The conservative Christian news magazine World led off its 2017 wrap-up piece with the onrushing sexual harassment protests.
Writer Mindy Belz linked America’s sexual squalor with the Barack Obama Administration's pushes for mandated birth-control coverage and legalized gay marriage. But she also blamed the election of President Donald Trump, known for a “long tally of sexual misconduct allegations and undisclosed settlements,” and a video that “bragged pointedly about sexual assault.”
Americans “seemed to be acquiescing to such behavior in the halls of power,” Belz wrote, including evangelicals who massively chose Trump over Hillary Clinton. Considering such sexual drift, pundits couldn’t anticipate that “the Trump era would usher in a season of national sexual reckoning.”
Her observations are a glimpse of what’s called the “crisis” for U.S. evangelicalism in an anthology set for Jan. 23 release: “Still Evangelical?: Ten Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning” (InterVarsity Press), edited by Fuller Theological Seminary President Mark Labberton.
Labberton’s lament: “Evangelicalism in America has cracked, split on the shoals of the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, leaving many wondering if they want to be in or out of the evangelical tribe.”
“Still Evangelical?” provides a handy hook for reporters who have yet to examine the paradox of Trump’s evangelical support, why that occurs, its impact upon movement prospects and the reasons some want to junk the vague “evangelical” label as misleading and embarrassing.
The book can also guide political writers who have trouble comprehending what the book calls “arguably one of [American Christianity’s] most vibrant and determined movements.” The Religion Guy himself would delete the “arguably” and contend that this complex, inchoate, ever-evolving movement’s only rival for U.S. religio-cultural influence is the Catholic Church.
To over-simplify, the book portrays this current divide: Trump appeals to certain older-generation, high-profile and politically ardent evangelical conservatives, mostly from the “parachurch” world, allied with a majority of grassroots whites who think of themselves as “evangelical.” The opposite faction includes evangelical executives, educators and pundits, those in the younger generation, blacks and Latinos, and a few proponents of moderate or liberal politics.
(Biola University political scientist Darren Patrick Guerra -- writing in First Things -- depicts an emerging three-way split among cultural or "Jacksonian" evangelicals, "Toquevillians" who are active in church and the movement's "elite" of institutional and intellectual leaders.)
The anthology’s writers are either perplexed by or openly hostile toward Trump’s political and cultural sway.
That’s this work’s major flaw. Surely Labberton could have located at least one thoughtful, Bible-thumping devotee of the current president.
Several contributors have major foreign experience and offer the important reminder to parochial Americans that the U.S. situation affects evangelicalism’s growing edge overseas.
One such, Denver Seminary President Mark Young describes his vertigo after returning to the U.S. in 1995 after 13 years ministering in Eastern Europe. He confesses “growing fear that the understanding of evangelicalism in the United States as a partisan political movement has eclipsed the theological and missional identity that remains so dear to me.”
Several of the analysts target the news media for constantly portraying evangelicals as a mere political bloc, ignoring the religious aspects that dominate life. The Religion Guy would add that countless evangelical congregations shun politics and that evangelicalism as a whole may well be less politicized than “mainline” Protestantism, Catholicism or Judaism.
Other contributors to “Still Evangelical?” are co-founder Shane Claiborne of redletterchristians.org; Jim Daly, James Dobson’s successor leading Focus on the Family; Lisa Sharon Harper, Sojourners alum and founder of freedomroad.us, an African-American angered by evangelicalism’s socio-political performance; President Tom Lin of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship; Liberty University English professor Karen Swallow Prior; Soong-Chan Rah of North Park Theological Seminary; and Allen Yeh of Biola University
Also the most important journalist within evangelicalism, Christianity Today Editor in Chief Mark Galli, who claimed after the Roy Moore campaign in Alabama that “no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation.” Less histrionic in this anthology, Galli says Trump “as such is not the issue,” since his presidency “only revealed a rift in the evangelical world that is threatening to become an unbridgeable divide.”
Need an even hotter news hook?
Michael Wolff's disputed new book about President Trump -- "Fire and Fury" -- claims he "liked to say that one of the things that made life worth living was getting your friends' wives into bed," and that he facilitated adulterous seduction by engaging in "sexual banter" with a husband who didn't know his wife was listening in via speakerphone.