Some time ago in this space, I wrote about why I believe churches exist. At the very least (although I have a few more reasons in that post) the church exists as a locus from which to spread the gospel and as a community for believers. As I look across the landscape of American Christianity (and evangelicalism specifically), I see an institution that is upside down and backward.
- Among Christian religious groups, the highest resistance to the COVID-19 vaccine is among white evangelicals. This is true despite the overwhelming evidence that the vaccine is highly effective and as such is a way to potentially save your life and the lives of others. The survey found that less than 40 percent of white evangelicals believe that taking the vaccine is a way to live out the biblical principle of loving your neighbors.
- Many evangelical groups support the recent law passed in Texas that effectively outlaws the right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy. The law cleverly avoids state action by putting enforcement in the hands of common citizens, who can sue those who aid and abet those who have an abortion. These evangelical groups have largely ignored the religious liberty implications of those who are having the procedure and the clergy who may aid them because of the dictates of their faith.
- According to a recent poll, 60 percent of white evangelicals believe that the 2020 presidential election was unfairly stolen from Donald Trump. Even though there have been several recounts and several court cases that were found to lack merit, white evangelicals were the only religious group polled where a majority still believe this fiction. Of course, it was this belief that led to the violent storming of the US Capitol just over a year ago.
So the question I find myself asking is, What does any of this have to do with why we exist? How does any of this help us spread the message of Jesus Christ? How does any of this posturing help create, expand, or strengthen a community of believers? How does any of this help us critically examine our traditions, upholding some and destroying others? How does any of this help us break down barriers to reach people with the love of Christ?
The answer to this question is easy—It doesn’t. The church is not called to amass political power and influence. In fact, I would argue that our mission is just the opposite of that. We are not called to lessen our own persecution (if it can even be called such). The church instead is called to look beyond its own persecution and find the peace that only God can provide. The church does not use the power of the state to force people to do the right thing or follow the beliefs of the church. The church believes in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and how a relationship with Christ will lead to a change in the way we think and a change in the way we live.
So how do we get right side up and forwards? That is a much more difficult question and I will admit that I do not know the answer. There are a lot of churches throughout this country who are doing good things, many of them even as they do some of the things I criticize here. I know that the Franklin Grahams and the Robert Jeffresses don’t speak for all of American evangelicalism or Christianity, but it is time we consider how to differentiate the voices in the room. To ignore that any more is to forsake the reason for which God established the church.
Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.
Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found by clicking here.
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