Stephanie A. MartinJan 27, 2022
Decoding the Digital Church
Evangelical Storytelling and the Election of Donald J. Trump
University of Alabama Press 2021
Dr. Stephanie (Sam) A. Martin’s new book, Decoding the Digital Church: Evangelical Storytelling and the Election of Donald J. Trump (U Alabama Press, 2021), is a fascinating exploration of the way that sermons, particularly those delivered by white evangelical pastors with sizeable congregations, link together storytelling, patriotism, conservative and Republican politics, and American exceptionalism. Martin’s work is a rich and deep textual and rhetorical analysis of sermons that are delivered both in person and online. These sermons—delivered over the course of more than a decade—reach many listeners and believers since they are given by pastors who preside over churches with congregations of at least 2000 members. And Martin teases out the focus of so many of these sermons, which are not always directly discussing or addressing politics, but have and continue to create an understanding of the white evangelical individual within American society.
Decoding the Digital Church explains that part of the thrust of this understanding is to position white Evangelicals as both insiders and outsiders simultaneously. Part of this context, as explained via these sermons, is that the American Founders were the original evangelicals, thus contemporary evangelicals have an original claim to the benefits of being the first true Americans. This is also combined with the nostalgic rendering of America’s past—building on the concept of American exceptionalism as well. At the same time, the content of these sermons opens the pathway for Evangelicals to disavow the ill-effects of their political choices, absolving them of the responsibility for their votes or those they support for elected office. Martin provides a “digital rhetorical ethnography” to understand the narratives that are coming through the white evangelical megachurches. To unpack the threads of these narratives, Martin uses a variety of methodological and disciplinary perspectives for her research, including approaches from political science, rhetoric and communication, sociology and ethnography, and religious studies. This is an accessible and important study of the connection between evangelical storytelling and the evangelical community’s understanding of its place and role in American society.
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to @gorenlj.