The Negative World might necessitate a change in one’s approach, but it ought not to change one’s conviction. In navigating the shifting tides of cultural dynamics, Deevers’s steadfast commitment to unwavering principles serves as a beacon of resilience.
You’re probably familiar with the controversial placement of a symbolic display by the Satanic Temple of Iowa in the Iowa State Capital in November 2023. The display showcases a mannequin resembling the pagan deity Baphomet, adorned with a ram’s head covered in reflective surfaces. Jon Harris recently wrote about the affair in these pages.
Apparently, Iowa allows any faith group to place images or icons in the state house for a term of two weeks. That said, the Satanist Temple self-professedly intended provocation with its statue. The move ignited widespread controversy culminating in the destruction of the display by one Michael Cassidy. What was noteworthy, and garnered much attention, about the chain of events was not the statue or its demise, but the response from pastor and Iowa Representative Jon Dunwell. His commentary was, in a sense, more controversial than the underlying facts.
Dunwell contended that if Satanists are prevented from installing statues of demons in the halls of Congress, then Christians will also have the same limitations in expressing their devotion to God in the public square. The distinctive aspect of Dunwell’s message lies in the overwhelmingly negative reaction it garnered from Conservative Christians. His critics contended that he had compromised the cherished values that many of his constituents hold dear and had betrayed the moral fabric of the community. Equally noteworthy was Dunwell’s apparently genuine surprise at the backlash he received from conservative Christians. To him, it seemed he was merely upholding the pluralistic status quo of “religious liberty.” As the old saying goes, “I may disagree with your Satanic displays, but I’ll fight for your right to display them.”
Perhaps unbeknownst to him, Dunwell’s surprise is rooted in what Aaron Renn terms the Negative World, a new realm we have all entered whether we like it or not.
Providentially, as the events with the Satanic display transpired, Dusty Deevers won a state senate election in Oklahoma, and by a significant margin. Much like Dunwell, now Senator Deevers wears multiple hats serving as both a pastor and a businessman, father and husband. It may not seem unusual or remarkable that a conservative like Deevers won an election in a red state, but, the odds were against him.
Deevers had no prior experience in politics unlike his main primary opponent, J.J. Francais. Francais is the mayor of Elgin, Deevers’s own town of residence. He also enjoyed financial backing and endorsements from the Governor of Oklahoma and the state superintendent. Despite this, Deevers beat Francais 2-to-1 in the very town Francais is the mayor. Jean Hausheer, Deevers’s other primary opponent, had strong financial backing and was even financially endorsed by Bart Barter, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Deevers’s own denomination in which he is ordained.
It would be quotes from Bart Barber that Deevers’s general election opponent, Larry Bush, would use against him in mailers across his district. To make things even harder for the Deevers campaign, two attack advertisements against him were played during the Texas vs Oklahoma college football game, as well as the Cowboys game the following day. Millions of people saw these ads. Your average politico would project a poor performance from Deevers.
Despite facing considerable challenges and opposition, Deevers emerged victorious, and Oklahomans emerged better for it. This success can be attributed not to mere popularity, winsomeness, or concessions, but rather to his unwavering commitment to his convictions, a genuine affection for his community, and a deliberate rejection of the “third-way” approach. Deevers’s campaign went beyond mere criticism of the abortion industry. He also scrutinized the Pro-Life sector, accusing it of compromising its principles. He was a vocal critic of the In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) industry and same-sex marriage. Deevers even advocated for the abolition of pornography.
One of his more controversial positions was his call to repeal no-fault divorce. He endorsed the idea of shaming those responsible for unjustified family breakdowns. In other words, Deevers ran a campaign that emphasized and prioritized the traditional family top to bottom. “Good families build good governments,” said Deevers. He emphasized the importance of protecting traditional family structures as the foundation for society’s well-being. “We must protect traditional marriage…I will fight to make sure Oklahoma laws never interfere with the spiritual and economic thriving of families.”
Deevers’s emphasis on uncompromising family values was just one facet of his campaign. He firmly supports the Second Amendment, advocates for lower taxes, and champions an overall business-friendly economy. However, above all, he made it unequivocally clear that his role as State Senator would be rooted in the acknowledgment that Christ is King. In Deevers’s words,
“I am a Christian first and foremost and a conservative through and through. Jesus is my King, and the Word of God is my guide. I make no bones about it. My faith in and love of Christ, which I preach every other Sunday at my church, animates my life and would be the foundation of everything I do as Oklahoma State Senator.” He then gets specific about what this means in practice: “It is an outrage that the government attempted to force closure of churches and businesses…that drag queens are permitted to dance for children at pride parades and story hours…that our public schools have exposed children to LGBTQ+ propaganda…that abortion pills still flow through legally in our state…that pornography and no-fault divorce are prevalent in our society…and that Critical Race Theory and Queer Theory dominate our public institutions. I promise to support legislation to put a stop to all of this.”
Deevers’s commitment to faith-based values and straightforward communication style struck a chord with conservative and Christian voters. Deevers’s opponents saw these policy issues as weaknesses, ones that they attempted to exploit by circulating thousands of flyers advertising his views, as if he was embarrassed by them and that they were per se ridiculous. But like Dunwell, Deevers’s opponents too have appeared to enter the Negative World without realizing it.
To reiterate the argument presented by Renn, the trajectory of secularization in the American narrative unfolds in three distinct stages: The Positive World (Pre-1994) characterized by a predominantly favorable societal view of Christianity; The Neutral World (1994-2014) where society adopts a neutral stance towards Christianity; and The Negative World (2014-present) where a pervasive negative perception of Christianity, particularly at the institutional level, has taken hold. The rejection of Christian morality is viewed as a potential hazard to both the public welfare and the emerging secular framework. As Renn points out, embracing Christian moral perspectives results in adverse repercussions. This transition is marked by a notable shift in public sentiment, with an increasing number of individuals and institutions expressing skepticism or disapproval of Christian moral values. In light of this transformation, conventional methods of persuasion used by Conservative politicians and church leaders in the past are becoming obsolete in the Negative World, and this shift is evident in the changing political landscape.
Societal institutions are increasingly hostile to Christianity, that’s a given. But something more is going on. Conservative Christians are finding themselves less satisfied with the middle-of-the-road approach that prioritizes winsomeness and mainstream respectability in evangelical leaders and conservative politicians. A growing discontent is evident as individuals within these groups express frustration with compromises made in an attempt to appeal to a broad audience. This approach usually involves softening the Gospel’s exclusivity, and Biblical morality generally, through an emphasis on post-war, proceduralist dogma ostensibly designed for civility and stability. This Dunwell embodies.