Not long ago, I showed you a study that revealed evangelicals’ erroneous beliefs about themselves as a group. Today, I’ll show you the gap between another one of their beliefs about themselves and reality. Evangelicals love to think of themselves as welcoming. But that’s just another one of the many lies they tell themselves.
(Previous Christian Lies post: Revivals Sold Here. Also see its companion series, Redefined Words! Today’s post mostly concerns evangelicals so I worded it as such, but as we’ll see, any Christian who joins the culture wars tends to push this lie. I ran across more than a few Catholics doing the same things their evangelical pals do.)
“We Welcome Everyone!”
At some point many years ago, evangelicals became dimly aware that it was super-important to be welcoming toward visitors to their groups. In fact, a church’s level of welcome could actually make or break someone’s decision to join them! So they began to pile onto a new trend of announcing that they totally welcomed everyone.
Gosh, with all this welcoming going on, it’s hard to imagine how Christians could be facing a serious decline! Everyone likes feeling welcome when they visit somewhere new, right? I sure wouldn’t want to join any group that didn’t even notice my presence–or worse, that treated me with hostility.
In fact, a lot of religious groups–and religious-adjacent ones like multi-level marketing schemes (MLMs)–get criticized for pouring so much welcome on visitors that they get overwhelmed. When it’s taken to excess, we call this excessive welcome love bombing. It’s a mean thing to do to vulnerable people who don’t know what a red flag it is, especially when the people in that group later yank away that false adoration to reveal their real–and quite nasty–personalities.
However, we’re not talking about love bombing now. We’re just talking about garden-variety welcome. And that’s usually regarded as a wonderful trait for a group to cultivate.
Evangelicals have been parroting this promise since well before I was a Christian myself. It’s easy to find oodles of guides for church leaders advising how to come across as welcoming. And yet somehow evangelicals are not regarded as being very welcoming at all.
When we see rhetoric at such a sharp opposition to reality, that’s a good sign we’re wandering into a group’s most precious self-delusions.
Nowadays, welcoming has two
It still means making visitors feel comfortable and at ease in a new setting to them, sure.
It also implies full inclusion and unreserved affirmation of every single person who walks through their doors. Evangelicals know that the meaning has shifted there, and they absolutely hate it. A link I showed you a moment ago avoids that newer meaning like the plague, concentrating only on the one that is far easier, he thinks, for his tribemates to deliver on.
Hilariously, evangelical churches often can’t even manage that. They’re just not user-cuddly people. Kindness isn’t part of their makeup as a group. That’s not why they joined and remain members of evangelicalism, and they are not about to do stuff they don’t like this deep into the game. So their efforts at being generally welcoming range from ineffective to disastrous, to say the least.
That’s why so many horror stories exist about how unwelcoming these groups truly are to new visitors. One Christian business site, Church Marketing Sucks, even made a series about that exact topic a few years ago. It’s quite interesting reading, but none of it will surprise anybody who’s ever tangled with evangelicals. That isn’t the only place to find these stories, either.
Adding the newer cultural definition of welcoming only compounds evangelicals’ problem here. As a general rule, they haven’t even figured out yet how to fake being welcoming to people who fit their secret wishlist for new members. Now people expect them to play nicely with their worst enemies! How MEAN!
When Ideology Bumps Against Ideology.
Two of evangelicals’ dearest beliefs collide here. The results are ugly.
First, they dearly enjoy believing that they are in fact welcoming. Being welcoming represents part of being loving, after all. They definitely like to think that they are all about dat Christian love.
However, they also really enjoy believing that their god specifically commanded them to behave hatefully and cruelly toward their tribe’s declared enemies. (I say declared because none of their enemies would GAFF about them if they didn’t constantly attack them.)
The declared enemy they hate most at present is LGBT people and their allies. However, if Christians balk at truly welcoming one kind of person, they’ll balk at welcoming a lot of other sorts of people too. Hateful, exclusionary people don’t usually stop at just one kind of person they mistreat. So let’s not forget that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ also love to mistreat people of color, the poor, atheists, feminists, immigrants, children, and anyone else they deem undesirable.
When presented with these two contradictory beliefs, do evangelicals…
- Behave lovingly toward everybody, no exceptions?
- Or swerve into their beloved culture wars, even at the expense of their credibility and membership numbers?
What to do, what to do…
Like it was ever a serious question for them.
To resolve this contradiction, ever-dishonest evangelicals have chosen to redefine words till they come out with a “we welcome everyone” declaration that still allows them to discriminate against and constantly oppress their declared enemies.
They’ve created several strategies they think help them to reconcile their contradictory beliefs.
First, they try to push the idea that they do welcome their declared enemies to the fold–but if those enemies don’t start conforming to the tribe’s demands, that welcome won’t last long. The tribe uses intense social pressure to encourage that compliance.
(When I became Pentecostal, I faced this exact kind of intense pressure about my clothing choices. When my churchmates proclaimed that I’d been convicted by Jesus to begin wearing skirts/dresses, like it was all Jesus’ doing, I knew it wasn’t. But I didn’t say anything at the time. By then, I was too afraid of Hell to argue that point. I believed the dress code was mandatory to Jesus, so it didn’t matter how I’d come to adopt it.)
Second, they try to create an unspoken new redefinition of welcome that specifically exempts them from showing kindness or mercy to their declared enemies.
Third, they go on the offensive to avoid engaging with their own blatant hypocrisy.
All of these tactics show up in their essays on the topic:
- Jesus did too exclude people! So we must do the same!
- Play nice for a bit while pushing hard to gain compliance from undesirable visitors. Doing anything else is “unbiblical,” and you know the penalty for that!
- We’re the real victims here! How dare people not tolerate our intolerance! WAAAH! PERSECUTION!
Take, for example, this church: “Church by the Sea” of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I found it just at random and haven’t ever seen them before now. The word “welcome” appears on their front page three times. And they tell us they “welcome everyone.”
But wait, what’s this? It’s a modifier to that “everyone!”
Our current membership is drawn from many Christian backgrounds and we welcome everyone who seeks to honor, worship, and service [?!? – CC] our Lord Jesus Christ.
That modifier indicates that something dishonest is going on. They’re using the word welcome, sure, but they’re being very, very careful to delineate exactly who they welcome–and by extension, who they absolutely won’t ever welcome.
Then we notice that they’re “Reformed,” which is an especially nasty and cruel flavor of evangelicalism (which itself is an especially nasty and cruel flavor of Christianity as a whole).
Ah, okay. Now we get closer to how they define these words.
Some Christians obfuscate harder than others. Preston Sprinkle, an evangelical writer and boilerplate bigot, advised his readers in his book People to Be Loved to answer questions about their churches’ welcome with disingenuous questions of their own. He goes to that effort to avoid having to unequivocally admit that his church lives and breathes bigotry, which he knows
might will dissuade more loving people from visiting his church.
Here’s another example of what I mean (if the link’s busted, here’s the original page). This church, like the others, absolutely doesn’t want to tell us where they stand. However, they can’t help slipping in a note about being Reformed evangelicals. It’s so subtly done that someone might easily miss it. Elsewhere, though, they name-drop all kinds of culture-warrior evangelical apologists and leaders. That clues us in to exactly how “welcoming” they really are.
The culture wars neatly divide dishonest and nasty Christians from genuinely compassionate ones. Any Christian invested in the culture wars is probably going to be a deeply-unpleasant person to the tribe’s declared enemies. Culture warriors love dominance, power, and control. They neither are nor even desire to be genuinely loving people to everybody. That’s not why they’re involved with evangelicalism rather than something else. And they’re not about to change behavior patterns they enjoy, not now.
In all of these cases, you can absolutely bet that these dishonest bigots will not be fooling anybody but themselves. Most people can spot someone avoiding an uncomfortable truth–especially people who constantly face harm from that truth.
Redeeming a Concept.
Of course, nobody’s obligated to play along with evangelicals’ reindeer games, either. Anybody seeking genuine welcome will simply snort at the dishonesty evangelicals display–and move on in their search for a new church home to join. Zealots can lie all they want about who they welcome and redefine common English words all day long if it makes them happy. As long as they can’t force people to join their churches, it’s not like we must play along. If nothing else, when their members realize what their leaders and peers are doing, it might just jar them enough to critically examine their beliefs. It’s happened before, after all.
Meanwhile, churches that really do welcome everyone have begun going the second mile to make that sentiment crystal-clear. Some include an explicit statement of inclusion, like this church does (with a rainbow in their banner picture, just in case there’s any ambiguity left).
Moreover, plenty of non-bigoted Christians firmly assert that evangelicals’ weaselly redefinitions actually hurt the Christian brand far more than it helps evangelicals recruit people. For what it’s worth, I agree completely.
These efforts severely undercut evangelicals’ tactics, as well as forming a subtle dig at their dishonesty.
And The Final Huge Problem With Evangelical Dishonesty.
As you can imagine, I’ve read a whole lot of essays lately from evangelical authors and leaders about this topic.
I’ve come away shaking my head yet again at what their writing accidentally reveals about them.
Even before we get into the evangelical-started culture wars that have so savaged their reputations and witness before the world, even if we just use the basic definition of welcome where visitors feel happy about having dropped by and liked their visit, evangelicals absolutely cannot and have apparently never been able to meet that basic expectation.
Welcome is hard. It involves self-examination and self-denial.
What on earth…?
That quote goes on for some time in that exact vein, too!
And I’ve got to ask: How is showing basic human decency to every single visitor so hard–especially for Christians, who claim to be possessed by a real live god of unending kindness and love? Why do so many Christians need to constantly shake their fingers at their peers and followers for their absolutely disgraceful lack of welcome toward others?
Evangelicals’ self-serving lies about their ability to welcome people certainly show us more than they should want us to see about who they really are. I hope more people begin listening to them on that count.
NEXT UP: More Christians attend church services around Christmas than at pretty much any other time of year. So here’s an evangelical lie that’s much on my mind lately: that they’d gladly and happily continue attending church even if they found out the religion’s claims were untrue. That’s a LAAAH, and I’ll tell you all about it next time!
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