The Vinedresser often prunes the vine so that the dead branches are cleared to make way for fresh, new growth.
I believe that may be happening within American evangelicalism. I’m not a prophet, so time will tell, but I do believe that the events of 2020 and 2021 (so far) have thrown back the curtains and shined the light on some of our greatest weaknesses.
People are leaving in unprecedented numbers, both church-goers and pastors, and it’s more than just fear of contracting a virus. There are numerous reasons why people have become disillusioned. Out of my own heart and with my ear to the ground, I’ve listed out at least fifteen reasons why.
- We’ve rejected science unnecessarily — discoveries about origins, evolution, environmental issues, etc. We are needlessly afraid of what scientists discover that might threaten our status quo.
- We’ve been superstitious — we’ve been enamored with anything suspected of being “dark” to the point of seeing tons of things as demonic in a superstitious way.
- We’ve embraced Christian nationalism — we’ve believed that the survival of “our” faith and culture is dependent on the election of a strongman as our protector. We’ve married to patriotism and faith in an idolatrous fashion.
- We’ve idolized the Bible on the pedestal of literalism — our understanding of the Bible’s authority leaves no room for the human element of scripture’s origins. We’ve told people it’s a house of cards — doubt one part and it all falls apart.
- We’ve re-created secular celebrity culture inside the church — We make Sundays and whole movements personality-centric and all about how we’re cool and awesome.
- We’ve often mimicked corporate culture inside the church — we define “success” by numerical output and effective leadership as persuasiveness and salesmanship.
- We’ve devalued women and defended patriarchy — we’ve decided that leadership responsibilities are reserved for men only regardless of how competent women might be for the task.
- We’ve ignored systemic poverty — we’re so addicted to individual freedom that we often turn a blind eye to the suffering and those without healthcare or financial security and have written it off as a lack of personal responsibility.
- We’ve ignored systemic racism — we’re so fragile and sensitive to any insinuation that we are privileged because of whiteness that we turn a deaf ear to those suffering under unjust and inequitable systems.
- We’ve made secondary issues primary — doctrinal matters that are outside the scope of the major creeds, we’ve made non-negotiable tests of orthodoxy.
- We’ve been inconsistent in our “pro-life” message — we’re pro-birth and anti-abortion but also okay with the death penalty, we ignore gun violence, and don’t seem to care about the economic conditions of those who often seek abortive measures.
- We’ve embraced conspiracy theories — a thousand little lies about some supposed satanic agenda behind everything we don’t understand.
- We’ve allowed spiritual and sexual abuse to often go unaccounted for, handling abuse issues “in house” as “sin problems” rather than calling the police first and believing and supporting victims first.
- We’ve singled out certain people groups (LGBTQ+ people, undocumented immigrants, etc.) for exclusion, judgment, and rejection instead of welcoming and including everyone who wants to follow Jesus.
- We’ve become self-appointed judges to the neglect of love — seeing ourselves as having the moral high ground and using it as a gavel to sentence those we perceive as morally inferior.
It’s been a year of pain. We need a reformation — not so much of doctrine but of emphasis, and the emphasis needs to be placed squarely on our calling to love God and all people.
Yes, we need solutions. I want to talk more about the solutions than the problems, but we’re in such denial that it’s hard to get there. If you’ve been disillusioned by these things, I hear you. I understand. I get it. But…
I still follow Jesus because I believe he was raised from the dead and enthroned as King of an entirely other-worldly heavenly kingdom where love really does reign. His Way is worthy of following.