This concept is key to understanding evangelical culture’s hypocrisy — according to an anthropologist

This concept is key to understanding evangelical culture’s hypocrisy — according to an anthropologist
Photo via Trump White HOuse.

A new book by anthropologist Sophie Bjork-James takes a look at what biblical decrees white evangelicals take metaphorically and which ones they take literally.

As Religion Dispatches points out, Bjork-James' book "The Divine Institution: White Evangelicalism's Politics of the Family" finds that a concept called "divine institution" helps evangelicals mediate biblical interpretation.

"...what seems like unconscionable hypocrisy from the outside seems to cause few ripples on the inside. 'Sacred familialism'—the phrase Bjork-James uses to indicate evangelicals' worship of a rigid family norm—is so central to evangelical understandings of the Bible that few of her subjects question its veracity," writes Religion Dispatches' Seth Dowland.

"If high-profile evangelicals cheat on their spouses or engage in same-sex behavior, they either repent or lose standing in the movement. Evangelicals who express serious misgivings about the patriarchal family model typically move away from evangelicalism."

"I had expected that pastors would be talking very explicitly about being anti-abortion and anti-LGBT rights, etc. and talking about voting and that was very rarely the case in the churches I studied," she explained. "But what I came to see after attending hundreds of Sunday sermons at large churches was that almost every single time a pastor would translate Biblical stories into stories about his own experience with his family.

"The pastors are always male. There's a lot of rules against females preaching to at least to men. Women can often preach to other women but not on the main stage in church," Bjork-James said. "So, there's this gender structure and they would often invoke their family as a way of translating Biblical stories into everyday relevant life. On the one hand, it seems like he's talking about his own experience but the broader effect is that it reinforces this idea of a Christian life lived in the family. It has to be a heterosexual and patriarchal world. Not only just to be a Christian but to grow up to be a healthy adult, you need heterosexual parents. And that becomes the norm that any deviation from is not ideal."

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