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Friday, December 30, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Abandoning Evangelicalism

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Rachel Held Evans, who is post-evangelical herself, documents dissatisfaction among those she calls “defenders of the marginalized” in U.S. evangelical churches. In some quarters, it appears, the fact that so many of their fellow pew-occupiers voted for Donald Trump is not going down well.

Brandi Miller tweets, “I drafted my divorce papers with evangelicalism a long time ago. Tonight I serve them.” Glennon Melton asks, “Does a Love Warrior Go? YES. If that’s what her deepest wisdom tells her to do.”

Tom: What do you think, Immanuel Can? Imagine your fellow churchgoers voted for an immoral, bigoted incompetent with no regard for the dignity of women, as Rachel so delicately puts it. Something worth leaving your church over?

Over the Plate

Immanuel Can: Ha. You’re pitching underhand fastballs today, but this one’s over the plate: No, of course not.

Tom: I think not either. I’m picturing those first century gatherings of the saints within the borders of the Roman Empire, some of them thousands of miles from Jerusalem, made up of Jews and all sorts of Gentiles. We can be sure that in Christ’s church, disputes over culture, politics, gender and class are not new phenomena. They are not something the Lord Jesus failed to take into consideration. Donald Trump did not catch the Lord by surprise.

IC: No, I guess not. But he did catch the liberal progressives. So many tears ...

Endangered Special Needs Kids

Tom: You’ve read the Evans piece. Her complaint is that the community that introduced her to Jesus has aligned itself with values she doesn’t recognize, powers that she says “oppress”. She sees President-elect Trump as a danger to special needs kids, survivors of sexual assault, minorities in predominantly white communities, Muslims and so on, and those who voted for him as “aligned” with the values she ascribes to him.

IC: Wow. Well that's the political Left for you: so much “sound and fury”, generally signifying nothing.

Tom: Let’s leave the relative merits of the candidates aside, since the election’s over. I’m more concerned about the motives Evans ascribes to her fellow believers, many of which I think are entirely in her own head. Have you been getting dirty looks for wearing your “Trumpslide 2016” t-shirt to prayer meeting?

IC: Heh, heh. Mine’s in the wash right now.

No, I don't have one. I do, however, want to get a “My Kingdom is Not of This World” shirt. That’s what a Christian should wear, at least when it comes to politics.

Things That Are Above

Tom: Yeah, that’s where I really want to go with this. My cat got me up before 6:30 this morning, as she is wont to do, and I was reading this:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
This is who we are, IC. First and foremost, we’re not Republicans or Democrats or Conservatives or Liberals or nationalists or globalists or pro-Trumpers or whatever. We have been raised with Christ. If this is how I identify myself, how can I worry too much about whether the guy or girl beside me votes for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, or even if they have what I might think is a bad attitude toward men or women or minorities or whatever? If they do, that will all come out in the wash as they gradually become more Christ-like. If, on the other hand, maybe it’s my attitude that’s a problem, this too will eventually wash out.

The problem comes when you see yourself primarily as something other than “raised with Christ”.

Love Warriors Unite!

IC: In this case, it’s worse than that. These women have declared that they are more committed to those they call “the oppressed” than they are to those whom they know are bought by the blood of Jesus Christ, and who are (if they are saved) their eternal compatriots and the beloved of God. In fact, they will happily throw over all the “evangelicals”, as they call them, in order to strike their Social Justice Warrior pose.

We must wonder, are they trying to impress the Lord, or the world?

Tom: Well, it’s all there in the self-identification, isn’t it? If you’re a “Love Warrior”, you’re as obdurately sectarian as the Corinthians who identified as “of Paul” or “of Apollos”. You’re in a club — a really exclusive club of only those Christians who have adopted your definition of love — and that club is more important to you than being genuinely identified as a follower of Jesus Christ. So whether you’ve joined the Transgender Support Club, or the Gay Support Club, or the Feminist Club, or the Men’s Rights Club, or the Persecuted Minority Club, it’s still fundamentally a club. You’re saying “My Christianity comes second to my real first love”. Which is me being this thing, whatever it is. And at all costs.

Losing Touch with Our Primary Citizenship

I must say though, you have to be pretty creative to come up with an evangelical Donald Trump as Oppressor of Special Needs Kids Club. You’re in a class where you ought to be writing Hollywood movie scripts, since there’s not a single thing said or done by Trump or anyone else on the Right that would lead any normal human being to such a conclusion. That one is an RHE fantasy.

IC: Even so, let us grant them that everything they imagine is true — how would that justify abandoning the people of God? How is that “Christian”? And how much help can those “Christian” women be to the lost, now that they’ve decided that salvation comes second to social justice?

Tom: This is the problem.

IC: If we lose touch with our primary citizenship, we need not think that we’re going to be of any use to anyone, really, after that. We’ll just become exemplars of self-righteousness, modeling the same attitude that takes people to a lost eternity all the time.

Okay, Tom … what do we tell these people, or others considering their course of action?

Two Masters

Tom: No man can serve two masters. And no woman can either. Are you about social justice, or are you about Jesus Christ? Sometimes you can’t have both.

I’m not saying all evangelicals — and especially all evangelicals that voted for The Donald — are good people or mature Christians. They may well not be. They may have voted for him for all the wrong reasons, like starting a race war, or fear, or just to put the destructive finishing touches on what they perceive to be a system that, for them, is already comprehensively broken. On the other hand, they may have voted for him for perfectly intelligent reasons you have never considered.

But if you and they are really saved men and women, THEY are your people in a way that the Democrats, the black community or other ethnic communities, the Sisterhood, marginalized groups and even the fearful mothers of special needs kids are not.

Take Back That Chicken Casserole!

This actually comes out in Evans’ article if you read it carefully. She’s not even aware what she’s writing. Consider this:
“These are the people you worship with each week, the people whose kids hang out with your kids, the people who brought you a chicken casserole when you had surgery, the people you call with good news, the people you’re now wishing you’d spoken with more bluntly, more honestly.”
Wait. These people were there for you in times of crisis. They connect with your children. But you’re happy to throw them under the bus without stopping to ask first what may have led them to vote for the other guy? That does not compute!

IC: Wow. That’s really self-absorbed. It’s kind of breathtaking, actually.

Losing Market Share to the Episcopalians

Tom: Yeah. So the problem is not that these people are failing to behave like Christians. It’s not that they’re failing to show love. It’s not that they’re uninterested or self-absorbed. No. The problem is that they don’t share your particular political bent. They don’t love your candidate and they don’t share your social obsessions.

How bizarre is that?

Tell me, IC, if folks with these sorts of priorities ship themselves off to Episcopalianism as RHE has done, does it really matter to the Church of God? Admittedly, it should matter to the people leaving, and it will definitely affect their Christian walk and their enjoyment of the things of God. But in the end, does it change anything about how the Church should do business?

IC: Yes, it matters if we lose bewildered, childish and errant Christians to the larger world of religion or to atheism, if that’s what is happening here. But also, sometimes one has to say, “If they had been ours, they would not have gone out from us.” In some cases, the people we’re talking about aren’t really Christians; and the evidence is that they have little love and concern for the children of God. If they can just walk out, maybe we should just let them go. Keeping them around might be really toxic.

Loss of Faith in What or Whom?

Tom: Evans finishes by talking about her own loss of faith:
“Losing your first faith is like losing a dear family member or friend, and as with any other death, you sense its absence most profoundly in those everyday moments when it used to be present — in a beloved hymn, in a Bible verse or prayer, in a strained relationship that used to be so easy.”
I’m reading between the lines here, but it almost sounds like what she calls her lost “faith” was in a particular sort of people rather than in the Lord Jesus. There’s a real danger of conflating the two things, because people will always let you down in one way or another. I mean, Peter let Paul down at one point. He let the Lord down. We don’t write him off for that.

IC: Yes. In fact, I’ve just been reading about the broad-scale pattern differences between how men and women tend to experience “loss of faith”. I think it needs another post to deal with it. But if what I’m reading is right, your intuitions are good there: these folks seem far too focused on the relationships they imagine they have with people, and nowhere near concerned enough with their relationship to the Lord.

Justice for humankind is important; but one thing history certainly shows us is that it never comes “socially”. After all, how can we even find justice when we’ve lost focus on the Just One?

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