Where is the Letter to the Church?
Most students of the Bible know that the part of the Christian Scriptures called the New Testament is comprised of twenty-seven books. Out of these, twenty-one are "epistles" or letters. Now here is a obvious observation with regard to these letters that might be worth reflecting on: They are all written to the Church. In fact you can expand this to another broader observation. While the Bible has aroused universal interest, it seems like the human authors of the books of the Bible, and the ultimate Author if you believe in it's Divine inspiration, write but with very few exceptions to specific audiences who have one thing in common: they have all made a choice to believe and self-identify as followers of the God revealed in its pages. That's right, the Bible was written to people in various historical contexts who in those moments were believers in the things the Bible teaches. But let's get back to the New Testament letters and a thought I had on how that might relate to today's Evangelical Church.
yet another open letter to President Trump and congress
It really pains me to do this, because I love and admire so many of my former colleagues at World Relief. They played a central role in crafting a recent open letter to President Trump and Congress in light of the threat to 'Dreamers' and the brutal cuts to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. This letter, which was featured in a full-page ad in the Washington Post, mirrored one they released a year earlier in the immediate aftermath of President's Trumps travel ban, an action which cut off a life-saving opportunity for tens of thousands of refugees while causing significant damage to World Relief and eight other organizations who have faithfully partnered with the State Department in welcoming and supporting over three million refugees since 1980.
First let me say that faith-inspired people of conscience have a moral obligation and biblical mandate to speak up for those who are suffering as a result of cruel and inhumane public policy, such as Queen Esther did to King Xerxes. Or as is often quoted from the book of Proverbs (31:8-9),
Open your mouth for the mute,
For the rights of all the unfortunate.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.
So there is nothing wrong with World Relief and those who signed this letter challenging our political representatives in DC, though I have to say that the actual letter was very light on that challenge. For example, it only gently suggests policies and nowhere directly challenges the lie-ridden rhetoric used to fuel support for them or the racist ideologies that form their foundation. But that is not the point I wish to focus on. Rather, my question is this: Where is the letter to the Evangelical Church?
masking the real problem
Going back to the initial observation, it seems to me that when God talks to His people in the Bible, whether they be Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians often call the Old Testament) or the Church in the New Testament, there is an overwhelming focus on making sure His people's 'house is in order' before it turns its focus to critiquing the rest of the world. As Jesus famously asked in the Gospel of Mathew (7:3-4),
Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?
In keeping with this analogy, the creators and signers of this letter seem to be fixated on gently pointing out the 'speck' in President Trump and Congress' collective 'eye', while ignoring the 'log' in the 'eye' of their own Evangelical Church. That log is the fact that no other demographic group of people resonated as strongly with first candidate and then President Donald Trump's bigotry and ethnocentric fear-mongering than that of the Evangelical community. Nine months before the election, a Christianity Today article's title based upon a LifeWay Research poll said it all: 'Churches are Twice as Likely to Fear Refugees than to Help Them'. Then, as has been widely reported, white evangelicals overwhelming voted for Trump in the election, effectively giving him the White House. And no, contrary to the argument that some tried to make which posited that these voters represented 'Christmas and Easter only' cultural Christians, Pew Research Center found that they in fact represented those who were "quite religiously observant"--in other words, they regularly sit in, serve at and tithe to evangelical churches. And we know from other exit polls, whether they were done by FOX News or the New York Times, that the top two issues for Trump supporters were "immigration" and "terrorism", so it is quite reasonable to deduce that this was a dominant concern among American evangelicals. This assertion gained further support when another Pew poll found that 76% of white evangelicals supported Mr. Trump's de facto Muslim travel ban. Even after a year of chaotic tweeting and a parade of scandals culminating in alleged hush money being given to a porn star, Trump still held a healthy majority in the approval ratings among this demographic. And as far as Dreamers are concerned, while some polls find a modest amount of evangelical compassion for children of undocumented immigrants, others contest this and find that their overall sentiments on undocumented immigrants continue to be the most hard-line of any religious group in America.
These facts aren't just anomalies indicating some kind of temporary state of insanity, but rather are surfacing endemic beliefs and values that I began to address in the previous two-part piece on The Idols of Evangelicalism (Part 1 and Part 2) as well as the earlier article on the The REAL Quadrilateral.
Silence, PR work and Turncoats
Most pastors have danced around these idols, using the old "we're not going to get political" excuse to avoid upsetting their flocks. Meanwhile, advocates try to do their best PR work to highlight the few evangelical voices that are taking a principled stand, but I have to say they are being border-line dishonest when they release open letters like these that seem to imply that there is broad and passionate support from evangelicals for the more just policies they are hoping to advance. Lastly, you have ego-driven turncoats who fancy themselves as heroic defenders of undocumented immigrants, like Sammy Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. When the Trump administration laid out that it was willing to provide legal status and a pathway to citizenship for an estimated 1.8 million Dreamers at the cost of no legal protection from deportation for approximately 10 million other undocumented immigrants and drastic cuts to future legal immigration, Mr. Rodriguez got on his knees and kissed...I mean, praised it as "a fulfillment of everything this administration has promised us since President Trump's inauguration." One wonders what else President Trump promised to Sammy and the other band of 'Court Evangelicals' when he lead them up to the top of the White House.
its time for another letter
So evangelicals, it is time for another letter featured in a full page ad in the Washington Post. You will need to tap into your inner Apostle John sitting on the Island of Patmos (Revelation 2-3) and direct this letter to the Church. Let it begin with a confession, that the political choices evangelicals have made reflect a pervasive failure by its leaders to disciple their people. That they chose the path of least resistance and now the most vulnerable--the poor, minorities, immigrants and refugees, etc.--are paying the price for that failure. Beyond that, Jesus is now outside of the Evangelical Church, knocking and pleading for them to "open up their hearts and accept him as Lord and Savior." Then let them go on to challenge every local evangelical pastor to actually begin to spiritually lead their congregations, at whatever cost including the possibility of losing their jobs. And conclude by openly challenging by name the prophets of greed and power like the Apostle Paul did Alexander the metalworker (2 Timothy 4:14-15).
If all we have a year from now is another open letter written by a few, select evangelical leaders challenging politicians to reject certain unjust policies that are in reality widely supported by evangelicals, then be prepared for more of the same. You need to go to the base of political support for those policies, which just so happens to be your base. It's time to write a letter to the church.