It is confounding that so many who have heard the gospel – week after week and year after year, and even affirmed it as ultimate truth – have easily succumbed to a soulless, secular authoritarian who put a Tic-Tac in his mouth, told them they were beautiful and made his move on them.
Yet that is precisely what has happened.
A large majority of white American evangelicals and other conservative Christians are taking a pass on basic gospel priorities and values now. Instead, they enable if not warmly embrace a political ideology of cruelty, indecency, deceit and self-interest – all clearly at odds with the life and teachings of Jesus.
Many who shepherd these congregations find this capitulation to be baffling and deeply disappointing. They wonder what they’ve done or failed to do, and what to do next.
The disturbing question many ministers are asking themselves, and others in confidence, is simply: Did I fail to clearly communicate the gospel and its implications for living – or did those on the receiving end simply choose different ultimate values?
In other words: Did they not hear the message – or just not heed it?
Are proclaimers to blame for downplaying the selfless and demanding parts of following Jesus? Or was that call presented clearly, even supposedly embraced, but rationalized away in favor of a fear-fueled, redefined allegiance to God and country?
The broad sellout of American evangelicals to this self-indulging religious/political ideology – sheltered beneath the umbrella of defensive white nationalism – is more than many church leaders can take.
Some ministers are not just scratching their heads and wondering quietly or aloud. They are quitting.
That was the case for Keith Mannes, according to an article in a Holland, Michigan, newspaper. On Oct. 11, he quit after more than 30 years of pastoral ministry within the Christian Reformed Church.
“The question of the church largely and how it’s functioned in this moment has been really disturbing,” he told the Holland Sentinel. “That’s been troubling enough that I need to lay it all down.”
Mannes recalled Martin Luther King Jr. noting the church is neither the master nor the servant of the state, but its conscience. And, “broadly, the white evangelical community in our country has abandoned that role,” said Mannes.
He is far from alone in reaching that conclusion. Many Christian leaders, even some very conservative ones, are troubled.
“We have burned down our evangelical witness,” said popular Southern Baptist author and Bible teacher Beth Moore on Twitter recently. “Burned it to the ground.”
Now, Moore looks for resurrection hope – despite the many defenders of the current political ideology dunked in bad theology and unfitting religious language.
“I know God can bring beauty from ashes,” she said hopefully. “I believe [God] will raise up a people purified by the very fires we set. A people defined by Jesus himself, not denomination nor political party.”
Mannes, who expressed love and appreciation for the congregation where he served, said his deep disappointment was in the disconnection between professed faith and confirmed politics by the larger church. It became more than his conscience would allow.
“It just began to trouble me so much that I am a pastor in this big enterprise,” he told the newspaper.
Many retired or veteran pastors are looking back on their life works and wondering if much was in vain.
Did they play it safe? Did they make it too easy to claim the Christian mantle while choosing priorities other than the ones offered by Jesus?
One friend, who served very effectively in pastoral ministry before his retirement, told me recently, “My only regret is that I didn’t take more risks.”
Surely, it is painful to invest one’s life in Christian ministry and then see so many of the so-called faithful finding their faith in conspiracies and causes that don’t reflect the life and teachings of Jesus.
Mannes had a parting word for American Christians who’ve steered away from the Way of Christ.
“I would implore anybody who claims Christ to just look very seriously at the core things Jesus called us to do and be,” he said. “Do some serious soul searching about who you’re serving and how you’re trying to accomplish that purpose in the world.”
Such soul searching might include the challenge to early believers from James 1:22-24:
“Don’t just listen to the word. You fool yourselves if you do that. You must do what it says. Suppose someone listens to the word but doesn’t do what it says. Then they are like a person who looks at their face in a mirror. After looking at themselves, they leave. And right away they forget what they look like.”
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.