Well, it’s finally happened. I’ve finally found an evangelical who thinks that the Book of Revelation is supposed to be a Christian self-help guide to conflict resolution. I thought I’d seen it all with shoehorned misinterpretations, but apparently not! And his listicle displays the worst, most misinformed, most studiously gaslighting elements of evangelicalism as a whole. I just can’t find any charitable way to take this terrible advice. Today, we’re going to check this listicle out.
Yes, today is Tuesday, March 8, 2022, and this is Captain Cassidy of Roll to Disbelieve. Welcome, everyone! We’ve got a interesting story today, one I can honestly say I did not ever see coming my way. Before we get going, I’d like to thank my patrons! Your support makes my work possible, and it is so very appreciated. If you’re not already a patron or you’d like to check out other options, I’ll include some links at the bottom of today’s writeup for you. Thank you for anything you choose to do!
Also, keep in mind that I don’t use scare quotes. Any time I use quotes, it’s from sources.
And now, let’s start by looking at the Book of Revelation itself.
An introduction to the Book of Revelation
I’d venture to say that most Christians were like me when I was a Christian in that when I first tried to read Revelation, I found it confusing, weird, strangely boring where it isn’t horrifying, and almost impenetrable. It almost doesn’t seem like this book even belongs in the New Testament, let alone the Bible itself. To be sure, it doesn’t really fit thematically.
The Book of Revelation is the very last book of the New Testament and Bible. And it is weeeeird!
Nobody knows who wrote this book. He refers to himself as “John,” so a lot of Christians mistakenly think that the guy who wrote the Gospel of John also wrote Revelation. That is almost certainly not true, according to Bible scholars, but we really don’t know much else about him. We usually just call him “John of Patmos,” since that is where we think he wrote Revelation.
We’re also not totally sure exactly when Revelation was written. Most scholars put its composition at around 95 CE. In the 4th century, a committee of Christian leaders argued about including it in the Bible at all. It squeaked in, obviously.
Just as we saw with how Christians define Christianity itself, they also have always argued about almost everything in Revelation. But we are sure that it’s loaded with a lot of obscure references and tons of religious imagery.
And we also know that Christians constantly misunderstand almost everything about it.
What Revelation is — and isn’t
Elaine Pagels is a big name in Biblical scholarship. A few years ago, she wrote a book about the Book of Revelation. In it, she discusses what all its imagery is actually all about.
And it is a lot. It’s a fever dream. Once you get past the multi-headed dragons, the wars to end all wars, the whores of Babylon and the Antichrist, what does it even mean?
Now, a lot of Christians think that Revelation describes the end of the whole world. In that sense, then, it functions as a very extended prophecy — and a warning to TRUE CHRISTIANS™. They must get ready — because the end of the world is at hand.
Indeed, for my entire time as an evangelical, my church leaders taught this interpretation. With it in mind, my tribe created incredible diagrams — oh so many diagrams! — that tried to shoehorn that wild imagery into current world events. They studied the news headlines to figure out if this or that world leader was the Antichrist. Or the Dragon and its heads, etc. They shoved modern place names into verses with ancient or made-up names, as we saw Pat Robertson do very recently.
With these extrapolations, they tried their best, bless their little cotton socks, to predict exactly when the events in Revelation would finally come to pass. Then, with their interpretations in hand, they tried to frighten and impress the rest of the tribe to get attention and money from them.
And they are still doing all of this stuff today. Some Christians make a good living at it, even! Nothing ever changes except their guesses about what all that imagery means in real-world, current-day terms.
The biggest myth about this entire book: that it’s a prophecy at all
By the way, Elaine Pagels tells us that the Book of Revelation is not actually supposed to be a prophecy at all. It’s just a reaction to some recent events in Judea at the time. In 70 CE, you see, just a couple decades before John wrote his fateful book, a bunch of armed Jewish rebels tried to liberate Judea from Rome. Rome reacted in its predictable fashion, by sending 60,000 soldiers over there to settle the matter. Eventually, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem itself, including the Second Temple. This was the main holy site in Judaism, and the Romans destroyed almost all of it.
Even decades later, that loss was on John of Patmos’ mind.
The destruction of the Second Temple was an unthinkable loss to the Jews. But to the earliest Christians, it was just incomprehensible. Their entire early religion had been about Jesus coming back from the grave to kick Rome’s ass and set up the Kingdom of God. But instead, Rome had conquered Judea and destroyed Jerusalem and their temple.
So in a very real sense, Pagels says, John of Patmos wanted to comfort his early fellow Christians — and to tell them that the Romans were terrible people who were gonna get theirs one day. He also had a bone to pick with Paul and his teachings. So he was slamming Pauline Christianity as well.
By the 4th century, though, Christian leaders saw the benefit in pushing Revelation as a prophetic warning to their own enemies. And so it’s been, ever since.
Forget all that. Now let’s look at Revelation as a self-help guide for addled evangelicals!
Back when I was evangelical, my religious leaders taught one thing above all: that all Bible verses could teach Christians something. Usually, they referred to 2 Timothy 3:16:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
But I gotta admit, I never imagined an evangelical would reach for the Book of Revelation as a guide for resolving conflicts. Until now, I’d have said that no evangelical would be that chirpily disingenuous or obliviously disrespectful. And yet here we are.
Kent Bass, writing for The Gospel Coalition, calls his post “End of Days for the End of Conflict.” It has got to be the most WTF thing I’ve seen out of Christians this week. He’s positioning a throwaway scene in one chapter of Revelation as a total blueprint for evangelicals to follow to solve their problems with conflicts.
It doesn’t work like that, though. In fact, the post actually reveals quite a lot about Christians that you’d think Kent Bass wouldn’t want anybody to know.
Let’s dive in.
An all-too-recognizable setup
Kent Bass begins his post by comparing fictional family arguments in movies to real-world conflicts between loved ones. He just loves watching families argue in movies! (Personally, I can’t watch that stuff. It’s so painful, especially when a child gets singled out as a scapegoat.) But, he says, nobody laughs when the conflicts erupt in real life:
But when fiction becomes reality, interpersonal conflicts are no longer the stuff of comedy. Sinful conflicts are devastating, not delightful. They’re heartbreaking, not humorous.
Then, he describes three specific conflicts:
- “Your sister’s husband belittles her to the point of tears.”
- “A friend or coworker refuses to forgive an unkind comment [that presumably “you” made]”
- “A three-hour argument ends with a door being slammed in your face.”
Y’all, when I read that, my mouth just fell open in horror. We have already seen way too much of his personal life here, and we just got started.
Remember, this is a Christian addressing other Christians. And he’s describing stuff his readers would recognize as common, ordinary, everyday conflicts. Worse still, he’s mixing normal reactions to emotional pain with cruel mistreatment, then setting them forth on the same shelf.
Interestingly, the types of conflicts he describes here sound a lot like power struggles between authoritarians, ones I’m well familiar with.
Why this evangelical guy only likes fictional family ructions
It turns out that Kent Bass likes family arguments in movies because arguments in fictional stories end happily. That’s it.
In fictional stories, writers can force their characters to come to an agreement and understanding. They can force characters to end the movie by re-dedicating themselves to “love and unity.”
But authoritarians can’t do that in real life. In their relationships, one person will always hold power over the other. If the power-holder abuses that power, then the other person has zero recourse and will inevitably react poorly to those injustices.
So authoritarian relationships — especially romantic ones — involve constant power struggles. These power struggles, in turn, produce nonstop eruptions of resentment over mistreatment and disrespect.
Way more often than not, the people in these relationships get locked into an eternal vicious cycle of fights, make-up soothing, periods of tense sorta-peace while the power-holder starts acting out again, and finally more fights as the resentment gets to be too much again for the inferior.
That’s what Kent Bass’ reality looks like. No wonder he prefers fiction!
Remember these truths, as we tackle his listicle of how to resolve conflicts the Revelation way. He’s going to try to get his inferiors to Jesus harder so they don’t fight with him as much. But we’ll see if his suggestions can actually resolve the root causes of the conflicts he’s described.
[Narrator: They won’t.]
A creepy, narcissistic scene in Revelation
I actually laughed at this. Kent Bass describes a scene in Revelation where tons of angels and people are singing and facing Jesus as he sits on his throne. This scene comes to us from Revelation 7:9-17.
It’s a creepy scene in general to non-Christians. What kind of narcissistic weakling even wants people to moon around at his feet gazing at him in adoration and singing songs to him? But to an authoritarian Christian, it sounds like paradise. Remember, their point of view is always that of the power-holder in any situation. That’s where we’ll find their sympathies, every time.
But Kent Bass thinks that this scene should tell TRUE CHRISTIANS™ how to handle their conflicts! Yes! This guy is going to use this scene as a blueprint for how Christians should deal with their resentment and entitlement issues.
(Incidentally, I know a lot of you are going to be thinking already about how Revelation really deals with conflicts. Don’t worry. We’ll get there! I’ve got a couple more posts on this topic planned. For now, we’ll stick with this creepy scene as the setting for Bass’ listicle.)
1) Revelation tells arguers to “focus on Jesus”
First and foremost, Christians must “focus on Jesus.” Then they won’t even have room in their minds for conflict. Here’s how Bass puts it:
Making your voice, thoughts, and ideas the priority in your fights won’t bring them to a speedy conclusion. More times than not, it will lead to further hardship and heartache. So, repent of your desire to make yourself the center of attention in your conflicts. Ask Jesus for the desire to please him, love him, and make him the center.
See? Stop worrying about how you feel and what you think about the situation. Ugh! That’s not focusing on Jesus, SINNER! It’s a sin even to participate in a fight, especially if it’s about how you feel or what you think! It means you don’t care enough about pleasing your imaginary friend!
Wow. I’m shuddering in revulsion just thinking about this. This is gross. It looks like a set of instructions for how to keep abuse victims compliant and silent.
2) Focus on serving others so you don’t get all fighty
Similarly, Kent Bass’ second item involves ignoring how you feel and what you think about a conflict-heavy situation. Instead, get right out there to serve others. That’ll keep your head above the conflict! You won’t have time to care about it anymore! As he puts it:
When faced with conflict, ask Jesus for the desire and ability to serve others instead of yourself. Ask him to show you how you can listen, seek to understand, and respond in ways that show your love and concern. As you serve others, trust in God’s gracious provision. He promises to protect you with his forever presence.
Now, I don’t know what he means by “when faced with conflict.” It doesn’t sound like he means a power-holder who’s just waded into the middle of a conflict. It sounds more like he’s talking about the inferior person in the relationship again. Power-holding authoritarians don’t serve others.
I mean, evangelical men in particular talk a lot about topping from the bottom, serving through leading and all that blahblah, but not one woman at my evangelical churches was ever fooled by their self-serving rhetoric. No, we knew that our churches’ men reveled in the power they held over women. They openly gloated about it. So when it came to doing actual work to serve others, they left that to the womenfolk.
Yeah, it’s very hard for me to believe that Kent Bass is talking to his tribe’s power-holders. And frankly, this advice is purely sickening. It is another piece of advice that is guaranteed to keep abuse victims silent and downtrodden. When those victims continue to get angry and upset about mistreatment, this advice will be used to shame them further for saying anything at all.
As for the promise of protection to obedient Christians, tons of evangelical women could attest that it isn’t true. I was one of them.
3) An authoritarian man’s final plea: Jesus-ing should satisfy everyone, not winning fights
Now, he describes the lascivious thrills involved in hurting other people in conflicts, and I’m sure he has seen all of these often enough in his tribe:
Withholding affection and lashing out can be sinfully satisfying. It can feel good to vent your anger, give a cold shoulder, or withdraw from someone who hurts you. Do you ever hunger for vengeance? [. . .] Do you find satisfaction in hurting those who hurt you?
Let’s list off what he equates to sin:
- withholding affection
- lashing out
- venting anger
- giving a cold shoulder
- withdrawing from someone who hurts you
WOW. Just WOW.
Most of his list reveals power-holders’ inappropriate handling of anger. And yes, evangelicals do have a serious anger problem. No doubt about it. I’ve rarely ever met an evangelical man or woman who didn’t struggle hard with expressing and managing anger in a constructive way. So I can certainly see him calling that out.
Snubbing? Cold shoulders? Well, evangelicals are past masters at passive-aggression. It’s almost the only form of aggression that’s semi-allowable in their tribe.
But then, he declares that withdrawal from someone who’s hurt you is a sin? Jesus fucking Christ, what is even wrong with this guy?
He’s mixing reasonable responses to repeated injuries with abusive behavior, then setting them all on the same shelf labeled sin. I don’t know how he could better serve authoritarian abusers than by doing this.
It’s beyond bizarre to see how evangelicals perceive and engage with conflicts. I lived it, but it still just makes my heart break.
It wouldn’t be evangelicalism without threats of Hell, of course
After laying out his three-part listicle, Kent Bass reaches for the usual threats of Hell that evangelicals always deploy to gain buy-in and obedience. Evangelicals are absolutely terrified of death, but they’re supposed to be way more scared of Hell. So Hell shows up as a threat all the time.
This clearly ain’t the first time Bass has brandished this threat, either:
Let eternity be your guide in conflict resolution. How big will our fights seem on that day? How important will our unmet desires be when we stand before the Great Shepherd of our souls? Ask yourself: What right do I have to make an enemy out of someone whom God has called my brother or sister?
Yes, that’s all about Hell. Don’t let your fights send you to Hell!
Your entire salvation depends on never bringing up your resentment and pain to the power-holders in your life!
How manipulative and cruel.
The takeaway: Kent Bass has no clue how to handle conflicts
All in all, this post by Kent Bass reveals that he really has no idea how to handle conflicts, especially not serious conflicts that erupt because his worldview is essentially unjust and authoritarian.
All of his advice focuses entirely on shaming people who may have very serious grievances against him, telling them to just ignore how they feel, commanding them to forgive on command when he’s not admonishing them for getting angry at all, and finally threatening them with Hell for noncompliance.
I mean, you probably noticed this just like I did: Kent Bass never suggests that the people in the conflict oh, I don’t know, talk about their problems and find solutions that work for both of them. That just never pings his radar. It’s like he really thinks that if people just empty their minds and chirp happy Jesus mantras to themselves, then nobody will ever get into fights.
And technically, he’s kinda right — as long as one mistakes an absence of fighting for peace and harmony.
But I can tell you right now that the body keeps score. Those hurts, pains, and injustices will come out eventually, and evangelical leaders have no clue in the world how to deal when that happens — except to condemn people and push harder on the rules that already make their relationships such an unmitigated disaster.
Evangelical relationship rules are a blueprint for tragedy
Y’all, what we saw today is an all-too-common approach to resolving conflicts in evangelicalism. And all of it favors power-holders at the expense of their victims, distorts the concepts of abuse and justice, and even denies the powerless any right to feel upset and unhappy at all. This blueprint gives abusers total, unilateral power over fields full of victims. Then, it tells victims that if they Jesus super-hard and obey their power-holders, then their god will take care of them. And then, when bad things happen anyway, victims are told to shut up, suck it up, and keep obeying no matter what.
All Kent Bass will get using this approach is a nonstop eruption of fights and abuse. Nothing else can happen. Not for his tribe, not for him, not for his poor family.
Though I will say this: couching the hands-down worst relationship advice I’ve heard lately out of evangelicals in the Book of Revelation definitely made that advice stand out. Dude did all that damage to his own tribe’s credibility, and he grievously misused the Bible in the process. That’s actually impressive in a weird kinda way.
Ya know, terminal decline could not happen to a more deserving group of hateful, control-grabby people.
This has been Captain Cassidy, signing off! Thank you for listening! See you on Thursday, when we’ll tackle how Jesus really handles conflicts in Revelation.
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