This week Jupiter and Saturn will appear as one in the sky, the first time that has happened in 800 years. When I heard this celestial event is called the Big Conjunction, I thought of the dilemma currently facing large evangelical churches in America. When it comes to the big conjunction of Donald Trump and Covid-19, these churches are lost in the cosmos.
Megachurches are America’s great religious influencers. There are more megachurches (churches that average over 2,000 in weekend attendance) in Nashville today than there were in the entire nation just twenty years ago. The influence of these churches is huge, and their decisions make news. Flatirons Church, the largest church here in Boulder County, recently held an outdoor service (pictured above) in which mask wearing and social distancing were obviously negotiable. The event created quite a ruckus in our Covid-compliant region. It was not the first time the church has made news in a negative way. They horribly mismanaged their relationship with a transgender member and have not been honest about their position on LGBTQ+ relationships. It is my opinion that their leadership is not adequately educated about many of the most salient social issues of our age. Unfortunately, Flatirons is not an outlier among evangelical megachurches. It is but one example among thousands of similar churches struggling with their role in American culture.
The last four years illustrate the conundrum for America’s megachurches. One of the clear convictions of almost every megachurch is its focus on salvation, not politics. Over 95 percent of these churches are evangelical in theology. As evangelicals, they teach that people must be born again to get into heaven. Personal salvation is the church’s major focus. Theirs is a transactional faith. You give Jesus your devotion and Jesus will stop his father from sending you to hell. That simplistic faith is inadequate in today’s complicated and polarized world.
As purveyors of salvation, megachurches pride themselves on not being political. I do not know of a megachurch outside of the deep south willing to take a political stand for or against Donald Trump. They try to remain neutral. Most of the guys I know (and yes, megachurch lead pastors are all guys) do not like Trump, but they know at least 76 percent of their members voted for him and a sizeable number adore him. They are not willing to challenge that adoration.
Take Georgia for instance, where Donald Trump wants to subvert a legal election. The two Republican Senators have shown no willingness to support their Republican Governor or Secretary of State, while Trump asks the Governor to overturn the election, with no evidence of voter fraud. It is exactly what I would expect of Donald Trump and Senators Perdue and Loeffler. But where is Andy Stanley, the lead pastor of the largest church in the state? We haven’t heard from Stanley since a Time Magazine column written before the election in which he said we should all love one another regardless of the election outcome, and an Atlantic article in which he acknowledged that these are tough times for large church pastors. Hardly a clarion call on behalf of justice and democracy.
When the person in the White House is a narcissistic purveyor of lies who refuses speak out against White supremacy, staying silent is no longer a moral option. When a pandemic is politicized, and people are dying because of their refusal to do something as basic as mask wearing and social distancing, it is not the time to refuse to take a stand. Flatirons Church’s leaders refused to exercise the most basic of human responsibilities – keeping humans safe. To not enforce mask-wearing and social distancing at a large service, even if it is outdoors, is unconscionable. These pastors say they don’t want to wade into politics. Since when is saving the lives of living and breathing humans political? They certainly have no problem arguing for the lives of unborn children.
When I was Paul, I never was a politically active pastor. Like most pastors, I stayed out of politics, not just to stop from endangering our 501c3 status, but because I never saw it as a priority. That changed when I transitioned. I never saw it as a priority because as a powerful White male, I did not see the injustice that actually exists in the world. I understood it theoretically, but I had never experienced it. Now I know. People suffer. Lives are lost. Remaining silent is not an option. I wish I had understood that before. Privilege is blinding.
You cannot remain silent when wholesale lies are broadcast by the President and across media platforms that have no regard for the truth. You cannot remain silent when a narcissist does what narcissists do – devour everything and everyone in their path. You cannot stay silent with a pandemic is raging out of control, and something as simple as mask wearing and social distancing could save hundreds of thousands of lives. Maybe our politicians have no moral standards and think only of retaining their power, but I would expect more from our evangelical large church pastors. This is not the time for silence. It is time to boldly speak the truth. Yes, you will lose people and money, but at least you won’t lose your own soul.