Neither Eighty-One nor Nineteen Percent

Neither Eighty-One nor Nineteen Percent June 25, 2019

While evangelical historians continue to lament the majority of born-again Protestants who voted for President Donald Trump — some have even dedicated books to the nineteen percent who did not — these same observers of American Protestantism were likely unprepared for the news that a committee on ecumenicity within the Presbyterian Church in America endorsed an overture at its current meeting of the General Assembly to leave the National Association of Evangelicals. Of course, the NAE, the organization that in 1942 became the clearing house for conservatives Protestants who were outside the mainline denominations but didn’t want to be fundamentalist, has next to nothing to do with the Jerry Falwell, Jr., Robert Jeffress, Franklin Graham wing of contemporary evangelicalism. The NAE has supported resolutions to take better care of the environment, to be better and more faithful citizens, and to warn about sexual abuse. It is in the moderate-to-progressive sweet spot of evangelicalism. And yet, even the PCA, which has hardly been a fire-breathing Calvinist communion of late, decided to cut ties with the NAE.

Here‘s part of the reason:

Whereas the label “evangelical” has come to designate political distinctives as much or more than theological commitments and distinctives; and

Whereas Chapter 31 of the Westminster Confession of Faith states that “Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.”; and

Whereas PCA BCO 3-3 states that “The sole functions of the Church, as a kingdom and government distinct from the civil commonwealth, are to proclaim, to administer, and to enforce the law of Christ revealed in the Scriptures.”; and

Whereas the Scriptures clearly teach that Christians should be stewards of God’s creation, care for sojourners and aliens, and promote matters of civil justice, and members of the PCA may have legitimate differences of opinion on the most effective political policies to address these matters; and

Whereas the NAE has stated that it intends not only to advocate for biblical values and ethics in general, but that “we must advocate for political policies;” and

Whereas the NAE has frequently intermeddled in civil affairs, by publicly pushing for action on the environment, immigration, and has changed its original stance on the death penalty; and

Whereas the NAE has recently passed a motion entitled “Fairness for All” which, in advocating for a political compromise regarding sexual orientation, gender identity and religious freedom, goes beyond Chapter 31 of the Westminster Confession of Faith;…

By using these reasons to distance itself from the NAE, the PCA might seem to be turning more politically partisan, reactionary, and nationalist. But in fact the PCA is using the language of the spirituality of the church — the idea that the church has spiritual means (not political ones) for spiritual ends (not temporal ones) — to separate from the NAE’s progressive and activist posture. By implication, the spirituality of the church keeps the PCA from aligning itself with the Republican Party, the Tea Party, or even a group like — if it existed — Evangelicals for Trump. As they say, while quoting the Westminster Confession, the church is not supposed to meddle in politics.

Also of interest in the PCA overture is this:

Whereas no other NAPARC denominations are members of the NAE; the Southern Baptist Convention is not a member of the NAE; the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is not a member of the NAE; no Anglican bodies are members of the NAE; no predominantly African American denominations are members of the NAE; no mainline denominations are members of the NAE; the Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the NAE; and no Orthodox communions are members of the NAE;

That’s a lot of Christians who don’t belong to the NAE. Which raises the question of just who exactly is an evangelical anyway. (cliffhanger warning) That’s a question for another post.


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