There has been a lot of talk lately about what evangelicalism means in our current culture. This talk has developed in light of the overwhelming support of white evangelicals for President Trump. It is not only that they support the President, but in order to do so, these evangelicals have abandoned their previous desire for moral leaders. This linking of evangelicals to Trump has led many, including myself, to ask the question of what it means to be an evangelical.
Since I have been a Christian, I have called myself an evangelical. It was the best way I can describe my faith and beliefs. I knew I did not fit in with the rigidness of fundamentalism nor was I comfortable with the license of progressive Christianity. I did not agree with everything I heard from my evangelical friends (I do not agree on everything with anyone), but it was the best spiritual home for me.
Until recently I have been very comfortable in that home. I knew that I was in disagreement with many of my evangelical friends on several political matters, but those disagreements did not seem important enough for me to leave evangelicalism. I have always had concerns about the overly politicized style of many evangelicals, but at least I respected their demands for morality. This latest allegiance to Trump has undermined that respect. Too often the religious beliefs I associate myself with, is tied to a man and politician I hold in low regard. If evangelicalism is going to tie me to President Trump, then I can no longer be an evangelical.
But we do not have to let evangelicalism be tied to Trump. We do not have to let it be tied to highly toxic elements of political conservatism. People often relegate evangelicalism to whites, but actually blacks and Latinos have become more likely to believe the theological framework of evangelicalism. Many of the young evangelicals are redefining their understanding of evangelicalism. Recently I wrote about the war occurring between conservative Christians. Perhaps a consequence of the war is that when his presidency collapses, many of the elements that have lead conservative Christians to this politicized path will be discredited. That may give those of us who are critics of Trump and this type of political hyper-conservatism an opportunity to help reconstruct a new meaning to evangelicalism.
Let me be honest. Right now those of us who opposed the excesses of Trump supporters are on the outs with conservative Christians. Those of us who thought that Trump’s presidential run would go down in flames are not seen as reliable leaders within our religious communities. But in time this will change. I was wrong in my prediction that Trump would not be elected. But, I do not think I will be wrong in predicting that Trump’s presidency will drag down society’s perception of conservative Christians (and indeed it already has), and many Christians supporting Trump now will abandon him. At that point those of us who have conceptualized a new type of evangelicalism, and have been Trump’s critics, can be in a position to redirect our faith.
It is important to consider what that new evangelicalism may look like. At this time we can only speculate and debate what we want for this new type of evangelicalism. There are important questions with which we have to deal. What role will political activism have in this new evangelicalism? Are we going to maintain a sense of traditional morality in a world that not only rejects that traditionalism but stigmatizes it? How will we deal with the growing Christianophobia? Can we establish an evangelicalism that is more multiracial? What is the role of economic justice and economic viability in the new evangelicalism?
Those questions are a beginning, and I hope that many of us will begin to think through these issues. Obviously, a single blog is not going to be sufficient to fully construct what this type of new evangelicalism looks like. So let me add to the conversation by advocating what I think should be an important part of the reconstruction of evangelicalism. That part is the notion of community, a commodity that has become less appreciated in modern society. It certainly has been downplayed by many of the highly politicized evangelicals of today.
Throughout most of human history, we have relied on our communities to find support and comfort. Being in community means more than merely having friends and people we can rely upon. Our communities allow us to understand our place in the society and help us to define ourselves. Even today, in non-Western societies the value of communities is still maintained. It is only in modern Western societies today that we have moved away from the community and towards the individual as the source of value and contentment. Rather than community we have focused on individual fulfillment and empowerment. Modern society has emphasized individual choice above community ideals. We are expected to select our source of meaning and purpose rather than using our communities to help us find those elements. In fact in modern society we look down upon those who would expect denial of personal satisfaction to support their ethnic, social or religious groups.
This type of emphasis of the personal over the community seems to be fulfilling. It is exciting to think that we can consider our own wants and needs above others. But it is also quite scary to think that our own happiness is almost solely our responsibility. Often, we are not able to address some of our natural desires for meaning when we rely on just our individual efforts. Our communities can provide resources to give us a sense of purpose that is hard to find when we rely on our individual desires for purpose and meaning. This is a critique of secular modernity that Christians have neglected.
If we can rebuild our evangelical communities, then we will be in a position to become attractive to many individuals who today do not value our faith. Having communities that provide atomized individuals with a way to find meaning and purpose will become a valuable evangelical tool in a modern society where individuals struggle to find that meaning and purpose. Those of us evangelicals who have been a critic of Trump would do well to go beyond merely cataloging his personal and political failings. We should also cast a new vision of what a Christian community will look like in a post-Christian world. It can be a vision for those who have felt marginalized and in their marginalization have looked to President Trump to sustain them. But it can also be a vision that serves those who have rejected the conservatism of Trump, and may disagree with us on certain moral and social issues, but still are looking for a community they can plug into. In our Christian community we can bring former ideological enemies together to serve a greater good.
If our Christian faith is to have meaning, then we cannot merely replicate the values and norms of our larger culture. A faith that links itself to the transcendent cannot create individuals who act like everyone else. As such while the rest of society focuses on individual fulfillment, we should reignite the notion of community. While others look to themselves before others, we as Christians should look to give ourselves to a larger community. We should look to support each other and learn to sacrifice for our larger community.
Our community is also important for us to maintain our values in a post-Christian society. In a society where conservative Christians face rejection from cultural elites, it is vital to have social mechanisms that allow us to promulgate our religious values. We have to be able to create resources for each other not easily obtained in a post-Christian world. So a vision of Christian community is not only important for helping us provide an alternative to the politicized evangelicalism of today, but also to enable us to protect ourselves in a society that has become, and will continue to be, hostile to conservative Christians.
In time I will discuss more about my vision of a revitalized Christian community. Indeed I have already written about the value of intellectualism in such a community. I have many ideas about the sort of details of I see for the new Christian community. Those details are important as the answers to many of the questions I earlier postulated about what the new evangelicalism will look like. Those details should emerge in our conversations with each other. But at this point I merely want to emphasize the importance of community and the need for those of us who want to reconstruct a new evangelicalism to think about the sort of new community we want to create.