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.