Today, I’m struggling with my history and identity as an Evangelical. Many within our broader community are ready to jettison the title “evangelical” while others think we should align more with a conservative political movement that just helped win a national election. Honestly, this fact sends shivers down my spine but I want to be more thoughtful in my reactions and look more deeply into our scripture for illumination and guidance.
What does it mean today to be a person of faith, and a leader in a community that’s turned its back too often on a hurting world, looking inward, skyward, or toward the White House? Can we be a sweet aroma like the apostle Paul described the early church or are we more like a skunk to be avoided?
I find myself often wincing when I hear characterizations of my faith tribe outside the four walls of the church. But honestly, some of the comments match what I know as an insider, a leader in this church. Not always. But often enough. As I observe our practices and listen to our remedies on what ails our society it seems like we are missing the mark, or at least scratching where only we itch, certainly not where those who could care less feel the need to scratch. Or our solution is to get “our guy” in the White House or Supreme Court banking on the idea that they will enact legislation that favors our values and positions.
This approach to how we live in society is not always the case. Bradley Wright, the author of the book entitled, “Christians are hate filled hypocrites and other lies you’ve been told to believe,” is really helping correct some stereotypes. Case in point–I’m walking with other people of my faith tradition this Saturday to help get clean water to communities around the world. But I’m not sure many people see this kind of initiative, or others where Christians are caring for the world, the poor and disadvantaged. I do think the bad press quite frankly is sometimes well deserved. The church in general, and perhaps evangelicals in particular have ignored significant parts of the Gospel in our leap from Jesus’ birth to his death and resurrection as Glen Stassen notes.
I write this book in the form of a confessional, as confessions of an evangelical leader. I’ve seen too often that what we do in church seems to address strictly our personal needs and has little appetite for how that makes us better neighbors and world citizens. I’ve discovered the last several years especially how this became manifest in my own reluctance to consider justice, and the systemic parts of structural peacemaking as part of my Christian discipleship. I wanted to be justified, sanctified, cleaned up and ready for singing on the clouds when I die, but what about this world now? My Christian faith was mostly about personal, inward looking piety but buckled under the challenges in the street and public square. I’m exaggerating a bit here. The vision of sitting on the clouds in heaven is a caricature but the point should not be missed. I grew up with a very weak curriculum on how to live here, now, in the messy world, making decisions about how I could make this world a better place. My dad always said we should leave a campsite better than how we found it but that was on the hiking trail, not on the other side of the tracks back home, or in the poor barrios on the other side of the globe. Much of my spiritual journey as well as my professional ministry mimicked what Evangelicals are chiefly concerned about–getting people into heaven with little concern for bringing heaven to earth.
More to come. Comments that are constructive are always welcome.