Published by Broadleaf Books on August 16, 2022
Genres: Non-Fiction, Politics
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Winner of a 2019 Foreword INDIES Award Silver Medal
In Red State Christians, readers will get an honest look at the Christians who gave the presidency to the unlikeliest candidate of all time. Veteran journalist Angela Denker spent a year traveling across the United States, interviewing the Evangelical Christian voters who supported the Trump presidency and exploring how their voting block continues to influence the landscape of modern conservative politics. From booming, wealthy Orange County megachurches to libertarian farmers in Missouri, to a church in Florida where the pastors carry guns, to an Evangelical Arab American church in Houston, to conservative Catholics on the East Coast--the picture Denker paints of them is enlightening, at times disturbing, but always empathetic.
In this expanded edition, Denker reflects on the lasting impact of the Trump presidency, the Christian white nationalism it emboldened, the 2020 election and transfer of power, and the subsequent insurrection at the United States Capitol. A must-read for those hoping to truly understand what Trumpism means for the 2020s and beyond.
Hi. My name is Josh. And I used to be one of the Red State Christians. It was something I grew up in, being raised in rural Indiana where being a Democrat meant you were Catholic (and probably not going to heaven). I went to Liberty University, home of the Fighting Falwells, to hone my theological chops. And then I headed off to Tulsa, Oklahoma—buckle of the Bible belt—as a young and naïve pastor ready for the journey ahead. Little did I know where the journey was going. My journey out of Red State Christianity began before the election of Donald Trump in 2016, but the embrace of Trumpism is what led me to leave the Republican Party altogether. The waters of white nationalism that I’d been raised in where coming to a boil and as I became aware of it, I knew I had to get out. So I did. It killed or strained a lot of relationships. There’s no way I’m ever working within the denominations in which I am academically credentialed or ordained. It left a lot of heartache. Because while I had to leave, and I knew why I had to leave, I also loved many of those that stayed—and not only stayed but celebrated what the movement had become.
In Red State Christians, journalist Angela Denker travels the States in order to experience Red State Christianity and interview what she terms Red State Christians—Christians for whom Jesus and the Republican Party (or at very least Donald Trump) go hand-in-hand. The book opens with an extended vignette from a July 4th service at Prestonwood Baptist Church in a suburb of Dallas. Denker gives a clear and—to my experience—accurate overview of what a conservative Christian celebration of July 4th looks like. It paints a vivid picture that colors the rest of the chapters that follow. Denker divides her work thematically. There’s a chapter for all the hot button issues: guns, abortion, sexual abuse, immigration, and Islam. Denker showcases the diversity of Red State Christians, talking to people both suburban and rural, rich and poor, from Orange County to Appalachia. Denker is always kind, always sincere, and able to articulate why Red State Christians believe and act the way they do.
Like it or not (and I don’t), Donald Trump tapped into something in the evangelical consciousness. He said he would give us power. Now, that sounds an awful lot like Satan talking to Jesus in the wilderness, but a lot of evangelicals went for it. The question is why? In 2016, maybe we didn’t know any better. We didn’t know where Trump would take us or that it would lead to an insurrection on January 6. But we did in 2020. And we do now in 2023. Between those two dates, a lot of people like me—born and raised one of the Red State Christians—have moved out of that. Some out of the faith altogether. Many so hurt that the only thing could do was lash out against the organization that hurt them. It’s understandable. But vitriol only fuels the flame toward destruction. What we need is to understand the goals and mindset of Red State Christians. Not to ridicule them, but to understand them.
Denker concludes: “Americans, Christian or not, conservative or not, have a remarkable gift for acceptance. If given the chance, we can accept one another, learn from each other, and build an entirely new country built on justice and freedom for all.” That’s a profound statement and it’s from the book’s first edition written in 2018. Her conclusion to the second edition, released in 2022, carries with it the weariness of increasing divisions, a global pandemic, increased awareness of racial injustice, and more. If Red State Christians has one flaw, it’s that it primarily addresses a pre-2020 world and that world doesn’t exist anymore. Those hopes are dashed. But out of the ashes, however hard it might be, Red State Christians offers readers a unifying olive branch—one that says we can come together in Christian love and charity if we so choose.