Evangelicalism & the Best Trick the Devil Ever Played

I’d been warned long ago by a preacher or two that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And while I left behind the image of a fallen angel – a cosmic bad guy in a long thriller, I didn’t forget the lesson. 

So, when I left conservative evangelicalism for the Christian wilderness, it didn’t take long for me to recognize the devil therein: an insufficient contextual theology rooted only in white, imperial, male, cishetero lives. The greatest trick that white imperial theology ever played was to convince the world it didn’t exist. 

After all, if we don’t recognize the hegemony of white imperial theology in the Christian world, then we won’t work against it. And if we don’t recognize what’s missing, then we won’t go trying to find it. Our spiritual malnutrition poorly equips us for the work of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

White imperial theology states that the onus of forgiveness from the oppressed is greater than the need for repentance by the oppressor (John Piper). It says that no ideologies “derived from intersectionality, radical feminism, and critical race theory are consistent with biblical teaching” (John MacArthur et al). It masks multiculturalism as idolatry to pit Christians of color against their own racial and ethnic heritages (Compass Church, Illinois). It views Black suffering as a necessity in order to justify white prosperity (Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas). 

These are threads of a belief system that presupposes a vengeful, petty God uninterested in Her own creation. And these are the threads of faith that most of us queer folk swallowed in our evangelical education. They leave a body hungry – quick to see God in white folks, in men, in cishetero bodies – and ill equipped to recognize God in an othered self.

White imperial theology requires the marginalization of other theologies and the bodies and experiences from which those theologies emanate. And it calls this good news. It presumes other theologies to be thought exercises and itself to be settled dogma.

But the way of Jesus was different. He centered the stories of children and gender minorities, foreigners, people with disabilities, and social exiles. Their lives brimmed with good news and its telling. They were not Jesus’ charity or his tokenized associates; instead, they were his dear friends, allies, and co-conspirators in the Gospel. Theirs are the stories that the Gospel writers deemed important enough to share with us – not the lore or legends of the boundless Roman Empire.

And I need intimacy with the kind of God that Jesus incarnates: a queer God, a trans God, an Asian, Black, and Native God, an immigrant God, a disabled God, a child God, an elderly God: not merely for the mental gymnastics but because I want to love God and people better. That’s why our queer God-experiences are no more contextual than a Southern Baptist-tinged nondenominational evangelicalism. That’s why calling our lived experiences “contextual” further centers white and cishetero bodies as reflections of God. Your queer God-experience is not an elective. It is required learning for the humbling and the healing of the kin-dom. We have a spiritual responsibility to shine in the presence of a black hole that vanishes the rich traditions and theologies around it.

So, center and normalize the God-experiences of those on the margins. Center your own story, dear and queer one. If all of your reading is by people of color: so be it. If all of your preaching comes from the theologies of the oppressed: good. 

Don’t turn so quickly from the devil that you forget its face. It has no hold on the Gospel, which is dispersed and whole in queer bodies, heartbreaking and earth-shaking, limitless and strange and ours. 

Image from Dia:Beacon’s exhibit. Paintings by Robert Ryman.

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