As someone who posts a lot of videos of Pastors Behaving Badly, I frequently hear criticism that I am focusing too much on the fringes of evangelical Christianity. Why not cover what more mainstream pastors say, the critics asks, since they represent a larger proportion of the faith?
While I disagree with that premise, you can’t really get more mainstream than Ed Young, the senior pastor of Fellowship Church in Texas. It’s one of the largest churches in the country and Young is not a fringe figure by any means. He’s a stereotypical white evangelical pastor, with all the quirks and habits that come with it.
Which is why yesterday, the pastor spent his entire sermon denouncing “wokeism.”
He took a right-wing exaggeration of the term, spread his version of that lie to the congregation, and completely ignored the basis of why people are concerned about racial injustice. A clip is below, but the full sermon is right underneath that.
Young’s definition of the word, which he claims he put together after reading a bunch of unnamed Christian and atheist thinkers—was it James Lindsay? Then just say it was James Lindsay—is an “authoritarian worldview that seeks to deconstruct the foundations of our Christian faith by overwhelming, overpowering, and overthrowing those who do not adhere to its ideology.”
(“Wow,” Ed Young said of the definition he made up, adding, “That’s pretty heavy.”)
Needless to say, that’s not a definition the people who use the word earnestly would ever agree with. A less ideological definition would simply be, “Someone who’s alert to injustice and discrimination in society.” It’s not anti-Christian. It’s not a purge. It’s not authoritarian. It’s a desire to make people realize that injustice—especially racial injustice—exists all around them, in ways they may not even realize, and we can’t ever attempt to solve those problems unless we first acknowledge their reality.
The pastor went on to say he could also define wokeism with with a single word: “Paganism.”
Do you prefer two words? “Moral superiority.”
The first one doesn’t even make sense, and Young didn’t bother elaborating. The second one is just plain wrong. People who don’t understand how much injustice is in our society aren’t inferior to those who do. We all have blind spots. But the hope is that people who aren’t aware of the problem can be educated.
Young didn’t stop there. During the sermon, the pastor referred to those who supposedly follow “wokeism” as members of a “cult,” “satanic,” and racist against white people… before insisting that the solution to racism was Jesus.
He never pointed out that Christians have historically perpetuated racism as well.
The climax of his sermon involved linking the term to Karl Marx (“Socialism”), Friedrich Nietzsche (“Critical theory”), and Sigmund Freud (“Post-modernism”)… basically three guys deemed enemies of Christianity.
He also claimed, falsely, that elementary schools were hosting “drag queen shows” and making kids read “pornographic books”… all because of Freud. (I suspect this is news to him.) Young closed by likening all non-Christian philosophy professors to the sort of one-dimensional caricature in God’s Not Dead.
All of that is to say: Ed Young spent Sunday lying to a large group of gullible Christians because he knows damn well they don’t have the guts to call him out on it. He’s speaking to cowards who ingest whatever ignorant garbage comes out of his mouth. He perpetuated conservative talking points in the name of Jesus while insisting he wasn’t “trying to wrap the Bible in the American flag.”
He lied about “wokeism” because the pastor knows his conservative Christian audience can’t handle the truth. If he was interested in an honest conversation, the least he could’ve done is run his definition of the word—the basis of his sermon—by some of the most prominent advocates of racial justice. It’s not like he doesn’t have access to them. I’m guessing he knew they would never agree with him.
This is what passes for a gospel message in one of the largest Baptist churches in America.
No wonder Christian nationalism is such a huge problem. It’s not just right-wing extremists who believe blending Christianity and the government is a longstanding requirement; they have “mainstream” pastors carrying their water for them with sermons like these.
Incidentally, this is hardly the first time Young has delivered a cringeworthy sermon. There was the time he asked his congregation to give him direct access to their bank accounts. And the time he created a sermon series comparing God to the kind of drones used in war. And the time he spent 24 hours on the roof of his church in a bed with his wife to promote Purity Culture-tainted sex. And the time he gave a sermon while sitting on a king-size bed while telling couples to force themselves to sleep with their spouse every day for a week because “sex is like superglue.” And there’s the whole corporate-jet-for-personal-vacations thing. And there’s this rap. (Oh god, the rap.)
Young’s entire career is the result of surrounding himself with Christians who don’t have the heart to tell him his ideas are terrible. Unfortunately, this weekend, it was worse than terrible. It was harmful. If only there were decent people in that church who had the heart to admit it.