Progressive Christians to “Take Back Their Faith” After Disappointing Election

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A week after the election, the Huffington Post published a blog in which Progressive Christians suggested what like-minded Christians should do in order to “take back their faith.”

Still reeling from the election in which Donald Trump was elected president, several progressive Christians pondered the necessary steps to draw a stronger contrast between their brand of kindhearted progressive Christianity, and the kind of conservative, evangelical Christianity that helped elect Donald Trump.

The responses were predictably representative of left-wing Christianity, which centered on re-emphasizing social justice issues and identity politics as the “loving,” compassionate, anti-Trumpian counterpart to the hate-filled Christianity of the right. Also predictably representative was the tone of unearned moral superiority in the responses of the progressive Christians interviewed- and progressive Christians in general.

For example, Rachel Held Evans said,

We’re about to witness firsthand what happens when the established Church compromises its moral authority and sells out the marginalized ― refugees, immigrants, religious and ethnic minorities, sexual assault survivors, the sick and those with disabilities, and LGBT people ― for the promise of power. It won’t be pretty.”

Rev. Jacqueline Lewis, a New York-based pastor, and activist added,

“I’m going to fight for people to have jobs, for everyone to have enough. I’m going to fight against racism and xenophobia. I’m going to fight for black lives. I’m going to fight for LGBT rights… I’m going to fight for love.”

Lewis added-

“Maybe what’s happening is progressive people of faith are finding ways to connect around our shared beliefs that all people are children of God … All of those people are joining together right now, we’re… plotting and planning how to resist together… to me is a new religion, the new Christianity.”

Benjamin Corey suggested that, “This election revealed that a far larger branch of Christianity has been married off to political power than we previously thought,” emphasizing that the religious right is more concerned with political power than the actual gospel of Christ.

Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners and author of America’s Original Sin, claimed, “White Christians voted just like white people in America did, and being Christian didn’t matter much. So how do we teach white Christians, white evangelicals to be more Christian than white? That’s the issue going forward.”

Wallis- reflecting on Jesus’ counsel regarding the relationship between treating a ‘stranger’ and treating Jesus, suggested that pastors allow their churches to become sanctuaries to protect illegal aliens from deportation.

To an extent, there’s some truth about the concerns of progressive Christians. Corey’s observation regarding evangelicals having become too cozy with political power, which has muted the volume, consistency, and effectiveness of their prophetic political witness, is a legitimate concern.

But where’s the moral balance and condemnation of progressive Christians for having done the same? What about Episcopalians, Presbyterians (USA), a segment of Methodists, and other left-leaning Christians who’re guilty of preferring political power and cultural cache to the Christian gospel. Whether one agrees or disagrees, at least conservative evangelicals can be praised for attempting to clarify- or redeem- what it means to be an evangelical and have a responsible and biblically articulate political witness in the age of Donald Trump.

Moreover, why doesn’t the Christian Left (or Right) consistently condemn black Christians and black churches for sacrificing Christian principles in favor of political expediency and influence via an unholy marriage to Leftism and socially progressive causes? This shifting standard of morality is but one issue that persistently undermines the Christian Left’s political witness.

Likewise, and echoing Wallis with a twist, can’t one say with moral clarity that “Black Christians voted just like black people in America did (especially in 2008 and 2012), and being Christian didn’t matter much. So how do we teach black Christians, black (progressive) evangelicals to be more Christian than black? Why isn’t that ever an issue going forward?” And it is an issue. Black Christians should be more Christian than black. One can and should argue that the covenantal relationship between black Christians and Leftism is much more challenging than the partnership between evangelicals and the political right.

However, there’s little truth to Evans’ suggestion that evangelicals who voted for Trump sold out “marginalized” groups for political power. How is she in a position to know the minds, hearts or reasoned intentions of voters who sided with Donald Trump? The charge is not only silly but it isn’t true. It’s meant to dismiss as evil her fellow (white) Christians by projecting a social pox (sexist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, etc.) upon those who voted against her preferred candidate. Framing it in a simple moral dichotomy that dismisses nuance, and that divorces Christian support for Trump from caring about “marginalized” groups allows Evans and her sympathizers to claim a superficial unmerited moral purity to dismiss everyone who disagrees with them as not only wrong but immoral.

Voting for Trump, directly or indirectly, doesn’t mean the voter is against “marginalized” people and Evans knows this.

The same goes for Lewis’ virtue-signaling bravery as a social justice warrior. All of the sacralized issues she raised are supported or defended without Christian influence every day, so what distinguishes her intentions, purportedly Christian, as being important or necessary? Her ‘new Christianity’ accommodates one-dimensional social identities that compete with the identity that’s required to be grounded in Christ. Lewis should be mindful of Paul’s admonition about teaching a ‘new’ gospel that differs from the one positioned in Christ.

The gospel of progressive Christians is increasingly more about the gospel of Leftism than the Gospel of Christ. Specifically, this social gospel- or social virtue- is really about disassociating oneself, or one’s group, from that which supposedly threatens the common good- what the in-group consensus simplistically defines as a myriad of trendy ‘evils’. It allows the separated to pretentiously claim a false sense of moral superiority over those who reject their definitions and moral claims.

Astute observers realize that this is more about being properly positioned and seen as against manufactured evils- how “moral” and “religious” they look to other like-minded people choosing ‘love’ over ‘hate’- rather than genuine concern for the people/groups these “evils,” it’s claimed, negatively effect.

It’s self-congratulatory virtue vanity, it’s empty, and it violates Jesus’ admonition against practicing one’s righteousness before men instead of calling those they claim to represent to a higher standard of living as disciples of Christ.

This practice of synthesizing identity politics with Christianity is dangerous because of the popular and cultural influence afforded to the Christian Left.

If progressive Christians are concerned about the future of their faith, they may want to consider what faith is really of concern- Leftism or Christianity.

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The Politics of Jen Hatmaker are Influenced More by Leftism than Christianity

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The 2016 election cycle has definitely cultivated an interesting and divergent compendium of Christian and evangelical appraisals concerning the respective candidates running for president.

Donald Trump’s unconventional and unexpected campaign that earned him the Republican nomination has forced conservative evangelicals into a fratricidal conflict that has and will change the context of conservative Christian political witness going forward.

While the friction has at times been exaggerated and pharisaical, generally, it’s a good thing.

The public bickering among evangelicals has been awkward to watch but the separation and potential divorce between religious conservatives and the GOP is long overdue. This is a necessary step to salvage and redeem the religious and theological character of evangelicalism. This renovation project is indispensible to the moral integrity of Christian socio-political testimony.

The same can’t be said of so-called Christian Progressives.

There is very little internal disagreement about the moral conflict of supporting Hillary Clinton in light of her repeated and predictable tendency of systematic corruption and dishonesty. Many on the Christian Left have simply rationalized and compartmentalized Clinton’s unrestricted character flaws- not so much as the lesser of two evils (though there is some of that)- as a political and moral obligation to support her. By default, they also support other progressive social policies of the Left.

And they’re using every opportunity to say as much.

Christian author, public speaker and reality-TV personality Jen Hatmaker granted a short interview to Religion News Service to discuss her perspective on the 2016 presidential election, her views on homosexuality, abortion, and Black Lives Matter.

In the interview- filled with half-truths and straw man positions, Hatmaker began by addressing and glossing over Hillary Clinton’s wretched character, admitting that she’s still open to voting for Clinton come November.

She then criticized Donald Trump’s behavior as unfit for the presidency; here, I don’t necessarily disagree with her. Donald Trump continues to do and say numerous things undeserving of the Executive Office.

But I think Hatmaker erred in repeating the mistake of oversimplifying who and why people support Donald Trump. There are, to be certain, “deplorable” people backing Trump. Anti-Semitic, ethno-nationalist white supremacists fit this distinction. But I think it’s a mistake to dismiss and unfairly generalize those, Christians included, who reject this kind of disgraceful racial populism, but still maintain support for Donald Trump.

Hatmaker then discussed her free-thinking views on gay marriage and LGBT community. It’s no surprise what she believes with respect to this issue. She says,

From a civil rights and civil liberties side and from just a human being side, any two adults have the right to choose who they want to love. And they should be afforded the same legal protections as any of us. I would never wish anything less for my gay friendsNot only are these our neighbors and friends, but they are brothers and sisters in Christ. They are adopted into the same family as the rest of us, and the church hasn’t treated the LGBT community like family.

Whether gays are our neighbors or friends- it’s not about choosing whom to love- that has never been the issue. People are free to choose whom to love without restriction. It’s about reinventing marriage as a social justice concept.

Moreover, marriage isn’t a “civil right,” or a “liberty,” nor is it found in the Constitution. No one, gay or straight, had the “right” to marry until the Supreme Court created one specifically for gays and lesbians.

And what about the civil rights of Christians who’ve experienced discrimination because of this newfound LGBTQIA “right”?

Wanting to follow the Supreme Court’s lead, Jen Hatmaker wants the church to make special considerations for gay/lesbian Christians that we shouldn’t (and don’t) make for other Christians. Gay Christians may be kinfolk in Christ, but that doesn’t necessitate Christians excusing sin, twisting theology, and upending the divine ordination of man-woman marriage for a false display of religious compassion. Like many other groups- the church is defined by orthodoxy- designated by what it believes just as it’s defined by what it doesn’t. Loving our neighbor and treating them in ways we seek or desire to be treated doesn’t entail compromising the comprehensive nature of biblical teaching and church tradition.

Hatmaker then discusses her expanded understanding of being pro-life when she says,

…my pro-life ethic has infinitely expanded from just simply being anti-abortion… pro-life includes the life of the struggling single mom who decides to have that kid and they’re poor. It means being pro-refugee. It means being pro-Muslim. My pro-life ethic… has expanded. 

There’s something incredibly disingenuous about a Christian community that screams about abortion, but then refuses to support the very programs that are going to stabilize vulnerable, economically fragile families that decide to keep their kids. Some Christians want the baby born, but then don’t want to help the mama raise that baby. 

The Christians she refers to are caricatures she created- meaning she oversimplifies the issues to embarrass Christians.

This view of what it means to be pro-life, though accurate, is falsely used to marginalize Christian anti-abortionists. The Christians she refers to are misrepresentations. Hatmaker uses the superficial talking points of the Left to malign and deride fellow religious pro-lifers. It’s inappropriate, especially for a Christian and she discredited herself by doing this.

Additionally, what pro-lifer/anti-abortion Christian is against helping poor single moms? Or supporting programs to help those in need (rather than grifters who seek personal gain through exploitation)? Jen Hatmaker lied about pro-life anti-abortion Christians presumably because they disagree with an expansive and corrupt welfare state that encourages dependency and compromises human dignity.

What does being “pro-refugee” mean? Sounds good, but it doesn’t mean anything because Hatmaker doesn’t define it in real terms.

Same with her being ‘pro-Muslim’? What does that mean, exactly? Supporting all Muslims, even the ones who believe it’s Allah’s will to maim and kill nonbelievers and all those who refuse to submit to specific religious convictions?

Hatmaker finishes by highlighting her racial justice cred, saying she supports Black Lives Matter based on “evidence and documented research.” She also voices concern over the potential (inevitable) treatment of her adopted black son by police in the future.

The church is AWOL on racial unity and reconciliation and it has outsourced its moral obligation to lead onto racial and social justice warriors. In my mind, there’s no doubt about that. But the void created by the lack of Christian presence and spiritual leadership should not prompt Christians to support a corrupt outfit like Black Lives Matter. Period. It’s a movement methodically based on lies and deliberately diverts attention away from more pressing issues- like black criminality, high black abortion rates, fatherless black families, high black unemployment rates, and substandard education- that would actually establish that black lives matter.

As for evidence and research– both completely undermine the foundation Black Lives Matter is built on. And she would know this if she actually looked it up rather than trying to be right on all the right issues.

These positions are intellectually dishonest and intensely foolish. I’m not sure what happened to Jen Hatmaker but this exemplifies the irresponsible quality of thought on the religious Left. Religious progressives should follow the lead of their conservative evangelical brethren and divorce themselves from progressive politics to salvage what’s left of their religious and social credibility.

Evangelicals, Black Lives Matter and The New York Times

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Last week the New York Times ran an article discussing the trepidation some Evangelical Christians face when it comes to the Black Lives Matter Movement.

It notes that religious support for Black Lives Matter generally lies with Christians and denominations that are more progressive, like the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the American Baptist Churches, whereas more conservative Christians, groups and denominations are much more cautious in supporting a movement with such a radical agenda.

Part of this tension is seen in the repercussions InterVarsity encountered last month after a keynote speaker, Michelle Higgins, spoke at the Urbana Missions Conference where she not only argued in favor of Christian support of Black Lives Matter, she insulted the sincerity and authenticity of the Christian commitment to being Pro-Life but seemingly ignoring the issue of adoption.

From the New York Times:

InterVarsity, one of the country’s leading campus Christian organizations, is known for its history of racial cooperation and integration. But many of its members and supporters are conservatives who oppose abortion, support law enforcement and are skeptical of the welfare state. And in her wide-ranging comments about social justice, Ms. Higgins did little to make her speech more palatable.

“We can wipe out the adoption crisis tomorrow,” Ms. Higgins said at one point. “We could wipe it out this week, but we’re too busy arguing to have abortion banned, we’re too busy arguing to defund Planned Parenthood. “We are too busy withholding mercy from the living,” she said, “so that we might display a big spectacle of how much we want mercy to be shown to the unborn….

Even had Ms. Higgins never ventured into the dangerous terrain of abortion politics, her speech probably would not have pleased many evangelicals, who consider Black Lives Matter to be a liberal movement.

“Consider Black Lives Matter to be a ‘liberal’ movement?” That’s like saying some people “consider” it lighter in the daytime than it is at night. And Black Lives Matter isn’t “liberal.” It’s a progressive movement, period.

More from the New York Times:

The historian D.G. Hart, who teaches at Hillsdale College in Michigan, noted in a blog post that the website BlackLivesMatter.com, a prominent one within the movement, expresses support for transgender and gay rights, issues that are problematic for conservative Christians.

“Some who support justice for African-Americans and oppose police brutality may wonder legitimately what Caitlyn Jenner or Dan Savage have to do with Freddie Gray or Tamir Rice,” Dr. Hart wrote on the website Patheos, contrasting icons of the transgender and gay rights movements, with black men whose deaths have galvanized Black Lives Matter.

The discomfort of evangelicals about Black Lives Matter goes beyond specific policies. Many believe that the church should not be intimately involved with politics.

In an interview, Dr. Hart, a member of the conservative Orthodox Presbyterian Church, said that he took police brutality and racism seriously, and that those concerns might affect his voting in local or statewide elections. But in general, he thinks the church should not be a political actor.

“I tend to be a Machen guy,” Dr. Hart said, referring to J. Gresham Machen, the Presbyterian theologian who died in 1937 and was known for his belief that political participation could sully the church. “He believed that the church doesn’t do politics, though individual Christians may.”

Mimi Haddad, an evangelical, leads Christians for Biblical Equality, which works for the equality of women, including those in the church. She signed an open letter, printed in the liberal evangelical magazine Sojourners, congratulating InterVarsity for showcasing Black Lives Matter.

The Times reasons that this conservative Evangelical cautiousness stems from conservative Evangelical groups, “support[ing] Republican candidates [and being] uncomfortable with the movement because of its embrace of liberal politics, associated with Democrats.”

An interesting read regarding the obvious fact that Evangelicals aren’t a monolithic demographic who think and act the same. Nevertheless, a few observations are in order.

It’s noteworthy that the piece argues that progressive Christians support Black Lives Matter because of the teachings of Jesus and Paul — a thoroughly religious reason, of course — but conservative Evangelicals don’t support the Black Lives Matter because of their unflinching loyalty to the Republican party — a thoroughly political, non-biblical reason. It’s a passive way to commend progressive Christians (and by extension, the author?) for their fidelity to the Bible and dismiss conservative Evangelicals as playing politics. The Times doesn’t hesitate for a moment to consider that one reason conservative Evangelicals refuse to support Black Lives Matter is that its leftist agenda and confrontational tactics contradict the gospel’s rendering of mercy, love, and reconciliation.

Put simply: progressive Christians, good; conservative (political) Evangelicals, bad.

Also, I’m not sure I agree with Hart’s assessment that the church should abstain from politics. How far should that go, exactly? Honestly, at some point or another, all of politics deal with morality. Is it moral, or right, for the government to penalize some people through burdensome taxation, simply because they make more than others? Why? Based on what system of morality? Doesn’t it violate the directive against stealing? Or, is it morally right to weaken a citizen’s right to defend oneself, one’s family and one’s property through troublesome and prohibitive gun laws that seek to disarm him or her in the face of danger? If so, based on what moral value system? And, isn’t it morally right to influence policies that seek to mitigate racial inequality — a justice for some that doesn’t come at the expense of others? Is it morally right to seek “justice” for one racial group, if it causes an injustice to another? Why or why not? Again, based on what system of morality?

Though I share Hart’s viewpoint concerning the danger regarding the intimacy of churches and political parties, I would argue that it’s because of the self-imposed limitation and silence of many churches and their pastors from discussing political issues that’s led to the declining presence of the church’s religious influence upon our culture. This voluntary withdrawal has created a moral vacuum in which movements like Black Lives Matter have filled. This void has facilitated a thick moral confusion among Christians and non-Christians alike, emotionally manipulating and intimidating people into supporting “black lives” in a specific way or risk being labeled a racist and/or non-Christian. It’s to the detriment of both Christians and culture not to speak out confidently — with a Christian perspective rooted in both the bible and church tradition — on pressing cultural and political issues.

Conservative Evangelicals have the unique ability to fix this problem of refusing to preach and practically apply God’s word to how we should live in the world. Jesus is our guide. There’s a reason why the overwhelming majority of Jesus’ teachings and parables dealt with life outside of synagogues and the Temple — because outside of religious centers is where we live the overwhelming majority of our lives. If Jesus was able to do it, so can conservative Evangelicals.

Conservative Evangelicals need to increase their presence to inform and teach others as to how racial inequality and racial reconciliation should be approached — and it doesn’t include Black Lives Matter. If the church was on the forefront of this issue — discussing from a biblical and theological perspective on why all black lives matter (and not just ones in police custody or killed in police-involved shootings) — it would be much clearer why there’s an obligation to reject the Black Lives Matter movement. The church should be saying that black lives matter because they are created in the image of God, not because they’re black — and if these ‘black lives’ are Christian, that their primary identity is centered in Christ, not in being black; that black lives matter means black families need to be restored, black abortion needs to be reduced and black children need a married mother and father; that black lives matter means black children deserve quality education not abandoned in failing schools; that black lives matter means instilling and reinforcing Christian values at home and at church to mitigate the self-destructive behaviors that lead to disproportionately high numbers of blacks imprisoned; that black lives matter means much more than an empty slogan and socially-provocative, self-aggrandizing, behavior.

If conservative Evangelicals believe Jesus is Lord of all, they should start acting like it. Engage culture and politics using the gospel and common sense. Don’t be afraid to reject Black Lives Matter — not because you’re racist, or you’re a Republican, but because it doesn’t square with the template of reconciliation found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.