Five Ways to Respond to What’s Rotten in White Evangelicalism
It’s clear that White Christian Evangelicalism (WCE) is diseased. Wherever you look, you find symptoms of its chronic illness: its support of Trump; the steady moral failings of its leaders; its embrace of conspiracy theories and rejection of history; denial of contemporary science; embrace of nationalism; denial of systemic racism and love affair with white supremacy.
But many of us—me included—have much to grateful for from our evangelical tradition. We owe our love of Jesus, worship, Scripture, and serving others from the people who pastored us, taught us Sunday school, released worship albums, baptized us, and so on.
What do we do? Do we jump ship or try to steer the ship back to safe waters? Do we yell at the top of our lungs or make our way quietly out the backdoor?
Not everyone can, or should, respond in the same way. Here are five* potential ways to respond.
(* I’m using the A.P.E.S.T. personality spectrum as a model for these five potential responses. You can read a summary of A.P.E.S.T. here.
1. Walk away and start or join something new (Apostles)
For some, the right response is to simply walk away. Henry Cloud calls these “necessary endings,” the kinds of relationships that must come to close because the hurt is too deep, the pain too real, or the potential for you to continue to experience harm is too high. It means taking the initiative closing the book on a relationship with a person, group, church, or denomination. It means recognizing the only power you have to effect change is by walking away and starting something new.
The opportunity is that God can often use fresh expressions of the church to do great things. The danger is that quitting can be a too-easy option and become a pattern of start-quit-repeat.
Biblical Example: Paul washing his hands of the Jewish-antagonizers in Acts 18.
*Modern Example: Sarah Bessey and Jeff Chu of Evolving Faith; Matt Nightingale of The Quest Church.
2. Speak truth bluntly (Prophets)
Others feel the need to stay in the mess, but boldly speak out against the messmakers. These are the people who are writing, posting, speaking, preaching, and otherwise making people squirmy, uncomfortable, or angry with what they have to say. This can sound like fun (at least for some), but this will most likely lead to broken relationships, hurt feelings, and other taking the initiative to push you out.
The opportunity is to boldly call people to repent and change their minds. The danger is that, without accountability, you think of yourself as the sole arbiter of truth or of who's in and who's out.
Biblical Example: Jesus giving the seven woes to the Pharisees in Matthew 23.
Modern Examples: Austin Channing Brown; Matt Tebbe
3. Speak truth winsomely (Evangelists)
These are the people who somehow, someway are able to say what needs to be said at the right time in the right way, but do it in such a way that people listen and drawn to them. They have mastered speaking the truth in love. Everyone would like to think they are this kind of person, but the reality is that they are few and far between.
The opportunity is to actually change people's minds and win them over to a new way of being the church. The danger is that you will water down your message to make sure that everyone still likes you.
Biblical Example: The Samaritan Woman at the Well leading her city to Jesus
Modern Examples: Phil Vischer, Beth Moore, Latasha Morrison
4. Offer long-term care (Shepherds)
These folks are the long-haulers. They are nurturers and protectors of God's flock and have an abundance of patience for even the least mature, most rambunctious members of the church. Their work is in cultivating long-term relationships with even the most obnoxious offenders against what counts as Christlikeness to mentor and grow them into something more mature. This is hard work that requires an incredible amount of perseverance and character.
The opportunity is to renovate the ugliness of the church into something beautiful. The danger is the coddling of grossly immoral or immature behavior out of a misplaced desire to not upset anyone.
Biblical Example: Barnabas taking on John Mark after Paul rejects him
Modern Examples: Honestly, all the ones I know are not famous. Shepherds tend not to get famous.
5. Patiently explain (Teachers)
These folks are the teachers, the writers, the preachers, the small group leaders, the friends and family who are doing the slow and steady work of training and equipping the church out of its complicity with hate, misogyny, racism, and so on. While Prophets simply proclaim, Teachers explain. While Shepherds work on formation, Teachers deliver information.
The opportunity is to correct false teaching and lies that can lead to various forms of destruction. The danger is to fall into the trap that information alone can lead to transformation.
Biblical Example: The author of Hebrews patiently spelling out the implications of Jesus as the supreme revelation of God
*Modern Examples: Jason Miller of South Bend City Church; Bradley Mason at The Front Porch; Chanequa Walker-Barnes; Jemar Tisby