So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
– Genesis 32:24-28 (NIV)
I’ve written a decent amount about my relationship with modern evangelical Christianity in the past, and as I’ve mentioned, I’ve generally found the lessons, friendships and values to have been a positive influence on both myself and my family.
That said, the rise of Trumpism has, several years later, deeply damaged my relationship with the church and many of its followers.
To be clear, on an individual level, most evangelicals are lovely people, and I’ve seen heartwarming acts of kindness many, many times over the years. From time to time, a topic would be mentioned during a Bible study or lesson that would cause me to raise an eyebrow, but since the overall message remained one of love (and the topic was typically more abstract than specific), I generally shrugged and moved forward.
I’ve come to realize that this was a mistake. I was in a privileged enough position in life to make that choice, and the events of the past few years have really caused the scales to fall from my eyes.
While there are most certainly exceptions, here’s a general profile of the “2019 evangelical” that I’ve been encountering more and more:
- Wrestled with challenging/taboo social issues while studying the Bible, then seemingly stopped after being baptized, so as not to be “divisive”
- Votes Republican, as the prevailing narrative for 30+ years has been that this party is best aligned with evangelical interests
- Interacts online primarily in groups/on social networks, sharing “news” and information primarily with other Christians (importantly, many Christian men are absent from these gathering places, in an attempt to avoid online sexual temptation)
- Doesn’t “see color” when discussing race, but is blind to (or unmoved by) the effects of institutional racism
- Talks about “hating the sin, not the sinner” when it comes to topics like abortion or LGBTQ rights
In a nutshell, the events of the past few years have dramatically amplified issues and attitudes that were lurking in the background, and watching evangelicals actively shut their eyes and close their mouths to what’s happening around them has truly broken my heart.
Still with me? Cool. Let’s talk about some of these “taboo” topics and how they’re affecting people:
- Abortion: I get it, this is a delicate, painful, extremely personal issue. While I’m obviously not here to provide answers, I’d simply ask if you’ve explored the perspectives of those that don’t share your views, or empathized with those in truly heartbreaking situations?
- LGBTQ Rights: We know where Jesus stood on this issue (#crickets), but setting the pretty unassailable civil rights issues aside, why are we willing to revisit/re-contextualize New Testament verses about topics like slavery for a modern setting, but not this stuff?
- The Role of Women: There’s a lot of lip service around the importance of women in the church, but they’re still placed on a second tier in much of the evangelical world. Speaking of revisiting/re-contextualizing New Testament verses, it needs to happen here as well. We need to re-engage in conversations around women in leadership and stop placing the blame on women for leading men to sexually stumble.
- Race: As mentioned above, I don’t come across much explicit face-to-face racism in the church (then again, I’m a white guy, so grain of salt), but do I see active support for racist policies and disturbing attitudes towards immigrants of other races? Big time.
So what can be done? I remain hopeful that things can be turned around. Our church specifically went through a period of reform several years back, and has recently shown some tentative willingness to have an open conversation about institutional racism (I truly hope that this continues).
Assuming you haven’t already rage-closed your browser tab and run back to your MAGA-fied Facebook feed, what next steps should you take? My two cents:
- Wrestle with your faith and your church’s Biblical interpretations. You did this when studying to become a Christian, so why did you stop?
- Pay for and read a newspaper every day (online or print, whatever works). Stop getting your “news” from social media or talking heads on television.
- If you’re a Christian man, stop avoiding the Internet. It’s admirable that you want to avoid sexual temptation, but your absence from online dialogue (and really from the culture generally, which now lives online) is causing greater damage at this point.
- If you’re a “single issue” voter, take a moment to consider how your vote affects other people (not only on that one issue, but on all others associated with that political candidate). Are you supporting a message of love?
- Stop being lukewarm. You’re busy with work and family? Who isn’t? Make time to engage. Why are you afraid to talk about these topics online or otherwise? Prayer is great, as is trusting in God, but many don’t have the luxury of remaining silent.
I believe that focusing on the message of Jesus is the path forward. Bible interpretations and church movements come and go, but love remains constant. The bathwater may be full of poop at the moment, but we want to be careful not to throw the baby out as we proceed.
None of this is easy, and taking action means you’re signing up for a constant, lifelong struggle.
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
– Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV)
Keep wrestling. Love is worth it.