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Episode Summary

Big businesses and organizations are obsessed with branding, the idea of associating themselves in the public mind with a particular thing. But the most prominent branding operation in recent decades wasn’t in the realm of commerce. It was in the realm of religion, where well-funded activists succeeded at convincing millions of Americans that to be a good Christian meant you have to be on the far right.

We’ve talked about how this process has worked historically on the show. But today we’re going to feature a discussion with someone who is working to challenge that in the present.

Joining me today is Malynda Hale. She is a singer, a songwriter, and actress, and she’s also the host of a great podcast called “#WeNeedToTalk” that focuses on elevating progressive Christian voices and others who support women’s rights and LGBT rights.

The unedited video of our conversation is below. The transcript of the edited audio follows.



Transcript

MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: Thanks for being here, Malynda.

HALE: Thanks for having me, Matthew.

SHEFFIELD: Let’s maybe get started first to talk a bit about your background and how you got into doing the things that you’re doing today.

MALYNDA HALE: Absolutely. So I grew up in Santa Barbara, California, which is a predominantly white town in Southern California. It’s a little beach town, and I grew up singing in the church in one of the only black churches there, St. Paul AME, African Methodist Episcopal church. And I was very lucky to have that experience being exposed to gospel music, being exposed to my culture. Growing up, it played a huge part in me wanting to be a musician and performer.

I did musical theater all throughout school. When I went to college I majored in vocal performance, classical voice, and minored in theater. And after going to school, I just decided I wanted to be a singer full-time and that’s what I ended up doing. But as my music career began to grow, I realized that my voice was needed in other areas.

And I’ve always been a huge advocate for conversation for changing perspectives or hearing different perspectives, talking to people outside of your echo chamber. That’s just kind of always been the type of person I am. So that’s what led to me wanting to have this podcast called #WeNeedToTalk.

And the title itself kind of tells you that we need to talk about these things. Because I truly believe everything begins with a conversation. So that’s kind of the Reader’s Digest version of how I got involved in this, but it’s been quite a long journey and trajectory for me, being a musician, becoming an activist, being a podcast host in involving myself with these meaningful conversations that people shouldn’t shy away from, but that are really needed.

SHEFFIELD: They certainly are. So growing up though, you weren’t exposed to a lot of this far right, politicized Christianity at all.

No, not at all.

I think that’s something that a lot of Christians who are apolitical or progressive or centrist, they don’t see this stuff in their churches. Their pastors, or ministers, or priests, they’re not talking about it. They’re not forcing their political views on people. And so to some degree, do you think that people think it’s not real, almost? Like if you haven’t directly seen this politicized, far right Christianity, it’s not real to you to some degree.

HALE: I love that because I actually hadn’t considered that until you just said that, but it makes sense, but I think it’s also part of it is that they might already be so far into it that they actually don’t know that they’re being quote, unquote, brainwashed into hearing all of these things. Because that’s just what they’re told is right in their church.

So even if they are talking about things that are political, they think: ‘I trust my pastor. I trust what he’s saying. So this must be true. And what everybody else is saying has to be false.’ But my background growing up in church, and I think it has a lot to do with growing up in a black church.

It was very, it was a little bit more progressive, honestly. And my mom was always very progressive and liberal and I wasn’t exposed to evangelicalism or conservative Christianity until I went to school. I went to what I found out eventually was a conservative Christian school. I just wanted to go to Christian school because that’s how I grew up.

But I was then exposed to this different way of thinking that I never knew about never knew existed because that wasn’t the type of faith or religion that I had grown up with. And it wasn’t what I subscribed to. So I was very shocked.

But I do think that a lot of people don’t think that politics and faith really are mixing because they’re just going about their lives the way that they’re told to in a way,

SHEFFIELD: Especially Christians who believe the things that Jesus said, ‘my kingdom is not of this world.’

HALE: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: That was a very critical teaching throughout Christianity through its history, that these were separate things. The kingdom of God was something that God would build, not humans. Humans–

HALE: Absolutely.

SHEFFIELD: Couldn’t do it.

HALE: Yeah. And I think there’s a huge contradiction with that, because I do think a lot of the thinking that I’m seeing is: ‘Oh this is just a temporary home, right? When heaven is the permanent home.’ So people think that what they do here on earth doesn’t really matter. And that even turns into politics.

And we don’t have to follow these laws. We are following what God says in the Bible, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But at the same time, they’re also using those laws to push forward their theology and push forward their religious beliefs. So there’s hypocrisy and a big contradiction in what they’re saying, what they’re doing, I’ve noticed that.

SHEFFIELD: So tell us a little bit more about that sort of culture shock that you experienced when you got into college and were around this very different and hyper politicized right-wing Christianity.

HALE: Yeah. I mean, there were several things, one just even from the music. I grew up with gospel music and having music played on the piano and the organ, and there’s a full band with acoustic guitar. So that was a very different experience, one.

Two, I’ve just always known that I was a Democrat, even before I could vote. And I know a lot of people are influenced by their parents in terms of your political standing. And then when you get older, you figure things out on your own. But I always knew that’s kind of what I aligned with.

And just from my experience, it was the party that cared about people. And so when I got to college, everybody was a Republican to the point where someone told me I disgusted them because I was a Democrat. I was like, wait a minute. First of all, you’re saying you’re a Christian. And you’re literally saying to me to my face that I disgusted you because I just vote differently than you at that time.

And it was just a lot of the negativity towards the LGBTQ community. A lot of negativity towards their not being prayer in the schools, not everybody being a Christian. So why should your form of prayer be the only thing that’s allowed in schools? Obviously I was at a Christian school, so that’s all that we did, but they were talking about public schools, for example.

Yeah. So it was those types of conversations that I would just listen. And honestly, I didn’t engage as much as I do now. Very different in that mindset in terms of how I feel comfortable engaging. At the time, I would just listen because I was very confused and that’s not what I grew up with in my family and in my church.

So hearing those kinds of speaking points and hearing where people came from, and what they thought at the time. Bush was president, everybody loved him because he said he was a Christian, despite all of the bad things that he had done. It was just things like that, that it was very confusing to me that I didn’t understand how people who aligned themselves with what Jesus stood for, that they were aligning themselves with people that I didn’t feel really represented Jesus.

SHEFFIELD: So that person who said that you disgusted them, let’s go back to that. What was that? Finish that story, Malynda! (laughs) Yeah.

HALE: It’s because I think at the time, gosh, I feel like I’ve so far removed from college at this point I blocked out so many of those memories, but I think it was when we were voting for Bush or John Kerry .

So it was the first time I was voting and I, they were like, oh, did you vote for Bush? And I was like, no, I voted for John Kerry. He’s like: ‘You disgust me.’ And that was the end of the conversation. And I was like–

SHEFFIELD: Oh wow.

HALE: ‘Okay.’ He’s a Christian, that was like, that was the ‘it.’ Bush is a Christian, a Christian, how could you vote for John Kerry? I was like: ‘I don’t agree with a lot of what Bush says.’ (laughs)

SHEFFIELD: One of course, John Kerry is a Christian also. (laughs)

HALE: Well, not in their mind, because you can’t apparently be a Christian and be a Democrat apparently.

SHEFFIELD: And that is something I mentioned in the intro, that they’ve really pushed hard on this idea that ‘the Christian position on X is what I say it is.’

HALE: Yes.

SHEFFIELD: And just recently Marjorie Taylor Green kind of provided a great example of that –the far right, Georgia Congresswoman. I’m going to just roll the clip here so people can know the context before we discuss it or after we’ve discussed it.

(Begin video clip)

MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE: What it is, is it Satan’s controlling the church. The church is not doing its job and it’s not adhering to the teachings of Christ. And it’s not adhering to what the word of God says we’re supposed to do, and how we’re supposed to live and what they’re doing by saying: ‘Oh, we have to love these people and take care of these migrants and love one another. This is loving one another.’

Yes, we are supposed to love one another, but their definition of what love one another means means destroying our law. It means completely perverting what our constitution says. It means taking unreal advantage of the American taxpayer, and it means pushing a globalist policy on the American people and forcing America to become something that we are not supposed to be.

(End video clip)

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. So I’ll just give the context of where this clip came from. So this was an interview that Greene gave, for viewers who haven’t seen it or people watching this in the future at some point. Basically Marjorie Taylor Greene is this extremist congresswoman and she gave an interview to this far right, Catholic YouTube channel and website. And basically she was saying, this is why I am not a Catholic anymore, even though I was born and raised. And this is her justification of it, that Satan is controlling the Roman Catholic church because Roman Catholics want to help poor people and immigrants.

HALE: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: So I mean, how, like for you, count the ways for us in which that is just wrong theologically, if you could.

HALE: There, there are a couple of things. I think that Marjorie Taylor Greene is the perfect example of someone that is creating God in their image, as opposed to us being created in God’s image.

That’s the whole thing. We’re supposed to emulate everything that Jesus did, which was, at base, loving people and showing up for people and being there. And I think for a lot of people like her, that has actually become too difficult. Because that means that you have to take your ego out of it and your own personal beliefs, and actually do what Jesus did.

So that’s one thing, they’re creating God in their own image. Jesus is this gun wielding American white nationalist conservative. And that’s not who Jesus was. Jesus was a brown man. He was a pacifist. He was a social justice warrior and he loved people. And he was out there helping poor people and doing all of that work in the field.

The other thing is, love has become a conditional thing for a lot of people on the right. And we know that if we truly study God, that God’s love is unconditional and God doesn’t choose who he loves, who she loves, who it loves.

But they’ve made his love conditional. They made his love conditional. They’ve chosen who they think God can love. And that’s not how it works. You don’t get to decide who God loves, especially through legislation. And to say that how people on the left and progressives are choosing to actually love their neighbor is going against laws and constitution.

The constitution is not in the Bible, that has nothing to do with what the Christian faith is supposed to be about. And also there’s separation of church and state for a reason. But, we could talk about that for a long time, too.

But it’s this problem that they’ve created Jesus and God to represent themselves rather than allowing Jesus to represent what he actually represents, which like I said, is at base loving people.

I mean, there’s so much to the clip that angers me, because it’s funny that when she starts talking, she’s actually right. The church isn’t doing its job right now, but it’s the church that she goes to. It’s the church that she’s been a part of that isn’t doing it right.

And the way that she just turned it around to fit her own personal narrative, to make it seem like because the church is choosing to love people that Satan is controlling the church.

I can’t even wrap my mind around how she thinks that’s correct, but she’s not alone in how she thinks. There are a lot of people that probably think the way that she does.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, and I mean, it just goes against literally scores of Bible verses. And I’ll just pick one, Matthew 25: 35: “For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger. And you welcomed me.”

And the idea of treating the least of these, your brethren–

HALE: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: Then you’ve done it unto me. So it just is a complete discarding of the actual Biblical Jesus. And you can make arguments perhaps about some other issues.

People can cite Bible verses on whether abortion’s wrong or right. Or things like that. But this one’s pretty clear that Jesus says you should help people who are suffering.

HALE: The problem is though, is that a lot of people don’t think that the people who are suffering, like for example, you can look at Black Lives Matter, right?

They’re like: ‘Why does the black community need a movement? Nobody said they didn’t matter. They’ve been fine since slavery ended.’ That’s literally some of the arguments that I hear.

So they don’t understand that there actually is struggles within the black community that need to be addressed. And there are certain rights the black community does not have. Whether it’s written out directly in legislation or not, the black community is still far behind in America, but people don’t think that they are. So they’re not going to think that Black Lives Matter needs to be a thing. So wanting to help migrants come over here and help immigrants come over here or helping the homeless people.

They’re going to put the blame on them. ‘Why are the black people in that position? It’s probably their own fault. Why are you homeless? It’s probably your fault. You didn’t work hard enough.’

They always want to use those sort of talking points to put the blame on somebody else, rather than doing what they can do as people who claim to be Christian and offering a helping hand and help them.

And that’s what is so frustrating to me is that there’s no compassion. There’s no empathy. There’s no love. It’s all about what they believe and what makes them successful and what makes them continue to be pushed to the forefront. It’s very frustrating for me to witness.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. One verse that they do often talk about in this particular context is Second Thessalonians 3:10, where Paul says that if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. Like what’s your response to that?

HALE: Oh my gosh.

SHEFFIELD: I’m sure you’ve heard that one.

HALE: Yeah. I think it’s ‘what do you view as not willing?’ It’s easy to just say that somebody is not willing, but if people try and try and they’re not given the opportunity, then what do you say to that? I think also, I mean, we could talk about the homeless issue for forever, because if you want to say people are not willing, there’s also the lack of mental health awareness and resources in this country as well.

There are some people that can’t help it, that we need to help because they could have no control over what happens to them. So I just think the lack of empathy is what really bothers me and weaponizing scripture in that way is so un-Christlike, in my opinion. It’s so un-Christlike, that’s not what you’re supposed to be doing.

It’s way more simple than we make it. It’s about loving people and helping them. And if you were in a position to do so then do that, it’s that simple for me. It truly is.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And I would say also that the context on that particular verse they’re stripping it away in, in using it as a political device because the context of it.

HALE: There are a lot of verses they do that with. (laughs)

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. And the context in that one is specifically that Paul was talking to a small community of people who all know each other and probably live with each other in some sort of communal housing. So they actually would know if somebody is refusing to work. They actually would know because they live with them. They see them every day.

But if you’re not in that type of arrangement with somebody else, you really cannot know what they are refusing or willing to do. You can’t because you are not omnipotent. You’re a finite, small being who only knows what you can see in front of you.

HALE: And what we’re called to do as people that call ourselves Christians and are people of faith, what are you called to do?

You’re called to love your neighbor. And it’s that simple. So if you’re not doing that, what are you doing? And going even going–

SHEFFIELD: It’s the greatest commandment.

HALE: It’s the greatest commandment.

Absolutely. But even going back to something that you said earlier, I had a conversation on my podcast with Dr. Cornell West, and he’d said something that really struck me.

And it’s so true. You talked about the branding, right? Of Christianity. And we could go into that for a long time as well. But my biggest issue is that Christians aren’t supposed to have a brand they’re supposed to have a cause. And that cause is helping others. And so if you’re not adhering to that, then how are you calling yourself a Christian?

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And I think the other thing also is that another saying of Jesus that I think is ignored by this very far right Christianity– Jesus himself was constantly dealing with far right religious people who hated him.

The gospels tell that story over and over: ‘You weren’t doing this. You weren’t doing that. You broke this law, you broke that law. You were talking to these bad people, you were helping these terrible people. They’re awful. You shouldn’t associate with them. You should not invite them in.’ And I forget which gospel this is in, but he says at one point, look, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

And that verse, I think is so powerful. And so ignored by these people. Basically the historical context is that the right-wing movement in the United States started off as anarchists, they were literally libertarian anarchists.

That’s where they got started. And they said, okay we’ve got to find people who will vote for us. And they got wasted in the 1964 presidential election. Barry Goldwater just got destroyed by Lyndon Johnson, one of the biggest wipeouts in history.

And then they said: ‘Okay we’ve got to find people who will vote for us. Otherwise we’ll keep losing. So we’re going to find, traditionalist Christians, they will vote for us and we’re going to rebuild their religion in our image.’ And that’s what they’ve done.

HALE: Yeah, absolutely. It’s all about, as you’re saying that it’s just changing your platform to get the most followers at any given time, even before social media, that was a thing. It’s about getting the followers and getting the support.

So choosing Christians who are always looking for someone to follow on earth, I would say that makes sense. That it makes sense why Christianity has been tethered to the Republican party for so long as well.

SHEFFIELD: A big part of that was this capitalizing on this feeling that telling people: ‘Everyone thinks you’re dumb because you’re a Christian. You believe the Bible. So everyone hates you. We don’t hate you if you vote for us.’

HALE: Right.

SHEFFIELD: How is that any different than the story of Satan taking Jesus up to the mountain and saying, look, I’ll give you power if you worship me, I don’t see how it’s all that different. Do you?

HALE: It really isn’t. If you try to explain that, I don’t know if that’ll get through, but it’s not. I think that’s a great comparison. I do.

SHEFFIELD: Or like selling your soul for a mess of pottage in the Jacob and Esau story.

HALE: Yeah absolutely.

SHEFFIELD: Selling your birthright.

So some of the other things that you’re doing in terms of trying to raise awareness besides your podcast, you’re also a really great musician and songwriter. And I wanted to feature one of your latest music video that you’ve put out called “God and His Gun,” why don’t you tell us a little bit about what that is before we play it, and then we’ll talk about it a little bit more?

HALE: Absolutely. So in general, I feel that I’ve seen a lot of people on the right and the evangelical space be very pro Second Amendment, which I’m not against the Second Amendment, but I’m also not obsessed with it. And a lot of them, for some reason, think that the violence is the answer.

It’s just very odd to me. And I was inspired to write this song. I co-wrote the song with a friend of mine. He did all the guitar and the music for it. I was listening to Joan Osborne’s song, “One of Us,” nineties throwback. And it made me think, what would it be like to write that kind of in a more modern setting with the way that Christianity is now?

And so I took the approach of having a conversation with somebody that is in the evangelical conservative space and asking them questions and coming to the realization that, you could choose to be on the other side of this, but I’m just going to to leave you with your God and his gun because apparently Jesus would be, like I said, a gun-wielding person.

And I just don’t believe that. Obviously I think there’s enough evidence to show that Jesus was anti-violence. It would not be open-carry if you were alive today, but I’m sure some people think that.

So there’s a lot of questions posed in the song. And the video means a lot to me visually because of who’s represented and how it’s shot and everything like that.

So yeah, it’s deep. There’s a lot in the video and in the song.

SHEFFIELD: One of the other themes that’s in there is the idea that right wing Christianity is trying to deny that other people’s Christianity is real. And that God can use anybody as you say in the song,

HALE: But it’s also not even just Christianity. I feel like it’s a denial of any other faith besides Christianity. And that’s also the problem that interfaith existence is an anomaly to them. They don’t understand how anybody can not be a Christian. And that’s a huge issue too.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And they hate it.

HALE: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: All right let’s roll the clip here, and then we’ll discuss a little more.

SHEFFIELD: I love the ending there, especially, the idea of the closing of the doors is very symbolic.

HALE: Yes.

SHEFFIELD: I’ve thought that

HALE: Yes. Yes.

SHEFFIELD: This is not going to last. And people are going to leave. They’re going to walk out of the church.

HALE: Absolutely. I mean, there’s, so there’s so many things in the video, in the song we could dissect, but yeah, I mean, even just from, how I looked in the beginning of the video and then how I changed.

I mean, that was kind of a nod to purity culture and how they expect women to be, which is a lot of things in the church, talking about misogyny and purity culture and all that stuff.

SHEFFIELD: Well actually, can you explain purity culture for people who don’t know what that is.

HALE: I mean, it’s new for me, honestly, because I didn’t even know what it was until maybe like a year ago, but it’s this idea of being completely pure, obviously sexual purity, but like how you dressed, how you present yourself, keeping your mouth shut type of stuff.

And it’s only the expectation of women in the church of being pure. And this idea of pureness, is controlled by what men view and think is pure. There’s so many things about purity culture that are very odd to me that I didn’t understand, but it’s really just how women are supposed to be in the church in terms of how they present themselves and move forward and saving yourself for your husband and not talking to men, not having platonic relationships, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

This is what God wants of you. It’s ridiculous.

SHEFFIELD: Not even dating.

HALE: Yeah. It’s crazy.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, it is. So one of your passions in your advocacy is talking about LGBT rights. Now what do you say to somebody who says the Bible says that, homosexual acts are a sin. What’s your response to that?

HALE: When was that put in the Bible? That’s what I always asked them.

SHEFFIELD: What do you mean by that?

HALE: Because that word didn’t even show up in the Bible until 1944, if I’m correct. And so how can you say that this is what God wants when a man literally put it into the Bible at a certain year that we know that, right?

The other thing, there’s a great sermon that I listened to that explained homosexuality in the Bible in a way that I’d never heard it before, but basically when it says, thou shall not lie with a man the way that you lie with a woman, I don’t know exactly the exact verse. I’m not like a Bible scripture person at all.

But the explanation was is that at the time women were viewed as property. And so you weren’t supposed to lie with a man in the way that you lie with a woman, because men were not property. They didn’t say anything about love. They said nothing about that. It was how they viewed women and you’re not supposed to lie with a man in that way.

That has always been my understanding of the LGBTQ issue in the church. Not that it was wrong to be in a loving same-sex relationship, but that you aren’t supposed to treat men the way that you treat women as property. That’s just been my understanding, especially this sermon that I heard a few years back, it really laid it out beautifully.

And I was like, oh wow, that’s a great way to look at it.

SHEFFIELD: You obviously are talking to people who have different interpretations of Christianity than yourself. Like how much do you think they’re even aware that there are ways of looking at the Bible that are not oppressive or discriminatory, do you think they’re even aware that that’s possible?

HALE: I don’t. I absolutely don’t. I think that their bubble is very small and I think they believe what they told. The church is not known for critical thinking. And they don’t encourage it at all. They don’t encourage you to dive deep, to ask questions, to do any of that.

They encourage you to believe what you’re told and trust what your pastor says and that the Bible is word for word just exactly what it is. And that’s such a terrible way to look at things. Because anything can be interpreted differently, but to be so egotistical, to think that your interpretation, because it feeds what you believe is correct, it’s just not the way to go about life at all.

So, no, I don’t think that they have any idea. I don’t, I really don’t.

SHEFFIELD: And it’s also, that sort of literalist interpretation, it’s a limitation on God.

HALE: Absolutely. They’re putting them in a box, her in a box, it in a box, putting God in a box. And that’s not how God works. And God’s not supposed to be put in a box.

And when they do that, they actually, they make God so small. And that’s what’s crazy to me. For someone who you view as worthy of your praise, that you worship, that you pray to, that you go to for answers and guidance and love and compassion. You make this immortal being so small, but worthy of everything, it makes no sense.

It’s very contradictory. And it’s frustrating because, I think, obviously God’s capable of everything. So why are you limiting God? Also, you can’t on one hand say that God doesn’t make mistakes, but then make people feel like they’re a mistake. That doesn’t work. That’s not how God works. And like I said before, you’re also controlling who God loves.

God has never said he does not love the LGBTQ community. God has never said that they’re going to hell. God has never said any of that. You are the ones that are saying that. Because every time I asked, where did God say this? When did this happen? There’s no real answers for it.

So it’s very frustrating because they are controlling who God loves and limiting God completely.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, actually I had a funny example of somebody doing that. There’s this woman who was one of Donald Trump’s election heist lawyers, Jenna Ellis is her name. And she brands herself as a very Christian person, Bible believer, et cetera.

And she made some tweet that I don’t even remember what it was about. And I said, if your God existed, I don’t think that she would appreciate that.

And she got angry at me. She said: “How dare you mis-gender God?” And I was just like, you literally just described why people who are transgender ask you not to do that. And she just did not get that at all. And again, if you think that God is a timeless, space-less, omnipresent being that exists everywhere at all time, that’s not male or female.

HALE: It’s that simple, especially if we are all created in God’s image, if that’s what you are subscribing to, and that’s what you believe, and that’s the message that you’re putting forth. If we are all created in God’s image, that means that God is all of us, which would technically mean that God is non-binary.

You know what I mean? God is just, God, there’s no gender. Now, if it makes you feel more comfortable to say he, she, whatever, then that’s fine because it’s a personal journey. It’s a personal relationship. Whatever makes you comfortable, but you shouldn’t judge anybody else or correct anybody on that, because that’s not what you feel.

But if we are all made in God’s image, then God is all of us. And I don’t know why that’s such a difficult concept to understand.

SHEFFIELD: A lot of it, I think is because, a lot of churches, they’re creating this sort of digest version of Christianity, it’s a censored Christianity where they have said that these are the verses that we’re interested in. These are the stories that we’re interested in. And anything that’s outside of these stories or these themes, we don’t talk about that.

HALE: Right.

SHEFFIELD: And, and in particular, that also includes areas where people in the Bible engage in sinful behavior and are condemned for that. And a lot of times they don’t talk about that, those actions. And show that, even these people who you have been built up to admire, they engaged in sins and you do also. And I do, I think that the minister or whoever talking. There’s just this expectation that sinners are other people they’re not you.

HALE: It’s interesting that you say that, because I always find it– it’s not surprising. I’m not surprised by anything anymore, to be honest. But when pastors get involved in scandals specifically with pedophilia or sexual abuse, there is this level of forgiveness for them. And then they start to use that rhetoric. We’re all sinners. We all fall, we’re human, et cetera, et cetera.

And it makes it okay for them in the experience that they had and excuses for their behavior. But if it’s anybody else in the congregation, there’s this shaming and shunning that happens because you are going against the word of God.

But whenever it’s somebody that’s in a position of power or leadership in the church that actually does end up sinning, which most of the time it is them, then that’s when the forgiveness needs to kick in. And that’s when we’re humans and that’s when we all fail and God forgives yada yada yada.

And that drives me up a wall. That drives me crazy.

SHEFFIELD: And they have the same attitude toward Donald Trump. They will freely admit Donald Trump lies a lot and he cheated on his wives, et cetera, God forgives him. He’s a baby Christian. I’ve heard that phrase that he’s coming to know Jesus. We just know it.

I mean, obviously people can’t know what he fully believes, but on the other hand, you can judge by his actions what he believes. And he basically routinely says, I don’t know anything about Christian doctrine and I’m not interested. I don’t pray. He’s flat out said I never asked for forgiveness.

HALE: He doesn’t go to church.

SHEFFIELD: He doesn’t go to church. Yeah. But that’s what’s kind of interesting though. They’re showing that they are capable of extending the principle of personal grace to him and to their authority figures, but they don’t want to do it to others.

I mean, even if you think that being lesbian or gay is a sin, that doesn’t mean you have to mistreat people.

HALE: I wish that it were that easy, but it’s not. For some reason, they extend personal grace to who they see fit. Again, they’re making love conditional, and they’re making God conditional, when it’s supposed to be unconditional. And I don’t know. I think we could sit here and talk about who does fit the criteria of who deserves grace for them.

I think it’s pretty obvious what the makeup of that type of person is, but it is a shame because it is extended to specifically the least of these, which is who we are instructed to give that love and grace to. And I don’t even know how to brow-beat that point into them in conversations, because even if you bring it up in a very eloquent and compassionate way, and I have, because I will engage with people that I don’t agree with.

It’s either they run away or they start with some other point or whatever, but there’s never a conversation about why certain people are forgiven and shown grace versus people that actually really do need it and deserve it.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah and it’s explicitly said, judge not lest ye be judged. So basically that says you should, as a Christian, actually not judge anyone, no matter who they are or what they did. That doesn’t mean that they can’t have justice rendered by the law or whatever, that doesn’t mean that at all.

HALE: Yes.

SHEFFIELD: So in the time that you have been out there, advocating for your beliefs, do you think that the more moderate or progressive Christians, how aware are they of how brainwashed a lot of people are and should they be more concerned about it?

HALE: I think they are aware, but I wish that there were more louder voices in the room. I think the loudest voices in the room right now are the ones that are brainwashed, unfortunately. And I wish that more progressive and moderate Christians would speak up about this, but in ways that are calming.

And I know it’s very hard to be patient and to give space to someone that is so stuck in their beliefs and may not be willing to hear what you have to say, but I think not trying is worse than failing, if you fail, that means that you tried, so that’s, what’s frustrating for me is that I feel like I don’t see or hear enough progressive and moderate voices.

There are a few, I’m not going to say that there’s none. There’s definitely some out there. I follow some I engage with and I appreciate, but I definitely feel like the loudest voices in the room right now are the ones that are brainwashed and following this rhetoric and theology that is very harmful to most people besides their own group of people.

SHEFFIELD: Now what about the role of money in that lack of speaking out? Because it seems to me like for instance, there’s this company called Salem Media which is a right-wing media company. They own a bunch of different, highly biased right-wing websites like Red State, or they own Townhall.com, and several other websites that have a conservative Republican perspective.

But they also own a lot of Christian media websites as well. And so basically they’re trying to shove these two markets together as much as they can. Look at like Lifeway Christian stores which there’s a ton of those out there. And you’ve got a lot of these, production companies that do things for various churches that they’re owned by these extreme groups. And then, publishing houses, et cetera.

It seems to me like some of these more moderate or progressive ministers, they’re afraid to speak out because it would harm them. They would be canceled.

HALE: I don’t know if I necessarily agree with that. I just think that maybe they’re focused on something else.

I feel like when you’re talking about like these publishing houses, these production companies that are more so in the evangelical spaces and you’re talking about money, it goes back to what I said, it’s branding, it’s a business. It’s not a church that is focused on serving people, which is what the heart of being a community of believers is supposed to be.

And I would like to think that maybe that’s the reason why so many progressive moderates, maybe aren’t the loudest voices in the room, because they’re focusing on what they should be focusing on, which is helping people, which is what the base of the faith is supposed to be.

I would like to think, I can’t say for certain that’s why, but I would hope that’s the reason why you don’t have the same type of institutions and systems on the progressive side as you do on the evangelical side, but they’re not driven by money. They’re actually driven by their heart and what they’re supposed to be doing in terms of walking like Jesus.

So I think that when you look at the evangelical space, the conservative space, why they have all of that is because they’re not driven by the right thing.

They’re driven by money and branding and notoriety, which is the last thing that Jesus cared about, which is really funny to me. It’s literally the last thing that he cared about.

SHEFFIELD: To that point, what do you think about the whole Hillsong phenomenon? Tell me what you think about that.

HALE: Did you watch the documentary?

SHEFFIELD: I didn’t actually.

HALE: Oh, okay. I did, so I have plenty to say. (laughs) Yeah, it was a three-part documentary that focused on the phenomenon that is Hillsong.

SHEFFIELD: And where is it at for someone–

HALE: It’s on Discovery Plus. I just did a seven day free trial because I don’t have any more streaming services left in me. Like I can’t subscribe to another one.

SHEFFIELD: That was my thought, yeah.

HALE: So just do the seven day free trial. There are three, one hour episodes. You’ll get through it very quickly. And then you can just cancel your subscription. I appreciated the investigative journalism that was done.

I wish it were on a platform that more people had. I actually do wish it was on Hulu or Netflix so that more people would watch it and truly see how terrible Hillsong is.

And I don’t use terrible loosely. It really is a terrible institution based on how much harm they’ve caused people, how they functioned, how they used people, took advantage of people all in the name of God. And Hillsong and institutions like them, to me, are the epitome of using the Lord’s name in vain because the lead pastors of those churches that ascend to fame worldwide are doing it for themselves. They’re doing it for money. They’re doing it for notoriety.

And that is vanity in its finest form, right? And a lot of things with the Hillsong institution were centered around hiding scandal, were centered around abuse, misogyny, sexual abuse, secrets, and protecting the leaders, as opposed to trying to make a safe space for people to be because they love God and want to live like Jesus.

Now I will say having been a worship leader for six years, I love Hillsong’s music, but it’s created for you to love it. It’s very formulaic. It’s very pop, top 40 radio friendly. And they even said in the documentary that the way that they structure their songs is manipulative in a way, because it makes you think that you’re feeling the spirit and you’re connecting with God based on the lyrics and the chord progression.

And as a musician, someone whose degree is in music, they’re 100% correct how it’s formed, how it progresses, how it elevates, how it crescendos. It really is made to make you feel something. And it’s controlling your emotions through the music and not in the best way possible. The other thing about Hillsong is you would get thousands of volunteers wanting to serve because that’s what they think they’re called to do as Christians to serve people.

But it got to the point where so many people that were serving freely from the goodness of their hearts were just taken advantage of and abused and not appreciated at all.

The other thing is when the scandals came out with the sexual abuse of one of the pastors, with another one of the pastors hiding sexual abuse from his father who created Hillsong, it was a lot of excuses. And a lot of, like I said before, forgiveness and, I’m just a man I’m going to fall. I sin. We are all sinners, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So there was really no accountability.

And I think that’s the problem with preaching about forgiveness. And the way that it’s preached about in these churches is that it’s presented as a way to rid yourself of any responsibility or accountability, because God will forgive you if you repent for your sins, quote unquote.

And funny thing about the word repent. I was just listening to Brené Brown, she had Richard Rohr on her podcast and it’s called “Unlocking Us.” And he was talking about how the word repent was actually misinterpreted in the Bible and the word was actually metanoia.

And that means change your mind. Renew your mind, transform your mind, but in translation and later translations, it became repent. As opposed to changing your mind.

Could you imagine how the Christian faith would be if we move forward with, instead of repenting, but just change your mind, change your perspective and change the way you think, which is actually what Jesus said?

So it’s funny that was what was pushed forward to repent for your sins, and God will forgive you. And then it’s fine. So a lot of the Hillsong documentary is triggering for a lot of people. The way that they run their institution is like a Fortune 500 company. I mean, they have millions of dollars if not in the billions. And they do very little to help others and just serve themselves. That was a long response, but it’s important. (laughs)

SHEFFIELD: No, it was good. I think that it is something that is a problem in a lot of these mega churches out there. They get so much money. And I’m glad you mentioned the musical aspect of it because, it’s like for a lot of them, they’ve repackaged being a Christian into listening to, listening and buying this music and then voting for who I tell you. And that’s all it is. It’s nothing else.

HALE: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: And I actually had somebody on my show a little bit ago that actually she would be a great guest for your podcast. I’ll send you her info, but basically she actually did a book that was part of her research was used actually in the Hillsong documentary.

And so one of the things about it though, is that, she also was looking at Pentecostalism as a global movement. So she went, she looked in Africa, she looked in Brazil and other places, Mexico.

And one of the things that she found was that music was just so central to a lot of what these churches were doing. And when I’m looking at it, it’s just like they’re using it as an advertisement, not for something else.

HALE: Yeah. And music is a powerful tool, I am completely pro music obviously, right? I think it’s the best way to get across messages to convey different emotions.

I don’t know anybody that doesn’t enjoy music in some way, shape or form, but it’s very apparent how they’re using it. And it’s not in a way that’s healthy, especially if you watch this documentary and how it’s explained how they write their songs. It’s pretty apparent what they’re doing. Yeah. But music, I do think music is a central piece for a lot of faith houses, faith communities, because again, music is a powerful tool and it’s a way for people to express themselves, but you just got to do it the right way. Not.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah and the way that it, a lot of them are doing it, it’s like they’re using as a authority mechanism, a way of basically saying that we make the best music here, but our music is so good that you can’t trust anyone else but us, because we make you feel good. But the point of religion historically, wasn’t just to make you feel good about yourself. It had a lot of other points,

HALE: Right.

SHEFFIELD: So now I guess one of the other reasons why they’re doing this heavy musical aspect is that they’re trying to bring in younger audiences and younger members and it does work to some extent for them, but a lot of people when I was in my twenties and looking at these things, I was like, this is, so these songs are so manipulative. They’re so cliche, like I was repulsed by it.

And then you layer on the the politicized stuff or, somebody telling you what God says this, God says that, to vote for this, have whatever belief, and younger people are just saying: ‘No thank you. You don’t know what you’re talking about.’

And so these, right wing denominations, like the Southern Baptists, or other ones like that, they’re losing members and the younger members, younger people are saying, ‘I don’t need your advice. I can figure this out for myself.

HALE: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: And what they’re doing basically is destroying Christianity with the way that they practice it. What do you think?

HALE: Oh, 100%. There’s no argument to be made against that. Completely agree. Yeah. Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: And one of the other things that was in that book is that, these charismatic denominations, they’re not converting new people to Christianity.

All they’re doing is just taking members from other churches.

HALE: Yeah, yeah.

SHEFFIELD: And so the number of people who say that they’re not Christian in the United States, it’s just, it goes up and up every year. And then the Christianity that is empowered, and wealthy, and whatever it’s basically seems like they’re making themselves more and more unappealing to people and turning people off.

HALE: Yeah. They do everything to get you there. They do nothing to keep you there, or get you to come back. And I think the other thing is for the people that have stayed, a lot of this is fear-based and I think you get scared into staying, but I think it’s also the fear that everything that you have known and have been taught and has been a part of your life, it’s actually wrong and having to admit that is a very scary and vulnerable place to be.

But it’s actually, to me, I think it can strengthen a person’s faith. When you start to question and start to back away from just this building filled with thousands of people that has millions of dollars, and isn’t really doing anything else beside what they do on Sunday.

So the numbers going up in terms of people leaving the church, doesn’t surprise me. And at some point churches are going to have to look at it, take a step back and say, okay, why is this happening? And I really hope that they’re looking in the mirror eventually, otherwise no one’s going to be there at all anymore. I really don’t even know what the future of the churches in the next few years, because of those reasons.

SHEFFIELD: And again, it just goes back to these limitations people are putting on stuff. They’re telling people, they’re telling members ‘evolution is alive from Satan. It’s not real.’

And anybody who has gone through fifth grade science class knows that evolution is real.

HALE: Right. Going back onto that, it’s funny. When we talk about limiting God, that also comes up in science. Like why is God not capable of creating science? It doesn’t make any sense to me. Why are you limiting God’s ability in that sense? It always stops in science with evolution, with climate change, whatever, evangelical Christians do not believe in any of that, but why is God not capable of creating those things? And I never get an answer when I’ve asked that. I never have.

SHEFFIELD: Why couldn’t things have evolved and God did it? Or he just set things in motion, and then they happen by themselves. This is what mainstream Christianity, it came to these realizations like a hundred years ago roughly and said: ‘Oh that’s fine. It doesn’t harm our belief to say that evolution happened or that, humans evolved.’

These were not things that harm their belief structure. The Catholic church is doing pretty well. That was one of the things they resolved almost immediately after Charles Darwin published. And plenty of Protestant denominations, and Islamic congregations.

And I mean, lots of people have made that step, but it seems like a lot of people– to what you were saying about fear– they fear that if they admit that the Bible is not a hundred percent literally true, that somehow it’s less. Do you think that’s what it is?

HALE: Oh, absolutely. And then also they don’t, nobody wants to feel stupid or ignorant for believing in something that may not be literally true, like you said. And I think that it’s a pride thing also. And a lot of people on the right, they haven’t been able to take– now, I’m not saying that people on the left are not egotistical, but we’re talking specifically about this– they haven’t been able to take their ego out of it in order to move forward, to progress in any way.

I don’t know where I saw this, but it made complete sense, progressive, they want to progress and move forward. Conservatives want to conserve, and that’s what they want to do. They want to conserve what they know, conserve what they’ve been told, and not go outside that whatsoever.

So being told that the book that you’ve believed in is not literally true, that’s got to be hard to deal with, and hard to come by and figure out. So I do have empathy in that situation because I can’t imagine basically having the tablecloth ripped away on your table that you’ve had your entire life.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah I guess maybe to some degree also, there are some other social dynamics at work as well. And one of those particularly in the United States is race. And church, especially in the Protestant world, it historically has been segregated, and initially, deliberately segregated, formally segregated, but in the past several decades, de facto segregation.

And I was talking with a friend of mine who is an assistant pastor, she’s a black woman in a church in Texas and she said that she’s often found it difficult to get white pastors to be interested in her congregation, to come and preach there. That even if they’re in the same denomination, that they’re just not as interested in it.

HALE: Interesting.

SHEFFIELD: And so, I mean, race is a real issue, I think, in American Christianity.

HALE: Absolutely is it absolutely is. I just think in my experience of growing up in a black church, going to a predominantly white evangelical school, you see how different things are approached. And I’m not saying there’s not problems within the black church. There absolutely is. There’s problems in every church. There’s problems in every institution.

No institution that has a large group of people is not, is going to be without problems. That’s just human nature, but yeah, I feel like the way things are approached and dealt with are very different.

I think that, and we’ve talked about this a little bit, I do think that a lot of black churches do have a deeper understanding and heart from our social issues than white churches do, mainly because white churches and their congregants haven’t experienced anything that would put them on that spectrum of needing social justice in their life, right?

They can’t have empathy for some reason because it hasn’t been a part of their life. They benefit from privilege, which is a real thing. And people need to realize that. So it’s hard for people to understand in the white evangelical spaces about social justice and things of that sort, when it hasn’t been a part of your journey in your life and your story in any way, shape or form. But it’s a little different for, I feel, black congregations because it is a huge part of their story and their journey and how they got to where they are in the first place.

SHEFFIELD: I feel like that some of the resentment, perhaps, that exists out there on the white religious right, is related to black ministers becoming more famous or more notable. And some people don’t like that. I mean, historically, in the Southern Baptist convention and even the Assemblies of God, like Assemblies of God, it started out originally as a non segregated faith, but then eventually it split off into a Church of God in Christ (COGIC) because they basically were not allowed to be in that community.

And I feel like that there is kind of a lingering resentment, especially in white conservative southerners that: ‘I don’t need to hear what this black Christian says, because they’re black.’

HALE: Interesting. I wouldn’t necessarily have gone that route, but I hear what you’re saying. And that’s an interesting viewpoint. I think another part of it might be is that once you do hear what a black pastor has to say, or even black congregants, if you go be a part of that community, then you’re aware, then you’re aware of the issues within that community.

But ignorance is bliss. And I think that a lot of people would rather stay ignorant and live in their bubbles and keep presenting that how they function– their congregation, how their faith is perfect. And there’s no flaws, but if you go and you actually hear the black community speak and you hear what they’re actually going through, then what does that say about you if you don’t actually do something to make a difference and make a change, right?

I’m very much in the camp that if you know better, you have to do better. So I think that there’s the feeling that you don’t need to go be a part of those communities, because you don’t want to have to actually be held accountable for doing better. That’s what I think.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. It’s I mean, there’s so many reasons.

And now one of the interesting dynamics though, is that in the Southern Baptist Convention, if you look at polling data, primarily the people who are disaffiliating from Christianity tend to be either Asian or white generally speaking.

And so that means that congregations, churches that want to stay in business, quote unquote, they’re having to be more welcoming of Hispanic or Black members because they won’t have any members if they don’t.

And so in the Southern Baptist Convention, there’s been a lot of interesting dynamics and some of their conventions over the past several years where they’re finally having to publicly acknowledge and discuss and apologize for the denomination’s long history of racism against black members. Is that’s something you’ve looked at all?

HALE: Of those.

No, I actually haven’t. So I’m thank you for sharing that with me. Because I wasn’t aware of that at all, actually.

SHEFFIELD: And that’s why I was saying that upsets some people. And it has been a source of big controversy. Basically what happened was that in the 1970s you had this really reactionary, extreme faction that took over the Southern Baptist Convention. Because historically it had been a lot more apolitical. In fact, they were pro-choice historically.

And so all of the moderates basically got canceled. It’s funny, they love talking about how everyone’s censoring them, but the people who get censored the most in America are moderate and liberal Christians.

HALE: Yes. The church created cancel culture, that’s in my opinion. The church did, they did hands down. They’ve been excommunicating people since the beginning of time.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And, my personal background is in Mormonism and the same thing happened in Mormonism. That in the 1950s or so Mormonism was open to lots of different interpretations of it, and there were people talking even about women should be ordained to the priesthood. They had activists that were saying those things, and they didn’t do anything to them. But over time, they just started clamping down on people who were progressive or moderate. And as a result, younger people, more educated people are leaving. Because they’ve been canceled and told you’re not welcome here.

HALE: Right.

SHEFFIELD: And that seems to be the opposite of what Jesus told people to do.

HALE: Absolutely. But I mean, so many people are getting so far away from what Jesus actually said. He’s been completely rebranded to fit other people’s narratives and in their own agendas, for sure.

SHEFFIELD: So who are some of the other progressive and moderate Christians out there that you would recommend that people follow, if they’re interested in– obviously people should follow you as well! But who are some of the other people out there if people are interested in reading books or other material?

HALE: For sure. So mostly social media people that I am very good friends with and just appreciate and value their voices and the work that they’re doing. So my very good friend John Pavlovitz, who is a pastor, he has several books out, his most recent one is If God Is Love, Don’t Be a Jerk, which says it all. That’s basically what it is. So definitely follow John Pavlovitz. Also Tim Whitaker of New Evangelicals. Great guy. Loved the stuff and love his content that he posts and his approach of wanting to, even though it is technically rebranding, but just kind of reshaping what Christians are, and what they believe, and how they function, and just helping those that are doing deconstruction still stay tethered to their faith, but in a way that isn’t harmful or causing them trauma.

And then Dear Christians podcast, great guy love chatting with him. I was on his podcast recently, so those are the three. I would highly recommend following John Pavlovitz, New Evangelicals and Dear Christians.

SHEFFIELD: Okay, cool. This has been a great discussion. I wanted to we’re going to play us out with another one of your songs. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that song before we roll it?

HALE: Absolutely. So I wrote this song in 2017 right after the election, because I didn’t want people to give up. I wanted them to stand for what they believed in, and stand for what is right. And just keep putting up the good fight.

And I wrote it because I needed it. And I knew other people did. So it’s really an empowerment song, and encouragement song, to simply say, this is our chance. We have to break the walls down.

We have to fight, we have to stand for something. So I hope those listening, this really encourages you and galvanizes you to keep making change.

SHEFFIELD: Well great. Up on the screen I’ve got your Twitter profile. So it’s Malynda Hale, that’s M-A-L-Y-N-D-A-H-A-L-E for those listening. So please do follow Malynda there. And she’s also at malyndahale.com.

Thanks for being here today.

HALE: Thank you for having me. Thank you so much.