Evangelical Generation Gap on Climate Mirrors Country

March 28, 2021

Nicolas Kristof in the New York Times:

The Rev. Rick Joyner is a famous evangelical leader who has called on Christians to arm themselves for an inevitable civil war against liberals, who he suggests are allies of the devil.

But this is the awkward part: His five children would be on the other side of that civil war, as he and his kids all acknowledge. Just as America is torn asunder by politics and polarization, so is the Joyner family. The Joyners love each other, are there for each other — and despair for each other.

“He talks about Democrats being evil, forgetting that all five of his kids vote Democratic,” said his eldest, Anna Jane Joyner, 36, a climate change activist and podcast host (her father has suggestedthat climate change is a Communist conspiracy). “Who is he asking his followers to take up arms against? Liberal activists? That’s me.”

She worries that his far-right rhetoric may get people killed, so she feels a responsibility to challenge him. “I think it’s completely possible that some of my dad’s followers could pick up guns and cause violence because they think they’re defending the country,” she said.

Sam Joyner, 26, a ceramic artist and the youngest of the siblings, was also blunt about their father: “He’s causing harm in my view, and he’s being incredibly irresponsible.”

“I think what he does is morally wrong, but I love him,” added Ben Joyner, 28, a filmmaker. “I don’t want to hurt him, but when he’s spreading dangerous ideas, it gets complicated.”

I called Pastor Joyner to ask if his children frustrate him as much as he does them. “It’s about even,” he said dryly, and he seemed proud of them but pained that while he has won over vast throngs of strangers who see him as a modern prophet, he can’t persuade some of the people he cares most about. None of the children identify as evangelical, and all deplore his politics.

“One of my goals as a parent was to raise strong, independent children,” he said. “But I think I overshot the runway.”

The minister, 71, conceded that in the civil war he expects to break out soon, “we would be on opposite sides.” But he hastened to add that he doesn’t plan on exchanging rifle shots with his children. “I hope my kids don’t get involved in the violence, but it’s coming,” he said.

The most outspoken is Anna Jane, who says her father’s rhetoric became more extreme in recent years. She had her first falling out with him when she became a Democrat and an environmentalist while a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He cut off her college funding, and she moved to New Zealand. Soon after, she nearly died in a boating accident — and the first person she called was her dad. They reconciled.

He resumed paying her tuition, and after graduation he supported her so she could take an unpaid internship with the Sierra Club, an organization he disapproved of. He also promoted a film by his son Ben about a gay man in the South, even though it likewise had him gritting his teeth.

I told Rick Joyner that I thought his struggles with his children reflected a larger generation gap and dwindling of influence of the religious right. To my surprise, he agreed. “The church in America has been tremendously weakened,” he acknowledged.

If the Joyners are a microcosm of a nation divided, perhaps they also offer a ray of hope in their ability to bridge differences. They remain close and get together for holidays, even if gatherings are tense.

“At what point can I no longer go home for Thanksgiving and watch football with my dad?” Ben mused. “By doing so, am I condoning his behavior? It can be hard to draw that line in the sand, especially when you love this person.”

Anna Jane put it this way: “Is it OK to just talk about movies and dogs with someone who’s trying to incite civil war? I don’t know.”

She describes herself today as “an Episcopalian/Buddhist/pantheist/agnostic,” yet somehow, improbably, she remains close to her father.

Last year when Hurricane Sally hit coastal Alabama, where Anna Jane lives, she had to evacuate in the middle of the night. She was furious at her father for his climate denial — but he’s the person she called in that crisis, and he stayed on the phone with her for much of the night, relaying the latest information and helping to keep her safe.

“I’m so angry at him for his politics and for endangering me and all of us by not believing in climate change,” she said. “And yet he’s the one I turn to in the middle of the night when I’m evacuating and I’m really scared.”


8 Responses to “Evangelical Generation Gap on Climate Mirrors Country”

  1. ubrew12 Says:

    ‘Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven’ It’s a wonderful sentiment, but think, if he really believes this, how many things Rick Joyner can happily get wrong without a stitch of regret. So, for what it’s worth, I don’t forgive him. And he’ll happily remind me that mine is the forgiveness he’s taught not to seek.

  2. eliotaxelrod Says:

    Although Thomas Kuhn’s work has become an overused cliche, it applies well in this type of generational split in the Joyner family over climate change. Ideas and concepts of the world change with the pass of the older generation from influence. The older generation has bought into the old paradigm so deeply that no amount of evidence will change their minds

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      That’s both erudite and kind. I just say they’re suffering from calcification of the brain.

  3. doldrom Says:

    People have never been shaped and molded by the media to the degree that they are at present. Cultural influences from beyond organic bonds (family, neighborhood, community, etc) far outweigh the influence of people’s living kin & neighbours.

  4. John Oneill Says:

    Doesn’t look like Anna Jane fell that far from the apple tree. All her podcasts seem to be interviews of various flavours of god botherer, with nary a scientist to be heard.

    • BL Brown Says:

      But it seems that demonization of other religious beliefs has been left behind. Tolerance of differences is a step in the right direction.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        It doesn’t help that people feel demonized and persecuted when they encounter someone like me that thinks that any supernatural beliefs that influence behavior are not good and often horrible.

        I, for instance, didn’t realize until well after I deconverted that the entire premise of Christianity is that all people are blamed for something their remote ancestors did (eat the forbidden fruit of knowledge) and need to seek redemption, a fundamentally unjust concept. I don’t demonize people for believing this as I once did, but I’m not going to keep silent if I encounter people actively promoting it.

  5. al mar Says:

    I have come to think part of the reason right-wingers hate government funded healthcare so much is that ‘mental healthcare’ would have to play a big part in it. And I think we all can figure out how the Marjorie Taylor Greens & Rick Joyners of America would be diagnosed.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: