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Is The Church’s Officer Class Surrendering?

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I’m getting more and more e-mail from Evangelical readers who have had it with Evangelicalism, and have reached a breaking point this spring. The common thread is frustration with wokeness in the church, and a belief that Evangelicalism is too thin and culture-bound to offer resistance to anti-Christian forces. I wrote recently about a reader who is a person of color, but couldn’t stand how her Evangelical megachurch was replacing the Gospel with woke identity politics. She and her husband are now trying out an Orthodox church.

Just now I received the longest, most detailed letter I have yet gotten from an Evangelical. I present it below, slightly edited to protect the reader’s identity:

I am writing you because like another reader of yours I have decided that I need to say this and even if not read or noticed, for my own sake I want to write this down. I never comment in the comments section because honestly, I’m too afraid. I need my job, and I work for the most woke company that has bought into it all, diversity, inclusion, BLM, LGBT, transgender, all of it.
What I am going to say is this: Your warnings about the church’s increasing danger in this culture is absolutely on point, and your warnings that the church is not heeding your warnings are absolutely true. You’re right not only because you see the warning signs and know the history, but the Bible tells us that man is sinful and will unleash terrible devastation on himself and others.
I want to give you this perspective from a “dyed in the wool” evangelical. I have read you for a long time and and have recently startedThe Benedict Option because I want to become serious about this. May I offer my thoughts on the evangelical church and its response to BLM  and “social unrest” and why it is another example in a long string of them of the evangelical church’s slide into the culture? Let me start with my bona fides.
I grew up in a small rural church in the Midwest in the 60s and 70s, which was part of a small Baptist association that is still thriving today but with none of the influence of the Southern Baptist Convention. We were a fundamentalist church, and though the teaching lacked depth at times, they truly stuck to the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
As as adult I filtered through Baptist churches with stints in the “Bible church” movement (the forerunner of today’s seeker friendly church movement). For about 6-7 years I attended an Episcopal church in Central Texas and at that time the priest was conservative and took a lot of flack when he pushed back against the ordination of gay priests. Ironically for me, some of the sweetest times of fellowship with Christians was in that church. In 2007 I left Texas to attend seminary at a small fundamentalist Christian college and seminary in the [Midwest]. I graduated in 2011 with a master’s in theology. I now attend a large suburban Southern Baptist church in [major Midwestern city]. I actually considered Orthodoxy a couple of years ago as I began to become increasingly disillusioned with the evangelical church but this Baptist girl just couldn’t make the move. I have most recently studied Reformed Theology and am moving there from a doctrinal standpoint.
I want to say to you that many of our churches and our shepherds have abandoned us in these times. I have watched through the years the evangelical church descend into frivolity and complete unseriousness and irrelevance. Everything from the insipid music, the “praise” teams, the canned women’s Bible studies from women of dubious theology, the story telling that substitutes for the Scriptures from the pulpit, the delivery of supposedly biblical truths delivered through Sesame Street videos that flash words and images and Bible verses across the screen, the watering down of the Gospel to bring the bodies in, and the lack of development of any biblical worldview.
I want to add one thing to indicate where I come from as an evangelical Christian on Trump. I was heartsick as I watched Trump rise and beat out all his competitors on the Republican front. I was vocal and adamant that he was a terrible choice. I didn’t vote for him, but then again I lived in a state where that was a safe  “protest.” I’m like Ben Shapiro: Trump has surprised us in some ways, and sometimes he (accidentally, probably) stumbles into a conservative position. He supports Christian causes, but from political expediency not personal conviction. He is unsuited for his office and he deserves to lose, and his family “advisors” deserve to lose. But we Christians don’t deserve Biden, and I blame Trump for letting that happen. What a complete and total fool he is.
Recent events have only exposed the evangelical church’s complete capitulation to the culture. I honestly believe that the evangelical church won’t suffer in coming days and years because they’ve already received their thirty pieces of silver and are going to do just fine. It is the Benedict Option Christians who will suffer.
Let me tell you about a couple of things that in the last two weeks have been disturbing to me in relation to recent events. It is the culmination of years of leaning into the culture to please the culture. It’s the evangelical church’s latest attempt to be relevant to the culture that they long ago adopted as its own.
J.D. Greear recently told us Southern Baptists that we should be saying “Black Lives Matter.”[Note: Greear said he does not support the Black Lives Matter organization — RD] He even does this in a “Come on, guys, don’t be stubborn about this” tone. Now, this is the same man who was willing recently to affirm a lie about God’s order for mankind’s flourishing (transgenderism) so he could be polite and not ruin a witnessing opportunity. I know that he’s trying to overcome the Southern Baptist Convention’s unseemly past. (For the record, the Baptist association that I grew up in had Southern roots and honestly there were some pretty racist people in our church. Fortunately, I had a father who was disgusted at that and told his children so.) But Greear assigns guilt to his faithful who honestly are trying very hard to be faithful stewards of the faith, who are serious about the Gospel and give money and their personal time to sharing the Gospel to all races, all levels of income, all cultures. I know many people personally committed to sharing the Gospel and living out the faith. They volunteer hours of work to serve all peoples of color, ethnicity and culture.
Secondly, I support two missionaries in two separate mission organizations. One is a missionary to [Third World continent] and the other is a missionary to [Third World country]. Both are dedicated men who have spent their lives in service to spreading the Gospel to the world.
Both mission organizations came out recently with statements that had the following themes in common:
  1. POC suffer disproportionately from racism and it’s a structural, systematic facet of American life. POC are always under attack.
  2. Police brutality is common and directed almost solely at POC.
  3. White people, including us Christians, suffer from bias of which we tend to be unaware. In short, we are guilty.
  4. Racial reconciliation is not possible without the Gospel (which is true).
  5. They are now committed to diversity and inclusion and racial reconciliation.
So now even the Gospel is subverted to meet the needs of the gods of Diversity and Inclusion. They have pimped the Gospel to to appease people who will never be appeased. They have declared that the purpose of the Gospel is racial reconciliation rather than reconciliation of sinful man to a holy and righteous God. We now seek racial reconciliation with one another to be right with God. Racial harmony is good, and it’s a public good. But we’re a fallen world and making it the reasonfor the Gospel is to engage in wishful thinking for a utopia that in the end has the potential to destroy our Gospel mission.
What’s interesting to me is to whom these messages are directed. Surely they know that Shaun King or BLM or Antifa is not going to wander over to their site to see how enlightened and committed they are. I have to assume that they are talking to us, their faithful donors. Slamming faithful donors will not bring those who need it to the Gospel. What irony.
Another thing that is happening with regularity is the flagellation of good people of faith. I’ve known many evangelical people of faith through the years. We actually do live out our salvation. We tithe regularly and much of our money goes to ministries that share the Gospel with peoples of all colors and ethnicities. Our community ministries serve the poor, immigrants, and people of all colors. We really are mindful of the need to examine ourselves in the light of God’s holiness. We really do want to be in harmony with our brothers and sisters of color. But the Diversity and Inclusion gods are angry and now we learn that it’s not been enough, nor if recent history is an indicator, it never will be.
I do want to emphasize — out of necessity in these conversations — that I, like all my Christian family, friends and fellow Baptists, was appalled at George Floyd’s death. It was a terrible wrong, a terrible injustice. There’s no doubt that in our minds that police, maybe not a majority but too many, are brutal. I have my own deeply unsettling experience with the police, so I know they can be nasty and brutal.
I  want to digress to comment on Tim Keller’s The Sin of Racism. One of your readers alerted me to this. Tim Keller is obviously a stalwart of the faith and one does not dismiss him lightly. He has dedicated his life to the faith and to the preaching of the Gospel. We have to admire that and respect that. He has much influence and because of him, there will be many who will enter the eternal state to live eternally with God.
He has many good things to say, all biblically correct, but it devolves into the usual critical race theory claptrap, even adopting the language of the SJW at times. There is one massive, glaring thing missing in his conclusions. If we as Christians are to call one another to holy living and to confront sinfulness in the church then there is one thing that would vastly improve the lives of POC. That one thing is to restore the family unit. I went to Tim Keller’s church’s website. It appears that his staff — and no doubt his congregation — is mostly white and Asian (not all but mostly). I dare to say that if 70% of his staff or his congregation were not married, were not living in the same home as their children and had fathered children out of wedlock, he would not have a church. If any man on his staff left his wife and family for another woman and fathered a child out of wedlock, he’d initiate church discipline. If there was a rush of people who came into his church without the benefit of marriage, and kept fathering children without the benefit of marriage, he’d do something.
A boy with his biological mother and father in the home can withstand almost any adversity, including racism. A boy without a father withstands little of what life throws at him. Even secularists understand that children in broken homes suffer. To withhold this admonition from a people, the very admonition that benefits your church and that assures human flourishing, because you don’t want to offend or because of the color of their skin or because they have suffered, that is a sin. To assume that your fellow POC brothers and sisters in Christ can’t handle this admonition but your white congregants can—I call that racism. To assume that they don’t have the Christian maturity to handle this but your white congregants do—I call that racism. If racial harmony is good, then so is family formation. If racism is a sin, then failure to provide for your own is a sin (1 Timothy 5:8). (The only prominent evangelical that has actually tackled this is John MacArthur. And, in the spirit of fairness an internet search finds that Keller at least touches on it but from a social justice perspective. I also am not familiar with his full body of work, so I always leave open the possibility that I have misconstrued his position.)
One of Keller’s solution is for white people to read several books, one on over incarceration in the criminal justice system. I contend that a young man who is responsible for caring for his wife and children, who has a job and comes home every night to his family has little time for gangbanging or settling scores with a gun. That translates into fewer encounters with the police. A side benefit of that is we don’t have to do his reading homework.
Our church leaders have failed us, are failing us in this time. John 10 describes this situation: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.The hired hand is not the shepherd, and the sheep are not his own. When he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf pounces on them and scatters the flock. The man runs away because he is a hired servant and is unconcerned for the sheep.” Many of our current Christian leaders (I am particularly focusing on the evangelical community here because that is what I know) are not shepherds, they are the hired hands. They are leaving us to the wolves.
One last thing about our Christian leaders’ capitulation to the BLM movement and everything else woke. I don’t really know how much longer I will be able to work for a company that is becoming increasingly strident about all things progressive. I’m beginning to see that the day is likely coming when I will be required to hang out the “Workers Of The World, Unite” sign or be fired. We’ve already had the discussion in a manager’s meeting about White Supremacy and the sins of white males (I am not making this up). I make a really good salary and that salary makes it possible for me to be a part of the Great Commission. When I learn that the mission organizations or the church I support are toeing the line of wokeness, I feel that it only contributes to the whole atmosphere of intolerance that will eventually harm me. Yes, they always attempt to temper their message with the caveat that “the only way to get there is through the Gospel” (see arguments above) but as Douglas Murray says (paraphrased and maybe even a bit mangled) “be careful about what you embed yourself in” and “they think they are doing it for an easy life but it builds up hell for the future.” I’ve not seen any evangelical organization push the full agenda of  BLM, and they are careful to skirt the full narrative, but to push this narrative even on the fringes nonetheless gives tacit support and endangers those like myself who question even a part of it. I’ve been faithful in my support, both in terms of money and prayer, but they are building up hell for me. Don’t they know that if I lose my job, they lose their support?
I have been listening to a number of secular individuals who are speaking the truth of this: Douglas Murray, Bret Weinstein, Heather Heying, Andrew Sullivan, Matt Taibbi, Heather Mac Donald, Lionel Shriver, Glenn Loury, John McWhorter and of course, more of Tucker Carlson. You’ve spoken before of forming alliances with people who are not your natural alliances or of like faith but with whom you might be aligned in battle. I’m beginning to think that it is brave secularists who are most likely to protect our interests, even to some small degree. I fully understand that we don’t put our trust in man but rather in God to save us. But God has used those not of the faith before to bring about his plans. It certainly won’t be the evangelical church, which has already caved and is gaslighting its flock. This Baptist girl is drawing encouragement from these people. These people are telling me to be brave, to not speak a thing that you know to be a lie, to not be afraid.
My final and complete trust is in the God I serve but I do feel increasingly alone. I say only neutral things at work even to my friends. I watch what I say to just about everybody even Christians. I am on FB and follow several cooking and hobby sites, but I’ve unfriended all my work friends, pared down my friend’s list, made my page private and closed off my feeds to everyone but myself. I rarely post. I am not on Twitter or Instagram and now I’m really glad that I never got on those sites. I’ve decided that I will begin to develop my own version of the Benedict Option. To that end, I am developing a prayer life that will sustain me now and into the future. I am reading, studying and meditating the Scriptures daily. I pray that my Gospel will always be pure, untainted by the gospel of the culture. That, I believe is the foundation for a Benedict Option that will be sustained.
Please don’t give up on your warnings. I believe that many will not take you seriously, but remember that the prophets of the OT preached for years and years and years. Many times they grew discouraged even crying out to God, “How long, O Lord.” It may be that in the end you are able to only call out a faithful remanent, but for God’s purposes that is enough.
Thank you, reader, for your long letter, one that must have been painful for you to write. Once again I confess that I don’t understand the world of Evangelicalism very well, so I don’t have a strong basis on which to comment on this reader’s letter. I invite you Evangelical readers to do so.
It reminds me, though, of this strong criticism in Crisis, the Catholic magazine, of the well-known Catholic apologist Bishop Robert Barron. The author, a layman named Auguste Meyrat, attacks Bishop Barron for not being willing to lead the church in the face of attacks on statues, particularly of canonized Catholic saints (St. Junipero Serra and St. Louis, King of France). Bishop Barron had said on his blog that the laity ought to be leading in those instances. Meyrat says:

Overall, Bishop Barron’s response is sadly, though unsurprisingly, inadequate. While he intends to channel President Kennedy in his call to service—ask not what your Church can do for you; ask what you can do for your Church—he fails to explain what laypeople should actually do. The majority of Catholics, and people in general, aren’t sure how much they should resist the current anti-Christian iconoclasm, or if they should even resist it at all. This is probably due to the fact that most Catholic clergymen have been notoriously mealy-mouthed in the pulpit, hardly going further than preaching platitudes and raising money for the Bishop’s Annual Appeal.

And this in turn stems from a lack of leadership from their bishops. Bishop Barron’s description of what constitutes the responsibilities of a bishop is tellingly deficient: “We can indeed lobby politicians, encourage legislative changes, and call community leaders together.” He doesn’t mention that bishops also ordain priests, preach to their diocese, and lead programs in faith formation. No, for Bishop Barron and most of his colleagues, their title and duties are primarily political. They are public figures who happen to represent the Church, not the other way around.

As such, they would never dream of risking their good standing among society’s elite by denouncing any popular movement—unless it’s associated with President Trump, as Archbishop Wilton Gregory demonstrated a few weeks ago. This is why Bishop Barron completely ignores the question of whether destroying statues of Saint Junípero Serra is right or wrong. Instead, he references a weak statement on the issue, made by the Californian bishops, which tries to appease both sides, teach a little history, and ultimately settle nothing.

Meyrat concludes:

It has become clear, especially in light of the passivity and complacency of Church leadership, that reforming the Church and Western culture will have to be a grassroots movement. Laypeople will need to have families, preserve tradition, form close communities committed to the gospel, and, yes, show some courage against the thugs attacking their property and freedoms, as Mr. Mark Williams did last week in Saint Louis, Missouri.

There is no alternative.

Read it all.

Well, I do know a lot about Catholicism, but I have not been following the Catholic bishops’ response to the current cultural crisis closely enough to feel comfortable offering a comment. But in general, I have held for the past few years that the Catholic Church, and all churches (including my own), cannot wait for priests and hierarchs to lead. We should not be against them (as long as they are teaching and governing according to our particular communion’s orthodoxy), but to wait on them to tell us what to do is a fool’s game. The hour is late, and the battle is upon us. Nearly twenty years ago, when I was a Catholic, a Catholic priest told me something very close to this. I was lazy, though, and found it much easier to complain about the failures of the bishops and the institutional church than to work on building something good within the church. That was a big, big mistake. Whatever your church — Catholic, Evangelical, Lutheran, Anglican, Orthodox, etc. — don’t you make the same one.

UPDATE: In fairness, let me ask you pastors and others in church leadership: Is the laity surrendering? What’s wrong with them in this crisis, from your point of view? What do you wish you were seeing from them?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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