Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, we checked out some evangelicals’ reactions to the pandemic-related declines in birthrates around the world. These evangelicals’ general approach to increasing birthrates in general interested me. Instead of helping to make life easier for the women having these babies, evangelical leaders instead sought to shame, gaslight, scare, and strong-arm women into having babies they absolutely didn’t feel ready to raise. These tactics won’t work to produce the results they claim to want, which are their stated goals. But they do support some very dark covert goals. Today, let’s look at stated vs. covert goals — and see what evangelicals’ strategies around the birthrate might actually be meant to produce.
(SBC = Southern Baptist Convention.)
Clear Goals and Not-So-Great Goals.
A goal is something that groups claim to be working toward. It’s something that a group seeks to accomplish through working together.
Ideally, a group creates clearly stated goals. Sub-optimally, the group creates a hopelessly vague mishmash of in-group jargon. As an example, check out this whole page called “the goal of the Christian life.” Somehow, its creators failed to mention a single tangible metric for evaluating success at this stated goal.
And one important mark of a good, functional group is that its goals are clearly stated, with firm guidelines for achieving it and evaluating success. Functional groups use their working ideology and social rules as a framework to help them achieve their stated goals in tangible, measurable ways. At any point, they can look at their goals and tell exactly how close or far they are from achieving them.
For example, Summit Church, the megachurch run by SBC President J.D. Greear, set a goal to have “1,000 in worship next Easter” one year. That seems nice and solid. But then you have to ask how they planned to reach it, and that’s where Greear goes radio silent.
Summit also boasts both a mission and vision. But their one clearly-stated goal on link — at the end — is to “plant 1000 churches in our generation.” It looks hilariously optimistic, and it’s not at all clear how their tithing and missionary strategies even relate to that stated goal.
That’s why it’s hugely important to be able to evaluate a group’s strategies for reaching its stated goals. Just having clear goals doesn’t guarantee that a group will be a safe and healthy one. It’s just a start.
How to Evaluate a Goal.
As you might guess from the stuff I’ve already quoted, Christian groups rarely manage to state clear goals, much less set tangible evaluation metrics for them.
When I ran a search for “clearly stated church goals,” in fact, my first return was this ministry consultancy page. Its writer stressed the importance of setting clear goals. Then, he merrily provided not one single example of clear goals. He did give one example that he liked: “training laborers for His harvest.” A fundagelical Bible college created it as its mission statement.
But that isn’t a clear goal at all, not by itself. He seems to know that, too, because he doesn’t even try to offer evaluation tools for it.
Instead, the writer skates past it, suggesting that ministers evaluate their churches’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
But he never gets around to teaching readers how to evaluate the goals that flow out of such inventories. How strange!
Covert vs. Stated Goals.
Actually, it’s not strange at all. Not for this bunch.
Toxic authoritarian groups operate as broken systems, meaning they’re so dysfunctional that they are unable to fulfill their own stated goals. Their goals will be vague indeed, and the groups won’t even be trying to meet them in any measurable way. They might even attack or vilify anyone who tries to measure their success at meeting their own stated goals.
Instead, the masters of these groups — typically their official leaders, though not always — fulfill their own unstated desires at the expense of group members. There’s not a way in the world for such groups to full their own goals — even if their masters wanted to work toward them, which they absolutely do not. Their groups’ stated goals are just part of their marketing and public-relations blahblah, not something they actually care about making happen.
These groups’ masters don’t care if they harm their own followers, as long as they get what they really want. Typically, what they really want is power, money, and gratification of their impulses. However, they try very hard to hide this truth from the group’s members. It would never do to tell the group that. They’d likely all leave! Indeed, very few followers deliberately sign up to join a group that states outright that its leaders have a whole other agenda in mind.
In worst case scenarios, false goals grant permission to dysfunctional group leaders to abuse followers and bleed them completely dry of resources. In better case scenarios, false goals can mask an ineffective group or one that wants to lull members into complacency so they won’t realize they’re wasting their time and money.
Either way, false stated goals represent a red flag telling you something important.
Working Toward Goals as a Sign.
Veronica: I didn’t say there wasn’t a commercial about greening the building. I said there is no program to green the building.
Ted: So it’s all a lie?
Veronica: They prefer to look at it as a dream.
Ted: But one they’re not working towards?
Veronica: Are you working toward all your dreams, Ted? Then stop pointing fingers.
— Better Off Ted, “Jabberwocky“
Some time back, Oprah Winfrey relayed a life-changing bit of wisdom from Maya Angelou:
When someone shows you who they are, believe them.
Oprah Winfrey amended it somewhat:
When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.
This advice doesn’t just work on people. It also works on groups. And we should indeed keep it in mind when evaluating groups.
If a group’s people aren’t working toward their goals, or they’re doing stuff that categorically can’t possibly result in meeting their goals, we need to be on the lookout for potential problems with them.
And Now: Evangelicals’ Birthrate Strategy Meets a Covert Goal.
Yesterday, we saw how evangelicals reacted to America’s declining birthrate. They hinted about disobedience to their god, called women immoral for not having kids they don’t feel ready for, strawmanned women’s reasons up and down, and thundered insults at them for not complying with the standard-issue evangelical woman’s life script.
Only one of them even noticed that women actually wanted more babies than they were having. But that didn’t really matter to that one at all. (What did? Out-breeding Muslims!)
It’s just so striking to see how absolutely mangled and mischaracterized evangelicals got this whole story.
However, if evangelicals’ actual stated goal involved increasing the birthrate, then absolutely none of their strategies can accomplish that goal.
Women aren’t worried about their morality or the anger of evangelicals’ invisible friends. They’re worried about how they will raise the children these TRUE CHRISTIANS™ want them to have. Financial security is a powerful factor in women’s family planning decisions. The warm glow of satisfying total strangers with their life decisions won’t help them feed a hungry baby at 2am when they’re dead broke and exhausted!
And neither, one might argue, will evangelicals.
Strategies That Would Reflect on Evangelicals’ Stated Goals.
Of course, one really big step evangelicals could take that would definitely increase the birthrate would involve supporting political platforms and social-safety net measures that would help remove some of the economic stress from women’s lives.
But they don’t do any of that.
Instead, they literally support every one of the worst imaginable positions and platforms for the outcomes they claim to want.
In short, their strategies do not match their stated goals.
(We can also find mismatched strategies in the ongoing evangelical culture-war on abortion, by the way. Their chosen strategies in culture-wars do not ever match their own stated goals.)
A Covert Goal of Evangelicalism: Using Heathens’ Reactions to Stir Up the Tribe.
When we find mismatched strategies like that, we should pull back. We should ask what goals their strategies will meet. Let’s assume evangelicals continue along their path of trying to shame, gaslight, and strong-arm women into having more children. In that case, what can we expect to see?
First and foremost, most women will flat ignore them — which will give evangelical leaders more fodder for their culture wars. In this case, they get to complain and wring their hands and get their fervent followers even more wrought-up and belligerent about their culture-war enemies causing moral havoc. That’s what evangelicals have in fact done with their moral panic over the birthrate.
Yesterday, we saw an evangelical shake her finger about Muslims out-breeding (white) American evangelical women, and another who snorted down his nose about how the birthrate’s decline could be laid at the feet of ickie selfish working wives.
And we also saw Al Mohler, of course, who thought responsible family planning choices represented an overall slide in public morality that required extra authoritarian control from
King Him his tribe to fix.
Another Covert Goal: Inflicting Stress and Misery.
Second, the women who do obey these demands for more babies will be followers in evangelicals’ dysfunctional groups. They will be beyond miserable and their families will be horrendously stressed in every way. It seems to me that toxic authoritarian groups flourish best in the midst of absolute social misery, enforced ignorance, and economic crisis. The pie-in-the-sky claims and promises the groups make would be dismissed out of hand by more secure and contented people. But truly desperate people will grab for those false straws.
If evangelical leaders really wanted women to have more kids, there are strategies they could pursue that would have a way better chance of yielding that result. Instead, they have chosen to go the routes we saw yesterday.
So why oh why are evangelical leaders pursuing strategies that are guaranteed to be dismissed by most women and, when followed by women who breed against their own better judgment, are likely to produce stressed-out families full of economic insecurity?
Could it be that these two outcomes benefit the masters of evangelicals’ broken systems? Or that their chosen strategies yield results that they actually want and can easily work with, reflecting far darker goals than their out-front presented and stated goals?
Why, yes. Yes, it sure could.
The Real Center of Evangelicalism.
We always seem to end up here.
At the real center of evangelical Christianity.
At its sheer unrelenting cruelty.
Increasingly, authoritarian flavors of Christianity like evangelicalism start to look like a way to express power for a few top-level leaders, and a vehicle for inflicting misery on those who lack power. Irresponsibly coercing/encouraging Americans to have kids they aren’t ready for and can’t adequately care for would certainly accomplish both.
When a group tells you who they really are, listen to them the first time. The strategies of these broken systems reflect their real priorities and desires — and even more than that, the goals they truly seek to achieve.
Listen to their actual chosen strategies, not to their marketing and PR blahblah. That’ll tell you who they really are — in case you didn’t already know.
NEXT UP: A hilarious story from Christianity Today about a social development they are trying very, very hard to put in the best possible light. It’s just too funny, and we’ll dive in tomorrow. See you then!
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(Sometime, we’re returning to this topic when we talk about Christians who join and stick with their chosen churches on the basis of those church leaders’ own internal marketing. I’m still thinking about it.)