Sunday, March 14, 2021

Sophie Bjork-James's "The Divine Institution"

Sophie Bjork-James is an assistant professor in the anthropology department at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She is the coeditor of Beyond Populism: Angry Politics and the Twilight of Neoliberalism.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Divine Institution: White Evangelicalism's Politics of the Family, and reported the following:
The first full paragraph on page 99 introduces Dustin Henry (a pseudonym):
I met Dustin when he worked for a conservative, evangelical organization in Colorado Springs that worked to oppose LGBTQ rights. Over a decade earlier he was living as an out gay man in Washington, DC, where he told me:
I knew I could be out and proud and it wouldn't be a big deal. And it wasn't! For 13 years. And, um, in a way it was a big deal because in a sense I didn't feel quite right about it. But, I was going to a gay church, lived in a gay neighborhood, I went to a gay gym, I was in a gay bowling league, I was in a gay volleyball league, I lived in a gay world. I had a gay boss: he had a gay boss. I mean, life in some ways was really awesome, in terms of being out. But, you know, deep down, I was still like, I'm not sure this is really right.
Dustin was raised in a liberal Protestant church but hadn’t been going to church regularly, and when he did it was to a liberal, gay-affirming church. One evening he had an experience he describes as a personal encounter with the divine where he felt enveloped in a white light full of grace and mercy that left him in tears. Dustin felt that God was offering him forgiveness in exchange for returning to God’s plan and he quickly began to change his life in dramatic ways. He told me, ‘I woke up the next day and I just knew for the first time that I was wrong about abortion.’
Surprisingly the Page 99 test works here. The book explores how an emphasis on the patriarchal family and heterosexuality within white evangelicalism link personal practices to political perspectives. In this passage I write about an interviewee whose conversion to conservative Christianity as an adult resulted in changes to both his sexual identity and his politics. In interviews with around one hundred evangelicals and ex-evangelicals, I found that sexual and gender identity are at the center of evangelical religious identity and that defending heterosexuality and patriarchy become a focus of white evangelical politics as this is seen as a way to defend God.
Learn more about The Divine Institution at the Rutgers University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue