Is Evangelical America Really in Decline?

In today’s New York Times, pastor John S. Dickerson writes about “The Decline of Evangelical America” and why that’s happening:

We evangelicals must accept that our beliefs are now in conflict with the mainstream culture. We cannot change ancient doctrines to adapt to the currents of the day. But we can, and must, adapt the way we hold our beliefs — with grace and humility instead of superior hostility. The core evangelical belief is that love and forgiveness are freely available to all who trust in Jesus Christ. This is the “good news” from which the evangelical name originates (“euangelion” is a Greek word meaning “glad tidings” or “good news”). Instead of offering hope, many evangelicals have claimed the role of moral gatekeeper, judge and jury. If we continue in that posture, we will continue to invite opposition and obscure the “good news” we are called to proclaim.

This does not mean we whitewash unpopular doctrines like the belief that we are all sinners but that we re-emphasize the free forgiveness available to all who believe in Jesus Christ.

Dickerson (at least in this article) entirely ignores the fact that people are pushing back against evangelical Christianity because we’ve found a better alternative: Reality.

Atheism and its weak cousin “spiritual-but-not-religious” are no longer unfavorable options like they used to be. You’re no longer as isolated or shunned if you say you don’t believe that churches or any one religious faith has all the answers. Emphasizing “free forgiveness” won’t help when the idea that the death of someone two thousand years ago cleanses you of your sins is laughable from the get-go.

Evangelical America had a chance to be the moral leaders on the issue of same-sex marriage a long time ago — and they rejected it. They still do. No amount of whitewashing the past or emphasizing different doctrine will change their reputation. If you’re an evangelical Christian, no matter how you frame it, you don’t think same-sex marriage should be legal and you think homosexuality is a sin. On both issues, they’re are not just wrong; they’ve placed all their bets on the idea that they would win the fight against marriage equality. And now, they’re struggling to keep whatever power they still have.

But, like Dickerson points out, evangelicals aren’t the only people who think homosexuality is a sin. Muslims and Catholics feel the same way. So what’s the difference? Probably that no other group has tried as hard as evangelicals to force their views upon the population through legislative actions or ballot measures. It’s not enough that they condemn homosexuality in their churches; they want the government to ensure that LGBT people can’t have equal rights anywhere.

Thankfully, the rest of us have a better sense of decency.

If evangelical Christians believe they’re a beacon of moral goodness, and we know they’re not, we also know not to take them seriously on everything else they say. Why would they be right on anything else? If they believe in Biblical nonsense (Creationism) and political nonsense (anything the GOP says) and gender nonsense (men should control women’s bodies… and women in general), it’s a damn good thing their influence is waning.

No amount of technology or influx of popular young pastors will change the fact that evangelical leaders hold a variety of despicable views. The only chance they have of regaining their influence is not talking about them. Good thing they’re unable to do that.

Who knew that worship music was really just an extended swan song?

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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