When I abandoned evangelicalism the second and final time one of the reasons why is because I realized that many evangelicals cannot divorce faith and politics. They were married and interchanged in a warped way. When I did a mission trip to Southall in London years prior I was surprised by how Christians in the United Kingdom divorced faith from politics. So did the South Asian Christians from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. However after a faith crisis I realized that many American evangelicals had tripled down and became far more polarizing on politics. This blog would suggest that what happened is that Fox News and cable television replaced the pastor and the Bible. As change is not possible then the best thing to do is to walk.
“To me, a faith in Jesus Christ that is not aligned with the poor…it’s nothing.”
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
Matthew 25:35 ESV
Me at the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego, California
This is another post that I have been meaning to do for a while. Last year I wrote a post about why I rejected American evangelicalism. You can read that post in, “Reflecting on My Decision to Reject Evangelical Christianity. Its Too Corrupt, Political and Intellectually Shallow.” I want to flush out how I realized in time that many evangelicals could not divorce faith and politics. But before I do so, and in anticipation of some criticism let me share a little about myself. When I was in evangelicalism I was a traditional conservative. In college I was in the College Republicans and attended the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego. Leading this post is a picture of me in front of the Montana delegation. I present these credentials to you before I start to criticize the deep marriage of politics and faith. Parts of this post may be similar to the following posts, “Reflecting on Christian Nationalism in Evangelical Christianity and Being Caught Flat Footed in its 2016 Resurgence” , “What White Evangelicals and Christians I Once Knew Taught Me About Faith in the Trump Era” , “When Evangelicals Rejected Bethlehem and How I Walked out of a Christmas Eve Service. Plus is Christian Nationalism Derailing Southern Baptist Missionary Work?” and “How White Evangelical Christianity in the United States is American Carnage.”
My Early Years in Evangelicalism and the Marriage of Faith and Politics
I was baptized in Fresno Evangelical Free Church in April of 2000. Fresno Evangelical Free located in California was a part of the EFCA denomination. At the time I was also involved in Campus Crusade for Christ at Fresno State. From the fall of 2000 until March of 2005 I was involved in Crusade in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, plus Elmbrook and Wooded Hills Bible, a charismatic third wave church. In the first five or six years of my faith journey one of the things I realized is that many evangelicals married faith and politics together. They were one in the same. If you were an evangelical you automatically were a Republican and detested liberals and Democrats. Being pretty conservative myself it was a policy I was fine with upholding. Now this policy wasn’t proclaimed or taught, but it was assumed. And many people said things along the way that reinforced it. Some of the comments that I heard were similar to what follows.
- “I could hire more people at my family run business and evangelize them into Jesus, but running a small business is expensive because of how the Democrats function.”
- “We have to align and always defend Israel and the Republican Party is the party that not only supports Israel but wants to move the embassy to Jerusalem.” (This later happened when the embassy was moved to Jerusalem)
- “The rapture will happen one day and it will be linked to our Middle East policy which President Bush is working hard at.”
- “Iraqi Freedom is good for the evangelical church as it will hasten the rapture and we’ll be returning to heaven soon.”
- “The church should be taking care of people and not the state, the Democrats are a threat to the church as they can replace our mission.”
On and on it goes. Many people would frequently make such claims and it became clear that faith and politics were married together. It was also married to domestic policy in trying to outlaw abortion or pornography. Or foreign policy with support of Israel. However, during my time I slowly began to realize that there was a lot of cognitive dissonance and deep denial. Many evangelicals objected to the government helping people out as it was secular and not the role government should play. The church should handle that role. And yet many evangelical churches refused to do this because they believed the gospel was evangelizing and not helping the poor or others. I remember one time at Wooded Hills Bible when Joe Jenkins gave a sermon and he said that God had been showing him in scripture that Christians are to help the poor. And evangelicals have failed to help the poor and frankly many don’t want to hear about it. Today thinking back that was pretty tough talk and resoundingly rare. Any effort to help the poor was deemed as being social justice and not the mission of the church. The evangelical church ran the risk of making the mistakes mainline Protestantism, or Catholicism did and would become theologically liberal.
A Mission Trip and a Shift in My Thinking
I moved to the Washington, D.C. area in 2005 and got involved in National Community Church and later McLean Bible Church as well. At Mark Batterson’s church I was shocked that they fed the poor and the homeless in downtown Washington, D.C. In my thinking I wondered if I had become involved in a theologically liberal church. It was affiliated with the Assembly of God denomination. But many of the prior evangelical churches I was involved with had not served the poor or helped people in that capacity. Those churches were an extension of white, upper middle class suburban life. Whereas National Community Church was in downtown D.C. itself and urban. Batterson’s church fed the poor each and every Sunday and invited them to functions and also worked to try and solve housing concerns. At McLean Bible the emphasis was on preaching and evangelizing. It felt confusing because as I went from one church to the next I noticed the change but was puzzled as to why it wasn’t practiced in previous ministries or churches that I was involved in. Today I would say that evangelicalism is schizophrenic with an every man for themselves approach. Take 150 evangelical churches and all 150 will be different. It stands in stark contrast to the Roman Catholic Church. So in addition to serving the poor there was another thing that I noticed as well.
I did a mission trip through McLean Bible in 2007 to Southall in London. You can read about it and see my mission team in the following post, “The Wondering Eagle’s History with McLean Bible Church.” Evangelical Christians in the United States were very political. But when I went over to the United Kingdom and spent time in London I became shocked. Many British Christians were not as political. And I was also interacting with Indian, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi Christians in Southall. None of them talked about politics at all. They actually had divorced their faith from politics. They spent their time talking about God or the Bible. The evangelical culture wars did not come up at all. It made me wonder when I was over there…what would evangelicals and other Christians in Europe, Asia, Australia, Middle East and South America think of American evangelicals? Would they recognize and call them Christians? But I was also left with this one question that haunted me. How did these Christians able to maintain a faith system that was divorced from politics? How was that feasible? When I came back to the United States after my mission trip I was depressed because I immediately noticed the highly political nature of American evangelicalism. Also keep in mind this was before the Trump era and before the massive political fracturing that existed during that period of time. In 2009 or so I descended deep into a faith crisis driven by the problem of evil. It was early in President Obama’s administration. I had the false accusation and mess with Redeemer Arlington in 2013 and eventually came back to evangelicalism at the time. But there was a massive change that I will address in the next section.
The Pastor Has Been Replaced By Fox News and Cable
During my faith crisis something happened which I did not see previously. Evangelicals were more political than they were previously. They were more into Facebook and Fox News. Christians began to say, “On Fox….” or “Sean O’Reilly said this about Obama…” People were also glued to their Facebook feeds in the communities I was involved in. I scratched my head and asked, what happened? Why more hysteria? Why more conspiracies? Why more fear mongering? And it was during this time of 2014 through 2017 that I noticed something that bothered me. There had been a silent revolution inside evangelicalism. What had happened is that the Bible and the pastor had been rejected and replaced. The pastor and the Bible were now irrelevant and no longer needed. Evangelicals didn’t need to hear from Jesus in the Bible or their pastor on Sunday. What had happened is that American evangelicals replaced the pastor and the Bible with Fox News, Facebook and Cable news shows. By all intents and purposes I privately asked myself, in this day and age with what people were glued to why need a pastor? And yet its flawed because it begs the question. Would Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingram or any other personality on cable come down to the hospital and pray for your newborn child? The answer is no. The American evangelical embrace of these sources made evangelicalism more junky and gave it more of a fast food element. But the question remained for me what about faith and politics?
Post Faith Crisis And Tripling Down and Slowly Realizing I Was Out of Place
After my faith crisis I saw how many more evangelicals embraced Fox News and cable television. I had memories of my mission trip in the UK prior and I noticed that evangelicalism had become far more polarized. Whereas in 2000 to 2005 it was frowned upon to help the poor in a church. From 2016 to 2017 it was called by some evangelicals socialism. It was attacked and demonized. If on a scale of one to ten from 2000 until 2007 Evangelicalism probably fell on a six or so. In 2016 and 2017 evangelicalism was probably off the chart at a fifteen. Not only were feeding the poor so attacked but in its place was the culture wars at a fanatical pace. Now all of a sudden in a frenzy, with talking points that echoed cable television it was the following.
- abortion, abortion, abortion.
- gay marriage, gay marriage, gay marriage.
- The Democrats were going to abduct your kid and behind your back do a gender change on them.
- The church in the United States is so persecuted each and every day, but Donald Trump has saved us.
- gay marriage, gay marriage, gay marriage.
As time went on I didn’t feel like I belonged to the church I was involved with. I was concerned about Calvinism and other issues but I noticed the rise in Christian nationalism and hysteria. And I felt out of place. I would sit in a small group and people would say positive things Trump that I seldom heard about others. It also left me with a feeling of awkwardness. I desperately wanted to have a faith system that was divorced of politics. I wanted to be in a church that divorced faith from politics. I wanted to be involved in ministries or Bible studies that were devoid of politics. And I began to realize that it was not possible. It was like trying to tell a zebra to lose its stripes. It can’t do that as its too ingrained into the DNA. American evangelicalism is not only political but it tripled down and became far worse than what I recalled nearly a decade earlier. I couldn’t relate and desperately wanted an out. And also there was this other issue that shocked me. The Calvinists got it right. The Calvinists know how to divorce faith from politics. But the Arminians can not do that to save their life. If you wanted to help the poor or believed that Jesus commands on helping the poor now you were a liberal and a socialist, and a threat to society and culture. Many evangelicals have blindly married faith and politics and they could not be divorced at all. And I say all this as a politically conservative guy at the time. I knew evangelicalism could not change and the only option was to leave it. So this became one of the many reasons why I walked from evangelicalism
I wanted to have a faith system divorced from politics but in American evangelicalism it just is not possible.