Friday, May 25, 2018

Week's-End Commentary: "The Judgment of God Has Come"; "The American Gospel Is Garbage. Something Toxic and Perilous Is Going on in Our Churches. Save Your Soul"

Pew's new research includes a fascinating detail: No group agrees less with the idea that the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees than white evangelical Protestants.

The Washington Post's Philip Bump calls this a "fascinating detail," but I call it totally unsurprising: 

If you meet up with an Evangelical white Republican man with a high school diploma—the main Fox News demographic—he’ll be almost certain to think we should tell these folks to fuck right off. If you meet up with an atheist black Democratic woman who has a PhD—the Fox viewer’s greatest fear—she’ll be almost certain to think we have a responsibility toward the world’s most destitute. 
Raise your hand if this shocks you even slightly.

In white America, there is no salvation inside the church. 
The white American church is Bad. It makes people worse than they otherwise would be — more sinful, more lost. It is not merely a valley of dry bones, it is the machine that turns living flesh into dry bones. 
Shut it down. Burn it down. 
This is not hyperbole or exaggeration. Stretch as far as you can and you cannot reach those here. The fruit of white church is rotten. It's toxic. It brings death and pain and blasphemy…. 
This evidence from the Pew Research Center proves that something has gone horribly wrong. 180-degrees wrong. Bizarro-world, opposite-day wrong. It's a deplorable perversion. It is evidence of anti-discipleship, of spiritual malformation, of deception, of stony soil in which the seed of the gospel has not grown and cannot grow. 
Anything short of Jonah 4-style lamentation and mass-repentance is an inadequate response to this. It calls for weeping and fasting, the rending of garments, anointing with ashes. 
What this shows us, among other things, is that the more white Americans read the Bible, the less they respect it. Any of it — the books of Moses, the prophets, the wisdom literature, the Gospels, the epistles, the Apocalypse. Every section, every chapter, every page. 
For white Americans, the more you go to church, the less you respect Jesus Christ. The less you follow Christ. The less you know Christ. The less you recognize Christ when he’s standing right in front of you.

We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake. 
It is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else—nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography—our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. We pray that our nation will see Jesus’ words in us. "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). 
When politics undermines our theology, we must examine that politics. The church’s role is to change the world through the life and love of Jesus Christ. The government’s role is to serve the common good by protecting justice and peace, rewarding good behavior while restraining bad behavior (Romans 13). When that role is undermined by political leadership, faith leaders must stand up and speak out. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state." 
It is often the duty of Christian leaders, especially elders, to speak the truth in love to our churches and to name and warn against temptations, racial and cultural captivities, false doctrines, and political idolatries—and even our complicity in them. We do so here with humility, prayer, and a deep dependency on the grace and Holy Spirit of God. 
This letter comes from a retreat on Ash Wednesday, 2018. In this season of Lent, we feel deep lamentations for the state of our nation, and our own hearts are filled with confession for the sins we feel called to address. The true meaning of the word repentance is to turn around. It is time to lament, confess, repent, and turn. In times of crisis, the church has historically learned to return to Jesus Christ. 

A reckoning has been a long time coming for the evangelical community. Over the last few years, high-profile stories of abuse—like at the global Sovereign Grace Ministries mega-churches, led by prominent pastor and author CJ Mahaney, and about respected movement figures like Donn Ketcham of the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism—have started to trickle into public conversation, provoking a critical, but limited, debate about some of the patriarchal theology pushed by the mostly-white, heterosexual men who lead the majority of evangelical institutions. But typically, after just a short time, the news cycle has moved on, the controversy has waned, and the men in power have been punished with little more than a rap on the knuckles. 
This time, though, it is different—and Joy's tweets might very well mark the turning point. The #ChurchToo hashtag has created a virtual place for a conversation about sexual abuse in the church to happen on a scale that's larger and more open than anything we've seen in religious spaces since the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church in the 1990s and early 2000s. And beyond the conversation itself, it's crucial to look at who is leading it: Joy and Paasch are both young, queer women who no longer identify as evangelical but are dedicated to creating change in a culture that harmed them—and so many women before and after them. Their digital marker has been used thousands of times since Joy's November post, and it’s even been joined by a #MosqueMeToo hashtag, created by feminist commentator Mona Eltahawy, with which Muslim women are speaking out about sexual abuse on hajj and within their own houses of worship.

We thought this was a Roman Catholic problem. The unbiblical requirement of priestly celibacy and the organized conspiracy of silence within the hierarchy helped to explain the cesspool of child sex abuse that has robbed the Roman Catholic Church of so much of its moral authority. When people said that Evangelicals had a similar crisis coming, it didn’t seem plausible — even to me. I have been president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twenty-five years. I did not see this coming. 
I was wrong. The judgment of God has come. 
Judgment has now come to the house of the Southern Baptist Convention. The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance. There can be no doubt that this story is not over.

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