The Washington Post‘s Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports that a group of about 50 prominent evangelical leaders — but not the ones associated with Donald Trump — are planning to meet next week at Wheaton College in Illinois to talk about the future and “soul” of their faith.
Right now, one leader said, “When you Google evangelicals, you get Trump.” And that’s a problem for these leaders who are frustrated that their religion has essentially been hijacked by the modern Republican Party. They want to figure out if there’s a way to rebrand evangelicalism — or at least bring it back to what it used to be:
Those gathered will not necessarily oppose Trump and some may even be friendly to some of his policies, said Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary, who is also helping to organize the event. But organizers said evangelicals need to return their focus to the term’s true definition: a person who believes in the authority of the Bible, salvation through Jesus’ work on the cross, personal conversion and the need for evangelism.
I can understand their frustration. There are people who accuse atheists of being alt-right because a handful of idiots get a lot of attention for saying irrational things with conviction and confidence.
But these people seem to be oblivious to a larger problem: Evangelical Christianity wasn’t looking so great even before Trump won the election.
We’re talking about people who are (by and large) known for their opposition to abortion rights, feminism, same-sex marriage, the very existence of transgender people, science education, comprehensive sex ed, and birth control. They believe there’s actually a War on Christmas. They think they’re the most persecuted religious group in the country. They think Satan is real but climate change isn’t.
Not everyone subscribes to all of these positions, and there really is a large and growing Religious Left. But if we’re just talking stereotypes, white evangelicals had a reputation they couldn’t shake — and, frankly, deserved — long before Trump came on the scene.
So what exactly are these evangelical leaders hoping to achieve? How do they plan to redefine their faith (or bring it back to what they say it used to be)?
Trump didn’t create the problem with the evangelical label; he only exacerbated it.
Remember: Plenty of “good” evangelicals signed the incredibly anti-LGBTQ Nashville Statement last August, and that had nothing to do with the White House. That was bigotry by choice.
And the most ironic part of this story is that, when evangelicals had the opportunity to work with and find areas of agreement with a more sensible president, they rejected him and played victim instead.
Under Obama, many of these leaders felt that their religious freedoms were under attack, feeling pressure primarily from the left. Now, [Pastor Tim] Keller said, many of them feel under attack from those on the right if they support a more open immigration policy or foreign policy.
These people faked the whole “persecution” thing under Obama, drove plenty of sensible millennials away from Christianity for good, and now they’re whining about how nobody is on their side. They alienated liberals for decades, and now they’re getting burned by conservatives.
Good. They deserve it.
I hope that’s the conclusion they reach at the end of this useless meeting: Trump didn’t tarnish their brand; they did.
They won’t be able to “correct” the definition of evangelical, but they could start apologizing to everybody for all the harm they’ve caused (and continue to cause) because of their beliefs.
(Image of Shutterstock)