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White Evangelicals Must Stop Consulting Themselves
New op-ed for RNS.
I had another opportunity to write an op-ed for RNS, and I wrote about how recent thinkpieces highlights evangelicalism’s tendency to only draw from its own resources - resources that I believe are depleted because they have already forced out those who would reform it from within.
From the piece:
Time and again, evangelical institutions and powerful elites have been given opportunities to mend their ways and repent and they have opted not to. Various attempted reforms over the decades have only served to spur heated dialogue and, sometimes, schism.
There is no shortage of examples: from the Protestant battles in Chicago between “corporate evangelicals” like D.L. Moody and populist “radical evangelicals” in the 19th century; to the writing of The Fundamentals in the early 20th century in response to “liberal Protestantism”; to the evangelical resistance to the religious rhetoric of FDR’s New Deal, made popular by Billy Graham and James Fifield in the 1940s.
Then there was the neo-evangelical movement and discussions of decolonization in the 1960s, only to lead to a doubling down as Bob Jones University and Liberty University resisted desegregation in the 1970s and formed the modern religious right to defend segregationist practices (not to defeat abortion, as the mythology goes).
More recently, we’ve seen the pushback of the emergent church and the post-evangelicals of the new millennium — the swell of popular writers like Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey and Jen Hatmaker often questioning evangelical teachings on sexuality, race and gender — and today’s Extremely Online™ exvangelicals, deconstructors and decolonizers.
These dishonored hometown prophets of evangelicalism have called on their leaders to reform and time and again have been told, “No.”
Whether this denial is couched in theological concern or expressed through derisive culture war language, the end result is the same: Those told no have been told that their whole selves do not reflect the image of God, and their concerns will not move their faith community (by birth, by choice or by both) to change. The consequence of this refusal is a rejection of another human for their preferred image of God. The would-be reformer leaves wounded, or stays in silent suffering, knowing their belonging is contingent on submission, not to God but to a status quo.
An evangelical heritage is a complicated one, and the continued theological gerrymandering by its leaders — who seek to claim a lineage of abolitionists yet disown the segregationists, and delineate who can critique and who cannot — makes it harder to reckon with our history or challenge harmful beliefs and practices. That reckoning is long overdue.
Read the rest over at RNS, and be sure to subscribe here to support my work.
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