Evangelicals, specifically white evangelicals in America, are at a defining moment in their existence. Their association with the 45th President has become a detrimental identifier. The witness of the evangelical church is seen by outsiders as a vehement supporter of political party over Jesus. The result? There are few newcomers because no one is willing to associate with its current form.
After the American election, evangelicalism is forever connected to the ideals of Trump, including: nationalism, guns, abortion, racism, walls, travel bans, transgender rights in the military, oppression of minorities, ‘very fine people’, etc. Not all evangelicals believe in these aspects, but the movement is associated with them.
This NPR article is one of countless (and no, it’s not just left-wing media) noting the downward spiral and growing exodus from the ranks of contemporary evangelical churches.
The warnings of decline are being ignored. As evangelicals triumphantly chastised liberal churches in the 60s and 70s for embracing secular liberalism (and their eventual decline), they have embraced what they mocked by chasing the allure of secular conservatism, and the decline will be as disasturous. (Read this post in Fathommag for more on this subject.)
Which begs the question. If the decline in evangelical churches has quickened, and no newcomers dare associate with the movement, is it time to move on? On the heels of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, should we be looking at a contemporary movement to replace evangelicalism?
Do we need to replace “evangelicalism”, and if so, with what?
There comes a time in marketing when a brand is so damaged that you have no choice but to jettison the old for something new (like why Equifax became Equifax, and will invariably change their name again after the recent massive breach).
Sometimes you don’t have a choice. World events (new President’s) happen and you have to act. If you settle instead you risk dying off. When 80% of white evangelicals voted Republican, the connection was made.Evangelicals are stuck in a culture rooted in Christendom, where they had power and prestige, and are desperately trying to retina this privilege. For many, the possibility of retaining a conservative influence in the Supreme Court was the carrot. Not much wrong with the reason, but you can’t legislate behaviour. If it were possible Jesus wouldn’t have blasted the Pharisees at every turn.
Speaking of the Pharisees, the rule makers who loves the law and the methods and ways to retain power to their movement through the guise of religiosity…they look like celebrity evangelical leaders….
What Happens Next?
What will happen to evangelicalism next? Is it damaged beyond repair?
Today, existing leaders will do all they can to save it. It’s all they know, and most leaders in churches are pastors, which in business terminology means managers. Mangers don’t deviate from status quo. They don’t come up with new ways to innovate the system. This means if nothing changes in evangelical leadership, the bleeding won’t stop because the institution won’t generate enough change.
The answer? It’s going to come from outside. The next generation of leaders from outside of existing ecclesial boundaries will in the least shed light on what the church looks like in a post-Christian, post-evangelical, post-political party world. At best, they may lead the resurgence of the church on their own accord. I doubt the latter will happen simply from a resource stand point. So in the interim, what can we do? My hunch is find some outliers, some people who don’t look like you, think like you, and are living out the heart of the Gospel, and invest in them and their communities.
What do you think will replace evangelicalism?