Written by Aaron M. Renn |
Monday, January 15, 2024
One particular effort that Alberta highlights was the creation of a curriculum on politics targeting churches called “After Party.” After Party is a venture of Moore, French, and a Silicon Valley consultant named Curtis Chang. Chang had come out of nowhere to become a high profile voice calling on evangelicals to get vaccinated against Covid-19. He got an op-ed published in the New York Times, for example. One of his videos caused controversy when it attempted to assuage evangelicals who might be worried that the vaccine used cells from aborted babies by saying that the Covid-19 vaccine redeems abortion.
I just finished reading Tim Alberta’s interesting new book The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism. I am going to be reviewing it for the Claremont Review of Books.
One of the things I found interesting is Alberta’s behind the scenes look at the evangelical “resistance” movement. That is, those who vociferously oppose the evangelicals who support Donald Trump.
While I don’t think it’s any surprise to people, and has been reported on elsewhere in part, this book makes clear with new details I had not seen before that this is a very organized movement, and one funded at least in part with non-Christian financial backing.
Anti-Trump evangelicals started getting organized at least as far back as 2015.
In the fall of 2015, [Russell] Moore met with “The Outliers”, a group of friends and fellow high-profile believers: Tim Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City; Pete Wehner, the former head of strategic initiatives in the George W. Bush White House; Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health; and David Brooks, the New York Times columnist.
They discuss the GOP primary, and the attraction of Trump and their differing views of how things would play out when it came to evangelical support for him.
A few things are interesting here. First, this group of people gave themselves a name, “The Outliers.” So they were probably gathering or talking even before this meeting to have reached the point of giving their group a name. Note that Russell Moore is portrayed as a guest of this group.
Second, they are meeting in Fall 2015, a time at which very few people believed Trump would win the GOP nomination, much less the presidency. I did a podcast with my father (on my old feed which is no longer online) at the end of October 2015 saying that based on my interactions with folks back home, Trump was a serious candidate. This actually got some attention from people, so unusual was that at the time. The fact that this group was in existence so early makes me wonder when it was formed and if they actually predated Trump and were already alienated from the mainstream of evangelicalism.
Third, note the presence of elite journalist David Brooks. He quoted every attendee of this meeting other than Francis Collins in his 2022 essay on “the dissenters trying to save evangelicalism from itself.” Brooks was clearly not just writing as a columnist or sympathetic observer; he’s part of this movement.
I think it’s fair to say that Alberta, too, if not an official member of this movement, is certainly at least a fellow traveler, playing a role in the elite media similar to Brooks.
Fourth, this illustrates how a lot of high level evangelicals have applied the work of sociologist James Davison Hunter. Hunter argues that overlapping elite networks at the cultural center are what drive cultural change. We see here that these “high-profile” people are networked with each other, and also with people in the elite media.
I think it’s fair to say that this efforts has produced no change in American culture as a whole, but it has given the people at the top of those networks immense power over what sociologist Brad Vermurlen called the “evangelical field.” They very much have had a powerful impact on major evangelical institutions.
Additionally, their relationship with the elite media gives them the equivalent of a nuclear arsenal they can use to bomb to their evangelical opponents, who have no such vehicle for retaliation. Very few people in mainstream professional society or major institutions are capable of standing up to the elite media, which is why I call this a nuclear weapon.
For example, these relationship likely saved Russell Moore’s job with the SBC back in 2017. After his attacks on Trump voters in the New York Times and elsewhere, his job was in danger. An article broke this story in the Washington Post, and the reporter called Moore aligned black pastor Thabiti Anyabwile for a quote. Anyabwile said Moore getting fired would have a “chilling” effect and that, “The fallout will be the denomination signaling to African American and other ethnic groups that they’re tone deaf and disinterested in that membership.”
In other words, if the SBC fires Russell Moore, the Washington Post, and other major publications that subsequently covered the story, were going to call them racists for doing so. Realistically, almost nobody or no institution can handle being called racist by elite media. So no surprise Moore kept his job. (I think there’s a good chance he was actually the original source of the story).