Understanding the Role of Contempt in MAGA Christianity - Word&Way

Understanding the Role of Contempt in MAGA Christianity

The deadliest of negative emotions operates without restraint among MAGA evangelicals: contempt. MAGA, at best, can barely contain the contempt felt toward liberals, Democrats, immigrants, women, and minorities. Fellow Americans have become “terrorists,” “sick people,” and “threats to our nation.” And other Christians have become “enemies and demons.”

Rodney Kennedy

As influential theorist Silvan Tomkins writes, “Whenever an individual, a class, or a nation wishes to maintain a hierarchical relationship, or to maintain aloofness, it will have resort to contempt of the other. Contempt is the mark of the oppressor.” MAGA evangelicals are attempting to maintain the right of instructing all others in what is good, decent, and Christian.

Contempt is a primary marker of MAGA, but not of Christians. I find it tragic for Christians to use “contempt” as a way of responding to criticism. And almost everyone is a target for MAGA Christian contempt. And even though they deliver this contempt with self-righteous certainty, I say here and now, such contempt is not Christian. There is no way in hell you can cover fellow Christians in scorn and contempt and then confess, “I have not loved my neighbor as myself.”

MAGA Christians know contempt is not a “biblical value” or a “biblical worldview.” Proverbs 18:3 connects contempt to wickedness, dishonor with disgrace. MAGA creates an environment where “surely contempt and dishonor shall follow you all the days of your life.” The prophet Habakkuk describes people “sated with contempt instead of glory.” MAGA, the very people wanting to restore the “lost” glory of America, are showing contempt for democracy, Congress, the Supreme Court, and our election system.

Jesus told a parable in Luke 18:9 to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt. Ah, a parable, from Jesus to MAGA — that’s sweet. The emotion of contempt has always been a part of certain religious expressions.

Trump surrogate Steve Bannon, who recently reported to prison to begin a four-month sentence for contempt of Congress, helps illustrate this point. His rhetorical contempt explodes like hot lava: “We’re going to have an exorcism for Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden and Hunter Biden — they’re a bunch of feral dogs, right? It’s a family of feral dogs. We have to fumigate it and have an exorcism.”

Bannon alerts everyone to the residual resentment and contempt that has been built up by MAGA for years: “We’ve got to go back to the beginning. We’ve got to go back to Russia Gate. We’ve got to go back to who did that. We got to go back to Mueller’s Commission. We got to go back to Andrew Weissman and MSNBC and The New York Times and all of it. We got to go back to the pandemic, we have to go back to the George Floyd ‘Summer of Love.’”

Natilyn Hicks / Unsplash

Bannon will leave no stone unturned in righting the wrongs of the past: “And then, we have to go to January 6th and we have to find out every FBI agent, all the CIA, DHS, Chris Wray, all of them. The ‘Fedsurrection’ must be investigated. On January 20th, we must free the 1,400 patriots who are incarcerated as criminals.” He explodes, “We have to investigate it all. We have to go back, we have to go back to 3 November of 2020. We must go back there and we’ve got to adjudicate how they stole it and who stole it.”

The Rev. Robert Jeffress, known as “Trump’s apostle,” joins in the expression of contempt for other Christians. Jeffress called Nancy Pelosi “sanctimonious” and likened her to a “pyromaniac with a match in his hand.” “Well, apparently the god [Democrats] worship is the pagan god of the Old Testament Moloch, who allowed for child sacrifice,” Jeffress said. He has also said, “The Democrats are a godless party.”

When the Democratic party hired Union Seminary Vice President Derrick Harkins to lead the party’s 2020 faith outreach efforts, Jeffress called him a “Trump-hating pastor” who comes from a “liberal seminary that is filled with liberal professors who couldn’t find God if their life depended on it.” Jeffress seems oblivious to the contributions of Union Seminary to American Christianity since its founding in New York.

Such contempt for “fellow Christians” goes against the clear teaching of Jesus, diminishes the importance of ecumenical relationships among Christians, and assumes a radical superiority over all other Christians.

As an evangelical Christian (I struggle to maintain this identity), as a Democrat, and as a Baptist preacher, I have grown tired of the contempt I receive from MAGA Christians. With the psalmist I cry, “Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.”


Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. The pastor of 7 Southern Baptist churches over the course of 20 years, he pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton, Ohio — which is an American Baptist Church — for 13 years. He is currently professor of homiletics at Palmer Theological Seminary, and interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, New York. His seventh book, Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy, is out now from Wipf and Stock (Cascades).