Editor’s note: Zack reached out to me in response to a piece I published on Jerry Falwell Jr. and what I perceived to be the commercial rot of American Evangelical Christianity. He thanked me for my words and for, as he put it, “exposing our hypocrisy”. I was struck by his honesty and asked him whether he would like to contribute something to the Banter to express his feelings about the current state of the Evangelical movement in America. Below is his response.
by Zack Eswine
I’m a White Evangelical. Increasingly, and unfortunately, the label, “hypocrite” fits our movement. An emerging generation turned-off by our churches, says as much, and we need to hear their voices. “Too many Christians doing unchristian things.”
And recent interviews of older and revered Evangelical representatives, cause alarm to younger Evangelicals. Our alarm sounds forth in two directions.
We Appeal to Evangelical Spokespersons
We next-generation Evangelicals, ask that when you propose to speak for us, you remember that Jesus wasn’t a White American. He didn’t speak English. His early followers within the Roman Empire had no access to typical uses of cultural power whether political, institutional or economic. Followers of Jesus spoke many languages and united with each other, not by shared cultural values, but on the basis of who Jesus was to them. Nero’s actions, along with letters between Pliny and Trajan remind us that these Christians flourished, regardless of the political power exerted against them. They thrived because they availed themselves of powers of a different kind: clarity, grace, hospitality, integrity, love even for an enemy, sacrificial service, for the good even of those who mistreated them.
When you vote Democrat or Republican, and you rightly look for alignment with Jesus for your policy preferences as individual human beings, what if you refrained from clothing with Christian language, those who represent those policies on either side, when they look nothing like the Jesus who saved us from ourselves? In this way, you will on occasion commend someone who differs with you or admits the mistakes of those you represent. Jesus, not a political party, will form your first allegiance.
We also ask if you would remember that Jesus has something compelling and corrective to say to people on both sides of the aisle, including you? When any of us forgets this, we shrink who Jesus is and what Jesus taught. We assume that He would never disagree with our point of view. We bury him within the tiny bubble of our American political moment. We lose our authentic voice, that good news exists for the sorrows and skepticisms of human beings no matter who and where they are. We believe that our Hope resides in Jesus, and not in those who win this or that election or take this or that court seat. Isn’t it time we Evangelicals talk like this again?
We Appeal to Journalists
Thank you for your hard work. Would you consider giving a bit more time if you can, to the fact that Evangelicalism in America isn’t monolithic? At least two different identities exist within it; (1) Those for whom American political parties and Christianity are synonymous, and (2) those who use the term Evangelical to identify a core set of beliefs, regardless of political parties.
You cover well the voice of Evangelicals whose identity aligns partisan and political. You helpfully expose our blind-spots and even our wretchedness. But many Evangelicals aren’t white. And those of us who are, find ourselves empathetic to why the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship changed its name, to Princeton Christian Fellowship. “We’re interested in being people who are defined by our faith and by our faith commitments and not by any sort of political agenda.”
Would you consider including more spokespersons for this other strand of Evangelicalism, including those who aren’t White? Whether we will change the name, “Evangelical,” or not remains to be seen. And, it’s not that this second and thriving strand within Evangelicalism is without its problems. We too will have blind-spots and wretchedness that you, at your best, will helpfully expose for our good.
But, to love our neighbor more than just tolerate them, even amid healthy disagreement, and even among those who see themselves as our enemies, compels us, because this is the Jesus-Way, no matter what party takes power. We trust powers of a different kind and roll up our sleeves in local neighborhoods, regardless of who sits in the White House or on the Supreme Court. As Tim Keller noted: This larger, lower-case evangelicalism is defined not by a political party, whether conservative, liberal, or populist, but by theological beliefs.
With this in mind, we want to admit the following charge humbly and at the same time, to ask for a small but meaningful nuance. With two divergent voices within Evangelicalism in mind, we would simply add the words, “seemingly,” or “some strands” to the following rebuke.
“Morality and Christ-like behavior seemingly has nothing to do within some strands of modern Evangelical Christianity . . . Sometimes Evangelical Christianity in America means “white power,” and little else.
Thus worded, the charge remains damming. But it leaves room for hearing those quieter within the movement who actively seek a different way.
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