American Evangelicals Are Already Feeling Pressures of Dissent

Let the games begin.

It’s been two weeks since I wrote an article about a political crisis facing American evangelicals. In the column, which I wrote for The Arc Magazine, I argued that because of the differing opinions on President Donald Trump, and the increased polarization of people across the aisle, a coming fissure was already expanding into a split.

I didn’t expect it to come so soon.

An excerpt from SBC Voices writer Dwight McKissic:

The Prestonwood Baptist Church of Plano, TX, (a Dallas suburb) led by Dr. Jack Graham, a former President of the Southern Baptist Convention, has determined to escrow funds totaling $1 million, that were previously designated for the Cooperative Program—the premier funding mechanism of the Southern Baptist Convention’s agencies— because of positions and policies taken by Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Other predominately White Southern Baptist Churches are also threatening to withhold Cooperative Program funds surrounding public positions taken by Russell Moore and the ERLC.

Consequently, the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention has decided to investigate and explore the depths of why some churches aren’t giving and the best way to address the whole matter. They want to keep churches giving to the Cooperative Program while seeking a peaceful solution to the reactions to Russell Moore’s policies and position. Because of the Executive Committee’s approach to resolving this matter comprehensively, inevitably, the investigation will require determining the compatibility of Moore’s statements with the values, beliefs, and convictions of Southern Baptists.

Additionally, the Louisiana Baptist Convention has called for an investigation specifically targeting Dr. Moore. They are hostile toward Dr. Moore and would like to see him gone. Dr. Fred Luter, the first African-American President of the Southern Baptist Convention, who pastors the largest Southern Baptist Convention church in Louisiana, and Pastor David Crosby of First Baptist New Orleans have signed a statement vigorously dissenting to the Louisiana Convention’s call for an investigation of Dr. Moore.

The outcome of this investigation will speak volumes to Black Southern Baptist Convention Churches as to whether or not any church leader or entity head who publically, critically evaluate President Donald Trump will be welcome in the Southern Baptist Convention and eligible to serve in any and all levels of denominational life.

This was a rather long quote, but I think it’s necessary to get a sense of what’s happening. You can read the rest here.

The Southern Baptist Convention is a multi-ethnic denomination. I will give credit where credit is due. However, that being said, what remains to be seen is whether the convention allows for differing political opinions, which was the main point of the article I wrote. Can these denominations — conservative ones that place an emphasis on the gospel and the inerrancy of the Bible — be a home for those dissenting from the direction of the Republican Party?

I’m not very convinced they can, and we are already seeing the repercussions of that. But then again, that was our fault wasn’t it? Or rather, it was our forefathers who sold themselves to the party in exchange for power. In the process, it’s likely that people’s hearts were hardened in the process, and can no longer hear the prophetic call of the gospel.

This SBC situation doesn’t seem to be one that will end well, as far as I can see. Things have spiraled out of control. The Trump administration is participating in a juggling act (with all that Russia, wiretapping, et cetera, et cetera…) that, if pulled off, will be one of the greatest acts on God’s green earth. But then again, that’s what it will be, an act, a reality show. Trump tends to be good with those.

Trump supporters are finding any way to justify him, while Trump detractors are looking for any way to vilify him.

You thought 2016 was a bad year? Get ready for what’s to come.

The Political Crisis of American Evangelicals

I wrote a piece over at The Arc Magazine on February 23 on the crisis American evangelicals are facing because of the group’s mixed support for President Donald Trump.

An excerpt:

Many of the Christians I spoke to while on the campaign trail were in one of two camps regarding the billionaire businessman. They either gravitated toward his personality, and loved everything he did regardless of any ethical breach of conduct — no matter the magnitude of the sin — or they lightly planted one foot in the Trump camp and one foot out, saying that they would have preferred another candidate to win, but saw no other way of beating Clinton than voting for Trump.

The first approach is no longer justifiable for evangelicals, if it ever was. Trump’s utter contempt for the truth, his unsettling ties with Russia, the hypocrisy of having repeatedly blasted his predecessor for playing golf, all the while logging numerous 18 hole games within just the first month of his presidency — these and other Trumpian aspects should generate unease for those holding to a Christian moral framework.

Check out the rest of it, if you wish. I had a lot of positive response to the article. Some had further questions; some had criticisms of how I framed American Christianity as too simplistic. That’s fair. I couldn’t have encompassed all of American Christianity in one column, which is what it was. But perhaps I will answer some of those criticisms in a future post.

Finally, Evangelicals Speak Out Against ‘Muslim Ban’

Evangelical leaders have chosen to fight back against Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban.

After President Donald Trump signed an executive order January 27 temporarily limiting travel from seven countries that have a Muslim majority, the discourse between the left and right has been hostile. However, Trump probably never thought that he’d get push back from the evangelical community, a large voting bloc whose support he infamously said he didn’t deserve.

An evangelical advertisement – featuring 100 prominent pastors and authors, including Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Senior Pastor, Tim Keller, and New York Times bestselling author, Ann Voskamp, among others – is slated to appear in The Washington Post, according to a CNN report.

This is music to my ears. I had long wondered when the evangelical community would stand on the side of justice for those fleeing a war-torn region. Much of the heated discussion focuses on terrorism, which is a red herring. You’re more likely to die by choking on your food than you are of terrorism. Perhaps we should ban food.

But the question I have is why it took so long for evangelicals to wake up and smell the coffee (that is, speak against the travel ban). The only conclusion I have been able to draw is that the evangelical community is hopelessly tied to the Republican Party, and has chosen to align itself to the party through thick and thin. This wedding of doctrine and party has diminished doctrine in favor of party for evangelicals; we’ve lost our prophetic edge. We are entrenched in culture wars, still.

This doesn’t mean that Christians shouldn’t be “pro-life,” as we’ve traditionally understood it. It simply means that being pro-life should encompass all of life and should be understood by more than just the white, middle-class tradition. Life, and by extension, culture, is a complex order of structures, decisions, and brokenness. But despite these converging – and sometimes conflicting – orders, Christians should stand in the gap pointing the way to Jesus Christ, the author, the finisher of our faith, and the one who is making all things new.

Just a few days ago, I listened to a sermon from John Piper, who said that the order was based out of fear and callousness. He went on to say that there was no fear in love, according to 1 John. This resonated with me. Instead of focusing on winning, which seems incredibly antithetical to the central event of Christianity, perhaps Christians (and I count myself in this) should focus on loving to such a degree that people ask us how and why we love as we do. The answer is that we have a great savior that brings us back to the Father, who has supremacy over the entire universe. If we don’t have to fear God anymore because of his son’s death and resurrection, whom else should we fear?

Why Have Christians Ignored ‘Silence?’

Tyler Huckabee, a writer from Nashville, Tennessee, wrote an insightful opinion piece for The Washington Post on January 19, essentially saying that Christians (and by extension Hollywood) largely ignore well-made movies dealing with faith.

You may have noticed that recently, Martin Scorsese released a film entitled, “Silence,” which stars Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson. The movie is an adaptation of a novel from Shusaku Endo, who published it in 1966. The film has not performed as well as other “hit” Christian movies like “God’s Not Dead.” Despite the $46.5 million price tag on making the film, it has only garnered slightly over $8.7 million in worldwide box office revenue.

One should sit back and ask why this movie — directed by an international superstar director — has not motivated people of faith to go and see it, especially since Christians constantly claim that Hollywood is against them.

Here is Huckabee:

In the same way that there is no one reason Trump won, there is no one reason “Silence” is underperforming. There’s no doubt that the film is a hefty commitment, clocking in at two hours and 40 minutes. And there was an unusual lack of advertising surrounding the release, with its first trailer dropping just one month before the film’s actual premiere.

And then there’s the limited release itself. According to the Hollywood Reporter, “Silence” did good business in New York and Los Angeles, where it first opened. But a wider release to slightly smaller markets has found disastrously little traction so far. The question of whether the film would have done better numbers if it’d expanded into more rural communities where faith audiences are more centralized is one that will keep Paramount execs up. “Silence” had none of the heavy church marketing that accompanied films like “God’s Not Dead” or Mark Burnett’s “Son of God” (both 2014), but “Silence” is a wilder, woolier film than either of those. It is, frankly, a tough sell.

This is absolutely true. Scorsese has been talking about this film since 2007, just after “The Departed” was released in 2006. The acclaimed director has made movies that have included his lifelong search into Catholicism (one might argue that every movie has been part of that, but that’s another post). So why haven’t Christians come along for the ride?

There are two reasons, I think, why Christians didn’t go see the movie. The first is that there is still a very real divide between Catholicism and Protestantism that doesn’t get explored without the two sides blowing up. I listen and read much Catholic literature and programming, and many Catholics see Protestants as heretics. They are outside of the Church, despite their profession of faith in Jesus Christ. On the other hand, Protestants say the same thing, and perhaps go a step further. It might be said of Catholics, and please correct me if I’m wrong, that they don’t see Protestants as completely out of the circle of salvation, but close to it. One might say, they “are not far from the kingdom,” and thus, aren’t headed straight to the pits. I’ve heard many Protestants say that Catholicism is a false gospel, and are therefore, as good, if not worse, than the other “false gospels” that include sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Catholicism has so much truth that people fall into the lie, they proclaim.

Perhaps this has contributed to this lack of fanfare for the movie. It’s similar to when I ask my fellow Protestants whether they’ve read (or heard of) any novels by Graham Greene. They respond by asking me who that is, and then I have to go into a long explanation. But when I ask about Karen Kingsbury, everyone has heard of her.

Another reason is that the movie is a message right at the heart of what many Christians didn’t want to hear after a contentious election cycle. The vast majority of evangelicals voted in favor of a strongman who will turn the country aright again. “Silence,” is not about that. It is not about power. It is about enduring suffering, apostasy, and martyrdom. It’s not about triumph. In fact, even today, there is only one percent of the Japanese population who say they are Christian, despite over 100 million people celebrating Easter in China, according to a BBC report from March 2016, and over half of the population in Korea professing themselves to be Christians. These sorts of themes aren’t marketable for many American evangelicals, who have the desire for America to once again be propped up as a global dominator.

But the Jesus of the Bible doesn’t come this way. He is a suffering servant. He doesn’t die and then restore the kingdom of Israel, and he won’t make America great again (hint: it was always suspect). What he will do is bring people from every tribe, every tongue back to him. That, he promises.

A Whimper, Not A Bang

I just read a small commentary on history books from Thomas E. Ricks on Foreign Policy, who gave an insightful reason why the first half of books are often better than the second.

Listen to what he wrote:

The writing of most books, I think, is a race between resources and understanding. As the author proceeds, his or her resources (energy, time, money) diminish, even as his or her understanding of the subject increases. The question is maintaining the resources long enough to finish at least a first draft. In many and perhaps most cases, fatigue overcomes the author, and so many books are weaker in their endings than in their beginnings. That is the way books end, not with a bang but a whimper.

Read the whole thing here. It’s short, but packs a punch.

Why You Are Fearful About Your Writing

You’ve got an idea and want to put it out there for the world to see. You visualize how it might serve other people, and think, “yes, that’s what I want to do.” Perhaps you’ve jotted a few ideas down in your trusty moleskin (does anybody else carry those?), or typed them in your Iphone’s note app.

But then when the time comes to put your ideas down on paper, you freeze. You pass the buck.

“Later. I will definitely do it later,” you say to yourself, closing your laptop and pressing the Netflix button on your home television controller.

Why does this happen?

There are a number of reasons why, but I’ve narrowed a few down for those of us who are not just writers in name, but in practice. That is, we are writers because we write, not because we tell other people we write.

This sort of fear isn’t the same thing as being afraid of heights. I would never fall out of an airplane 20,000 feet above the ground, and it has nothing to do with my own personal fears. I value my life and couldn’t risk even the .01 percent chance that I fall out of an airplane and my parachute fails to open.

The sort of fear I’m talking about as it pertains to writing is a type of paralysis of being known and revealing your flaws for other people to see. Here are three ways those flaws are manifested:

1. Opinions

It may be manifested in the thoughts you conceive, thoughts that are opinionated. Wherever there is an opinion, there is always a contrarian. Always. And that contrarian is looking to poke holes in an argument that we think we’ve fully thought out. Perhaps we haven’t.

Contrary to what we’ve heard during the political war epic of 2016, you are not your opinions. You are more than that. Thus, if you try to engage an issue, see that as a mark of courage, not dishonor. It doesn’t even matter that you got it wrong. We place a little too much emphasis in getting things “right,” which is as squishy a word as there ever was. Getting things wrong has value as well. You can learn from getting things wrong.

At the very least, writing will allow you to think through things differently, and that has value in itself.

2. Grammar Mistakes

It also may be manifested through grammar mistakes, which was something I struggled with early in my writing career. When someone found mistakes, I took them as an assault on me. I got defensive, looking to push back against any corrections.

Why did I do that?

I later realized that I wanted to skip the part of my writing life where I would do the art badly, and skip ahead to the end where I would be a master at the form. Nobody is a genius at the beginning. Nobody. I don’t care who you are. Because first you have to learn the sounds of language. Then the words. Then the phrases. Then the parts of speech. Then the structure of sentences. Then the paragraphs. Then the essays. So on and so forth.

I am still in the process of learning. I still make mistakes. How I view them, and how I view correction has radically changed.

3. Hasn’t someone else written this before?

A lot of writers feel like there work is derivative. That makes them throw the work they’ve done away. Or instead of continuing to refine it, they choose to stop in the middle of it. The cold, hard, truth: a lot of it is.

Again, this is something that happens to a lot of writers. We read Ernest Hemingway and want to follow his short, crisp prose, or we read Marylinne Robinson and want to co-opt her harrowing voice.

But we quickly realize that we aren’t those writers.

You are you. And there is no one who can write a story like you can.

In the coming days, I’ll answer each one of these fears that I dealt with. I’ll provide some balm for writing wounds. In the meantime, here is a video on writing that I find very inspirational by the author Neil Gaiman, who was featured on The Nerdist podcast.

Keep writing!

How You Should Really Begin Your New Year

Natasha and I walked on the inclined hill which ran along the Blue Ridge mountains in North Carolina. The air whipped our faces as we got to the stairway that led down to the rocks next to Looking Glass Falls. When we got to the waterfall, we both marveled at the beauty of God’s creation, something that we don’t get to do as much in cities. That, of course, didn’t stop us from pulling out our phones and taking photos for Instagram. But we were taken back by the jagged edges of each rock, and how furiously the water spilled from the top of the mount. Nothing could stop its march. And in that moment, standing there beside my wife in the new year, I felt rest.

Happy New Year

It’s a particularly odd thing to get away for the new year, since it’s a time when people tend to congregate with friends or family.

But for us, it generally always played out the same. We would go to some party hosted by someone I didn’t know, with people I didn’t know. I wouldn’t be quite sure if I could grab something to eat, or if I could get something to drink. So I would try to use ninja-like movements to get them. The whole affair tended to be, well, awkward.

This year, we decided to visit Asheville, a city we’ve never been to. The night of December 31, we went to Thirsty Monk Brewery and Pub, a local place that was minutes away from the bed and breakfast we stayed at, and ate dinner. We were in bed by 11 p.m. There was no disappointment, no pressure.

It was the perfect way for us to begin 2017, which is a year that I am prayerfully expecting much in. By making it restful (and by choosing pockets of time to rest during the year), you can avoid sprinting through the long year. That’s how burnout occurs, and that’s how spiritual, emotional, and physical injuries happen.

The process is very similar to the way a marathon runner trains. I’ll never forget an illustration that I heard from a sermon while we were living in New York. Our pastor was a marathon runner, and spoke about the time he began to train for marathons. His first instinct was to hit the ground running. He wanted to start trying to bust out the miles. Yet, the training guide told him to rest on Monday. He questioned the guide, wondering why he would wait a day to begin training. He said that resting didn’t necessarily mean doing nothing, or stuffing your face with chips until you begin your “real” training the next day. Resting is recovering and repairing for long marathon ahead. It is revitalization.

God Rested

There is a very theological component to rest. God rested on the seventh day after creating everything in six days. He doesn’t do this because he got winded after creating, and thus, needed to take a breather. He did it out of freedom and because he had finished his work.

He created us as worshippers, and as a result, has built into human beings the capacity to glorify God when we rest in his finished work on our behalf. In Exodus 20:8-11, God’s people were commanded to rest on the Sabbath. The Tanakh and siddur both say that people who rest on the Sabbath are to look back at the creation of the universe and God’s redemption of his people from Egypt, as well as look forward to the new Messianic age. This is helpful for younger Christians to remember when we see the Gary Vaynerchucks of the world who evangelize a theology of work that is less like “grind” and more like the worship or idolization of money, acceptance, or praise. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t work hard. We should. But rest should be part of our daily, weekly, monthly and annual lives.

Science Says So

Indeed, even science, yes, science, said we should rest. In a 2011 study published in Cognition, a peer-reviewed scientific journal specializing in cognitive science, University of Illinois Psychology Professor Alejandro Lleras found no drop in performance for the group that took short breaks in between tasks. It allowed them to stay focused throughout the entire task they were asked to complete.

We propose that deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused,” Lleras said in a statement.

This is especially with respect to staying focused during a long year that, more often than not, will have challenges and obstacles.

The year has already started, and I’m sure that there are plenty of you who have given up on your resolutions. Perhaps one way that you can go forward with them is by getting away, going outside, walk around your neighborhood a bit, get a prayer journal. Do something that will break you from your routine, and try to rest from it.