Yes, there is something profoundly wrong at the heart of The United Methodist Church. And it is called the Evangelical Takeover. I admit it: I’m fascinated by the fact that with the death knell of Evangelicalism now being easily heard, the UMC is about to become downright Evangelical. I also just don’t get it.
The Issue Behind the Issue
Anyone who has been following the drama in the UMC about the potential split of the denomination over the issue of what is and is not considered “biblical” sexuality should know there is an issue behind the issue. What we are facing is a classic Evangelical Takeover. We are the Southern Baptist Church, 30 years later.
Those adhering to this far more fundamentalist-type theology have infiltrated themselves into the life and the leadership of the UMC. Those funding and plotting this takeover are representatives of or leaders in strongly Evangelical movements and groups like Good News, the Wesleyan Covenant Association, and The Institute for Religion and Democracy.
It is very likely that they will “win” and the UMC (or whatever it will be called at that point) will then work to divest itself of any who call themselves Progressive or Moderate or even Centrist Christians.
Those behind the Evangelical takeover are well funded, well-organized, and have no interest in taking prisoners. They merely want to expel those who don’t adhere to the same tight lines as they do. It’s called “heresy hunting,” one of their favorite sports. First target, of course: anyone who supports same-sex marriage. There will be further targets to follow, but this one is foremost. It’s all about sex right now.
It will be a sad day for the Gospel when those behind the takeover complete their work.
Mainstream News Chronicles the Demise of Evangelicalism
In the last week, the mainstream news has come out with article after article about the devastation that Evangelicalism has brought upon itself. Three things characterize the coming demise: its unholy marriage with politics, the racism and sexism that underlie their theological stances, and their astoundingly uncritical embrace of Donald Trump as the best possible person to represent them on national and worldwide stages.
A few snippets along with links to those articles are at the end of this post. Read them. Read them carefully.
- Is this the direction we want Methodism to move?
- Do we want to alienate most of our minority, non-white members, most women, most intellectuals?
- Do we want a mindless fundamentalist reading of Holy Scripture to be the centerpiece of the Methodist movement?
- Do we want to leave behind the understanding of our responsibility to stand against oppression to embrace an individualistic view of salvation that is heedless of the pain and suffering in this world?
- Do we want to become less and less relevant to the coming generations who see through our hypocrisy with far clearer eyes and have already jumped ship like so many lemmings going over the cliff of “You’ll never see me in a racist/sexist church.”
- Do we want to embrace an immoral spokesperson as the centerpiece of who we are?
It May Be Too Late
It may be too late, but if not, now is the time to reclaim the broad tent of our historical stances of standing firmly for good, equally firmly against evil and remaining in love with God.
Now is time to move away from the growing movement within our ranks toward bibliolatry and away from affirming that there is a wideness in God’s mercy.
If it is too late–and the 2019 called General Conference will confirm that one way or another–then now is the time to prepare to leave, to begin the creation of new movements where the Spirit of God may once more infuse us with hopeful grace which we may pass onto to others.
I admit it: I’m fascinated by the fact that with the death knell of Evangelicalism now being easily heard, the UMC is about to become downright Evangelical. I also just don’t get it.
But again, read the articles below. The snippet I’ve copied seems to be the gist of each item, but in each case, the entire piece is worth the read. They are well-written, eye-opening and ultimately sad.
Fundamentalism embraced traditional religious views, but it did not propose a return to an older evangelicalism. Instead it responded to modernity in ways that cut it off from its own past. In reacting against higher criticism, it became simplistic and overliteral in its reading of scripture. In reacting against evolution, it became anti-scientific in its general orientation. In reacting against the Social Gospel, it came to regard the whole concept of social justice as a dangerous liberal idea. This last point constituted what some scholars have called the “Great Reversal,” which took place from about 1900 to 1930. “All progressive social concern,” Marsden writes, “whether political or private, became suspect among revivalist evangelicals and was relegated to a very minor role.”
Generation after generation, Southern pastors adapted their theology to thrive under a terrorist state. Principled critics were exiled or murdered, leaving voices of dissent few and scattered. Southern Christianity evolved in strange directions under ever-increasing isolation. Preachers learned to tailor their message to protect themselves. If all you knew about Christianity came from a close reading of the New Testament, you’d expect that Christians would be hostile to wealth, emphatic in protection of justice, sympathetic to the point of personal pain toward the sick, persecuted and the migrant, and almost socialist in their economic practices. None of these consistent Christian themes served the interests of slave owners, so pastors could either abandon them, obscure them, or flee.
What developed in the South was a theology carefully tailored to meet the needs of a slave state. Biblical emphasis on social justice was rendered miraculously invisible. A book constructed around the central metaphor of slaves finding their freedom was reinterpreted. Messages which might have questioned the inherent superiority of the white race, constrained the authority of property owners, or inspired some interest in the poor or less fortunate could not be taught from a pulpit. Any Christian suggestion of social justice was carefully and safely relegated to “the sweet by and by” where all would be made right at no cost to white worshippers. In the forge of slavery and Jim Crow, a Christian message of courage, love, compassion, and service to others was burned away.
Stripped of its compassion and integrity, little remained of the Christian message. What survived was a perverse emphasis on sexual purity as the sole expression of righteousness, along with a creepy obsession with the unquestionable sexual authority of white men. In a culture where race defined one’s claim to basic humanity, women took on a special religious interest. Christianity’s historic emphasis on sexual purity as a form of ascetic self-denial was transformed into an obsession with women and sex. For Southerners, righteousness had little meaning beyond sex, and sexual mores had far less importance for men than for women. Guarding women’s sexual purity meant guarding the purity of the white race. There was no higher moral demand.
Moreover, conservative churches are now seeing declines that were once limited to progressive Protestant denominations. Jones noted that 23 percent of Americans identified as white evangelicals in 2006. In 2016, that number was only 16 percent.
The numbers “explain why it feels like a fight to the death for some in the white, Christian world,” Jones said. They also account for a startling turnaround in the attitudes of so-called “values voters.” In 2011, the institute asked Americans “whether a political leader who committed an immoral act in his or her private life could nonetheless behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public life.” At that time, Jones wrote, “only 30 percent of white evangelical Protestants agreed with this statement.” When the institute asked the question again in 2016, 72 percent of white evangelicals said that they believed “a candidate can build a kind of moral wall between his private and public life.”
From the New York Times, “White Evangelical Women, Core Trump Supporters, Begin Slipping Away”:
While the men in the pulpits of evangelical churches remain among Mr. Trump’s most stalwart supporters, some of the women in the pews may be having second thoughts. As the White House fights to silence a pornographic actress claiming an affair with Mr. Trump, and a jailed Belarusian escort claims evidence against the American president, Mr. Trump’s hold on white evangelical women may be slipping.
According to data from the Pew Research Center, support among white evangelical women in recent surveys has dropped about 13 percentage points, to 60 percent, compared with about a year ago. That is even greater than the eight-point drop among all women.
Also from the New York Times, “A Quiet Exodus: Why Black Worshippers Are Leaving White Evangelical Churches”:
Black congregants — as recounted by people in Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Fort Worth and elsewhere — had already grown uneasy in recent years as they watched their white pastors fail to address police shootings of African-Americans. They heard prayers for Paris, for Brussels, for law enforcement; they heard that one should keep one’s eyes on the kingdom, that the church was colorblind, and that talk of racial injustice was divisive, not a matter of the gospel. There was still some hope that this stemmed from an obliviousness rather than some deeper disconnect.
Then white evangelicals voted for Mr. Trump by a larger margin than they had voted for any presidential candidate. They cheered the outcome, reassuring uneasy fellow worshipers with talk of abortion and religious liberty, about how politics is the art of compromise rather than the ideal. Christians of color, even those who shared these policy preferences, looked at Mr. Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants, his open hostility to N.F.L. players protesting police brutality and his earlier “birther” crusade against President Obama, claiming falsely he was not a United States citizen. In this political deal, many concluded, they were the compromised.
“It said, to me, that something is profoundly wrong at the heart of the white church,” said Chanequa Walker-Barnes, a professor of practical theology at the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University in Atlanta.
From The Washington Post, “Trump Evangelicals Have Sold Their Souls”:
The Trump evangelicals are best understood as conservative political operatives, seeking benefits for their interest group from politicians who are most likely to provide them. So how good is the quality of their political advice?
Not particularly good. Identifying evangelicalism with Trump’s ethno-populism may have some short-term benefits. But public influence eventually depends on the persuasiveness of public arguments. And close ties to Trump will eventually be disastrous to causes that evangelicals care about. Pro-life arguments are discredited by an association with misogyny. Arguments for religious liberty are discredited by association with anti-Muslim bias. Arguments for family values are discredited by nativist disdain for migrant families.
The damage radiates further. Trump evangelicals are blessing the destruction of public norms on civility, decency and the importance of public character.
And the ultimate harm is to the reputation of faith itself. The identification of evangelical Christianity with ethno-nationalism and white grievance is a grave matter.
Yes, there is something profoundly wrong at the heart of The United Methodist Church. And it is called the Evangelical Takeover.