Months ago, on the night evangelical hard-liner and self-admitted bigot Roy Moore lost his bid for Alabama Senate, program manager Rebecca Bramlett, 26, sat with her partner in their Memphis living room, drinking wine out of a cardboard box and doubting their senses.
Early returns indicated a close race, with Moore barely ahead of Democratic opponent Doug Jones. That Jones got this far in deep-red Alabama was astonishing, even if his ‘family values’ adversary did stand accused of multiple accusations of soliciting underage sex. But then came the tallies in Selma and Birmingham, as black women and other minorities stepped up and sank Moore’s campaign for good.
“We were pumped,” Bramlett told Grit Post in a phone interview. “I knew Alabama. I knew how these people think. When I look at (Moore’s) supporters I feel like I know these people, and I … just knew they were going to (win) again.”
Bramlett attributes her familiarity to her conservative family’s connection to Tennessee’s John Bramlett Ministries, the organization founded by charismatic former New England Patriots linebacker John Bramlett, presumably after he stopped being the “meanest man in football” and found Jesus.
Waist-deep in Grampa Bramlett’s ministry, Rebecca said her family rejected her homosexuality after her sister outed her. She said she doesn’t talk to her father anymore and never attends family events.
Her grandmother, Nancy Bramlett, 75, said she still speaks regularly with Rebecca, as does her mother, but that Rebecca will only be welcomed back fully by the family if she goes straight.
“I will always love her and be here for her, but I will not—that is not what I condone,” Nancy Bramlett said. “That is not a good thing for her life. No, it’s not. Nothing can do anything with this, except God. Only God can make her see that that is not good.”
“She was not raised that way, she knows better,” Bramlett said in a subsequent interview. “It’s been a real heartbreaker, I can tell you.”
Rebecca Bramlett said she bristles at the family’s duplicity.
“My main issue with my family and Southern Baptist evangelical Christians is the hypocrisy,” she said. “It is absolute hypocrisy that you’re going to pick and choose the parts of the Bible to focus on, and then completely ignore other things.”
Rebecca may be referring to the same sections of the Bible that condemn homosexuality while also condemning many things practiced by contemporary Christians. While the King James Version of Leviticus 18:22 calls homosexuality an “abomination,” the same translation of Leviticus 11:10 also uses the same word to describe the eating of shellfish. Leviticus 19:19 also condemns planting two different crops side-by-side in the same field, as well as clothing made from mixed fibers.
Southern Baptists’ talent at ignoring injustice defines them. The denomination broke away from Baptists in 1845 over whether to ignore slave-owners representing the faith as missionaries. Since then, the denomination has been a bastion for racists, who enriched the church and made it the catalyst for Moore’s Christian right/Republican Party union in the South. The church got a strong segregation-related boost in the 1970s when the IRS attempted to revoke tax-exempt status for church-affiliated segregated K-12 academies.
Racism remained the movement’s foundation, to the point where the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) only recently managed to denounce it—and even then, only after a fight. Youth, today, have had enough the church, however. White evangelical Protestants rank among groups with the oldest members as young congregants bolt. Refugees are indifferent, or ask too many questions. Others—like Bramlett—are repelled by the hypocrisy. Their spirituality remains, however, so they are diverting their energies elsewhere.
Secular Student Alliance Executive Director Kevin Bolling said recovering young people brought up in the evangelical movement help swell the ranks of his organization, which uses their strength to advocate for a better world by holding voter registration drives and marching to show solidarity with women, the LGBT community and immigrants. The success of Bolling’s efforts is likely tied to the fact that 70 percent of youth who identify as Christian prior to attending college end up leaving the church.
“Once you take religious dogma out of arguments equality issues become very, very easy to defend,” Bolling told Grit Post. “Women are equal to men when you remove religion from the debate. It’s the same thing with LGBT issues.”
Bolling said his group’s already growing membership exploded immediately after the election of President Trump.
“Over the last year we’ve seen the number of students involved with our individual chapters increase across the United States,” he said. “We’ve also seen an increase in our number of chapters. Probably within the last six weeks we’ve had maybe 16 students call, seeking to start their own chapters.”
This is energy and money that isn’t fueling the SBC, and they seem powerless to recapture it. Emily Brunner, media relations coordinator for the anti-LGBT American Family Association, makes clear that the AFA remains unwilling to adapt.
“If one’s lifestyle does not align with Biblical teachings then they need to reexamine their lifestyle choices rather than blame the Church for its lack of accommodation,” Brunner said in a phone interview. “The job of the church is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and make disciples.”
While the church languishes, young people like University of Mississippi Medical Center student researcher Camryn Fleming are going about their lives without it. In an interview via Facebook messenger, Fleming — a former Evangelical — told Grit Post she is now a vociferous champion of progressive causes. She recently created an online fundraiser for Planned Parenthood.
Fleming’s last experience with organized religion concluded at the age of 14. She blames bad behavior—not hers, of course, but the church’s.
“My church … squandered the money donated to them by their own congregation on lavish mission trips and clothing for the pastor and his wife. …[F]or people that encouraged charity, they seemed to be able to do little of it without indulging themselves first.”
“It was the frivolity of it all,” she explained.
Adam Lynch is a glorified secretary, researcher and part-time “word-puncher” who routinely picks fights with politicians in Jackson, Mississippi. Battle with him on Twitter @A_damn_Lynch. He’s also on Facebook, if that’s still a thing.