Joel Wentz

contending for thoughtful Christianity

Confessions of a Seriously Struggling Evangelical

"Evangelical" is a problematic word. As someone who grew up entrenched in Evangelical culture, I have gone down the rabbit hole of trying to find out exactly what the label means, and I usually end up with more confusion than clarity. I found out that David Bebbington has a quadrilateral, Martin Luther may have coined the term when categorizing the churches born out of the Protestant Reformation, and apparently Billy Graham himself didn't know exactly what "Evangelical" meant.

Underneath the layers of confusion, however, I can't help but feel that there are remnants of something beautiful, something worth holding on to, and maybe, just maybe, a tradition to even be proud of.

But right now, I have never been more tempted to get as far away as possible from it.

  Jerry Falwell, Jr. with Trump.....right next to framed Playboy issue featuring Donald himself...

Jerry Falwell, Jr. with Trump.....right next to framed Playboy issue featuring Donald himself...

The cracks in my relationship with Evangelicalism have been showing for a while, but then Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed Donald Trump, James Dobson claimed that Trump was a 'baby Christian,' Eric Metaxas explained that Christians have an obligation to vote for Trump, and then, just last week, in what felt like the death blow of any remaining credibility that Conservative Evangelicalism held in my life, Wayne Grudem produced an overly-wrought think-piece on how voting for Trump is a "morally good choice."

Now, in many ways, I am a textbook Millenial. I care a lot about racial injustice, post on social media about #blacklivesmatter, am convinced that wealth inequality is a massive problem in our society, wasn't overly bothered by the SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage, have basically always had access the internet, and I don't know what it's like to live in an America that isn't mired in military conquest of the Middle East (9/11 happened while sitting in my 10th grade civics class). And I say this because my concern here goes deeper than my own, individual, tortured relationship with a strand of Christian tradition. 

“I do not like to have to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don’t do a lot of things that are bad. I try to do nothing that is bad.
— Trump

Simply put, there are a lot of Millenial Christians like me out there who are trying to reconcile our impassioned social values with an upbringing that prioritized very different issues, and if Conservative Evangelicalism writ large doesn't respond quickly and decisively to the list of Trump endorsements I mentioned above, then all we Millenials perceive is a tradition whose leadership either: 1) doesn't give a rip about the very issues that define us as a generation; 2) has prioritized political influence above integrity to the message of Jesus as we see it; or 3) is simply so out of touch with reality that they can't see the insanity of arguing for the moral imperative of voting for a pathological, narcissistic, adulterous demagogue. Pick any of those 3 options, and I can guarantee you we Millenials want nothing to do with it. If there isn't a serious course correction, then I absolutely promise, you are going to continue to see Millenials fleeing from Evangelicalism in droves.*

This isn't about being "seeker sensitive." This isn't about the church trying to become "culturally relevant," or giving people what their "itching ears want to hear," as that frequently misquoted verse in 2 Timothy says.** This is more about humility and vulnerability. 

Listen to the cries of my generation. Admit that you don't understand what riles us up so much, and instead of doubling down on the very perspectives that have started to alienate so many young people, ask them questions about racial injustice and #blacklivesmatter. Ask us why we are more concerned about immigration reform than legislation about marriage and gender-based bathrooms. We aren't pro-abortion, by any means, but we aren't one-issue voters, either. We care a lot about mass incarceration, criminal justice reform, and systemic issues of poverty and education. And we Millenial Christians have arrived at these perspectives because of our love for Jesus, not in spite of it.

So when these endorsements flood our screens, our suspicions are affirmed, not only that Evangelicalism doesn't understand us, but doesn't care to.*** At best, it feels like a condescending pat on the head, and at worst, a slap in the face with a charge to "step in line!"

I do love the heart of the Evangelical tradition. I love its emphasis on conversion, because people can, in fact, change. I love the high view of scripture, because we are continuously formed by our text. And, most importantly, I love the central focus on Jesus, because what else could hold such a long and varied a tradition together?

It's out of such love that I offer this plea: stop being stiff-necked and bull-headed, repent of your lust for political power and influence, and make space for a new wave of leadership that could radically revitalize your movement.

If you don't, we will go elsewhere.

 

*This is not to say that Conservative Evangelicalism is without thoughtful spokespersons. Both Russell Moore and Max Lucado have been outspoken critics of Trump. Additionally, there are many in the less-conservative camp who have already criticized Grudem, including the likes of Scot McKnight.

**2 Timothy 4.3-4, to be exact.

***Incidentally, it really doesn't help that all of these endorsements have come from wealthy, White men. There isn't space in this blog post to get into the racial dynamics at play here, but I can confidently say that the pattern of privilege in these perspectives is a sure-fire way to lose credibility with Millenials.