocks in place. Their recruiters only need to lay out the benefits of joining and sticking around.
Dysfunctional groups do the same, sure. But remember: they can’t actually provide those benefits. They can’t even assure the safety of their own members from in-group abuse! So in addition to promising various benefits for joining, these groups’ recruiters use terror as a way of ensuring obedience once the new recruits figure out that the promised benefits are not forthcoming after all.
Thus, to be evangelical is to live in fear. Evangelicals move through a world full of threats and sources of fear. Their leaders constantly goose them with fear. Rile them into agitation with fear. Destroy their relationships and futures with fear. Ensure their obedience with fear.
Within that setting, there simply exists no stronger threat within evangelicalism than that of the Endtimes. It’s not just going to Hell. It’s going to Hell after years of nightmarish pain, fear, and isolation.
And all the flocks must do to avoid that fate is sign away their lives to obedience!
Fire Insurance for the Endtimes
Sometimes, you can catch evangelical leaders lamenting the need for terror as a way to ensure compliance. They know it’s not Jesusy to be terrified of one’s eternal fate, after all. How many times must people in the Bible be told to “be not afraid” for that message to sink in? (If you’re wondering, a lot apparently; archive.)
These leaders know well that terror-based converts are just seeking “fire insurance.” That means that converts might be joining their churches purely because they’re terrified of going to Hell. And that, in turn, means that these converts might not be in the religion just to glorify and serve Jesus. Oh noes! And once their “fire insurance” is assured, they might not act like TRUE CHRISTIANS™! Oh noes times two!
But I’ve never seen an evangelical leader forbid “fire insurance” evangelism. The overall consensus appears to be approval of any means that gets converts at all. Once their butts are firmly planted in pews, then their new pastors can work on making them into TRUE CHRISTIANS™. Because that works. Yes yes. Always.
It’s just delicious, though, to imagine the stain those converts represent on a pastor’s record. “Fire insurance” conversions fly in the face of every single thing evangelicals like to believe about themselves. The love of Jesus had nothing to do with these conversions. Nor did the potential perks of divine assistance in this life, nor calls to help others with charity and kindness. Nor even did the dishonest wordplay of apologetics do the trick!
No, it was just simple fear that drew them in. Simple, knee-jerk, instinct-driven, animalistic fear overwhelmed their critical thinking skills and everything else standing between them and evangelical membership.
And it is this exact kind of fear that Dan Delzell deliberately sought to ignite in his readers with his OP.
He’s “compelled to warn” his readers of their Endtimes doom if they don’t obey his demands
After a photo of the Earth being apparently consumed by fire, Delzell warns his readers of their fate should they disobey him:
If you are chasing after the things of the world, I am compelled to warn you that your immortal soul does not benefit from money or material possessions. The only safe place for your soul is to come to Christ to have your sins forgiven.
Of course, he knows that he just issued a dire threat. That’s why he immediately follows his threat up with an attempt at negation from professional (and now dead) evangelist Billy Graham:
Evangelist Billy Graham said, “Bible teaching about the Second Coming of Christ was thought of as ‘doomsday’ preaching. But not anymore. It is the only ray of hope that shines as an ever brightening beam in a darkening world.”
Alas, evangelicals can call shit chocolate all they please. That won’t change what it is. When someone makes a threat without supporting it, that person wants you to be afraid. And they want you to be afraid because their demands will sound much more reasonable, their claims much more plausible while you’re in that state.
Obviously, Delzell cannot support his threat about conversion as the only means to achieve safety after death. He tries, bless his little cotton socks, but all he’s got are Bible verses and a scary picture of Earth’s ending. Those verses are the claim. They cannot also be the support for the claim. Heck, he can’t even support the existence of a supposed “immortal soul” or any kind of afterlife.
But he doesn’t need to. Not with the readership of Christian Post. They’re all primed already. They already believe all of these false claims.
Evangelicals are not actually “the most hopeful people on the planet”
After issuing his threat, Delzell then asserts something about his tribalistic, dysfunctional-authoritarian group:
Believers who eagerly anticipate Christ’s return are the most hopeful people on the planet. Our future is secure in Christ and Heaven is our home. God “who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Believers have this assurance for one simple reason. We “have been given His very great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4).
I laughed out loud at that bit. Nice one. Pull the other, Dan; it has bells on it.
As I said: To be evangelical is to be afraid, constantly, all the time. I developed full-blown, diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from my time in evangelicalism. I had panic and anxiety attacks all the time. My fear response was always dialed all the way up to 11, always just waiting to send me into another round of panic. I never had those problems before converting.
And I was in a group filled with similarly frightened people. We were all terrified of missing the Rapture, which we believed would happen before the Endtimes really got going. (In the Rapture, evangelicals believe that Jesus will whoosh all TRUE CHRISTIANS™ up to Heaven so they won’t go through all that awful mess.) Many of us desperately feared that we’d somehow commit (or had committed) the so-called unforgivable sin, which Jesus mentions and condemns but doesn’t adequately describe.
But we couldn’t admit to that fear. We couldn’t even identify it within ourselves, lest we be accused of Jesusing wrong. As Delzell himself clearly agrees, properly Jesusing TRUE CHRISTIANS™ simply never feel afraid of any of that stuff! This was taught to me as well, and I heard variants of that message in every single evangelical church I ever attended. TRUE CHRISTIANS™ didn’t feel fear about their fates. They felt only joy.
Nobody with sense would ever gainsay that message. Not in public, anyway. So we all developed this weird cognitive dissonance around it. We feared, but we couldn’t admit even to ourselves that we feared.
What an awful way to go through life!
It took me years to learn to identify off-limits emotions like fear and anger in myself. Evangelicalism cut me off from my own emotional base. And it looks like Dan Delzell likes it that way. He refuses to accept the actual consequences of pushing a fear-based message. In fact, he weaponizes that fear by outright telling his readers that if they feel fear as a result of his fearmongering, that just means they aren’t Jesusing correctly.
Dysfunctional authoritarian leaders will never allow their flocks a moment of peace. They must be kept dancing on the edge of uncertainty about their own safety.
A perfectly safe sales pitch offering benefits the OP can’t guarantee
As we’ve seen, evangelical leaders are A-OK with any evangelism tactic that gets converts signed up and joining churches. They refuse to condemn fear-based marketing. And they refuse because fear works.
It is the only thing that does.
Once upon a time, evangelicals could issue threats with teeth. They ruled America, much like how Catholicism had ruled Europe for so many centuries. Sure, evangelicals couldn’t burn heretics at the stake or put entire towns through inquisitions, forcing low-level heretics to eat bread and water for prescribed periods of time. Evangelicals couldn’t formally dispossess the disobedient, seizing land and property as punishment, nor literally torture people they deemed disobedient.
But evangelicals had plenty of power all the same. Thanks to the Red Scare, which Billy Graham helped foment (archive), evangelicals fused their religious authoritarianism with nationalistic fervor to create a bizarre new state religion. Evangelicals freely smeared and demonized those who rejected their control-grabs. They had the power to ensure that heretics and apostates were cut off from their friends and communities, severed from their jobs, rendered penniless, driven out, and even painted as dangerous traitors to America itself. Evangelical leaders encouraged their flocks to do all of this and more.
As one might imagine, evangelicals got used to that power very quickly. They never had to worry about their salesmanship skills, nor about being a group worthy of joining and supporting. They simply used fear to compensate for their dire lacks.
Now that they’ve lost almost all of their cultural power, evangelicals have had to retreat back to threats about the Endtimes and Hell and all that imaginary stuff. They can’t ensure that those rejecting their recruitment pitches will face very earthly, natural punishment for defying them—though they might threaten to pray for that kind of punishment to befall a disobedient person!
But oh, it must suck. It must suck so bad to know that fear is what really works to recruit others and then keep them in place.
I’m so glad to be out of a religion that has so little to recommend itself, so little relevance to most people’s lives, that its recruiters must use hamfisted techniques like fear to get fewer and fewer conversions every year.
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