In Mark 5, Jesus casts a legion of demons out of a man chained to a graveyard by sending them into a herd of pigs, who race with fury to a cliff and throw themselves in a lake. This event is a perfect metaphor for what is taking place in the American evangelical church. Evangelicals are having our eyes opened as God reveals the demons in our midst by casting them into pigs, who are racing off a cliff and making the reasonable Christians among us completely disgusted.
We have pastors burning Qurans and pastors protesting military funerals with "God hates fags" signs. The latest scandals include a lawsuit against evangelical behemoth Sovereign Grace Ministries for covering up pedophilia and the resignation of King's College president and renowned culture warrior Dinesh D'Souza, who wrote the book behind the scathing documentary Obama 2016, after D'Souza attended a family values conference with his mistress. As these scandals reveal the pigs among us, evangelicals in my generation are getting exorcised of the demons from our culture wars and gaining the courage to forge a new identity, unchained from the acrimonious partisanship that has poisoned our church for the past 30 years.
My own personal journey of exorcism seems like one which many other evangelicals in the "Blue Like Jazz" 30-something generation would identify with. Growing up as a moderate Southern Baptist, I was always bothered by fundamentalism, but I always assumed my discomfort was a reflection of my sinful rebelliousness. Yet cracks started to form in fundamentalism's fierce wall of infallibility. I remember when my mother was given a video tape talking about how Christian rock music was demonic, given the "proof" that Amy Grant had made a pagan sign with her hand during a concert -- "the sign of the moon" -- which was essentially a "Gnarly dude!" with her middle three fingers down and pinky and thumb raised. Then there was the video that let us know that AC/DC stood for Anti-Christ Devil's Children and KISS was Knights In Satan's Service. Though I wasn't sure, I suspected that "Highway to Hell" and "Hell's Bells," rather than being the representative samples of rock 'n' roll music they were presented to be in the videos were actually outliers.
When the '90s rolled around, I fell in love with the newly popular Rush Limbaugh, I think because he was essentially a 15-year-old boy in a grown man's body. I remember telling all the girls in ninth grade that they were feminazis (one of whom signed my yearbook "Queen of the Feminazis" with a smiley face). As the '90s went on and I kept listening to Rush, something started to feel uncomfortable in the back of my mind. There was such a pornographic delight that seemed to be at play among those around me who seemed to gobble up greedily all the delicious outrages of those amazingly awful Clintons.
When I went to college, I threw myself into several evangelical campus groups. After I got nominated for a leadership position in one of them, a rival said he would call me out publicly because he didn't think I took everything in the Bible literally. I was pretty devastated, but a major demon got exorcised my sophomore year when one of my roommates who was a hard-core Calvinist ran away from home, leaving a note that he hated everything and everyone at college. He was eventually found, he transferred to a Bible college, and I never saw him again. He was actually a sweet guy, and I hope he has a great life today. But what happened to him was for my faith journey the equivalent of an exorcism in which a pig snatched up my demon and raced it furiously off a cliff into the water. After seeing that take place, the wall of infallibility that fundamentalism had always imposed over my consciousness shattered and fell to the ground in a million pieces. I realize that fundamentalism wasn't the purer version of something I was doing in a lukewarm way. It was an ideology that made you hate people.
I have a hunch that at least half of the kids who grew up evangelical through the culture wars like me are now standing in front of walls that have either shattered or are on their way to doing so. In the movie "Blue Like Jazz," the adulterous youth minister with the Ralph Reed haircut has the kids bust open a piñata during church that turns out much to their disgust to be filled with single serving communion juice containers. I remember thinking as I watched it that every ex-evangelical must have had a "piñata moment" of clarity. What makes me really sad is that some of the ex-evangelicals I know seem like they're ruined for life. The agonizing perplexity is that we've seen poisonous fruit on the tree that we ate from, but it's very hard to find the theological roots of this poison, so we are often shot down by our Bible-quoting opponents whenever we try to put our finger on what has made our church so rotten.
There are a legion of misanthropic demons in the evangelical consciousness that cause famous preachers to have more to say about the infiltration of the Muslim Brotherhood into our government than the brotherhood of humanity that Jesus died to create. When Christians lust for Armageddon and rejoice over the evidence that all those eternally reprobate Muslims should have never been introduced to democracy, we are no longer part of the body of Christ, but the flailing limbs of a demon-possessed man in a Gerasene graveyard. But thanks be to God for Fred Phelps (the God Hates Fags preacher), Terry Jones (the Quran burner) and Dinesh D'Souza (the adulterous Obama hater). Because of them, I think I have finally found a proper application for my least favorite verse in the whole Bible: "What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath -- prepared for destruction?" (Romans 9:22). If predestination is right (and perhaps it is), then God has predestined Fred, Terry, Dinesh and other Gerasene pigs like them to race like fury off the cliff and into the lake, taking the demons of American evangelicalism with them.
I actually don't feel any snark in me at all to say that I rejoice at the providence of God for anointing a herd of pigs to purge evangelicals of our demons by making their fruit plain. And my prayer for Fred Phelps, Terry Jones, Dinesh D'Souza and all the conspiracy theorists, worldview litmus-testers and pornographers of outrage is that they would one day wake up in a graveyard to the squeals of pigs splashing behind them, wondering how they got handcuffed to the graves. Or perhaps they'll find themselves eating with pigs and realizing that they can return home to a Father who loves them.
I don't know what theological changes are needed to save American evangelicals, but I really don't think that we're destined to howl in the graveyard forever. The pigs are headed for the lake, and I really believe for the first time in my life that the American evangelicals are going to make it.