Notes From a Post-Christian Nation
On Nancy Mace and her church
Everyone’s talking about GOP Representative Nancy Mace and her viral gaffe at the prayer breakfast this week. In a poorly-judged attempt at stand-up comedy, she joked that she had refused sex with her fiancé in the morning so she could get to the event on time. (Mace, 47, is already twice-divorced with children from previous marriages.) “TMI, maybe,” she laughed, while some of the audience laughed with her. We never see them, so it’s not clear just how well—or how badly—the joke landed. But it certainly didn’t land well on conservative Twitter.
The backlash didn’t seem to deter Mace, who mocked conservatives for their prudery and clapped back, “I go to church because I’m a sinner not a saint!” She then joked that she and her pastor would have “extra to talk about next Sunday.” She attends Seacoast, a South Carolina-based mega-church with fourteen “campuses.” In her speech, Mace followed up the joke with an autobiographical digression about how she first began attending the church after her second divorce. Though she describes herself as “not a church-going woman” at the time, she says the experience “changed her life.” As she put it in a short Twitter thread, she “got saved” — four years ago.
There’s something sad in the way that Mace genuinely doesn’t seem to grasp the basic reason for the backlash. She keeps ascribing it to a vague reflex against “PG-rated jokes,” rather than an objection to her normalizing unapologetic sexual sin on the stage of a Christian prayer breakfast. The rest of her story sheds light on why this might be, revealing as much about the state of American Christianity as it reveals about Nancy Mace.
Recently, I was recording some material for what will hopefully turn into a long-form podcast project based on my friend Justin Brierley’s forthcoming book The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God. In reflecting on the Bush-era critiques of the New Atheists, I mentioned that books like Letter to a Christian Nation revealed a predictable atheist myopia about the church in America. In Sam Harris’s mind, he was a champion for courageous beleaguered atheists who lived in closeted fear under a puritanical “Christianist” regime. In reality, he and the other Four Horsemen were largely tilting at windmills, because America was already anything but “Christian.” Evangelical mega-churches didn’t need to be neutralized by Sam Harris. They were happy to neutralize themselves.
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