In an opinion piece in the New York Times yesterday, David Brooks posed a troubling question that should be deeply disturbing to anyone who identifies as a Christian:

Why are so many conservative evangelicals in Alabama still supporting Roy Moore? For that matter, why have so many evangelicals around the country spent the past two years embracing Donald Trump?

The answer Brooks suggests is that much of the conservative evangelical world is shaped by what he calls

the siege mentality.

Brooks’ description of this “siege mentality” and its effects should be read in full (link below) and pondered by anyone who finds themselves trying to excuse the current attitudes and behaviour of many in positions of leadership in the US who identify as guardians of Christian virtue and champions of truth and greatness for America.

Brooks  lists five characteristics of communities shaped by “the siege mentality.” Here with my description are the five qualities Brookes sees in “siege mentality” groups:

1. a sense of collective victimhood –

We are under attack. Our values are not respected; they are being systematically whittled away by a politically motivated educational system and a media empire that is driven by liberal ideology. We experience the whole of culture and the world as “irredeemably hostile” towards our values and beliefs. We are afraid and uncertain. We no longer know how to navigate in a world that has changed beyond all recognition.

Roy Moore, the retired Alabama judge who is described as “an outspoken evangelical Christian” and is currently receiving much undesirable publicity for allegations of sexual assault, only four days ago resorted to this victimhood/siege mentality in his own defense:

The prevalence of this attitude among conservative evangelicals is supported by findings in a recent Winthrop poll which, shows that

Nearly half of white American poll respondents living in the South feel like they’re under attack

This is a Catch-22 for anyone who might question Roy Moore’s suitability to serve in elected office. Any criticism of Moore just serves to reinforce the feeling of being “under attack.”

2. a deep sense of pessimism –

We are on a slippery slope; culture is crumbling and we are the final bulwark against the annihilation of civil society. This moment in history feels apocalyptic. Civilization is threatened; the enemy is at the gate and the governments and leaders of our society are inviting him in. No one is defending the truth for which we alone stand. If someone does not stop the downward spiral, there will be nothing left to hold onto.

3.the noble us versus the powerful them

We find a strong sense of identity as those who are holding out for the truth in the midst of the darkness and chaos of those who have abandoned the ways of the past when things were more clear, sane and righteous. Everything is a battle between good and evil. We alone stand for goodness and truth.We know who is following the true way because they believe the same things we believe and live the way we live. We can recognize one another because we share the same values and understand the world in the same way. All those who are not with us have knowingly and perversely chosen the path to destruction and are intent on dragging the rest of our country down into their dark dystopian world.

4. a ready explanation for the bad things that happen in life

The answer to this dreadful decline in the human community is perfectly clear and simple. The elites of our society have abandoned the truth; they have decided to follow their own humanistic values and abandoned the long-held truths of our forefathers. If you would only open your eyes, you would return to the truth of our beliefs and join with us in the family of the redeemed. You would then no longer be lost in the confusion and chaos of a worldview that is a lie.

This particular aspect of “the siege mentality” is exemplified in Roy Moore currently the most visible proponent of the siege mentality in the US:

By his account, chronicled in his book “So Help Me God,” Moore spent his time as a prosecutor convicting “murderers, rapists, thieves and drug pushers.”

He writes that it was “around this time that I fashioned a plaque of The Ten Commandments on two redwood tablets.”

“I believed that many of the young criminals whom I had to prosecute would not have committed criminal acts if they had been taught these rules as children,” Moore writes.

5. a narrative to express their own superiority

We hold the truth. If you would only agree with us, we could stop the death-spiral of self-indulgence in which you are trapped. If you would join us you would discover how meaningless, pointless, and bleak your lives really are and could live with us in the light and goodness of the truth. We have the only way to rescue society from the dark abyss upon which we are poised. We live according to the righteous dictates of a just God who will ultimately punish all those who reject the truth we offer.

The really horrifying and dangerous aspect of this mentality that Brooks identifies is that

The siege mentality also excuses the leader’s bad behavior. When our very existence is on the line we can’t be worrying about things like humility, sexual morality, honesty and basic decency. In times of war all is permissible. Even molesting teenagers can be overlooked because our group’s survival is at stake.

And so Brooks points out,

The siege mentality ends up displacing whatever creed the group started with. Evangelical Christians, for example, had a humane model for leadership — servant leadership — but, feeling besieged, they swapped it for Donald Trump, for gladiator pagan leadership.

That many Christians in the US should transfer their allegiance from the footwashing model of leadership Jesus demonstrated to the woman grabbing, dirty-talking attitude of Donald Trump and the apparently abusive behaviour of Roy Moore, bears testimony to the insecurity and disaffection that fuel the “siege mentality.” There is a deep anxiety and fear at the heart of the “siege mentality” which is hard to comprehend on the part of people who purport to follow a teacher who said:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? (Luke 12:22-26)

it is I; do not be afraid. (Mark 6:50)