The End of the Evangelical Era

The End of the Evangelical Era

Last week the Trump administration rolled back rights for transgender children. Trans kids already have a suicide attempt rate thirteen times higher than their peers.  Now they will be in even greater peril. The opponents of transgender rights fought to overturn Obama’s order because their own children, not in any particular kind of danger, might have been made a little uncomfortable by having a transgender child in their bathroom.

As if the decision itself was not bad enough, evangelicals on Facebook raised their collective fists in triumph. When informed of the suicide risk of these perpetually bullied children, they responded with a shrug.

This evangelical triumphalism convinces me we are at the end of the reign of evangelicals. When a tribe votes for a misogynist who makes vile comments about women, then proclaims victory when vulnerable children are made more vulnerable, its days are numbered.

Viewing the Bible as a constitution has been in vogue within conservative Christendom for centuries. But with the arrival of Quantum Physics and the end of the modern age, the traditional evangelical worldview no longer holds. Treating a book written over thousands of years by scores of authors as though it was the ultimate rule book is not sustainable in these postmodern times. That form of Christianity will remain popular with a few, but most of the world has moved on.

As Brian McLaren and Richard Rohr suggest, Christianity is shifting from being seen as a set of beliefs to being practiced as a way of life. It is moving from God as the purveyor of divine punishment to God as the ultimate suffering participant. It is transitioning from the church as a tribe organized for its own protection, to a community organizing for the common good.

The fact that 81 percent of conservative evangelicals voted for Trump shows how desperate they are to hold on to political power. Any change from the socially progressive Obama administration was better than admitting what they already know, that white evangelicalism’s days are numbered. The reason is embedded in the evangelical community’s own bankruptcy on issues related to social justice.

Black lives do matter. LGBTQ people do deserve equal rights. Women do deserve equal opportunities (including in ministry) and equal pay. Immigrants deserve to be treated with respect and refugees should be welcomed. Any tribe that denies these rights does not deserve political power. Millennial evangelicals understand this and have rejected the social conservatism of their parents. Fifty-one percent are supportive of marriage equality.

I believe in the church more than ever. I don’t mean the church that voted en masse for Donald Trump. I mean the church as exhibited in progressive churches from an evangelical background, like Forefront Church in New York, Sojourn Grace in San Diego, One Church in Phoenix, Highlands Church in Denver, EastLake Church in Seattle, LaSalle Street Church in Chicago, and Gracepointe Church in Nashville. The same spirit is also evident in the ministries of Sojourners, the Gay Christian Network, the Reformation Project, and other progressive ministries. All are important efforts in the drive to return Christianity to its rightful place as a ministry of reconciliation.

I believe the church is more important than ever. I believe the message of Christ’s love is as relevant today as it was in the time of Christ. I believe in the power of the Gospel. It is the best chance we have to turn from our dangerously destructive tribal behavior.

These are unprecedented times. Our current president and those he has brought into his inner circle have embraced the antithesis of the Christian message. The machinations that evangelicals have gone through to justify their support of this destructive administration will not prevail. Tyrants fall, often mortally wounded by their own egos.

The evangelical church has traded its soul for a bowl of political porridge. Until they return to the primacy of unconditional love, the generosity of grace, and the exhibition of mercy, they will remain a sad caricature of their former selves.

And so it goes.

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12 thoughts on “The End of the Evangelical Era

  1. Amen! Amen! Amen! It is time the evangelicals. Right reread the gospel and look intently st the life of Jesus. I dare them.

    I would add to your list: The Highland Church in Louisville, KY.

    Blessings & Peace,
    Dave Ellis

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  2. The heart breaking thing is that Evangelicalism began as a religious movement toward social justice. The positive social changes that occurred as a result of Evangelical inception in England for children and the poor changed the shape of the known future. The impact we can have is beautiful and lasting when we are in line with God’s way. Sadly, the most outspoken and visible in the Evangelical Church have replaced God with Nationalism, Grace with Law, and Love with Fear. You are one among many voices who say that ‘Evangelicalism’ has been lost and is now gone. I take heart at the mention of all of these churches. There is a groundswell of Christians who ARE listening to God’s voice and the real body of Christ is rising. I am grateful God has invited me to be a part of that movement and grateful you are there too. May God continue to bless your voice Paula. Amen.

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    • Jennifer, I remember a conversation with Randall Balmer at Columbia years ago about American evangelicals being the main providers of social services through the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. What a difference a few decades makes!

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  3. Well said, Paula, and I appreciate the statistics you shared here. I am hopeful, though, that there are many Evangelicals out there who sincerely desire to “love as Christ loves,” – who just need a biblical reason to accept transgender people. That is what I have offered in my new book, “The Bible and the Transgender Experience: How Scripture Supports Gender Variance.” I hope people who read the book will be inspired to know what Jesus had to say about the gender non-conforming people of his day and to learn about the various non-binary characters in the Bible… especially in the OT.

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