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I have never been approached (in person or by phone or whatever) by one of those pollsters with a list of questions intended to suggest how crazy “we” are (evangelicals, that is). But if I were, here’s what I would say. 

Who got your vote for president in 2020? 

I couldn’t vote for Trump or Biden. I voted (I didn’t just stay home), but not for president. The same thing happened in 2016: I couldn’t vote for Trump, but I couldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton either. I’m sure those choices will strike many as foolish, prideful, or otherwise unsatisfactory. I know a lot of people who voted for Trump not because they admired him—they didn’t, at all—but because they saw him as the lesser of two evils. The people I know who voted for Clinton (Wendy included) mostly did so because they were appalled to think Trump might be elected. In 2016 and 2020 alike, very few people I know well expressed enthusiasm for either party’s candidate. Obviously a lot of my fellow evangelicals voted for Trump both times around. The endlessly cited figure, 81 percent, is inflated, an artifact of polling, but never mind. What’s amazing to me is the inference, repeated ad nauseam, that by and large evangelicals supported Trump because they are deep-dyed “Christian nationalists” (whatever that means) and unrepentant racists.

Do you believe that we are living in “the End Times”?

I don’t know. It’s not something I think about much. When I was a kid in the early 1950s (I was born in 1948), there was a modest buzz about the End Times in the Baptist churches we attended. This was partly inspired by the founding of the State of Israel, which in some quarters was interpreted as having prophetic significance. I would overhear adults talking about this, but I noticed that the next moment they would have shifted to a mundane subject. My mother and grandmother were devout Christians (my grandma was a dispensationalist, though not hardcore), and they didn’t belittle such conversations, but neither did they speculate much about the timing of Christ’s return. Nowadays when I encounter what you might call end-times discourse, it is usually inspired by climate change, loss of biodiversity, the relentless logic of “late capitalism,” and so on. A deep sense that there would be an end to history, as we’ve known it—a “restoration of all things”—was at the core of the faith in which I was raised, but the timing was beyond our ken, and “everyday life” was very much celebrated. I’m thankful for that.

Looking back, what would you identify as the greatest weakness of the sort of Christianity in which you were raised?

There were plenty of blind spots, of course, both corporate and individual, but if forced to single out one, I would say a deeply ahistorical perspective was the single most conspicuous weakness. I never learned anything about Baptist history until I was no longer a Baptist. We were encouraged to believe that there was an unbroken continuity between “the early church” (idealistically conceived) and the Baptist congregations where we happened to be worshipping. And this went along with a very strong anti-Catholic prejudice, not entirely divorced from fact but terribly skewed. In the late 1970s, Wendy and I (her experience growing up was different from mine, but that’s another story) found a home in the Evangelical Covenant Church, where we have been ever since. We are strongly committed to a big-tent version of the faith, in which Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal, and other small-o orthodox Christians can celebrate common ground even as they maintain their particular strands of believing, behaving, and belonging.

Forgive me, but this sounds a bit too good to be true, and detached from what we see happening around us.

That’s interesting. My own sense of things is that what I’ve described is an outlook shared by many Christians in quite different streams of practice and belief. Shared by all? Of course not, nothing like that, but neither is such an outlook a mere fantasy. We hear all the time about sharp divisions—along doctrinal lines, racial lines, regarding sexual ethics, “politics,” and much more—and these certainly exist. But so does a genuine commitment among many believers to core convictions and hopes that transcend our differences. Wendy and I have seen that again and again over the decades. Certainly Wendy experienced this many times during the years when she was a hospice volunteer, and hearing her accounts of such connections was immensely encouraging to me. I am not at all blind to the reality of conflict and hard choices that you allude to, but that aspect of our shared world is not the whole picture—far from it. 

John Wilson is a contributing editor for The Englewood Review of Books and senior editor at The Marginalia Review of Books.

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