Stanley has a theory about why evangelicals were so eager to back Trump, both in 2016 and 2020. Most evangelical traditions teach that Jesus is going to come back, judge people, and send everyone who doesn’t follow him to Hell. “Unfortunately,” he said, “there’s a group of evangelicals that are so excited about that”—he slapped his hands together and rubbed them eagerly, waggling his eyebrows for effect—“they can’t wait!” As evangelicals get older and realize that Jesus is likely not going to return in their lifetimes, “they get a little bit desperate,” he said, wanting to use policy and legislation to bring the world closer to the time of Jesus’s return. “That kind of thinking makes you vulnerable when somebody comes along and says, ‘By golly, all of your dreams are going to come true.’”

This armchair psychologizing may or may not hold up. What’s notable is that a guy as cautious as Stanley is willing to talk about it. Perhaps he believes that a little rewriting of history will help with the headwinds the Trump era has created for those who care about spreading Jesus’s message beyond the church. Pastors’ willingness to publicly align with the Republican Party pulls “the curtain down [on] the group that you’re convinced is the furthest from God,” Stanley said. “It’s anti everything they got into ministry for. If you’re going to pull down the curtain, you should be on the dark side, right? You should be living among them, if you’re trying to reach these people.”