Wrestling with the evangelical conundrum

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Long time ABC Religion Reporter Peggy Wehmeyer has a piece at today’s DallasNews.com setting out her anxieties over where the relationship between Evangelicals and President Trump might be going and how it has changed her views of her self-identification as an Evangelical.

I’m considering filing for divorce. On the grounds of infidelity and betrayal — and I’m heartsick. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my husband. It’s my union with an intimate partner of more than three decades, the evangelical church, that’s in trouble.

 We met in college at the University of Texas, where every day I walked to class under a tower inscribed with, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Truth was what I was looking for, a philosophy that would make sense of a messed-up world and give me transcendent meaning and purpose. I found it in the teachings of Jesus, and though my relationship with evangelicals would be rocky at times, I’ve stayed faithful to the family that introduced us.

 

The issue came into sharp relief with her daughters (who became a Methodist, the other an Episcopalian) who questioned their mother’s church’s support of a candidate whose moral character seemed in sharp contrast to all the values they had seemed to espouse.  But she had also seen trouble in the years before as her children left their evangelical roots to explore different ways of following Christ.

“Mom,” they’d say, “how can you stay in a church whose members defend a president who cheats on his wife with a porn star, brags about assaulting women, and constantly distorts the truth? Doesn’t Jesus hate this stuff?”

These weren’t my children’s first hard questions. When the evangelicals of my generation were raising our families, we focused on Bible passages about personal character and family values.

My children live in a different era. They quote a Jesus who would weep with dreamers and reform an unjust prison system. They aren’t losing sleep over transgender bathrooms. They’re fighting to help the most vulnerable in our city find housing.

 

But rather than merely bristling at how their common faith was separating them, Wehmeyer  decided to try to understand where her children’s faith had taken them.

I went to the federal courthouse to watch my daughter, a public defender, fight for a fair sentence for a guilty felon in shackles.

“Why are you defending the bad guys,” I queried her. “Don’t you think Jesus would have been a prosecutor?”

“Are you kidding, Mom? He hung out with prostitutes and sinners. He’s for the disenfranchised and powerless. If I’m going to follow Jesus, I follow him into the prisons.”

In South Chicago, I drove into a virtual war zone to watch my youngest daughter teach special ed to third graders at risk of being shot on their way home from school.

“Can’t you teach in a safer neighborhood?” I pled with her.

“But Mom,” she said, “If we’re the hands and feet of Jesus — like you taught us — this is where we need to be.”

It struck me that all those Bible stories my husband and I read to them nights at the dinner table had stuck, just in ways I was unprepared for.

 

In her journalism career, Wehmeyer strove to help elite media understand and humanize evangelical Christianity.  She saw it as her calling to help bridge the divides between the two.  And she tried to bring this role into her conversations with her children, but soon found too many leaders of her faith tradition eschewing their traditional humility and reveling in triumphalism, excusing behavior in Trump they had excoriated in others.

At the dinner table with my adult daughters, I tried to explain that in the 2016 vote, evangelicals believed they had found a defender, albeit a mean-spirited bully, who would restore their rights to practice their faith freely.

But even as I said it, I wondered: At what cost? I had assumed the evangelical leaders who supported Trump’s policies would frown on his lack of character and sexual promiscuity.

Instead I watched them wink at behavior the Old Testament prophets would have shouted down.

 

Exploring the origins of this relationship, she saw that many evangelicals seem to be abiding in fear instead of Christ’s love, turning away from their original mission as Christians.

The original Hebrew words for “work it” and “take care of it” are avad and shamar. They literally mean “to serve” and “protect.” So in the beginning, God’s idea was for men and women to use their power to serve and protect.

We seem to have gotten it backwards. Instead of making our mission to serve and protect the most vulnerable, the church now seems desperate to BE served and protected.

Trump’s promise to protect evangelicals is so delicious and tempting that, like Adam and Eve, my sisters and brothers have reached for an apple that could lead to their undoing.

I joined a church that was once a headlight, pointing the way to personal redemption and social justice. But it’s become just another tail light, wooed by the Sirens of political power. That leaves me heartbroken, like a woman whose husband has found another lover.

Still holding out hope though, Wehmeyer is hoping that those evangelical leaders that have not responded to the siren song of power and prestige might be able to mount an effective defense and still save the evangelical tradition and restore her hope in its promises.

On Monday, a group of evangelical thought leaders who have not bowed a knee to Trump will gather for a private meeting outside Chicago, in hopes of steering the church back to that original mission. A mission that has long set people like me free. I’ll be there. And I’ll be looking for a resurrection.

That’s the kind of miracle we’ll need if there’s any hope of this marriage being saved.

 


Image: Brian Stauffer/Contributor Dallas Morning News

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Rev. Henry Galganowicz
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Rev. Henry Galganowicz

Instead of assuming the evangelical tradition needs to be 'saved,' maybe you should consider following in Jesus' footsteps and dying, allowing new life to take it's course. Stop clinging; let go.

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Michael Hartney
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Michael Hartney

The article says: " ... and still save the evangelical tradition and restore her hop in its promises." in the next to last paragraph. I am sure she is "hopping" irritated (if not mad) but you probably want to add an "e" to give her "hope." 🙂

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Jeff Cox
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Jeff Cox

Are the entire litanies of articles against against President Trump getting old? Personally, I am a Democrat, but it feels tiring. The challenge of the church is that people use a lot of words and little actions. Case in point, Episcopal Bishops in New England go to one of the most depressed cities (Springfield, MA) and urge the closing of one of the largest employers (Smith and Weston). Then, they leave. Words and symbols and very few actions. How about protesting poor conditions in the women prison in Massachusetts in Framingham, MA? How about a dedicated Episcopal clergy to the prisoners?

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Tom Downs
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Tom Downs

Perhaps you missed the point. This article was about the Church, specifically the evangelical branch of the Church. The point is that this part of Christ's Body has lost its way. The article is critical of the Church.
But then, perhaps you think it is about the President because you have some unresolved feelings about his election, We're stuck with him and trying to forget who he is and what he's doing won't work. There's no escaping the feeling that everything he touches is diminished or ruined... even the Church.

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