Trying to mix Christianity with a political party can be sort of like mixing ice cream with horse manure. It might not harm the manure, but it sure messes up the ice cream.
For evangelical Christians this election, manure and ice cream got mixed together in a catastrophic way. As a result, many evangelical Christians will need a new home.
Many today see evangelicals as anti-women, anti-gay, anti-environment, anti-immigrant, and champions of guns and war. Most of what has come to characterize evangelicalism is in direct conflict with the core values and teachings of Christ.
That contradiction has never been more evident than in the support of so many white evangelicals for a Presidential candidate who rejects many of the core values of evangelicalism, including fidelity, faithful stewardship, and others. Many of us grieve that our brothers and sisters once known for their zeal for Jesus have been more passionate about exalting Donald Trump this year than Jesus.
Some of the patriarchs of evangelicalism—Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Franklin Graham—overlooked Trump’s anti-Christian values this year. But a new generation of Christians—whether they want to be called evangelical or not—loves Jesus and care about justice. They care about life: the earth, the poor, refugees and immigrants. They don’t need to be convinced that black lives matter or that racism is real. For them, a consistent ethic of life shapes they way they think about war and militarism, gun violence and police brutality, the death penalty and mass incarceration. For them, being pro-life isn’t about anti-anything: it is about being for life.
Evangelicals inconsistent willingness to embrace an ethic of life that’s solidly rooted in the values of Jesus is why so many post-evangelicals have left home.
So now, after the election, we have a decision to make: are we going to build a new house together?
The toxicity within evangelicalism leaves us few options.
We could try to reclaim the term “evangelical”–to steal back the label from the older white men who’ve hijacked it. We can amplify the voices of the young, black, brown, Asian, and Native sisters and brothers who are quickly becoming the majority of evangelicalism. We can trumpet what is right about our rich history, reminding our family that the great revivalists like Charles Finney had two motivations when they gave their famous “altar calls”: one was to invite people to dedicate their lives to Jesus, and the other was to sign up for the movement to abolish slavery.
Under the old label, we could attempt to be who we should have been all along.
But for too many Americans, “evangelical” has become a bad word. So our other option is to create something new. Gandhi spoke of building a “new world in the shell of the old one.” And, in the wake of this election, I’m convinced that this—building a new Christianity in the shell of the old—can have the most traction. Just as new life can rise from some rotten compost, so can a new, consistently pro-life movement rise from the manure-and-ice-cream compost of Christendom.
Many are now done with the word “evangelicalism, ” which has come to represent white self-interest. But the very same people are still attracted to the true “evangel, ” the Gospel, the good news. In fact it is the Good News and Jesus, who embodies it, that compel me to denounce what evangelicalism has become in North America. As the house falls, we are clinging to the Gospel that many “evangelicals” have abandoned.
As cliché as it may sound, the only hope for Christianity is Jesus.
Our brother Rev. William Barber, who has been a prophetic voice this election season, often says, “When we stop focusing on Jesus, we end up talking a lot about things Jesus didn’t talk much about and we don’t talk about the things Jesus had a whole lot to say about.”
It’s time to reclaim our unique identity as followers of Jesus. It’s time to recommit ourselves to the ones Jesus named as particularly blessed in his Sermon on the Mount: the poor, the meek, the merciful, those who mourn, the pure in heart, the peacemakers. According to Jesus, our Father blesses the very antithesis of many of the things America has come to stand for: prosperity, pride, and power. The prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures would undoubtedly name what we have become as “idolatry.” We’ve made idols out of wealth, fame, power, and whiteness—and the phenomenon of Donald Trump is a natural outgrowth of that idolatry.
Today the life and the words of Jesus—the ones that were highlighted in red letters in old Bibles—could not be more relevant to the world we now live in. Especially when the red letters stand in stark contrast to many of the things America has come to adore. “Sell your possessions and give the money to the poor” doesn’t win many friends on Wall Street. “If you want to find your life, then give it away” sounds a lot different from the gospel of the Kardashians.
I’m convinced that there can be a new home for homeless Christians. For those who aren’t ready to give up on Jesus, despite the embarrassing things some Christians have done in his name, there’s a safe place to explore Christianity. Today there is a growing movement of Red Letter Christians who want a Christianity that looks like Jesus again.
While this awakening to the real Jesus feels new to many, our revival—in which we must be born again—has been a long time coming. Over one hundred and sixty years ago, Fredrick Douglas observed:
Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked … I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.
May our new home be built on the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ.