I am a pastor. I am a pastor in a presbyterian denomination. My denomination is called the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
And I’m not sure what I am anymore.
The past year or two has seen the candidacy and then presidency of Donald Trump push for some clear identifying questions about what evangelicals are and what they are not. There are so many think-pieces on this, I cannot even pick which ones to link to. I’ve put up probably close to a dozen of them on Facebook over the past year.
Some of these questions are being asked with a twisted grin on the face of the writer that wishes to mock and cajole evangelicals. Others are written with tears in the eyes of the author that has found themselves alienated and unsure of what they’re watching.
Years and years and years of pitched culture wars and the growing belief that evangelical Christians are the culturally endangered ones in Western society, partnered with an increasingly secular society, created conditions where so many Christians felt they must tie up their theological (“evangelical”) identity with specific legislative battles (abortion, religious freedom… and that’s about it) that absolutely required that Christians committed to the authority of the Bible must, at all costs, fight the Democrats.
There was lip service to the idea that “we know Jesus isn’t a Republican” but almost literally, the same person would say, “But the Devil is a Democrat.”
This kind of persistent training in churches and in the news media that many evangelical Christians consume faithfully, some might say religiously, has formed people ready to go to electoral war to fight the Progressive Onslaught.
And I’m not here to convince you of one political philosophy or another. You work out for yourself how you think a country ought to be governed. Big government, small government, whatever.
But the blinders have been increasingly focused on the issue of abortion to the exclusion of all else. I believe abortion is a great moral evil that should be eliminated by law and by services rendered and whatever means necessary (almost). So I’m not saying this to minimize abortion. As evangelicals have increasingly focused on abortion and the Democratic party leadership has increasingly made it clear that it does not have time for pro-life rhetoric within its party, the stark moral battle has lined itself up.
Morals. Culture. Fear. Dogmatic religious training over the airwaves. Everything ramping up and up and up.
I was so surprised to see how strongly evangelicals came out for Donald Trump, a man with miles of immoral credentials and zero governing expertise. I’m disconnected from from the Fox News-Breitbart machines, so I undersold their influence. I have other ideas about how to eliminate abortion that I’m happy to see pursued, so while I don’t like that Democrats are so doggedly pro-abortion, I don’t see them as impossible to work with. Maybe I’m just a naturally moderating kind of personality. And I failed to see how out of step I was/am on that.
So I was surprised when he won.
And after that, nothing has surprised me.
The blind support.
The religious devotion.
Not even Roy Moore surprises me.
Everything (and I do mean everything) can be “But the Democrats”-ed away. And because everything can be and often is reduced to the issue of abortion…. Guess what? Nothing is a deal-breaker. Nothing. Abortion is the only deal-breaker
And it’s all in the name of Jesus.
Now, look, I know many evangelicals who sincerely felt their hands were tired in many of these things and they felt their vote was locked in by limited options. They voted with a sick stomach and teeth gritted. I saw their tortured consciences. I think that’s real and I think it’s pretty lame to paint all of those people as simple-minded bigots. These people felt torn. They didn’t now who was listening to their real concerns.
But this label. This “evangelical” label. Now it’s gotten chained to a morally leaky ship. And I’m afraid it’s only going to take on more and more water.
And I wonder who I am anymore.
I’m not an evangelical like I see on TV. I know that. I believe in the absolute authority of Scripture and the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus and the supernatural nature of Christianity. The whole theological lot, I’m in. I’m in and able to defend it to my last breath.
But so much has gotten packaged with this thing:
-The objections and the pain of people of color were dismissed as media-manipulated nonsense, as if black and brown people were too stupid to properly understand reality.
-The nationalism that excuses a way of talking about immigrants as if the concern for the foreigner in Scripture is a fabrication of the HuffingtonPost.
-The ability to excuse and defend and disbelieve the morally disgusting in “our” candidates while being absolutely willing to believe that the Clintons have orchestrated dozens of murders of all who stand in their way without ever getting caught. Roy Moore is innocent until prove guilty and every Democrat on the planet was guilty upon signing their voter registration card.
I’m not those things.
And I don’t know what to tell people anymore. Evangelicalism has been a good thing in many ways. But it’s also quietly held an underbelly to it that has, for longer than I realized, sheltered and excused seeds and fruit of racism and protected unhealthy power-obsessions partnered with abuse. There is a darkness there that we’ve tried to ignore.
Now, it’s as if the things that have been growing in darkness are finally being brought into the light. It’s as if judgment has come.
Test my theology. I dare you. Test me to see if I don’t pass your standards of evangelical theology. I’m not afraid of believing in the exclusivity of Christ or the authority and inerrancy of Scripture or traditional sexual ethics or any other test you can muster.
But I don’t know how I’ll vote Republican again.
Quiz me on what I believe about Jesus. See if I can’t answer your questions to the satisfaction of Billy Graham or John Wesley or Jonathan Edwards (ok maybe not him because he was a mega-genius). I’m there. I’m right there with them in the history and stream of American evangelicalism.
But Franklin Graham? Jerry Fallwell Jr.? Robert Jeffress? The names trotted out as moral and spiritual cover for political operatives?
Nah. I’m not with them.
I don’t know how to describe me anymore. I’m an EPC pastor. I’m happy to be so. Proud. I love the people I’m connected to in name and in relationship.
I love Jesus. I want to be identified with Jesus. I don’t want to be identified with Donald Trump or Roy Moore or the Republican party (or the Democrats) or quiet approval of racism or any number of other things.
I love Jesus. I want Jesus to be my identifier, “little Christ.” I want Jesus to shape my identity, not Twitter or NPR or Fox News. And I want my life to be a credit to Jesus. I want to live in a way that makes people curious about Jesus, crave to know Jesus.
I don’t know if I count as an evangelical anymore.
But I want to be counted as being with Jesus.
Can I stand here outside the camps and just be a Christian? Can I just cast my lot with Jesus?
I don’t know what else I am.