Today I direct your attention to a piece by Skye Jethani in which he notes a disturbing trend: There is a growing divide between evangelical leaders and ordinary rank-and-file evangelicals. This is clear in the political sphere, in which the views of Tim Keller, Mark Galli, Russell Moore and other respected evangelical leaders are diametrically opposed to the 81 percent of American evangelicals who put Donald Trump in the White House.
But it isn’t just politics. It is also in matters of theology and doctrine. A vast majority of rank-and-file evangelicals have a dispensational, Left-Behind-esque view of the end times while a very minuscule percentage of elite evangelicals believes similarly. Many rank-and-file evangelicals, despite the best efforts of their pastors, hold beliefs on a wide array of subjects that are unorthodox, even heretical. It has come to a point where if you’re curious about the Bible and/or the Christian faith you’re better off asking a random stranger on the street than an average churchgoing evangelical.
Of course some disparity between leaders and followers is to be expected; otherwise there would be nowhere for the leaders to lead. But what is happening in evangelicalism is different: The followers are not following where the leaders are trying to lead. Eventually it is going to come to a point where the leaders are going to have to choose between falling in line behind those whom they are supposed to be leading in order to maintain their positions, or remaining true to their orthodox beliefs while having no one to follow them.
Read: Who’s Really Leading Evangelicalism, the Shepherds or the Sheep? Hint: It’s Not the Shepherds by Skye Jethani
Today I give you the latest offering from everyone’s favorite systematic-theology-professor-turned-Donald-Trump-hack, Wayne Grudem.
Evangelicals have long been in the habit of diligently researching/analyzing chapter and verse when the answer is staring you right in the face, and this article is an example of that par excellence. Grudem argues that Donald Trump’s plan to build the wall is not only good and sensible but also biblical and therefore morally justifiable because the Bible speaks positively about cities with walls.
This is what passes for biblical thought/analysis in evangelicalism: Identify the issue at hand. In this case, a border wall. Get out your Strong’s Concordance and look up every instance of the word “wall”. Do a word study on the word “wall” in Hebrew and Greek. Collate and analyze all the relevant verses and come up with a definitive statement of what the Bible has to say about walls. Apply said statement to the issue at hand: namely, should we build the wall?
I am something of a realist on immigration, and I actually think that much of what Grudem says makes sense. I believe that lax immigration policies typically favored by those on the left are a luxury we simply cannot afford. In our present economic state, we need a more skilled immigrant pool and many of those who come via the southern border are not a fit for that. Improvements to the border fencing have long been discussed, and have actually been made in certain areas of San Diego and El Paso. These improvements have improved the safety and security of those areas. I will not argue with Grudem on that.
But sometimes it is possible to be completely right and yet completely in the wrong. This is one of those times.
In this cultural moment, building the wall is the wrong thing to do. The wall has been and is being used symbolically by our current president as a means to energize the worst elements of his base. He is using this to pick a fight over something that had been a non-issue until he made it an issue.
Grudem’s biblical analysis fails to take into account that in our age, walls are a symbol of repression. Walls have been built by repressive regimes to keep people out or to keep people in. The memory of the Berlin Wall and all that it represented is still very much alive and well in our collective consciousness, even though it has (thankfully) been gone for almost three decades.
There may be good reasons for making improvements to the fencing along the southern border. But in this cultural moment–when the wall has been seized upon as a symbol of hatred and repression and flung in the faces of certain people groups–people for whom Christ died, I feel compelled to note–by people who call themselves Christian yet believe the exact opposite as far as these people groups are concerned–building the wall is the wrong thing to do. You don’t need chapter and verse for that.
Face it, people: We now live in an age in which saying hello to a homeless person on the street is an act of political defiance.
What people who lived under repressive regimes, like Hitler’s Germany and what Donald Trump’s America is in the process of becoming, remember most is how their neighbors treated them. When neighbors looked them in the eye and said hello and/or made small talk while passing them in the street, they felt safe and included, as if they belonged. But when those same neighbors would avoid eye contact or cross over to the other side of the street to avoid passing them, they felt fearful, isolated, and vulnerable. And with good reason.
So if you wish to protest the current regime, then say hi the next time you pass someone on the street who is different from yourself. Someone whom the current administration, the madman in the White House and his jacked-up Neo-Nazi thug supporters, consider undesirable. Show them that you do not consider them undesirable. That is the surest way to push back against those who would turn us into a repressive regime.
Today I direct your attention to a piece by Stephanie Paulsell at Christian Century entitled “Our Practices Keep Our Commitments Alive“.
The rise of the #metoo movement over the past year has brought to light numerous examples of men who professed to be pro-woman yet whose actions toward individual women revealed them to be anything but. The moral is clear: It is not enough to say that you are something, you also have to back it up with your actions. Which means that in the present political climate, it is not enough to think our way out of it or profess our way out of it, we also have to practice our way out of it, deliberately and with intentionality.
There are many ways to do this in the public sphere. But there is much to do in our private, day-to-day existence. Paulsell gives several practical examples: Make eye contact, say hi, and make small talk with people who are different from yourself. Acknowledge these people and show them respect. When you do that, they feel safe and experience belonging and connection. When you do the opposite, when you avert your eyes or cross over to the other side of the street to avoid them, then they feel isolated and fearful, and with very good reason in the present political climate.
Other things you can do: Don’t rely on the internet and social media so much; get out there in the real world and meet people face-to-face. Go to places you haven’t been and meet new people. Resist the urge to express yourself via the same old slogans and catchphrases everyone else is using, even those with whom you agree, but instead find new and fresh ways of expressing yourself. Surround yourself with books and read vociferously: read fiction, read the Bible, read history, and think deeply about how these things relate to the world in which we currently live.
These practices will help to transform not just our political culture but our faith communities as well. Listening to sermons is all well and good but when we gather to be the Church by feeding the hungry and otherwise caring for the vulnerable among us, then we have the opportunity to practice being the people and communities that we are called to be. Then our faith communities and our society will be transformed.
ICYMI: Anthony Bourdain committed suicide earlier this month.
This article by Mike Cosper at TGC offers insight into the plight of one who chooses suicide: It is similar to the plight of one who leaps to certain death out of a burning high-rise building from which there is no escape. For them, the terror of falling from that height is just as great as it would be for you or me looking down and enjoying the view under normal circumstances. But in that situation, with the inescapable prospect of being burned alive and the flames growing ever closer, the fall begins to look less worse.
It is a similar situation for a suicide victim: It isn’t driven by hopelessness or by death suddenly seeming more appealing. Such a person feels the same fear of death as you or I, but also feels some inner terror that overwhelms the fear of death and causes it to seem less worse, similar to the plight of one who must choose between leaping out of a burning high-rise and being burned alive.
Read: Anthony Bourdain and Reckoning with Depression by Mike Cosper at TGC
My fellow evangelicals: You have just forfeited every last shred of moral authority that you ever had to speak on the issue of sexual slavery/trafficking, which remains one of the greatest and most profound evils of our generation.
You just nominated Dennis Hof as the Republican candidate for a seat in the Nevada state legislature. Hof owns a strip club and five brothels, and is the bestselling author of “The Art of the Pimp”. What’s more, several women, including a former sex worker of his, have accused him of sexually abusing them.
Yet you supported him without even so much as batting an eyelash. An influential pastor in Hof’s community closed his eyes and prayed, giving thanks to God when his victory was announced. “We have politicians, they might speak good words, not sleep with prostitutes, be a good neighbor. But by their decisions, they have evil in their heart. Dennis Hof is not like that”, he said.
So just shut about sex trafficking. You have nothing to say to anyone, anywhere, about this grave injustice.
ICYMI: The SBC now has a new president. J. D. Greear, a 45-year-old pastor from North Carolina, was elected a couple of weeks back. Greear becomes the youngest president to head the SBC in 37 years.
Greear’s election is a strong signal that change is potentially afoot in the SBC. He was elected on the strength of younger voters who are weary of the SBC’s intense involvement in the culture war and Republican politics, and has made clear his intentions to lead the SBC down a different path.
Greear has promised to lead the denomination down a different path, which, he has said, must include efforts both to repent of a “failure to listen to and honor women and racial minorities” and “to include them in proportionate measures in top leadership roles.” If the meeting in Dallas is any indication, his vision is resonating with a large number of the next wave of Baptist leaders.
Some interesting points about Greear which are not mentioned in the writeup: Greear hails from a church which does not identify as Baptist (not publicly, at least). So when the announcement came that Greear was seeking the office of president of the SBC, it was a shock to many in his church. I wouldn’t make too big a deal over this, as it has long been fashionable for churches to downplay denominational affiliations. (How many people at Rick Warren’s church do you think realize they’re Baptist?)
The other piece of this is that Greear is part of a growing movement of Calvinists in the SBC. The most influential members of this wing include Al Mohler and Owen Strachan, among others. Theologically, this movement is excruciatingly conservative and complementarian, though they are not nearly as wedded to Donald Trump as the old guard so at least they have that going for them. In the final analysis, we’ll just have to see.