After learning of a terminal diagnosis or experiencing the loss of a loved one, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross taught us, we will experience the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and (finally) acceptance. Kubler-Ross also observed that these stages do not move sequentially but in a circular fashion; we might move in and out of them in no particular order and with varied frequency. Even years after a loss, a scent or memory or major life event might throw us into a stage of grief anew, even if we have long accepted the loss (see note 1).
For me and many Christians I know, the past couple of years have been a wild, aching cycling through the stages of grief for the loss of what we thought the Church we grew up in was. Yes, I’ve always known the Church is made up of sinners, and sure, hypocrisy is nothing new among humans. But I still believed that the evangelical Church believed, at its core, in things like truth, character, the Bible, loving enemies, putting the gospel first. I even believed that our politics were informed by these virtues. I didn’t believe that we lived these things out perfectly but that they were our core principles, so that if we ever got off track, at least we could be called to these truths and be changed. And I believed that if this were not true of all evangelical Christians, at least it was true of a sizable number of them.
This past two years have been a terribly disillusioning, grief-stricken untangling of my illusions about all this. As one person pointed out on Twitter (I’ve been unable to find the original source) (see note 2), the weekly discipling of the Church was no match for the nightly discipling of Fox News. (And yes, other media and entertainment outlets could be pointed to with other parts of the Church, but I’m talking about evangelicals here.)
My heart has ached and almost broken as I have seen leaders I admired again and again and again show they have no godly judgment, that they can excuse evil whenever it is convenient for their politics, which reign supreme. I’m not talking about reluctant voters who are just trying to do the best they can with imperfect choices (those do exist); I’m talking about the many, many people I see who champion and excuse and minimize evil. I’m talking about a crisis of compassion in which the black Church in America is crying out with the pain of oppression and the white Church is too fragile to listen, even though the Scriptures command us to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15 NIV). I’m talking about a Church that is now too afraid of Muslims to consider that God may have a sovereign plan in bringing them here. I’m talking about Christians who embrace coarseness and cruelty instead of the virtues of Philippians 4:8.
The writer Hannah Anderson had a wise series of observances about the current situation recently:
I appreciate so much Anderson’s reminder that it’s ok not to have all this sorted out right this moment.