Evangelizing Evangelicals

By Bill Mefford

In a time when each day’s news is more demoralizing than the last I was especially disheartened by two events this past week. One was when trump spoke to the Faith and Freedom Conference - a conference that brought together evangelicals from across the country - and during his speech trump was regularly interrupted by numerous standing ovations, calls for “four more years,” and people screaming out their joyous approval of trump as a “Christian” president. They were cool with his demonization of immigrants, caging kids in wretched conditions, the 17th reported sexual assault or rape of a woman, and his general aura of grossness. In fact, they want more.

The second event were the comments made by James Dobson in his monthly newsletter regarding his trip to the border. Here is part of what he said:

I can only report that without an overhaul of the law and the allocation of resources, millions of illegal immigrants will continue flooding to this great land from around the world. Many of them have no marketable skills. They are illiterate and unhealthy. Some are violent criminals. Their numbers will soon overwhelm the culture as we have known it, and it could bankrupt the nation. America has been a wonderfully generous and caring country since its founding. That is our Christian nature. But in this instance, we have met a worldwide wave of poverty that will take us down if we don’t deal with it. And it won’t take long for the inevitable consequences to happen.

Racist Nativism - 1 Jesus - 0

Dobson is clearly more concerned with sustaining white-dominant, “Christian” civil religion and culture than he is about immigrants and asylum seekers fleeing violence from their home countries.

Which of these do you suppose Jesus cares about?

I have been saying this for years, but it is increasingly obvious that the evangelical movement as a viable part of Christianity is over. It has long been over in my estimation. The evangelical movement has passed out of the boundaries of Christianity and now belongs entirely to a nativist and racist brand of American exceptionalism. For evangelicalism, it is no longer WWJD, but rather, WWtD (and I will give you one hint to what the “t” stands for). Evangelicalism has forfeited any claim to proclaiming the good news of the gospel and is good for nothing now except for working towards the narrow ends of an isolated, colonialistic, white-dominant, American state.

And I honestly would not be too bothered by this except that the evangelical movement continues to falsely claim to be holders of “true Christian orthodoxy.” They hold this claim while doing tremendous harm to LGBTQ people, women, and members of minority religions all in the name of Jesus. Are they still a Christian movement? No, no, and no. If cheering on the most anti-Jesus president in the history of the country while demonizing immigrants, with whom Jesus incarnates himself today, somehow means you are orthodox, then give me heresy any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Now, I already know that some of you will say that there are individuals who hold to the claim of evangelical who do not cheer on trump and who find Dobson’s comments as obscene as the rest of us. I know individual evangelicals that believe this as well. But let me say in response, first, I am talking about the movement as a whole and not specific people. Secondly, as individual evangelicals find these instances - which occur almost on a weekly basis - problematic, then they are decreasingly evangelical and increasingly Christ-like. They are already moving away from the heresy of evangelicalism and into the righteousness of liberation.

I believe there are two ways out of evangelicalism for people authentically interested in following Jesus. And for those of us who reject or are in the process of rejecting evangelicalism and moving towards liberation, we must be about one of these ways of evangelizing evangelicals.

The first way evangelicalism dies is through transformation. I prefer liberation or even salvation, but regardless, evangelicals must reject evangelicalism as a whole and pursue the biblical Jesus. To help frame this model I turn to Tunisian novelist and author of the book, The Colonizer and the Colonized, Albert Memmi.

In counseling colonizers to reject their position within the construct of colonization and its ensuing benefits, Albert Memmi advises colonizers to, “take one more step, [and] complete [their] revolt to the full . . . let [them] adopt the colonized people and be adopted by them; let [them] become a turncoat” (1965:22). In repenting of the exploitation so often associated with colonization and cultural dominance, the liberated colonizer, previously detached from those who suffer, now becomes authentically related with those who suffer, while becoming detached from prior positions of safety and isolation. They enter into solidarity with the suffering as they are made aware that the pain of the poor and marginalized is intimately linked with the actions of the colonizers.

As they enter into solidarity, the penitent colonizers become strangers in a strange land; resident aliens, as described by Hauerwas and Willimon. Evangelicalism has become so entrenched with the interests of the dominant society, that liberation means the spiritual, political, economic, and cultural conversion to a subversive community.

Memmi rightly argues that the liberation of a colonizer comes through contact with the colonized, and in seeing their suffering and the marginalization of the colonized, the liberated colonizer refuses to accept colonization any longer. (1965:19) As stated previously, the colonizer is adopted by the colonized and thus, they reject the society and the movement associated with the colonizer.

In other words, evangelicals must become incarnated among those they previously marginalized and oppressed. Liberation of the colonizer comes through solidarity – or an immersion into networks of close friendships with the people who are oppressed by the current political, social, and economic status quo.

What does this mean for those of out who have left evangelicalism or who never were counted among evangelicals? This means we have a calling from Jesus to liberate those held captive to evangelicalism. And that comes only if those of us who have left can provide evangelicals spaces for even the possibility of entering into incarnational relationships among those marginalized. This means that we must be in these relationships ourselves. We cannot invite evangelicals into solidarity among the poor and oppressed if we are not in solidarity ourselves.

This is the crux of the gospel, the meaning of following Jesus and there is nothing you or I can do to change it.

So, I mentioned earlier that that there were two ways of ending the tremendous harm of evangelicalism. The first option I described above is hard, but necessary. The second option is way worse. The second way out of an evangelicalism that has become so entrenched in a racist, nativist, White-dominant state is for that state to be dissolved. Just as Christianity had to radically change upon the breakup of the Roman Empire, so must evangelicalism once the American Empire eventually comes to an end.

I am not fan of empire, but I shudder when I think of this second option. I shudder at the tremendous harm that will be wrought upon the most vulnerable because they will be the ones to bear the brunt of any dissolution of the state. An end to American Empire may indeed eventually happen, but I am praying for the first option; that evangelicals experience liberation through solidarity among the marginalized and vulnerable. That is my prayer; that we all pursue Jesus and find liberation.