Evangelicals and raunchy culture—a new affinity or reaction?

Evangelical culture has appeared to become more accepting of vulgarity and even profanity, though the sources of such a change are contested. In the New York Times (March 17), Ruth Graham reports on how conservative leaders and “influencers” in politics and the media have appealed to and been accepted by many evangelicals in vulgar and off-color terms. She cites public figures like Dana Loesch, a former model and National Rifle Association spokesperson, and Riley Gaines, a former swimmer and activist against transgender rights, as displaying risqué behavior. Politicians who claim an evangelical identity, such as Reps. Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene, frequently use obscenity or admit to engaging in pre-marital sexual behavior that would have been flagged by evangelicals only a decade ago. Among conservative Christian leaders, Idaho pastor Doug Wilson has used obscenity on his blog without much censure. Graham writes that a “raunchy, outsider, boobs-and-booze ethos has elbowed its way into the conservative power class, accelerated by the rise of Donald Trump, the declining influence of traditional religious institutions and a shifting media landscape increasingly dominated by the looser standards of online culture.” Because of many evangelicals’ association with conservative politics and media, the aesthetics, language and borders of public morality have changed for these believers.

Source: Jared Stump | Wikimedia Commons.

Graham has more difficulty locating such cultural shifts within evangelical congregational life itself, as she writes that “most transgressions come not from the pulpit or the podium but the keyboard.” Other critics say that the lowering of expectations regarding public morality started from the cultural left and cannot be blamed on Trump. Conservative writer Aaron Renn argues that it was only after American culture and society became coarsened that someone like Trump would be considered a viable candidate. Others see the decentralized nature of evangelicalism and its embrace of technological change as key in understanding the embrace of vulgar culture. Graham observes that the “old institutions and personalities that defined the culture are fading: Church attendance has declined at the same time that several lions of the movement have died, retired or been felled by scandal. Influencers and outsiders have filled the vacuum.” She adds that the rise of more raunchy yet staunchly heterosexual behavior may also be a reaction among conservative believers feeling beleaguered by a rising tide of progressive influence that challenges the traditional roles of gender and sexuality.