‘The more doors you go out of, the further you get in.’
The Raven in ‘Lilith’ – George MacDonald
We live in changing, perhaps monumental times. But I am thinking in particular again, as I mostly do in these posts, of the world of religion in general and the Evangelical Church, in which I was brought up, in particular.
Over the years I have walked out several doors – but never before had I considered that going out might in fact take you further in. I suspect that is because going out often feels like a death – an abandonment of places, and sadly, very often people, who have held a very special place in your heart on the journey of life. Of course it is not meant to be like this – but sadly people are very often more attached to their denominations and churches than to the people who inhabit them – and, if you leave them – well!
Strangely (or perhaps not), this week, I came across two different (high profile) Evangelical leaders who had, relatively recently, walked out the door of their denominations for very similar reasons – they no longer regarded what Evangelicalism had become as being true to the teaching of Jesus. Both these men are from the USA – and for both, the worship, by their fellow evangelicals, at the Golden Calf of one time President Donald Trump was the catalyst which propelled them towards the door. They began to see, what thousands outside the church had already seen, that the worship, by followers of Jesus (so called), at the altar of political power, expediency and the adage that the end justifies the means, was not compatible with New Testament Christianity.
One of these men, Theologian, Russell Moore, formerly a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Evangelical body in the USA, speaks of a ‘crisis of credibility’ as well as ‘cynicism and despair’ within the evangelical movement in the USA today. He states – ‘Young people don’t believe the church believes what it preaches’. As a result the SBC have, over the last 13 years, seen an alarming and consistent decline in their membership. In 2020 this decline was the largest in 100 years. While some speak of a credibility crisis, cynicism and despair others speak of the ‘moral collapse of the evangelical movement’, within their nation.
The second man I came across was the Reverend Robert Schenck, Director of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute, Washington, DC. Schenck summarised his view as follows – ‘We (evangelicals) are loosing millions and millions, especially young people. Right now the future of American Evangelicalism is looking bleak.’ Perhaps it should be said that this crisis is not restricted to a crisis of doctrine or belief – but also very real and devastating allegations of widespread sexual abuse within the SBC. Sadly, this is an issue which is by no means restricted to this denomination or nation.
For several years now thousands outside the church have been seeing (or perhaps they had done so long before) what those within the evangelical movement could not – the deep and transparent contradictions and hypocrisy of it all. This was well illustrated in a hard hitting but nevertheless, insightful, 2017 cartoon from David Horsey in the LA Times. (1)
All of this is most alarming. When the world, to whom the church is called to be a light, is in fact a light to the church, something has gone seriously wrong in the spiritual ecosystem of the West.
Of course this problem is not restricted to the USA, albeit it might be seen here in its extreme form. The thirst for political power and influence – and the compromise that goes along with it has been with us for a very long time here in the UK. Little wonder then that so many of my Evangelical friends here joined their American brethren in adoration before the Golden Calf of Mr. Trump and his policies. All this is not to say that Donald Trump, as an individual, was the cause of it all – rather, perhaps, he was the manifestation of a much deeper symptom eating away at the heart of Evangelicalism – the abandonment of the Jesus who taught that to truly live is to die first – or, in the words of the Raven – ‘The more doors you go out of, the further you get in.’
1 – In the accompanying article, among other things, Horsey said this – ‘Donald Trump has proven himself throughout his lifetime to be an adulterous, lecherous, mendacious, self-centered human being who has consistently abused and misused people to aggrandize himself. Of the medieval Seven Deadly Sins, he scores big on lust, greed, wrath, envy and pride …’ Strange as it may appear Horsey is by no means an enemy of the Evangelical movement in the USA – but was insightful (and concerned) enough to see the hypocrisy and danger of widespread Evangelical support for such a saviour. Personally, I wonder what attention is given to history within the wider Evangelical world in this regard. When Moses was adopted by the ruling overlord and political power of his day the Jewish people might have thought it was all going to come together for them. However, he was forced to leave through the doors called ‘disgrace’ and ‘ostracisation’ – personally and politically before he was ready for God’s plan and purpose. Perhaps the church today will have to walk through these doors too.