A Reflection of Mal-Entrusted Faith and an All-In Mentality
Growing up in the Evangelical church and having spent the first few years of married life as a spouse to a (then) Evangelical minister, I can attest to the blind loyalty of those who elect to attend this style of faith community. Parishioners who attend regularly, and adhere to the culture of “church,” experience a unique and profound level of social acceptance and approval.
Their mission and vision is straight forward:
Win the lost by inviting all to profess their faith in God. This is typically played out through a public call to respond at the end of any given sermon. The preacher lays out a compelling plea for attendees to turn from sin, repent of that sin, and repeat a prayer inviting God to intervene as the lens from which individuals live and treat others. The prayer is then followed by a sort of congratulatory celebration declaring, “There is joy in the presence of the angles of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). Ask any Evangelical preacher about their church and they will likely tell you how many people attend their church and how many people were “saved” last Sunday. Numbers and influence drive Evangelical success. Much of what Evangelicals do is based in Christianity- however, it relies heavily on a formula of fear, compliance, and withstanding persecution. The following three sections include my own personal experiences from the 26 years I attended and held a spousal leadership position in an Evangelical church. The remaining are situations shared by other 1st hand accounts.
Ask any individual who grew up in an Evangelical church and they will tell you how often they walked into an empty house as a child fearing that the rapture took place and God called every family member home to heaven but “me.” I would personally spend the long minutes following each onset of this fear recounting why God would choose to exclude me- I cheated on a test, I lied to mom about brushing my teeth before bed, I coveted the homeroom teacher of my best friend because my homeroom teacher assigned more homework. My every move was being recorded and docked for or against me like and existential Santa Claus. My parents didn’t need Santa- I already had a judgmental and damning God with an omnipotent view 12 months a year.
An invitation to commit one’s life to God often follows a sermon including warnings of how to avoid God’s judgement and hell rather than (or shadowing) the joy and freedom found in God.
Social acceptance and hierarchy rely on how well you accept and present religious expectations; (eg. abstinence of drinking the devil’s drink (alcohol). See more in the Compliance section.
Social media memes that challenge you to share and comment “Amen” in the comments section are typically a form of public demand for social expression to God- with an implication of Jesus watching to see if you will not be ashamed of Him so he will willingly accept you into heaven on the day of judgment. This is another “effective” way for fellow parishioners to maintain fear and compliance.
Religion relies on evident and measurable behavior to determine appropriate placement within the church, ranging from positions of denomination member to board member, or infrequent-visitor to pastoral/district staff. Attendance, financial giving, involvement in choir, children’s department volunteering, retreats, groups, social events, and classes are tracked closely. Placement on the board of at least one particular denomination requires evidence of speaking in tongues as portrayed in Acts1. If another board or staff member did not witness this proof of faith in the hopeful applicant’s intent to join the board of the Evangelical church of my childhood, the application was immediately rejected.
Freedom is not often highlighted because Evangelicals do not encourage “free thinking.” This is evident in the cultural expectation of the avoidance of alcohol, the appearance of what they consider evil (anything with rainbow patterns (indicating homosexuality rather than God’s promise to never flood the earth again as was the original meaning), being unequally yoked by dating/marrying a non-Evangelical or even person of another race, and whom to back politically if you want to remain on the good side of their blessed graces. Openly questioning a fellow church leader’s theology incompatible with scripture can earn you a quick ticket to social and career ostracization. However, if one can maintain and proselytize the majority of religious social expectations or can contribute enough money in benevolence to church-solicitated funding and organizations- blatant wrongs are routinely and effectively excused.
The spread of misinformation is also dismissed as justified warfare if your intent is to further Evangelical agenda. Trending most recently on social media are exaggerations of the detriments of socialism- despite Jesus’ clear and direct views on how to treat the sick, poor, widow, and immigrant (Mat 25:34-40). Why? Because political socialists do not take a hard and fast stand in the highly favorable manner that the ultra-conservative ticket currently trends in regard to Evangelical concerns.
When Evangelicals not only live in blatant contrast to society as a witness to their faith and are regularly challenging others to turn from their wrongful ways and in-turn, follow likewise- they have had to form a stiff backbone and regular expectation of social persecution in circles outside of church. This is often backed by biblical scripture where Jesus states, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mat 5:11-12). To the religious evangelical culture, this includes suffering for man-made rules created as measurable evidence of dedication to the Evangelical culture.
Jesus did not intend for us to suffer and therefore attain holy reward for abstaining from alcohol or other behavioral benchmarks. Jesus’ first miracle was changing water to wine (John 2:1). Jesus did not intend for us to suffer any number of illegitimate social exclusions as an indication of righteous suffering as is so prevalent in the ultra-religious Evangelical church. True, religious Jews of Jesus’ time (Old Testament) were called by Moses and the religious authority of that day to obey extreme measures of social obedience as a way to create clear separation and commitment to their faith. Circumcision, refraining from ingestion of pork, wardrobe and makeup regulations, animal sacrifice, silencing of women in the church, and the list goes on- helped society determine a commitment to God. Paul corrects this ancient religious standard with this, “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision or uncircumcision counts for anything, only faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6).
For the Record
Jesus fulfilled these ancient expectations by serving as the ultimate sacrifice and sending the Holy Spirit to serve as a personal compass to a personal relationship with God, granting discernment to sense the evidence of God without having to demonstrate compliance through social standards. Ultimately, Jesus regularly and passionately condemned the religious rulers of his day. “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). Religion only serves to empower those who enforce it and confuse those truly seeking hope through an authentic relationship with God. Fear of punishment (consequences of compliance) maintains religious standards. Although Evangelicals have dismissed most of the religious standards of Jesus’ day, they have kept some and created many others; some described as previous examples.
A Simple (but key) Acquisition of an Infallible Support Base
Trump’s biggest cultural supporters are arguably the Evangelical church and those who stand to receive selfish gain from his Presidency. Having no evidence of previous Christian backing/interest/involvement, Trump clued into a longstanding priority sought by many Christians (Evangelical or not). Frustrations of persecution for a hard opposition to any form of abortion has weighed heavily on the heart of Evangelicals for decades- to the point of voting on any political candidate simply by where he/she stands on the abortion issue. Trump agreed to be “that guy.” Any initial doubt was abolished by a leader in the Evangelical church who vouched Trump’s statement of newly professed faith in God. Despite having no prior experience or track record in politics, repeated allegations of rape and marital affairs, mistreatment of women, cheating on taxes and in various business dealings, inhumane treatment of hopeful immigrants, and bragging that he could shoot anyone in New York’s 5th Avenue without losing any of his base supporters– Trump remains the assumed answer to Evangelical prayer. All he has to do is appoint anti-abortion judges to the supreme court, fight for the nation of Israel, appear to put prayer back in schools (prayer was never banned in schools by law), and voilà- all this serves as enough reason to fully back a President that would otherwise not be even considered by the grater Evangelical base. Appointing an Evangelical politian as his Vice seemed to secure proof to Trump’s commitment to the interest of the Evangelical plight. Occasional photo ops of Evangelical leaders surrounding Trump in prayer maintain ongoing and growing Evangelical allegiance.
This recipe mirrors and champions the formula-components of Evangelical culture. Fear of losing the coveted impact on the issue of abortion (or even questioning any issue that would put Trump at risk for reelection), compliance to evidenced and measurable behavior, and a Millennia-old practice to bear socially challenged persecution. And for the win, a belief that this persecution will all be rewarded by God who honors persecution for his sake. Persecution is exactly what Evangelicals believe they are experiencing anytime they face confrontation in refusing to cease support of Trump. Even if that confrontation is apparently straight from the words of Christ.
It would be good to understand and realize that when Trump states that he could walk up and shoot anyone on 5th Avenue without losing his faithful base….. he’s not wrong. The persecution of women, immigrants, dirty politics and financial dealings, repeated disregard for moral integrity (as provided by House Representatives early in Trump’s presidency to dismiss the entire existence of the Congressional Ethics Committee , and other repeated heinous behaviors do not even begin to hold a light to the Evangelical’s commitment to, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Proverbs 31:8) with embellished Evangelical alignment to the unborn (although the scripture does not address the unborn directly- instead, referencing “all who are destitute”). Fear is a contagious and powerful tool. Even non-Evangelical conservatives fear losing the support of such a prominent organization and understand that doing so may cost the reelection of Trump and even their own reelection.
It is interesting to note the Bible has no recording of Jesus addressing the issue of abortion or infant homicide when this was a common practice even during his influential time on earth. Perhaps this has to do with Jesus viewing it as just another religious law that serves to judge the heart of another (which no human can fully know) and places an opportunity to further separate and shame rather than see a woman facing abortion just as destitute as the unfavorable fate of her unborn child. Where religion can only judge a symptom of sin or wrongdoing, only God can weigh the motives, understanding, and potential of the heart for each individual (spoiler-alert; no two of us are alike in God’s eyes- including who is and isn’t pardoned on the eternal record). We should imagine that if every one of our sins were held to the scathing standard of abortion in the eyes of the ultra-conservative right, few, if any of us stand a chance to meet our maker. “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Mat 7:2).
Please note that I am not encouraging any person to sway on what moral guideline any individual has come to in agreement with God in your personal relationship with Him. There are many good and virtuous reasons to uphold the rights of the unborn. However, I am imploring each of us to weigh and reconsider the urge to hold such a standard for others to follow in a legal manner as there are many moral injustices at stake. The least of which is (in the current political climate) dismissing a heaping slew of other worthy people experiencing destitute scenarios as the result of Trump’s administration- the greatest reason being, we have no business taking the rightful place of God and enforcing moral regard on others only to treat a symptom of an assumed disease and therefore spewing scathing righteous judgment.
If we have any faith at all, we should be placing our passion toward serving the destitute, not separating and shaming them.
Many of us have come into a relationship with God through hard-learned and shameful circumstances. We should exercise and promote the same opportunity for others- no matter the path they choose. God is faithful to do the same for the unborn without our insistence that they obtain and live a life on this earth as somehow it is a prerequisite to eternal life. Do not be ashamed of your passion, use it for the good of all who are destitute. “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2Cor. 5:7). “That your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1Cor. 2:5). “It is not by force nor by strength, but by my spirit, says the Lord” (Zec 4:6).
“…many began to trust in him. But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people. No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart” (John 2:23b-25). We would be wise to follow in the footsteps of the one we claim to serve.
“May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, you may abound in hope” (Rom. 15:13).